Middle Age Miles

Airline Shopping Portal Bonuses and Strategy Thoughts

airline shopping portal bonus strategy american aa alaska as united ua analysis

Introduction

This morning, we’re seeing some new airline shopping portal bonuses from Alaska, American and United. The structure of the bonuses is interesting and allows for some very nice mileage returns on purchases at or near the $50/$75 minimum purchase thresholds. In addition, each bonus can be used up to 4 times per account, which is nice.

In this article, we’ll take a look at each of the bonuses and then discuss some strategy thoughts about how to maximize them.

Alaska

The Alaska “2020 Bonus Mile Dash” promotion works as follows:

  • Earn 500 bonus miles for a purchase through the Alaska shopping portal of at least $75
  • This bonus is good for 3 separate purchases
  • On your 4th purchase of at least $75 within the promotional period, you’ll earn 520 bonus miles
  • Bonus miles are in addition to regular miles-earning on your purchase
  • You must register for the promotion on the Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping site before your first purchase
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Tuesday, May 19
  • In determining whether a purchase reaches the $75 threshold, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus miles to post

Here are the full terms and conditions:

American

The American “2020 Bonus Mile Dash” promotion works as follows:

  • Earn 500 bonus miles for a purchase through the AAdvantage shopping portal of at least $50
  • This bonus is good for 3 separate purchases
  • On your 4th purchase of at least $50 within the promotional period, you’ll earn 520 bonus miles
  • Bonus miles are in addition to regular miles-earning on your purchase
  • You must register for the promotion on the AAdvantage eShopping site before your first purchase
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Monday, May 18
  • In determining whether a purchase reaches the $50 threshold, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus miles to post

Here are the full terms and conditions:

United

The United “2020 Bonus Mile Dash” promotion works as follows:

  • Earn 500 bonus miles for a purchase through the United MileagePlus shopping portal of at least $50
  • This bonus is good for 3 separate purchases
  • On your 4th purchase of at least $50 within the promotional period, you’ll earn 520 bonus miles
  • Bonus miles are in addition to regular miles-earning on your purchase
  • You must register for the promotion on the United MileagePlus Shopping site before your first purchase
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Tuesday, May 19
  • In determining whether a purchase reaches the $50 threshold, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus miles to post

Here are the full terms and conditions:

Analysis & Strategy

Each of the American and United promotions represents a bonus of 10x miles per dollar of spend, if you spend exactly $50 (in addition to your regular miles-earning through the portal plus credit card rewards). At our baseline value of 1.25 cents per AA or UA mile, the bonus alone represents a mileage rebate of up to about 12.5% on your spend during this promotion. Each 500-mile bonus is worth about $6.25, and you can earn a little more than $25 worth of AA or UA bonus miles if you hit the 4-purchase maximum.

For the Alaska promotion, if you spend exactly $75, the 500 bonus miles would represent a 6.67x bonus (in addition to your regular miles-earning through the portal plus credit card rewards). At our baseline value of 1.5 cents per AS mile, the bonus alone represents a mileage rebate of up to about 10% on your spend through the Alaska portal during this promotion. Each 500-mile bonus is worth about $7.50, and you can earn a little more than $30 worth of AS bonus miles if you hit the 4-purchase maximum.

Obviously, if you have organic online spend during the promotional period, it makes sense to pick the portal most useful to you to take advantage of its bonus.

But what if you don’t have organic spend? We often use gift card purchases through GiftCards.com (GC.com) or Raise to maximize return through promotions such as these. The express terms of the bonus offers exclude gift cards, but in our experience purchases of GCs through GC.com or Raise work for these types of bonuses. This makes sense, because these merchants are included on the airline shopping portals to begin with, and the only things they sell are gift cards.

Here are the current portal earning rates for GC.com:

Airline shopping portal rates on GiftCards.com as of Mon, May 11

And here are the current portal earning rates for Raise:

Airline shopping portal rates for Raise.com as of Mon, May 11

We often purchase $500 virtual Visa or Mastercard gift cards (VGCs/MCGCs) from GC.com to maximize airline shopping portal bonuses. These virtual VGCs/MCGCs have a purchase fee of $5.95 but no shipping fees. If you do this, you’ll want to make sure you have a good liquidation method in mind.

With these rates in mind, let’s look at a few of the options for using these promotions. In these examples, for simplicity we’ll use a Citi Double Cash card for each hypothetical purchase. This card would earn 2x ThankYou Points (TYPs) per dollar. At our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP, the points rebate for the credit card rewards would be about 2.5%. You should easily be able to substitute earnings from your own preferred card.

Example #1: Purchase a $50 merchant gift card through Raise using the AA or UA deal:

  • Regular earnings from portal = $50 x 1 = 50 AA/UA miles ($0.62)
  • Earnings from portal bonus = 500 AA/UA miles ($6.25)
  • Credit card rewards = 100 TYPs ($1.25)
  • TOTAL EARNINGS BASELINE VALUE = $8.12 (16.24% points “rebate”)
    • In addition, when you purchase through Raise, you may receive either (a) a discount off the face value of the gift card; or (b) some amount of “Raise Cash” back.
    • Note that when you purchase an electronic merchant gift card through Raise, there are no activation or shipping fees.

Example #2: Purchase a $50 physical VGC or MCGC through GC.com, using the AA portal, or using the UA portal if you hold a UA co-branded credit card (purchase fee would be $2.95 and shipping fee would be $1.99):

  • Regular earnings from portal = $53 x 1 = 53 AA/UA miles ($0.66)
  • Earnings from portal bonus = 500 AA/UA miles ($6.25)
  • Credit card rewards = 106 TYPs ($1.32)
  • TOTAL EARNINGS BASELINE VALUE = $8.23
  • Less purchase and shipping fees = -$4.94
  • NET “PROFIT” BEFORE LIQUIDATION = $3.29

Note that if you purchased a $50 virtual card, you’d have a purchase fee of $5.95 and no shipping fee. Total acquisition cost would be $1.01 higher than the “physical card” example above. You’d earn a few more AA/UA miles (56) and TYPs (112) through that purchase, but the virtual card would be less “profitable” than the physical card.

Example #3: Purchase a $500 physical or virtual VGC or MCGC through GC.com, using the AA portal, or using the UA portal if you hold a UA co-branded credit card (purchase fee would be $5.95 either way, and the physical card would incur a shipping fee of $1.99):

  • Regular earnings from portal = $506 x 1 = 506 AA/UA miles ($6.32)
  • Earnings from portal bonus = 500 AA/UA miles ($6.25)
  • Credit card rewards = 1,012 TYPs ($12.65)
  • TOTAL EARNINGS BASELINE VALUE = $25.22
  • Less purchase and shipping fees = $5.95 for virtual card; $7.94 for physical card
  • NET “PROFIT” BEFORE LIQUIDATION = $19.27 for virtual card; $17.28 for physical card

In each of these examples, remember that liquidation costs will cut into your “profits.” If you’re using a percentage-based liquidation method, of course it’ll cost a lot more to liquidate a $50 GC than a $500 GC. And most importantly, if your liquidation method is in-person, it’s probably not a good idea to be using it at all so that you don’t incur additional risk of catching or transmitting coronavirus.

Looking at these options, it seems like purchasing low-dollar merchant GCs through Raise may be the way to maximize value with these particular promotions. Note that if you’re using a portal with Raise, be sure to keep in mind the lifetime limits on earnings.

What are your thoughts and strategies for the current airline shopping portal promotions? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!


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4 thoughts on “Airline Shopping Portal Bonuses and Strategy Thoughts

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi SSB – Like you, no AA for me. We’re going to take down a few extra miles on Philly’s AA account though since she was totally clean on AA cards. Thanks for the comment – hope you’re doing well! ~Craig

  1. philco

    I have to admit I am not a fan of these promos where they break it up like this. I might partake but there are a fair number of fairly lucrative options right now and being somewhat liquidation constrained I’ll have to choose my battles. In any event thanks for doing some of the math to get me started on my own analysis.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi philco – Thanks for the comment. There are definitely a lot of juicy acquisition options right now, and I hear you about being liquidation-constrained. We have to pick our best spots, for sure. That’s an excellent point, very nuanced, and quite personal for each person depending on what’s available to them. Glad you enjoyed the article. ~Craig

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