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Can you benefit from your credit card's mall?

By , CardRatings contributor
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How can you earn extra cash-back rewards or airline miles simply for making purchases online? By using an online shopping portal, of course.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall, Discover's ShopDiscover.com and Bank of America's World Points Mall are three of the biggest players in the click-through online shopping game. By offering customers additional cash-back rebates and bonus points simply for shopping through their portals, they are able to drum up sales for affiliated businesses and help their customers earn more rewards in one fell swoop.

How online shopping portals work

If you're using a rewards credit card for your online purchases, you're already at an advantage. Online shopping portals take your earnings a step further by offering additional rewards on top of the cash back or points you're already earning, and can boost them anywhere from 100 to 1,000 percent.

On any given day, a rewards portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping Mall will reward an extra 1 to 10 points per dollar spent at a rotating list of online stores, including popular retailers like Macy's, J.C. Penney, Nike and Office Depot. All you need to do to earn the extra rewards is visit the credit card shopping portal of your choosing and click through to any store and make an online purchase. It's as easy as that.

Whether or not you're a fan of online shopping portals, it is hard to argue with rewards like this. And with bonus cash for the taking, shoppers planning to make an online purchase anyway might as well take advantage of these offers. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

What to watch out for

Credit card customers have plenty to gain from online shopping portals, but also plenty to lose, says Shawn Needham of the financial literacy organization Clarifi. For example, shoppers shouldn't let potential rewards get in the way of evaluating whether something is a good deal or not.

"Even if you're earning points through a portal, those points may not be worth it if you can get a lower price for an item elsewhere," says Needham.

Needham also suggests having a plan for the points you earn so that they don't go to waste. "You also want to make sure that you can actually use the points later," he says.

Another risk consumers face is something called "chasing the rewards," says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. According to Ulzheimer, "chasing the rewards" is what happens when shoppers use rewards as an excuse to spend more money than they would otherwise.

"If you blow past your shopping budget because you know you're going to earn five times the points, you haven't done yourself any good," says Ulzheimer.

To avoid overspending, Ulzheimer and other experts suggest only using shopping portals for purchases you were going to make anyway and shopping outside of a portal if that means getting your items for a lower price.

Making the most of online shopping portals

According to the experts, shoppers who are able to earn extra rewards without blowing the family budget are in the perfect position to really take advantage.

"The brass ring in using these portals is clearly the large chunks of rewards points you can earn by shopping at the same stores at which you'd normally shop," said Ulzheimer. "And earning rewards points faster means you'll be able to redeem them for gift cards, and save big bucks."

That kind of talk is music to the ears of rewards enthusiasts, including Rick Ingersoll, credit card rewards expert and founder of FrugalTravelGuy.com. Ingersoll has been in hot pursuit of points and miles for over a decade and lists online shopping portals as a big part of his strategy. According to Ingersoll, shoppers should consider using online shopping portals "anytime there is a financial benefit to the user, which is always."

The perks are one big reason why Ingersoll doesn't shop online without first checking all of his favorite online shopping portals for the best deal. And over the years, he has cashed in handsomely on his efforts by using cash-back rewards, airline miles, and hotel loyalty points to travel all over the world for pennies on the dollar.

According to Ingersoll, online shopping portals are just another way for consumers to boost their point balances. And, if you like the rewards like he does, you might want to consider getting on board with online shopping portals too.

"Think of the miles and points as alternative currencies that can add up to big values," he says.

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