At Middle Age Miles, our mission is to help you live your dreams through travel and points. One of the ways we do this, of course, is to find valuable points-and-miles opportunities and tell you about them. Here’s a story that we thought our points-and-miles enthusiast readers would enjoy, about our attempt to score a nice points-acquisition deal from Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and LifeLock.
We’ve seen some interesting promotions to purchase LifeLock subscriptions through the Rakuten/Ebates shopping portal over the past few months, with cash-back amounts reaching as high as 80% (the “standard” rate seems to be 40%). Those seemed like good deals in the past, for a person who was truly interested in LifeLock’s credit protection and monitoring services.
For us, as points-and-miles people, the Rakuten-Lifelock promotions became much more interesting when Rakuten introduced Membership Rewards (MR) points-earning accounts. Suddenly, instead of earning cash back through Rakuten, we could earn 1 MR point instead of 1 cent. Given that our baseline value of MR points is 1.5 cents per point (at least for folks who are skilled at transferring MR points to airline partners for high-value redemptions and/or have a Business Platinum card that allows for 35% rebates on airfare purchases using MR points), we prefer the MR-earning type of Rakuten account, which we discussed here:
- Middle Age Miles: Fascinating New Ebates-Amex Program: Earn MR Points Through Ebates + 1,500 MR Sign-Up Bonus (February 18, 2019)
With an MR-earning Rakuten account, suddenly, an 80% Rakuten-LifeLock promotion turned into a potential money-maker, even if you weren’t interested in the LifeLock service at all! If you paid with an Amex Blue Business Plus card earning 2x MR points per dollar, you’d be receiving a total of 82 MR points per dollar of spend. Or, looking at it another way, you’d be paying 1.22 cents for each MR point – profitable if you’re able to redeem your MR points for our baseline value of 1.5 cents or higher!
That said, we were skeptical about how this would play out. Would the Rakuten-LifeLock promotional deal actually pay off? It seemed possibly too good to be true – what were we missing?
We were encouraged that this deal might actually work, through reading a great article by our friend Joe at OH Travel Dad and some follow-up communications with him to discuss the deal further and confirm that he actually received the MR points. Here’s his article:
- OH Travel Dad: Earn 80x Points Per Dollar Plus Protect Your Credit (March 10, 2019)
Ultimately, we decided not to do the Rakuten-LifeLock 80% deal. This was for several reasons, including:
- The cpp was probably going to be a bit higher than 1.22, given that Rakuten probably wouldn’t be paying 80% on sales tax, which it looked like LifeLock would charge. It seemed that the acquisition cost would be more like 1.3 cpp.
- We would have to wait a long time to receive the MR points. Rakuten pays out only once per quarter, and the payout is about 6 weeks after the quarter ends. For example, you might make a purchase in April and not receive the MR points until mid-August (about 6 weeks after quarter-end on June 30). That’s a long float.
- The Rakuten-Amex MR program was still new at the time, and we still didn’t have 100% confidence about how it would work.
- Despite Joe’s success, we still had concerns about whether such a lucrative deal would actually pay out. Joe had mentioned to us that he had to do some follow-up with Rakuten before his MR points actually posted.
The July 15 Deal – 120% for Rakuten-LifeLock
On Monday, July 15, 2019, Rakuten ran a “triple cash back” promo, and we saw the best-ever deal for LifeLock – 120% cash back (120x MR points if you have an MR-earning account). As far as we know, this promo ran for one day only and has not returned.
At 80x, we were out. But at 120x, the deal was enticing enough that we decided to go for it. We decided to put the spend on an Amex Business Platinum card where we were working on the minimum spend requirement for an upgrade bonus. The spend itself would earn 1x, but it would help us toward the $10k spend requirement.
For evaluation purposes, let’s consider what we would have done if we weren’t earning the upgrade bonus, which is to pay with an Amex Blue Business Plus card (BB+). We would earn 120x on the base price of the LifeLock subscriptions, before tax. And on the BB+ card, we would earn 2x on the entire price including tax. To see the math, look at a hypothetical purchase of a $100 LifeLock subscription, with our Texas sales tax of 8.25%:
- Rakuten MR earning: 120x * $100 = 12,000 MR points
- BB+ earning: 2x * $108.25 = 216 MR points
- Total MR points = 12,216
- Value of MR points at 1.5 cpp = $183.24
- Total cost = $108.25
- Cost per MR point = 0.87 cpp
Now that’s a useful deal. We’d be “buying” MR points at a 42% discount compared to our baseline value (which is the bare minimum that we’d get when redeeming them for flights; our actual value would probably be even better). Looking at it another way, for each $108.25 we spent, we’d be “profiting” (in the form of MR points) by about $75.
The deal scales linearly – so we could “profit” about $75 in MR points for every $100 in base LifeLock subscription price. For example, if we could spend $1,000 in LifeLock subscriptions, we’d earn more than 122,000 MR points and “profit” by $750 – all without leaving our desk!
We still had concerns about whether this would actually work. But, presented with this math (and the chance to write an interesting Middle Age Miles article about it!), we decided to go for it.
Purchasing the LifeLock Deal
On the morning of 7/15/19, we set out to do this deal. This did not go smoothly. We’ll shortcut some of the interim steps but give you the key details and highlights:
First, we clicked through the Rakuten shopping portal link for LifeLock:
Knowing that we were “profiting” more for every dollar we spent, we set out to maximize the deal. We ordered the most expensive plan available, LifeLock Ultimate Plus, for 5 of us – me, Philly, and the three Middle Age Miles college-aged kids. (Note that each account had to be associated with a different email address.) And we set it up to pay for a year for each person. The total came to $269.90 for each subscription. Five subscriptions would cost $1,349.50, and with tax the all-in total would be $1,460.83.
At first, the order seemed to go through fine. We proceeded to log in to the various accounts and provide the information LifeLock requested to verify the new accounts.
For some reason, the only accounts that LifeLock established were the accounts for Katie and me. We have no idea why the others were not finalized by LifeLock, as we supplied all of the requested information and performed all of the necessary verification steps. We did not follow up with LifeLock, we did not follow up further to get the other new accounts finalized and charged, as we were becoming more and more jumpy about actually receiving the MR points.
Our Amex card initially showed a pending charge for $1,460.83, but the only charges that actually posted were 2 separate charges for $292.17 ($269.90 subscription price + $22.27 sales tax for each of the 2 “finalized” accounts).
On the Rakuten side, we had a Shopping Trip number that corresponded to our LifeLock visit and purchase. However, our account did not show an order number or any “pending” transaction. We gave things a few days to resolve, but nothing further happened.
Follow-Up and Resolution
On July 22 (1 week after the purchase date), I used Rakuten’s “Missing Cash Back” online form to submit an inquiry, providing all of the detail that I had. I immediately received an automated response from Rakuten Member Services that they had received my message and would respond very soon.
The next day, I received a reply email from an agent at Rakuten Member Services. He asked me to provide the email address I’d used to sign up for the LifeLock order. Unfortunately, I completely missed the message and didn’t see it until 3 weeks later. I replied with the email address on 8/14/19. Within minutes, a Rakuten Member Services agent responded:
We are only able to add Cash Back to your account when stores let us know about your order. We will contact the store to verify your order. It usually takes about 10 business days for us to hear back, but it may take up to 45 days. We realize this can be an inconvenience, and we appreciate your patience.
Feel free to reach out to me if you still have any questions. Thank you.[Rakuten Member Services Agent]
After I wrote back saying that I was worried about LifeLock being responsive, the Rakuten Member Service Agent replied (again, same-day):
Thank you for your reply. LifeLock has been good about responding to our inquiries into missing Cash Back during this promotion. I will keep an eye on your inquiry and let you know as soon as we hear back from them.
Shortly after this 8/14/19 exchange, Rakuten placed a “pending” Cash Back entry on my account for the LifeLock order, using my email address as the Order Number. This made us feel a bit better about things.
Time passed, no further response. In early September, we faced a crucial decision point. Our Amex statement was due, and we had to decide whether to dispute the LifeLock charges (given that we hadn’t received what we’d bargained for) or pay the bill and hope for the best. At that point, I got some good advice from a trusted colleague with some insight into this type of deal, who suggested that we continue to be patient and ride it out. We took his advice, paid our Amex bill including the LifeLock charges, and kept our fingers crossed for the best.
During this time, Rakuten Member Support was good about reaching out, roughly every 10 days, to let us know that they were still awaiting word from LifeLock and thank us for our continued patience.
Finally, on October 2, I received an email from Rakuten with great news:
Rakuten had credited my account with $647.76 – or, actually, 64,776 MR points. Hooray! The credit amount was 120% of the pre-tax subscription prices of the 2 LifeLock accounts that were finalized and charged (2 * $269.90 = $539.80, times 120% equals $647.76).
As it turned out, the news got even better. Remember when we talked about how Rakuten pays out, closing the books at the end of each quarter? Well, our account had actually been credited on or before the quarter-end date of September 30. So, we’d be receiving the MR points in early-to-mid November (as opposed to February 2020, if they had posted during the 4th quarter). We’re now within a couple of weeks of getting the MR points into our MR account (and using them to book flights for fun trips!).
We spent $584.34 (including tax). We’re receiving 64,776 MR points from Rakuten, plus 584 MR points on our Business Platinum card (plus the progress toward the $10k spend for our 50k MR-point upgrade bonus), for a total of 65,360 MR points. Setting aside the contribution toward the upgrade bonus, that’s 0.894 cents per MR point.
Our 65,360 MR points will buy us at least $980.40 worth of flights (at a minimum 1.5 cpp redemption rate). This gives us a “profit” of almost $400 on this deal ($396.06 to be exact).
This turned out to be a very good deal to buy MR points at a discount, from our desk. That said, it involved a lot of angst, plus LifeLock failed to fulfill 60% of our original order. And we still have a couple of boxes to check – one, actually receiving the MR points from Rakuten into our MR account (we fully expect this to go smoothly); and two, successfully canceling our LifeLock subscriptions before they auto-renew (fingers crossed on this one!).
Would we do it all over again? Maybe. After the time of this order, we’ve experimented with some gift card manufactured spend activity, and we’ve been pretty successful at generating points at an even lower cost than in the Rakuten-LifeLock deal. Still, those activities have scale limitations (at least for us, given our current knowledge and techniques), plus they take time and involve some driving. Our best guess is that we’d probably give it a shot.
If we did it again, we would, though, split up the order so that no more than 2 people were on each LifeLock subscription order – and with only 1 person per order if possible. This would require multiple Rakuten accounts.
Another option would be to use a Rakuten cash-back account instead of (or in addition to) a MR-earning account. If we’d done that, we would have come out with a cash profit of $63.42, plus a handful of MR points from our credit card spend. That doesn’t seem worth it to us, particularly given that you’re having to float the spend for a few months (in addition to all the risk factors).
All that said, we doubt that we’ll ever see a 120% Rakuten-LifeLock offer again. We’re not sure why they did this; it never really seemed to make sense for LifeLock.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the story of our Rakuten-LifeLock saga. We laughed, we cried, we bought a nice number of MR points at a good discount, and we’ll be using them to help us travel someplace fun for less!
What do you think of our Rakuten-LifeLock saga? Do you have any data points of your own to share with us, about this or similar deals through Rakuten or other shopping portals? Please let us know in the Comments!
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