Before you put your cash on the virtual barrelhead, though, there are a few things you should consider:
- Make direct comparisons -- Rewards sites can be confusing because some offer points while others offer cash. Taking the time to convert points to their cash equivalents is the best way to make a fair and accurate comparison between competing sites.
- Review shipping and handling charges -- Sometimes what seem like the best deals are offset by unexpected, and unexpectedly high, charges. Before you decide to make a purchase on any site, be sure you understand exactly what the transaction entails. A low selling price with bonus rewards may not make up for high shipping and other charges.
- Don't lose sight of the whole -- It pays to evaluate a purchase carefully. A $50 minimum purchase may earn you free freight, but you might also be able to use a coupon with that purchase, buy through a rewards site for an additional rebate and use the sites credit or membership card to earn extra points. These days, buying bargain products may involve combining a number of strategies. To do this effectively, understand what you can combine by reading the fine print on any promotion carefully, and make sure you have your plan of attack plotted out before you begin a transaction.
- Bulk up your buying power -- Although it's a good idea to investigate the best bargains for a particular item, doing business with a few preferred sites is likely to net you the best overall savings. It also has the advantage of keeping your personal information in a limited number of online locations.
- It doesn't hurt to sign up -- Signing up for membership on a number of rewards sites, and joining the mailing lists of a few e-tailers you like is a good strategy if you don't have to give away too much personal information. Sometimes just signing up for a site's newsletter by providing an e-mail address can earn you extra points you can exchange for discounts if you buy something later. It never hurts to stay informed. If you hate the idea of all that junk e-mail, setup a separate e-mail account for retail and rewards links. You can check for bargains occasionally without flooding your main e-mail address with notifications that don't interest you.
- Watch the calendar -- Online stores and rewards sites periodically offer special promotions, especially around major holidays. If you can group your purchases around these bargain friendly dates, you can sometimes double your rewards and save quite a bit. If you aren't making an emergency purchase, this may be easier to do than you think. Many sites let you set up a wish list for the items you're interested in. Some will even notify you when your wish list items go on sale.