Is There a Free Lunch? Cashback Portals and Frequent Flyer eStores

by | Published Sep 9, 2020 | Edited Nov 30, 2022


Cashback rebate sites are websites that give you the opportunity to earn cash for shopping at various retailers (mostly online, but also in-store) in the form of a kickback from the purchase you make. This works because of affiliate marketing – the shopping portal gets paid a commission for ‘referring’ you to the retailer, and they then pass off a portion of this commission to you as cashback (and keep the other portion for themselves).  

Frequent flyer eStores are the same concept, but instead of cash, they give you frequent flyer miles/points.

Now, you might think these are mere peanuts not worth using a rebate site for. And in some cases, the cashback rates can be low, in the 1% or 2% range. If you’re making a $40 purchase, then chasing 40 cents isn’t really worth it, I’d agree. But, if making larger purchases, then the bonuses become more worthwhile and can be looked at as a way to save money on your online purchases.

Furthermore, portal cashback rates fluctuate greatly. Often you may be surprised to see rates as high as 7-15% cashback, especially during major shopping events like Black Friday, Christmas, etc. Now we’re talking!

In finance and economics, there is a popular adage that explains opportunity cost as: “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. However, in the case of cashback portals and frequent flyer eStores, there absolutely is a free lunch to be had for purchases you’d already be making, and you should make sure you don’t leave this free money on the proverbial picnic table. 

Let’s take a look at these shopping rebate sites and how you can benefit as a consumer if you prefer to shop online.

How Do Cashback Portals and eStores Work?

Cashback and points earning portals are fairly straightforward but do have some small nuances we should mention. In general, with web portals, you browse through the portal’s list of retailers, and then click on your retailer of choice. The portal will route you to the retailer, where you can make your purchase as normal. 

At this point, your work is done. The retailer and the cashback site communicate behind the scenes, and store data about your session to identify you through something called browser cookies. I’ll spare the details but there are lots of resources out there that get more technical. Bottom line is that these cookies are not perfect, and you want to make it easy for them to work properly – the above process should occur in a single browser session, and it’s generally recommended to ‘clear your cookies’ and start a new browser session in isolation before you start.

Now, the time it takes for portal sites to credit you your cash or points back is quite variable, between, but also sometimes within a single site. Many also have embargo periods, after you’ve been credited, but before you’re allowed to withdraw the funds. This is generally done to ensure you can’t return the purchase and run away with the cash/points. But I’ll tell you not all sites do this, and not all that do are accurate either 😉

Speaking of withdrawing, this is also variable. For points, you will generally link your frequent flyer account and the points will be deposited automatically. For cashback, there are various options that vary by site, from ACH to physical check, to echeck to PayPal to digital gift cards. Most sites offer multiple options.  

Lastly, I should mention that some of the mobile cashback applications operate a bit differently. Some of these apps, such as Amplii, distinguish two types of cashback methods – ‘linked rewards’, and what I’ll call ‘click-through rewards’. Click-through rewards are just like what we’ve been discussing with Rakuten and other online portals – you click through to the retailer’s site from the cashback/points portal.

If you don’t have that click history, you don’t get credited the cash/points. On the other hand, linked rewards only require that you’ve linked your credit cards in the mobile application, and will automatically recognize any transactions at the partnered retailers. 

You know what this means don’t you!? For retailers which appear on both, you can double-dip on cashback from Amplii and your click-through portal of choice. Combine this with a good cash back or points earning credit card of your choice, and double-digit rewards are easily within reach 😉

What Portals/eStores are Available to Canadians?

There are quite a few popular cashback sites and frequent flyer eStores available for Canadians to take advantage of when shopping online:

Portal / AppTypePending period for payoutPayout optionsPayout frequencyMobile appReferral bonusLink to Website
Rakuten (CA)CashbackNot once posted, but can be clawed backPayPal, physical check, Amazon.ca gift certificateEvery three monthsYesReferrer gets $25, referee gets $5, after referee spends $25.Signup
Rakuten (US)Cashback (USD)Not once posted, but can be clawed backPayPal, physical check, Amex MR pointsEvery three monthsYesReferrer gets $25, referee gets $10, after referee spends $25.Signup
TopCashbackCashback (USD)Yes, up to 90 daysACH (direct deposit), PayPal, variety of GCs/ prepaid cardsImmediate, once payableYesReferrer gets $10 after referee earns $10 through spendingSignup
Great Canadian RebatesCashbackYes, minimum 58 dayseGift Cards (4% bonus), Direct Deposit, PayPal28th of the month, once payableNoReferrer gets 15% of cashback on referee’s purchases for 3 yearsSignup
Aeroplan eStorePointsNoAeroplan Pointsn/aNoNoSignup
Air Miles ShopsPointsNoAirmiles Cash, Airmiles Dream Milesn/aYesNoSignup
Avios eStorePointsSpeedy retailers (5 days)Aviosn/aNoNoSignup
Alaska Mileage Plan ShoppingPointsNoAlaska Milesn/aNoNoSignup
RBC OffersPointsNoRBC Rewardsn/aYesNoSignup
AmpliiCash backNoInterac transferImmediateYes, mobile-onlyEach get $5 after referee links bank accountSignup
PaymiCashbackYes, up to 90 daysInterac transferImmediate, once payableYes, mobile-onlyEach get $5 after referee makes first purchaseSignup
DropCashback (Gift cards)NoVariety of gift cardsImmediateYes, mobile-onlyEach get 5000 points ($5) after referee makes earns 1000 pointsSignup

Primary Online Cashback Portals in Canada

Rakuten.ca

Rakuten.ca is the Canadian counterpart to Rakuten.com and is one of the most popular cashback sites. They are a subsidiary of Rakuten Inc, a major Japanese e-commerce internet company. They purchased what is now Rakuten.ca and rebranded it (formerly called ebates).

They are definitely the most popular cashback portal in Canada, and likely in the top 3 in USA. While I won’t comment on the overall competitiveness of their cashback rates compared to Great Canadian Rebates or other cashback sites, speaking from experience they often have extremely generous promotional cashback rates for specific retailers. As high as 10-15% cashback in some cases!

One downside to Rakuten is that it takes a while to actually be issued your rebates – up to 3 months. There are several payout options, which include physical checks, PayPal, and Amazon.ca gift certificates. If you are interested in learning more, check out our Rakuten Canada review.

GreatCanadianRebates

Great Canadian Rebates is one of the oldest running (est. 2005) cashback sites in Canada. They have competitive rates with any other cashback portals in Canada. What sets them apart is they offer rebates on many different credit cards, including Scotiabank, HSBC, American Express, and even Tangerine. 

Their referral program is especially strong – for each person you refer, you’ll get 15% of all the bonuses they collect in the following 3 years.

Primary eStores in Canada

Aeroplan eStore 

The Aeroplan eStore is a glorious points generator if you know how to use it. While a smaller portal in terms of the number of retailers (~170), it has all the big-name retailers you’ll find on cashback sites.

For me, choosing to take points for my purchases comes down to what value I could be getting from the points vs. what I could get in cashback from elsewhere. Generally, Aeroplan can be redeemed for at least $0.02 per point (CPP). I use that value to compare the rates on Aeroplan with what I can get on Rakuten or GCR for any large purchases I’m considering.

Of course, if you’re not in a hurry, the best way to use the Aeroplan eStore is to wait for the massive bonuses they have during major holidays and shopping seasons – Christmas, back-to-school, Black Friday, and so on.

AIR MILES Shops

Air MILES doesn’t have quite the same luster these days, and there is no question that Aeroplan is a generally superior program when it comes to flying. However, Air MILES still have their use and offer very flexible redemption options (if you collect CASH miles, they can be redeemed at places like Sobeys, Safeway, or even RONA). 

If you collect Air MILES, then Air Miles Shops should be on your radar. Like Aeroplan, Airmiles Shop rewards you with points for shopping at many very well-known retailers. They also have regular bonuses and special offers from time to time which give you greater than normal earning rates.

air miles shops mega miles event

Furthermore, there are promotions such as Air Miles MEGA MILES, which reward you for making multiple purchases at several different retailers. In summer 2020, you could earn up to 1000 extra Air Miles ($100+ value) this way.

Secondary eStores

There are several other eStores that can be used by Canadians to rack up points. These stores are less well known, but definitely still quite lucrative at times.

Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping Portal

This store is administered by the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program. They have over 850+ retailers, and also offer online and in-store rewards (just remember to link the offer to your card first).

alaska airlines mileage shopping extension for chrome

There is also an ‘Alaska Mileage Plan Shopping Button’, which allows you to activate the ability to earn points on your purchases directly from the retailer’s website, without going through the Shopping Portal.

RBC Offers

A more subtle set of offers can also be had from within your RBC online account, under ‘Offers for You’. These are similar to the Amex Offers that many of you may be familiar with.

rbc offers for you

I’ll leave it to friends over at Rewards Canada to explain the ins and outs of RBC Offers in their comprehensive guide.

Cashback or ‘Giftcard-back’ Apps

Don’t forget about mobile apps! These seem to come and go a bit, but right now there are three worth having – Ampli, Paymi, and Drop. 

Ampli

As mentioned in the introduction, Ampli is special because it has some retailers which will automatically award you with cashback when you shop with a card linked in the app. So the potential to double-dip is real. I have double-dipped several times when shopping for new Dyson vacuums – I’m very picky when it comes to my vacuums…

Amplii rewards you your cash back very quickly and allows almost immediate payout via Interac. This is a very nice aspect of using these apps, compared with their online counterparts.  

Paymi

Paymi is a relative newcomer to the world of Canadian shopping apps. It is actually backed by CIBC (for what that’s worth). It is very similar to Ampli. 

Paymi offers cash back of 1-10% at retailers including: Burger King, Lululemon, Zara, Lowe’s, Swiss Chalet, Mark’s, Leon’s, SportChek, Aldo, Walmart, Starbucks, Sobey’s, Contiki, Lion World Travel, Insight Vacations, Milestones, Winners, Netflix, Spotify, Hudson’s Bay, Trafalgar, Ren’s Pets, Old Navy, Sephora, WineOnline.ca, Indochino, Inabuggy, and many more. Retailers are always changing as well. 

How to use Paymi

Paymi is really simple to use and completely hands-free once you are set up. Simply sign up for a Paymi account and link your debit and/or credit cards. 

Whenever you make a purchase at a participating retailer, you will automatically be credited cash back to your account. 

If you want to try out Paymi for yourself, use our link and you’ll get a $5 welcome bonus.

Drop

Drop is a bit of a different concept. With Drop, you earn ‘Drop points’ instead of cashback for each purchase. The points can then be redeemed for gift cards at many different retailers, including: Amazon, American Eagle, Boston Pizza, Cineplex, Groupon, Hotels.com, Apple/iTunes, Tim Hortons, Lululemon, Air Canada, and more. 

The value of Drop points is such that 10,000 points = $10 (or 0.1 cents per point if you will). Drop points must be redeemed in increments of 25,000 points ($25).

I, and others, have had issues with Drop’s tracking system in the past where it doesn’t recognize or credit your cashback properly. Then you end up having to communicate with their customer service team. You usually do end up getting your entitled points at least.

Where Drop excels in signup bonuses on memberships, credit cards, and the like, similar to GCR. For example, they’ve had very generous bonuses (80,000 points or $80) for signing up for RBC credit cards in the past. Or, if you buy a Costco membership you’ll ~25,000 points through Drop. 

If you want to give them a try, use our link to get 5,000 points ($5) bonus when you earn your first 1,000 points.

US Cashback Portals with Canadian Stores

Rakuten.com

Rakuten.com is the US version of Rakuten.ca and it works exactly the same way, except the currency awarded is US dollars. Many retailers are US-centric, but you can still shop at some of the big-name ones that are North America-wide.

Rakuten.com is definitely not something to ignore as they have fantastic cashback rates via their limited-time “Double” cashback offers giving consumers the opportunity to put some extra cash in their pocket. Their mobile app is also worth checking out as it lets you link your credit cards and earn on in-store purchases as well.

But why would you use Rakuten.com as a Canadian, when we have Rakuten.ca? Well, sometimes the bonuses for North American-wide retailers are higher on the US website. It may also work in your favor that Rakuten.com is a bit ..deficient.. when it comes to recognizing and converting CAD transactions to USD. But I won’t say any more about that 😉

Topcashback.com

Topcashback started in the UK and is now a massive entity – they have partnerships with over 4,400 online retailers. 

TCB doesn’t have a Canada-specific website, but as a Canadian, you can still use the US website since they do list Canadian retailers

A cool feature of TCB is their ‘Cash Back Guarantee’ –  if you find that another cashback site is offering a higher rate for a particular retailer, they’ll match it. 

TopCashback doesn’t have a minimum account balance required for withdrawals so you can take money out whenever you want (once it’s available for withdrawal that is). 

Their payout options are great too – you can take an American Express Reward Card as payment to add an extra 3% to your payout amount. They also offer special gift card payouts. For other retailer gift cards such as Amazon.

Other US Cashback Portals

There is a multitude of other portals in the US market, too many for one to explore by him or herself. Be Frugal, Mr. Rebates, RebatesMe, ExtraBux, and many more. 

I am not sure which or if any of these have utility for Canadian shoppers. If anyone has experience with them, please feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.

US Mobile Applications

In the USA, there is an even greater selection of cashback portals, estores, and mobile applications for earning cash/points. 

Some notable mobile apps include:

  • United MileagePlus X
  • Fluz
  • Dosh 

We won’t go into great detail in this post, but it can pay off to be aware of these apps sometimes. In particular, if you have a US credit card. For example, there are sometimes Amex Shop Small promotions that award you with rebates at certain retailers. As a Canadian, you may think it quite difficult to redeem these, but you can actually participate by purchasing online gift cards through Fluz, which you can then use in Canada. Something to keep in mind 🙂

Useful Tools for Cashback Portals and eStores

Cashback Portal Monitors

While some might advocate for using a single cashback site, you’ll get the highest return if you don’t commit to just one.  

Of course, checking multiple sites every time you make a purchase can be quite a nuisance. Fortunately, there are a few sites that aggregate the rates for all the cashback sites. These are called ‘rate monitors’.

US cashback rate monitors:

While these tools are great, we recommend always double-checking the percentage on the cash back site to ensure it aligns with the monitor before making your purchase.

Frugal Flyer is exploring the possibility of making a much more functional rate monitor for Canadian and US cashback+points portals, with the ability to create alerts and precision monitoring. Stay tuned for this!

Tips and Cautions for Using Portals/eStores

I’ll conclude this post with some concise tips to keep in mind when using these portals:

  1. Clear cookies or use incognito mode on your browser. I find Mozilla to be the most reliable.
  2. Related to 1., don’t try to use two different sites – this may ‘confuse’ them both and you end up with nothing. Using a website and a mobile app that doesn’t require clickthrough is an exception to this rule.
  3. Don’t already have something in your cart and then click through the cashback/estore
  4. Remember that not just one-off purchases, but subscriptions, bank accounts, credit cards, Netflix, etc can earn you cashback/points.
  5. Read the small print and check for exclusions on the cashback/estore website – often certain categories of products are excluded.
  6. Track your rebates somehow – a spreadsheet or document will work. Then, you’ll know if you didn’t receive a rebate you should have, and can go through the missing miles process.

Conclusion

Cash back sites give consumers a great opportunity to easily earn money when making an online purchase. We recommend exploring the many different shopping portals and eStores available to Canadians to find a few that work best for your shopping habits and goals (such as pursuing cash back or points). Personally, I find it is best to focus on a few different rebate sites so I can always get the best value for my online shopping purchases.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can you only use one cashback portal at a time?

    Yes, your online shopping purchase can only be tracked through one portal meaning you cannot double-dip on cash back from multiple portals.

  2. How do cashback portals track my purchase?

    Cashback portals use cookies to track and credit you for your online purchases. This means it is important to ensure you do not have any AdBlock services enabled when you are making a purchase through a portal.

Reed Sutton

Reed Sutton

Founder at Frugal Flyer
Reed is addicted to the science (and art) of earning and redeeming travel points, and frequently pairs his trips with his other hobby: photography. Through Frugal Flyer, Reed aims to distill some of the complex and esoteric points strategies into digestible information. Furthermore, he hopes to use his technical expertise to develop invaluable applications and tools for the travel community.

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