Three tips for booking travel via cashback sites

I’ve written about cashback portals before and how if you don’t use them, you’re basically leaving money on the table. If you’re conscientious about using cashback portals when buying things online, you can, over time, accumulate a pretty penny for yourself.

As a recap- how cashback sites work is you register for an account, click through to a merchant site, complete your transaction, and earn your cashback. That’s all. Your cashback usually becomes payable in a few weeks, depending on the merchant in question.

I wanted to talk about using cashback sites specifically for travelling, given that travel is a big budget item and earning even 2-3% cashback can really add up.

What cashback site should I use?

There is certainly no shortage of cashback sites out there. For example, Cashbackholic lists no fewer than 43 cashback sites offering varying rebate percentages for Hotels.com (you might be wondering why the same merchant has different rebates for different cashback sites- it’s simple commercial reality. Different cashback sites have different commission agreements with different merchants, and keep different % of the money on their side before giving the rest to you)

Should you use a best of breed approach, picking the cashback site that offers the highest cashback for a particular merchant? I sort of see this akin to the legendary “how many credit cards should I have” question, where some people (like me) insist on using multiple cards so that you max out the miles on each individual transaction, and others prefer to use one card for convenience.

It may surprise you to know that unlike my multiple cards approach, I’d advocate using one cashback portal. This is because I find there are too many merchants out there and the rebate percentages often change. Compare this to credit card bonus categories where I know a restaurant is a restaurant and online is online and overseas is overseas, and so long as I always use my HSBC Advance card for all local dining and online spend and my UOB Visa Signature/UOB PRVI Miles for all overseas spending I’m good.

My personal preference is Shopback, because they have good rebate percentages with the merchants I use the most, their cashout process is painless and their app offers some unique opportunities to earn cashback on things you wouldn’t have thought possible (eg Uber). You can sign up for Shopback here and earn a $5 starter credit (I will also earn a referral bonus).

That said, I would strongly encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions- what works best for me may not work for you. You might also want to check out some other sites like Ebates Singapore and Getex (both of which I have not tried before) to see if they offer merchants that Shopback does not.

So, once you’ve decided on your cashback site, what should you know about booking travel?

Tip 1: You’ll get good cashback on hotels

OTAs (Online travel agents) offer good rebates through cashback portals. If you’re not brand conscious, you can easily get 6-9% cashback on your hotel bookings

Given that OTA hotel pricing can vary widely, it’s probably prudent to shop around and ensure that your 6% cashback on Site X isn’t more than offset by Site X pricing the same property 10% more than the 2% cashback offering Site Y.

The other catch is that hotels require you to book directly with them if you want to earn points and elite status credit. So, for example, you would not get points, credit or elite status recognition on a stay with a Westin booked through Hotels.com, even if you are an SPG Platinum member (certain properties may, at their discretion, offer benefits on such stays. However these are not required under the T&C and these rates will still not earn points or credit)

That doesn’t rule out cashback portals completely, of course. You can still use a cashback portal to book directly with a hotel chain. Shopback offers the following direct booking options

Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt are the major missing chains here, but you should be able to find them on other sites (eg BeFrugal and Mr Rebates)

You might wonder why cashback via direct hotel bookings (2-4%) is less than cashback via OTAs (6-9%). It’s quite simple, really. Hotels pay OTAs commissions every time someone books a site through an OTA.

Stop-Clicking-Around-Hilton

I’m not privy to the details, but I understand these can be substantial (think 10-15% range, or even higher in some geographies). The higher cashback you earn on bookings via OTAs is reflective of that spread the OTAs earn.

Tip 2: You generally won’t get good cashback on flights

Although 6-9% cashback on hotels is very common, you’d be hard pressed to find the same for airlines. Airlines work on a very different basis from hotels and pay lower commissions to OTAs. That’s in turn reflected in the lower cashback available for flight bookings. Here’s how TopCashBack caps airline cashback for Expedia

and for Orbitz

Low cashback or not, airlines base your miles earning on fare class, not where you bought your ticket, so there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from buying your air tickets through an OTA (note: if you buy an SQ ticket via a 3rd party site and try to upgrade it using your miles, you will not get the 15% online redemption discount, regardless of whether you actually do the upgrade online).

$2.50 and $3 maximum cashback doesn’t really sound appealing, but Shopback is running a promotion with Singapore Airlines till the end of this year that awards 1% cashback on SQ flights, capped at $150 per transaction, booked via the SQ website.

You can also earn 1% cashback with

  • Qatar Airways
  • Emirates
  • Scoot
  • Air France
  • Air Asia

Tip 3: Don’t forget about ground transport

Car rentals and train bookings can also earn cashback. Priceline will give you 2% back on car rentals (don’t forget to buy insurance). Rail Europe also has 2% cashback, but I vaguely remember someone telling me that Rail Europe’s prices were inflated anyway.

Admittedly this is an area where I find Shopback’s options a little lacking. They don’t have any tie ups with Avis/Hertz/Sixt. For these you can consider Ebates Singapore, which offers cashback with Enterprise, Avis and car rentals done via Travelocity. These generally hover in the 2-3% range.

Conclusion

The applicability of cashback sites to travel isn’t just limited to hotels and transport. You can also get cashback on activities you do when you’re there, such as those you find on Groupon or even attractions (I vaguely recall USS being available on Shopback’s site).

I hope this clarifies some things about cashback sites and that you’re able to find a way to save more on your travels.

Act quickly- free Leaders Club Hotel Membership (Edit: Dead)

Edit: Link is dead. Hope everyone acted quickly!

Diners Club is offering a complimentary year of Leaders Club base tier membership to anyone who clicks on this link. Technically, you’re supposed to enter your email ID and see if you’re eligible, but from what I read anyone can take advantage of this offer.

I entered my email and saw this

It was then a simple matter of filling out a form and before long I was good to go.

The status I got was valid till Feb 2018

The Leaders Club is not a chain as such, but rather the loyalty program of a group of independent hotels called the Leading Hotels of the World. To give you an idea of what type of hotels fall under this category, here’s two from Singapore

The price range suggests I’m probably not going to be staying at these any time in the future. That said, the base level of Leaders Club usually costs US$150 and includes benefits such as

  • One free night with every five stays
  • Complimentary Continental Breakfast for two each day of your stay
  • One category room upgrade, where available
  • Complimentary Internet access
  • Late Check-Out and Early Check-In on availability
  • A welcome gift when you stay
  • Sixt Platinum Status

Obviously, none of these are life changing benefits, but when you consider the fact that you’re basically getting mid-tier hotel elite status benefits for free, why not?

Once you’re a member you can access the member’s area where you’ll see special offers including this one with Sixt. You can get Sixt Platinum status for free, which entitles you to up to 15% discounts on car rentals, access to the VIP lane and an upgrade to the next highest car category.

I’m already a Sixt Platinum member through a status match, and have found it pretty useful in getting upgrades. I’ve rented with Sixt twice, in London and Koh Samui. In London the regular compact I booked was upgraded to a Volvo XC60 with GPS and all the bells and whistles, and in Koh Samui I was upgraded to a Camry.

The other exciting thing about free rental car status is you can try status matching it to Avis or Hertz, giving you a wider range of options when you book a car.

It’s quite likely the link will get taken down once the full force of the interwebs finds out about it, so sign up while you can.

Starwood Select Member Exclusive Bonus- did you get anything?

Starwood offers targeted member promotions from time to time on top of its usual quarterly promotions that are open to all. These present opportunities to earn additional lucrative Starpoints.

Via Loyalty Lobby, I’ve just learned that there’s another Select Member Exclusive ongoing. You need to click through to the website and register your SPG number to see your offer.

Registrations need to be done by 15 April, but stays can be anytime between 15 Feb and 15 May. As with all Starwood promos, you can earn credit “retroactively”. That’s to say, if I make 3 stays in Feb but only register in March, those 3 stays will count towards my  Feb-May tally.

Here’s the offer I got

Other people are reporting bonuses like

  • 3,000 Starpoints after the 3rd stay, 3,000 Starpoints after the 6th stay and 3,000 Starpoints after the 9th stay for a total 9,000 Starpoints bonus
  • Double elite stay and elite night credit
  • One free night certificate (up to Cat 5) after 3rd stay and 6th stay each, maximum of 2 free night certificates

Not everyone will receive an offer, but it only takes 5 minutes to register and find out.

Feeling lucky today?

Travel Better for Less