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Middle Age Miles

Great Shopping Portal Bonuses & How We’ll Use Them (Upromise, Alaska, United)

shopping portal bonus strategy upromise alaska as united ua analysis

Introduction

Yesterday, we saw some great shopping portal bonuses pop up from Upromise, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines. In this article, we wanted to take a look at each of the bonus offers and share some thoughts on how we’ll use them to attempt to maximize our returns through gift card purchases.

Although we’ll look at GC purchases, you may want to strongly consider using organic spend to meet the bonus thresholds if there are qualifying purchases that you need to make. In each case, check earning rates on Cashback Monitor and determine what works for you (or, in the case of Upromise, you’ll need to check its site directly).

Note that the express terms of these 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. Specifically, we’ve used GC purchases through GC.com and Raise to successfully obtain prior similar bonuses on each of the specific portals discussed in this article – Upromise, Alaska and United.

Finally, if you’re using GC.com to meet these offers, stay aware of the new GC.com portal limits of $2,000 per month.

Here are the 3 portal offers we’re seeing right now:

Upromise

The Upromise “Sweet Summer Bonus” works as follows:

  • Earn an extra $10 cash back when you spend at least $250; or
  • Earn an extra $100 cash back when you spend at least $1,000
  • The threshold amount is based on cumulative purchases during the promotional period (that is, you can have multiple purchases adding up to the threshold amount)
  • Bonus cash back is in addition to regular cash-back earning on your purchase
  • No registration needed
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Friday, July 31
  • In determining whether the threshold has been met, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus cash back to post to your Upromise account

Quick Analysis of The Upromise Offer

This is an extremely valuable offer that can result in an extra 10% cash back if you meet the $1,000 threshold exactly. As far as we’re concerned, the only real downside is that in our experience it may take as long as 4 months for the bonus cash to be transferred into your bank account. As long as you understand that you need to be patient, this is a great offer that almost everyone should take advantage of.

How We’ll Use The Upromise Offer

We’ll use the Upromise offer by making 2 purchases of $500 virtual Visa gift cards from GC.com. For each order we’ll incur a processing fee of $5.95. We’ll use a Citi Double Cash card to pay, which will earn 2x ThankYou Points (TYPs) per dollar. At our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP, that will add 2.5% to our return.

[You’ll want to use the card that gives you the best return. We steer clear of using Amex cards when purchasing from GC.com as we’re not confident that we’ll get the points; otherwise we’d use a Blue Business Plus card to earn 2x Membership Rewards (MR) points, which would be a 3% return based on our baseline value of 1.5 cents per MR point. Others may want to use a Bank of America Cash Rewards card with the online 3% bonus category selected (or more if you have B of A Preferred Rewards status).]

In our example, the math on our earning side will be as follows:

  • Total Spend = 2 * $505.95 = $1,011.90
  • Earnings:
    • Upromise bonus = $100.00
    • Upromise regular earnings = 1% * $1,011.90 = $10.12
    • Credit card rewards = 2x * $1,011.90 = 2,024 TYPs * 1.25 cpp = $25.30
    • Total Earnings = $100.00 + $10.12 + $25.30 = $137.42

We’ll liquidate the virtual VGC through Bravo, with a fee of $9.81 per card (that is, a 2% fee on $490.19 to reach a total of $500). Total costs will be:

  • Costs:
    • Processing fee = 2 * $5.95 = $11.90
    • Liquidation fees = 2 * $9.81 = $19.62
    • Total costs = $11.90 + $19.62 = $31.52

Thus, we’ll be left with a “profit” of $137.42 – $31.52 = $105.90.

Alaska

The Alaska Mileage Plan “Member Appreciation Bonus” has a 3-tiered structure as follows:

  • Earn 300 bonus miles when you spend $150+ (2x extra miles)
  • Earn 750 bonus miles when you spend $300+ (2.5x extra miles)
  • Earn 1,500 bonus miles when you spend $500+ (3x extra miles)

Key terms and conditions are:

  • The threshold amount is based on cumulative purchases during the promotional period (that is, you can have multiple purchases adding up to the threshold amount)
  • Bonus miles are in addition to the regular miles earned on your purchase
  • No registration needed
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Sunday, August 9
  • In determining whether the threshold has been met, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus cash back to post to your Mileage Plan account

Quick Analysis of the Alaska Offer

At the highest threshold, this bonus can be worth up to 3x extra Alaska miles if you spend exactly $500. At our baseline value of 1.5 cents per Alaska mile, that’s an extra 4.5% points rebate on top of your regular portal earnings and credit card rewards. We see this bonus as a nice way to “buy” some Alaska miles at a discounted rate and we’ll definitely do it.

In addition, this bonus is friendly for use with a GC purchase given that the threshold of $500 squares well with the optimal denomination to most cost-effectively purchase gift cards online.

Purchases from GC.com through the Alaska portal only earn 0.5x miles per dollar.

How We’ll Use the Alaska Offer

This one’s very straightforward – we’ll purchase one $500 virtual Visa GC from GC.com. As discussed above, the processing fee will be $5.95 and we’ll use a Citi Double Cash card to pay.

The math will look like this:

  • Total spend = $505.95
  • Earnings:
    • Alaska bonus = 1,500 miles * 1.5 cpm = $22.50
    • Alaska regular earnings = 506 * 0.5 = 253 miles * 1.5 cpm = $3.79
    • Credit card rewards = 2x * $505.95 = 1,012 TYPs * 1.25 cpp = $12.65
    • Total Earnings = $22.50 + $3.79 + $12.65 = $38.94
  • Costs:
    • Processing fee = $5.95
    • Liquidation fee (using Bravo) = $9.81
    • Total Costs = $5.95 + $9.81 = $15.76

Here, we’ll be left with a “profit” of $38.94 – $15.76 = $23.18. Looking at it another way, we’ll earn a total of 2,765 miles+points (1,753 Alaska miles + 1,012 TYPs) at a cost of $15.76, meaning that we’re effectively paying 0.57 cents per Alaska mile/TYP. That’s far below the baseline value of either currency and a price we’re quite willing to pay to increase our balances of Alaska miles and TYPs.

United

The United MileagePlus “Member Appreciation Bonus” has a 3-tiered structure as follows:

  • Earn 500 bonus miles when you spend $150+ (3x extra miles)
  • Earn 1,500 bonus miles when you spend $350+ (4.3x extra miles)
  • Earn 2,500 bonus miles when you spend $600+ (4.2x extra miles)

Key terms and conditions are:

  • The threshold amount is based on cumulative purchases during the promotional period (that is, you can have multiple purchases adding up to the threshold amount)
  • Bonus miles are in addition to the regular miles earned on your purchase
  • No registration needed
  • The promotion runs from now through 11:59:59 Eastern time on Sunday, August 16
  • In determining whether the threshold has been met, shipping & handling and taxes do not count
  • Allow up to 10 weeks for bonus cash back to post to your MileagePlus account

Quick Analysis & How We’ll Use the United Offer

As with the Alaska offer, the United offer presents a solid opportunity to “purchase” United miles at a price squarely lower than their baseline value. We also plan on doing this offer.

On the United offer, though, the threshold amount of $600+ to reach the highest bonus level makes things a little tricky. A single $500 GC won’t get the job done, and buying a second GC to reach the $600 threshold is less efficient because it requires an additional processing fee.

To help you in evaluating how you’ll approach the United offer, remember that:

  • Regular United portal earnings on GC.com are 1x if you hold a United co-branded credit card and only 0.5x if you don’t (and we don’t, unfortunately)
  • We give United miles a baseline value of 1.25 cents per mile
  • At the highest threshold, this bonus can be worth up to 4.2x extra United miles if you spend exactly $600. That’s an extra points rebate of about 5.2% on top of your regular portal earnings and credit card rewards.

Our biggest question here was whether we should:

  • Buy 2 GCs from GC.com in a combination adding up to $600; or
  • Buy 2 $500 GCs from GC.com (total of $1,000 + processing fees); or
  • Buy 1 $500 GC from GC.com + a $100 GC from Raise

Looking at the first 2 options, there’s a question of whether we’d want to spend the extra $400. Assume that processing fees would be about the same given that either option involves purchasing 2 GCs and thus paying 2 processing fees (of course, there’s some nuance in this). So it essentially boils down to whether spending the extra $400 is worth the extra liquidation fees. The simplified analysis is that we’d earn an extra 2.5 miles/points per dollar on the extra $400 (0.5x United miles from the portal + 2x TYPs as credit card rewards). The total would be 1,000 miles/points, and since United miles and TYPs both have a baseline value of 1.25 cents per point/mile, the “value” would be $12.50. Extra fees would be roughly 2% of $400, or $8. Looking at it another way, we’d be “paying” 0.80 cents per mile/point. That’s a net plus, but it’s a close call.

We’re thinking seriously about the 3rd option – buying a $500 virtual Visa GC from GC.com plus a $100 gift card from Raise (probably WalMart). A purchase from Raise would earn 1x United mile per dollar through the portal, plus we could earn 2.5% Raise Cash back on a WalMart GC, plus 2x TYPs per dollar on our Double Cash card. That would be a total return of about 6.25% on our WalMart spend, in addition to allowing us to capture the bonus. It would also preserve some liquidation bandwidth for us on Bravo (our recommended best practice is to send no more than $500 per person per day).

In any event, these 3 options are close enough that it’s not worth spending any extra cycles evaluating their finer details – we’ll just choose one and move on!

Wrap-Up

All 3 of these shopping portal deals are valuable, and we’re going to do them all. We’re especially excited about the Upromise bonus given that it’s payable in cash in addition to offering a profit on the deal.

We’re also on the lookout for potential similar offers from American, Delta and/or Southwest. AA would certainly be useful for us (on Philly’s account). Delta is tougher as GC.com isn’t on the Delta SkyMiles shopping portal. Southwest isn’t as useful to us but would be valuable for those who fly Southwest regularly.

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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9 thoughts on “Great Shopping Portal Bonuses & How We’ll Use Them (Upromise, Alaska, United)

  1. Sideshowbob233

    Thanks for posting – I wish we had more info on the $2K change for GCC/GCM and how it affects these. I’ve already ordered $5K from GCC before the change to $2K, so no clue if I’d get anything for purchases. Did not order for GCM though.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hey SSB – Thanks for the comment. Stephen provided a bit more info on the GC.com limit in his comment that arrived a few minutes after yours. The info he added doesn’t really get at your question, though, about the impact of purchases made before the limit went into effect. I guess the safe approach would be to wait until August, if that’s workable. ~Craig

      1. Sideshowbob233

        Yeah I’ll do $2K at GCM and then the rest I. August. Nice long time for this bonus usually much shorter.

        And yes Stephen thanks you took this to the woodshed.

  2. Stephen

    One thing to be aware of is the $2k limit per month for GiftCards.com. That’s not an issue if you’ll be spreading out the purchases across July and August, but if trying to place all the orders in July then it will affect things.

    GiftCards.com orders seem to track the cost of activation fees for portals in addition to the amount spent on VGCs, so that changes the math slightly. If you buy 2x $500 VGCs via Upromise, that’s $1,014 of spend (they seem to round up the $6.95 activation fee to $7 for the purposes of calculating the cashback).

    If you buy a $500 VGC through the Alaska portal, that’s $507 of spend. That means you’re left with $479 of spend for United, so you’d need to spend $121 at Raise or elsewhere to hit the $600 spending threshold.

    Again, if you’re spreading the purchases across July and August, this’ll be a moot point.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Stephen – Many thanks for the additional info re the $2k monthly limit on GC.com. I haven’t experimented with it, so I wasn’t sure how it worked. This is very valuable info.

      Personally, I was planning to spread out between July & August. We’d do all the purchases for the Upromise promo in July, then the others in August. I’m assuming that Philly and I each have a $2k/month limit on GC.com; otherwise we’re in trouble! ~Craig

      1. Stephen

        That’s a good point, I hadn’t thought about it from a P1/P2 perspective. I’d certainly assume that you’d have your own limit rather than it being tied to your billing address.

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          I’d certainly think so. We should be able to confirm within the next few days.

  3. Jay

    I’ve already hit $2K monthly limit on gc.com but need ~$250 more spend on upromise to hit the $1K spend. will spending $250 on gc.com with $0 cashback still count towards the bonus?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Jay – Thanks for the comment and great question. I don’t know the answer to this. Honestly, I don’t think I’d gamble on spend at GC.com >$2k/month counting for Upromise bonus purchases. I think I’d purchase something on Raise or some other merchant for the additional $250 in spend. Maybe other readers can chime in here if they have specific DPs (although the $2k/month limit is so new that there may not be any DPs on this yet). ~Craig

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