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
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.
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
- 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.
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.