Note, 10/07: This analysis was recently updated for 2007. Please click here to see the 2007 Shopping Rebates Comparison!
“What’s the best rewards program?” This is a question I hear a lot, and of course, while there are many ways to define “the best,” one would certainly put significant weight on a site’s shopping rebate rates.
So, in an effort to help you decide which rewards programs to use for shopping online, I present to you my third annual Shopping Rebates Comparison Chart. This is the result of a week’s time spent compiling and analyzing thousands of points of data, converting “points per dollar” to actual percentages, reviewing changes from last year, and analyzing trends.
All in all, I compared the data for 17 rewards programs, and what they pay for shopping at 155 merchants. It makes for a busy week of work, but I think the findings are interesting and may be useful to you as we approach the Christmas shopping season.
So, which programs pay the most for your favorite merchants? Which programs hide their pitiful rebate rates behind points? If you had to pick just one or two rewards programs to shop through, which should you choose?
Grab a bowl of popcorn, friends, and Continue Reading!
Before you go to the chart, please take a moment to read a couple of important notes:
1. This information was accurate as of the week of 10/22/06. Rewards programs change their rebate rates from time to time, and they may adjust them in reaction to this chart. Also, I’m human and do make errors and omissions; please double-check before making a big purchase decision!
2. Points were converted to percentages using the best value $25 redemption (or $20, if no $25 was available). The only exception is Milesource, where their $20 redemption was a better value than their cheapest $25 one. If you typically redeem points for less than a $25 redemption, the percentages will be a little lower; they’ll be a little higher if you typically hold out for a $50 or greater reward.
3. Yes, I know #2 was confusing. Email me if you have questions about the technique of converting points to percentages!
4. Travel and electronics sites tend to have a lot of exclusions and other fine print. I used the rate that most purchases qualify for; be sure you check the reward program’s offer details before buying items from these sites.
5. Merchants generally do not reward for the purchase of gift cards. A notable exclusion is GiftCertificates.com. Some sites do not reward for using a gift card for a portion of your purchase.
6. Some merchants’ rates at BondRewards are given in the form of “Up to x%.” I contacted BondRewards and they gave me the minimum rebate that a member could expect to earn for those purchases, and I used that rate in the chart.
And, about the color-coding of the chart:
As you read across the chart, rates highlighted in green are those that are the best for that merchant; those in red are the lowest. There are a few rates in yellow — these could be high or low depending on your purchase amount.
As you glance up and down the chart, you can see which rewards programs have the most “greens” and which have the most “reds.” That will help you see which rewards programs in general have the highest and lowest rates.
The rewards programs included in this year’s shopping comparison chart are as follows (click through to read their reviews): BabyMint, BondRewards, ClubMom, CreationsRewards.net, Ebates, FatWallet, Freeride, Freestyle Rewards, Greenpoints, Jellyfish, Memolink, Milesource, MyPoints, PointPool, QuickRewards.net, QuizPoints, and uPromise. Inclusion in the comparison is NOT meant to imply that I necessarily recommend these sites…in fact, several I particularly do NOT; the reviews of these programs here on CompareRewards (including the Related Articles) will give you an idea of which are worthwhile.
Enough of the background stuff — check out the chart here, then come back for my analysis of the data!
The Program With the Best Shopping Rebates
This year, the award goes to BondRewards, hands-down. They offer rewards for 109 merchants on my chart, and for 56 of these, they offer the highest rebate (or tie for the highest rebate). You could assume that if you shop through BondRewards, around half of the time you’re getting the highest shopping rate offered anywhere. For 28 merchants they had the second-best rate. And further, as I mentioned in note #6 above, some rates provided by BondRewards may actually be higher depending on your order total. The only thing to keep in mind is, BondRewards only offers one type of redemption: U.S. Savings Bonds.
The Runners-Up (in no particular order):
1. Ebates. With 27 “greens” on the chart and just three “reds,” Ebates is doing an excellent job of bringing you great rebate rates. They have increased their rates for many merchants over last year, and with various short-term promotions and the Tuesday double cashback merchant promo, shopping through Ebates is better than ever. Ebates pays by check or PayPal quarterly, with a $5 payout minimum. You can get a $5 bonus by joining and making your first purchase.
2. FatWallet. FatWallet had a very impressive showing again this year. While they offer rebates for fewer of the merchants on my chart than Ebates, they still had 28 “greens,” over twice what they had last year. (And only two “reds.”) I did add some merchants to the chart this year, which could account for some of the jump, but I have to attribute most of it to a very dedicated staff that makes a genuine effort to offer great rates to their members. In fact, I found 32 merchants for which FW pays more this year than they did last year. FatWallet pays rebates to your PayPal account with no minimum, after a waiting period of 3 to 4 months to allow for returns and adjustments. They’re also offering an extra $5 bonus for first-time shoppers.
3. Jellyfish. One of the newest rewards programs, Jellyfish is establishing itself as a true competitor this year. So far they only reward for 60 of the merchants on my chart, but of those, they have the highest rebate (or tie for the highest) 16 times. They had zero “reds.” They offer hundreds of other merchants; many are lesser-known, but some are bigger names that I just didn’t pick to include in the chart. You can request your Jellyfish rebates by check or by PayPal, any time your account reaches $10, after a 3 to 4 month pending period (like FatWallet).
The Program with the Lowest Shopping Rebates
Oh, what happened to the MyPoints of old? MyPoints totally tanked this year, offering the lowest rate of any rewards program for shopping at an UNBELIEVABLE 56 of the merchants on my chart. They only had four “reds” last year! What happened? It’s a mixture of things. Some of those reds came from merchants I just added to the chart this year. I don’t have data to know if they always offered such low rates for those merchants. Some of the other 56 lowest rates were rebates they dropped from last year, and some were rates they just didn’t raise, while their competitors did. One thing is obvious: MyPoints has suffered tremendously from neglect while it was for sale this past year, and if the new owners don’t step up their rebates, the program is going to flounder. Promotions and contests will keep members coming to the site in hopes of winning free points, but shoppers are savvy…they will not tolerate these low rebates and will go elsewhere to spend their money.
The Runners-Up (in no particular order):
1. Milesource. This program has fewer merchants on the chart this year than ever, now down to just 68 of 155 merchants surveyed (versus 75 of 103 last year). For 24 of the 68, Milesource pays the lowest rebate of any of the rewards programs on the chart. Thank goodness for MyPoints, or it would’ve been worse. This is another rewards program that has been neglected as it has changed hands. I contacted the site for comment as I had many problems compiling their data — some offers had conflicting information about how much you’d earn, a handful of offers were onsite but “no longer participating” when you clicked through, and Milesource still offers a reward for Walmart purchases although Walmart pulled all incentive programs from their affiliate program over a year ago. Their director of affiliate and content membership operation, Sunny Mallavarapu, said that “resources have been scarce to work on MileSource” due to the merger of Silver Carrot (its former owner) and Ampere Media. “Everything seems to be on schedule to finish up at the end of the year allowing more work to be done to MileSource.com. Hopefully in the new year to come you should see many new additions and positive changes.” I hope so, too. It is sad to see how far this program has deteriorated over the years.
2. FreestyleRewards, the rewards program related to CoolSavings.com. Last year, this program had only five of the lowest rates for its merchants on my chart. This year, that number is up to 18. In its defense, those additional “reds” came either from new merchants they added (I guess the logic is, paying SOMETHING for them is better than nothing) or from rates that remained the same while other programs raised theirs. They’re not so much dropping rates as they’re not keeping up with the competition. They have the best rate anywhere for Avon, and a maybe-depending-on-purchase-total for Priceline, but otherwise, this site is just…average. One note of caution: Freestyle recently pulled out of the Performics affiliate network and is no longer paying webmasters to refer new members to their program. Craig Tanner, the VP of Product Management for Q Interactive (Freestyle’s owner), told me in email that this was due to their refocusing marketing dollars elsewhere. I pressed him for reassurance that Q Interactive remains committed to Freestyle and that the program was not in trouble, and he did not reply. Sometimes silence speaks volumes.
3. Freeride. Also my recipient of the Worst Designed Shopping Section in History award, Freeride had 12 of the lowest rebates on the chart. They only reward for 80 merchants of the 155 I reviewed. These guys are having serious problems with customer service and are only just now catching up from a “technical glitch” that delayed redemptions for months. You can decide for yourself whether the free, non-spending points they offer every day is worth the poor shopping rebates, poor communication, and difficulties with redemptions.
Some Other Notable Findings:
1. Two programs increased their cost for a $25 redemption this year versus what they charged at this time last year. Last year, at Freeride, a $25 GC was 26,500 points…now it’s 27,000. And PointPool charges 5,550 for a $25 GC now, up 100 points from last year.
2. One program actually DROPPED the cost of its cheapest $25 redemption — Greenpoints. Last year, it cost 20,900 points, now it’s 19,000 points. And this while doubling rebates. Supposedly this is for a limited time (these doubled rates appear in my chart), but unless this program wants to reclaim its Lowest Rebates title from last year, the change really needs to be permanent.
3. As I mentioned in the pre-analysis notes above, this year Milesource added a $20 redemption that will give you a better value for your points than their $25 one. Check out the $20 Supercertificate there for 7,000 points!
Choosing which rewards program to shop through isn’t as easy as just looking at the numbers on a chart and picking the program that pays the most. There are other things to take into consideration, like, does this program have redemptions I like? How long will it take after I shop before my rebate is available to cash out? How much do I have to have in my account before I can cash out? If I have problems with my rebate not crediting or with it not being received, what kind of customer service can I expect from the program?
Should I spread my spending across multiple programs, or stick with just one or two that have higher rebates in general?
Would I be willing to accept slightly lower (but still competitive) rebates in return for being able to access my rebate quicker? (See CreationsRewards or QuickRewards, both programs that credit and allow you to cash out for shopping within days, while offering $5 and NO minimum cashouts, respectively).
And what about points programs? THE FOUR LOWEST REBATE REWARDS PROGRAMS PAY IN POINTS, NOT PERCENTAGE REBATES. Hmm… Why do you suppose that is? Maybe because points make it hard for members to see what they’re really earning. Maybe because paying in points gives those programs the ability to devalue your rebate in seconds, by simply declaring that it now takes more points to buy the redemption you were saving up for. Maybe because points are harder for people to put a value on, so when they offer you “free points” for reading an email or clicking a link, you’ll think you’re getting something worth more than it really is. Maybe all of the above. You need to take these things into consideration.
Jellyfish and BondRewards, two new rewards programs, were both in the top four highest rebate programs. MyPoints and Milesource, both long-time veterans, were two of the lowest payers. So sometimes newer is better.
I know this is a lot of information to digest — it was a lot of information to put together! My advice is to look at the general trends in the data, read reviews and real people’s experiences with different rewards programs, and then make your decision of where to shop. I’d be happy to answer any questions by email at email@example.com, and if any program owners would like to comment on this analysis, I’d urge you to email me at that address as well. I hope this information is useful to you in deciding on a rewards program to use for online shopping, and if you did find it useful, please pass on the link to this page to your friends and family. Thank you!