(This is part of a series introducing the new personal finance guide for missionaries: Money for Missionaries: A Personal Finance Primer for Missionaries, aka M4M, now available from Amazon.)
That can be done without extra hassle and without the temptation of spending extra money to chase rewards.
As a missionary, there are a few instances when you will be making some big expenditures, and so it could really pay to maximize your rewards.
Relocating your whole family to another country can cost lots of money. The airfare itself is one big expenditure.
To maximize your rewards, use a technique that I call “stacking.”
To stack your rewards, you take a few special steps to gain multiple rewards for a single purchase. The result can be getting 10% back on your purchase instead of just 2%.
Stack Rewards Step 1: Use an online shopping “gateway.”
Most of us have shopped online. But did you know that if you are referred to those stores by another website that the referring website will often give you a reward?
Here are the main gateways you should consider:
1. For example, if you use United Mileage Plus as one of your frequent flyer accounts, you can log into your account and shop online through their site to gain more miles. As I write this, for every dollar spent at Snapfish.com, you would get 4 miles added to your account. They you can also shop online at Dell, Apple, Kohls, Best Buy, and Wal Mart to earn frequent flyer miles.
Many other major frequent flyer programs also have shopping gateways like this available for you to earn more miles.
Just be sure that you are logged in and referred from their shopping site to the site you want to buy from.
Swagbucks is an easy way to earn rewards. Sign up for a free account, and you can start earning swagbucks. You can use their online currency in their store.
However, the gold standard at Swagbucks is an Amazon.com giftcard. Right now, 450 Swagbucks will get you $5 at Amazon.com. If you ever shop at Amazon – especially if you have a Kindle you plan on taking overseas – then this is a good deal.
After you sign up with Swagbucks, use their search tool like you normally would with google. Results are still pretty good. Swagbucks will periodically award you Swagbucks for your searches. (There are other ways to earn swagbucks, but they are all a waste of your time.)
When you search for an online store, Swagbucks will sometimes tell you that they will award your a certain number of Swagbucks for each dollar spent at that store.
Consider this: I just searched for “Best Buy” with the Swagbucks search bar, and it will reward me 3 Swagbucks for every dollar spent at bestbuy.com after I follow their link. Which stores Swagbucks will reward you for changes, so be sure to search for a store via Swagbucks every time you spend money online.
Here’s one way you could use Swagbucks. If you need to buy a new laptop computer, you would search for “Best Buy” on Swagbucks. If they offer you 3 swagbucks for each dollar spent, you then click through to Best Buy’s website. You then order your new laptop like you normally would. You can also do in store pickup if you want to get it right away or if you don’t want to pay for shipping. A $1000 laptop would then net you 3000 swagbucks. That’s worth over $30 in giftcards at Amazon.
By the way, if you just use the Swagbucks search toolbar like you normally would google, it can easily get you enough swagbucks every 30-45 days for a $5 giftcard.
This is just like shopping online through a special “shopping mall” or gateway. For purchases you are going to make anyways, especially large ones, sign up at Ebates.com and see if the store online offers a discount through Ebates.com. For example, if you pay for a vacation at Expedia.com after being referred by Ebates, you can sometimes get about 5% back. That’s not too shabby. They are different from other sites in that they mail you a physical check. So make sure you have a valid mailing address in the US!
Stack Rewards Step 2: Use a Card with Rewards.
You should always be doing this step, regardless of the purchase. Unless you are using cash, this step is easy peasy.
Stack Rewards Step 3: Buy from a site that has its own Rewards program.
Many stores and websites have their own rewards program. They are often free to join. When you make a large purchase, you can often get a reward right away.
For example, Expedia.com has its own rewards program. If you were to buy your plane tickets to relocate your family overseas, you can gain some significant rewards points. It may take some time to accumulate enough points to redeem them for a free plane ticket. It will be worth it when you finally do, though, even if it takes a few years! If nothing else, it doesn’t hurt to gain points for something you would be purchasing anyways.
I do not recommend store credit cards, but Expedia.com’s and Orbitz.com’s credit card may be the exception. If you travel lots as a missionary, you will gain even more points when you use their credit card on their site.
Stack Rewards Step 4: Frequent Flyer Miles.
This step only works if you are flying somewhere. If you are, make sure your miles are counted towards your frequent flyer account.
(We will have some introductory information on frequent flyer programs in a later post. For now, make sure all miles from partner airlines accumulate in one program!)
My real Example of Stacking Rewards.
We recently took a vacation that included airfare and hotel. Here’s what we did.
Searched on Swagbucks for expedia.com.
Swagbucks offered 2 of their bucks for each dollar spent at expedia.
We clicked through to Expedia.com.
We booked our trip (flights and hotel) using a rewards credit card.
Since we already had an account with Expedia.com, they were going to automatically grant us points in their own rewards program once the trip was completed.
We took the trip – flew the miles and got the frequent flyer miles on the airline.
While on vacation, we got an email from Swagbucks. They were telling us that we were going to be awarded over 8,000 swagbucks!
Our results from stacking rewards:
Step 1: Swagbucks: 8,000 (~$85).
Step 2: Used credit card ($40 back).
Step 3: Expedia’s reward program (~4000 points. ~50,000 is needed for a plane ticket)
Step 4: We gained about 6,000 miles for each of us. (25,000-50,000 can be redeemed for a plane ticket).
Since this was a large purchase, it was worth it. It took almost no extra effort to net the rewards beyond the cash back from our credit card. Also, we were definitely going to take this vacation, so we weren’t just tempted for the rewards!
The Pitfalls of chasing Rewards.
As you can see, most rewards can only get you about 1 or 2% back. Often, you won’t be able to use the reward until you accumulate enough points, which could take years, so the payoff seems even less.
Getting rewards can feel like a game, but don’t spend more money to get rewards. Spending 99 cents to get 1 cent back is dumb, financially or otherwise.
Also, may rewards programs are loyalty programs. Still do your shopping around. Saving 2% is dumb when you can save $100 through a different website.
However, sometimes the stars do align and you can stack your rewards!
Disclaimer: This site provides information only for entertainment and informational purposes. We do the best we can to be accurate, but we are not professionals. We are not tax, legal, or financial advisors, and we can not be held responsibility for any loss or harm you incur from reading this site. Reading this site or signing up to receive emails does not form an advisor-client relationship.
This posts includes affiliate links from which I can receive compensation if you follow and use them.