Note: this analysis was updated for 2008 here.
It’s October again, and with Black Friday just weeks away, it’s time once again to take an in-depth look at rewards programs’ online shopping rebates.
A Gallup poll conducted the first week of October showed that the average American plans to spend $909 on Christmas gifts this season. Advertising.com’s 2007 holiday shopping study shows that only 36% of the people who go online during the holiday season do so to make a purchase (instead, they’re comparison shopping online to save time for an offline purchase).
Researching prices is easy, using a comparison shopping engine like MySimon or PriceGrabber… but does the average consumer realize that once they find the lowest price, they can make their purchase online through a rewards program to get cash back on their purchase? Or that they can use coupon codes provided by many of these programs on top of that? All it takes is a few extra clicks to visit a rewards program website first and click through their link to the merchant…then watch those 3%’s and 8%’s and 15% cash back rewards add up to a nice little rebate check after the holidays — without having to clip UPC codes and mail in receipts! After all, if you’re going to spend an average of $909 on gifts this holiday season, why not get a little something back for yourself?
But how do you know which rewards program to use? No one rewards program offers a rebate on every merchant on the web. Some programs pay great rates but don’t offer rewards for all the big-name retailers. Other programs offer their shopping rewards not in percentage cash back but in the form of points, redeemable for gift cards or merchandise, and point values vary from program to program — 2 points per dollar at one rewards program may be worth more than the 80 points per dollar offered by a different rewards program for the very same merchant.
In an effort to help consumers decide which rewards program(s) to use, CompareRewards puts together an annual overview of shopping rebates by merchant. This year’s analysis examined 21 different rewards programs and their rates for 177 online merchants, converting those nebulous “points per dollar” into real percentages you can compare across the board.
Ready to find out where to shop? Click “Continue Reading” and find out!
Before you go to the chart, please take a moment to read a couple of important notes:
1. This information reflects regular, non-promotional rebates as of the week of 10/14/07. Rewards programs occasionally adjust their rates and may actually do so in reaction to this chart. Also, although great effort was taken to ensure accuracy, human error does occur so please double-check before making a purchase.
2. Points were converted to percentages using the value of the cheapest $25 redemption. If you typically redeem points for less than a $25 redemption, the percentages may be a little lower; they may be slightly higher if you typically hold out for a $50 or greater points reward. If you have questions about how the calculation is made, please email me.
3. Where a rewards program gave their rates in a range (for example, 1% for electronics but 3% for everything else) I used the higher rate for comparison. Travel and electronics sites in particular tend to have rates that vary based on the item purchased. Be sure to read the fine print before making a purchase as some items like gift cards and video game consoles may be exempt from any rebate at all.
4. Jellyfish.com has a unique structure that allows a merchant to offer a different rate for every product he sells. Jellyfish guarantees a minimum of the rate included in the chart; your actual rebate may be higher depending on the specific item you purchase.
Notes 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 are generally offers for one flat cashback amount per purchase, so your actual percentage rebate would be higher if you made a small purchase, or lower for bigger purchases.
Scanning up and down the chart will show you which rewards programs have the most “greens” and which have the most “reds.” If you want to pick only one or two rewards programs to shop through, you’ll want to avoid those sites with a lot of “reds” and look for those with a fair number of “greens.”
Rewards Programs Included in This Year’s Analysis:
The rewards programs included in this year’s shopping comparison chart are as follows (click the program name to go to my in-depth review of their program): BabyMint, BondRewards, ClubMom, CreationsRewards.net, Ebates, Extrabux, FatWallet, Freeride, Greenpoints, iBakeSale, Jellyfish, LittleGrad, MedicalRewardsNetwork, Memolink, MrRebates, MyPoints, MyTroops, QuickRewards.net, QuizPoints, SunshineRewards, 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 and visitor comments) will give you an idea of which are worthwhile.
Finally, I submit to you the CompareRewards 2007 Shopping Rebates Comparison Chart.
Be sure to come back after skimming it over to read my analysis of the data.
HIGHLIGHTS AND SUMMARY
Top Five Best Rewards Programs for Shopping Rebates
1. BondRewards. For the second year in a row, BondRewards blows away the competition with their amazingly high shopping rates. BondRewards offers a rebate on 130 of the merchants in the analysis, and of those 130, 49 times BR had a rate that was the highest (or tied for highest). In other words, 39% of the time a purchase through BondRewards would give you not just a high rate, but the highest rate anywhere for a particular merchant. A caveat for those unfamiliar with the program: it pays your rebate in the form of a savings bond, and $25 ($50 BondRewards) is the minimum to request your earnings. If your goal is to save for the future, this site is for you! Please click here to join (aff).
2. Jellyfish. Jellyfish has a lot of merchants in total on their website, but only rewards for 57 of the big-name merchants on the chart. Of the 57, Jellyfish had the highest rebate (or tied for highest) 26% of the time. Keep in mind that your actual rate may be higher (see Note #4 above). Jellyfish, a runner-up last year as well, continues to perform very well. Now, if they could just add some more popular retailers… You can request a check from Jellyfish when your available balance exceeds $10. Please click here to join (aff).
3. Extrabux. Extrabux is a year old and this is their first time to be included in the analysis, and here they are in the top five! They reward for 103 of the merchants on my chart (over 600 stores total), and of those 103, they had the highest rebate (or tied for highest) 24 times, or 23% of the time. That’s a really impressive showing. They pay by check or PayPal when your earnings exceed $10. Please click here to join (aff).
4. MrRebates. How is it that a program with over 1,000 stores that’s been around for 5 years is only just making my analysis? MrRebates has been flying under the radar, and undeservedly so — they had the best rate (or tied for best) for 32 of the 169 merchants they reward for on my chart…19% of them! You can request a check when your available balance is $25 or more. Please click here to join (aff).
5. Ebates. Ebates always has a strong showing in my analysis, and this year was no exception. They had the highest rebates for 21 of the 153 merchants listed on my chart, for a total of 14% of the time. With a low $5 payout minimum, and their daily double-rebate merchant, what’s not to like about Ebates? Please click here to join (aff).
Worst Rewards Programs for Shopping Rebates:
1. MyPoints. The program with the worst shopping rates, for the second year in a row, is MyPoints. MyPoints’ shopping rates are abysmal. They reward for 124 of the merchants in my analysis and of those, 78 times they had the lowest rate (or tied for lowest) of all 21 rewards programs in the review. Wow. That means 63% of the time you’ll get not just “a” low rate, but THE LOWEST (or tied for lowest) when you shop through MyPoints. In addition, they have 12 “yellows” — merchants where the rate is low on bigger dollar purchases. MyPoints was bought this year by United Online (owners of Netzero and Classmates.com, among other sites). You would hope that being out of for-sale limbo would bring some focused attention to improving the site, but all we’ve seen is a site redesign and increased points required for a gift card. MyPoints is still a good option for earning points without spending money (by reading emails, completing surveys, signing up for newsletters, and through occasional contests), but you’ll only want to shop there to take advantage of their rates for Barnes and Noble, Overstock, and SmartBargains, which are the best around. MyPoints offers points for purchases, redeemable for gift cards or United Mileage Plus miles. Please click here to join (aff).
2. Greenpoints. Greenpoints, the online version of the old S&H Green Stamps program, was sold last December to a company that does fingerprint scanning. Greenpoints only rewards for 56 of the merchants in the analysis, and of those, they had the lowest (or tied for lowest) 14 times, or 25% of the time. They only have 101 total merchants that they reward for in their whole program! Their rates for Apple, CompUSA, FTD, and Hotwire are fractions of a percent better than their competitors but is that enough to entice you to use them? Greenpoints pays in points, obviously, and you can cash out for merchandise starting at 2900 points, or gift cards starting at 4900 points for $5. If you’d like to join Greenpoints, click here.
3. Freeride. Last year I dubbed Freeride The Worst Organized Shopping Site Ever. And also like last year, if you are able to somehow find the merchant you’re looking for, you’re going to be rewarded with poor rates. Last year, they had the lowest rebates for 12 merchants on the chart; this year it’s 18. They only had 79 merchants on the chart, so that works out to a sad 23% of the time you’d get the lowest rate anywhere by shopping through Freeride. You can earn points through Freeride without spending by clicking links on the site; this may be worth it but shopping certainly isn’t. If you’d like to join Freeride, click here.
4. Memolink. Memolink had the lowest rate (or tied for lowest) 32 times out of 163 merchants. That works out to 20% of the time. They didn’t make the worst-rate list last year because Freestyle Rewards (which shut down) and Milesource (which I no longer include) had even lower rates. Now they’re out of the analysis, it’s obvious how low Memolink’s shopping rebates really are. They do offer some points for non-spending activities like visiting websites. If you’d like to join Memolink, click here.
5. There really was no number five — all other programs not specifically mentioned had 8% or fewer “reds” and could could be fairly classified as offering average rates.
All four of the rewards programs with the lowest shopping rates are points programs. Why do you suppose that is? First of all, by offering points per dollar when you shop, they make it hard for you to see how much better you could do by shopping elsewhere. Second of all, most points programs offer some method for members to earn points without shopping (to encourage participation, to bolster their membership rolls, etc.), and these “free” points have to be paid for somehow — so less is paid out for shopping. Not all points programs are low-payers, but for these reasons, obviously percentage cash back sites would be a better bet.
Shopping around for the best rebate for your desired merchant can result in a big difference in what you earn. If you want to order a subscription from Magazines.com, your reward could be anywhere between 2.6 and 30%, depending on which rewards program you use. For Shoebuy.com, rebates range from 3.1% to 15%. For FragranceNet, rebates vary from 2.6 to 10%. There are many more examples of this in the chart. If you take your time, refer to the chart or do the legwork yourself, you can greatly maximize the rebate you’ll receive.
If your desired merchant isn’t on the chart, and you don’t have time to research whose rate is best, stick with one of the top-rated programs: BondRewards, Jellyfish, Extrabux, MrRebates, or Ebates. They offer the best rebates overall, and chances are, you’ll get a very competitive rate from them no matter which merchant you use. In fact, shopping through any rewards program is better than going directly to the merchant’s site, because at least you’ll earn SOMETHING back that way.
I look forward to your comments and suggestions for next year’s analysis.
Organizations interested in purchasing the chart for your own internal use in spreadsheet format, complete with points calculations and other statistics not visible on the PDF version, please contact me for rates.
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