How to earn bonus cash back or Amex points on your online shopping purchases with Rakuten

10 March 2023

One of the best ways to earn bonus rewards on your everyday activity is through online shopping portals.

Shopping portals offer additional points, miles or cash back when you visit a specific merchant through the portal rather than going directly to that merchant’s website. Using them should be an essential part of your online shopping habits — especially when picking out gifts for your loved ones around popular holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas.

There are dozens of online shopping portals, allowing you to earn credit card rewards, airline miles, hotel points or straight-up cash for your purchases. However, one of the most powerful sites is a hybrid of these.

Rakuten — formerly known as Ebates — lets you earn cash back, or American Express Membership Rewards points when you shop online. It also even has select offers for in-store purchases as well.

And if you’re not a member and join Rakuten today, you can earn a one-time bonus of $30 when you make at least $30 in purchases through the site in the first 90 days.

If you’re trying to beat inflation-driven price increases or already looking ahead to the holiday shopping season, review this guide, which explains everything you need to know about using the Rakuten shopping portal.

What is Rakuten?

Rakuten is an online shopping portal that used to go under the name Ebates. It partners with over 2,500 online retailers, from well-known brands like Target and Nike to smaller merchants like Glossybox.com. Some airlines like British Airways, Korean Air and Avianca are also on Rakuten, allowing you to stack your earnings.

When you open an account with Rakuten, you can earn cash back or Amex Membership Rewards points on purchases at these merchants. You must start at Rakuten.com and click on the merchant through that site, or activate the offer through your browser extension (more on that later).

Related: Comparing Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards

How does Rakuten work?

You may wonder how this is even possible — earning extra cash back for shopping online seems too good to be true. In its simplest form, Rakuten forms marketing agreements with individual retailers, which then pay the site commissions on purchases that begin there. Rakuten then passes some of those commissions on to you, the customer.

The retailer gets additional business, and you and Rakuten enjoy a cut of those purchases, essentially a win-win-win for all parties.

How to sign up for Rakuten

To earn bonus cash back or Amex points for your online purchases, visit Rakuten.com. Choose how you want to sign up for an account:

With your email address.
Through Google.
Through Facebook.
Through Apple.

From there, follow the on-screen prompts to sign up for an account.

Regardless of how you join, you’re typically eligible for a $10 welcome bonus when you spend $25 or more on qualifying purchases within the first 90 days of joining the site.

But right now, it’s offering new members the opportunity to earn $30 by signing up via a referral link and spending at least $30 with participating retailers (offer subject to change at any time). This is a great way to jumpstart your earnings for shopping online.

Plus, once you join Rakuten, you can get $30 every time you refer someone to Rakuten using your personal referral link. So, there are opportunities to earn cash even after you sign up.

Related: Earn $30 (or 3,000 Amex points) by joining or referring a friend to Rakuten

How to use Rakuten to earn bonus rewards

Once you have an account, start all your online shopping trips at Rakuten.com, or check your browser extension to see if the site you’re on offers cash back.

From the homepage, find the merchant at which you want to shop in the top search box.

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The site will auto-fill any matching retailers as you start typing in the store’s name. I’ve typed in “Eti” as I start searching for Etihad Airways.

From that list, select your desired retailer, and you’ll be redirected to its earning page. This will provide the earning rate(s) and any applicable restrictions.

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To begin the online purchase process, click the “Shop Without Adding” or “Add to Chrome” (or your browser) if you want to add the plug-in button. If you already have the browser extension, simply click Shop Now.

A new window or tab will open, indicating you’re being redirected to the merchant’s website.

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Rakuten automatically creates a shopping trip, and the merchant’s website will load after a few seconds. Do not close that window. Shop as you normally would, and Rakuten will track your spending. You’ll receive the bonus rewards in your account, generally within a day or two after completing the purchase.

You can review all account activity by clicking on My Account from the drop-down menu at the top-right corner. This includes all of your individual shopping trips and your earnings balance from transactions posted to your account.

Related: Best credit cards for online shopping

Does everything count toward earning cash back?

Generally speaking, Rakuten will award cash back based on the subtotal of your purchase. This excludes shipping, taxes and other fees that aren’t tied to the items or services you’re buying.

Additionally, every merchant will have specific terms that you’ll want to review. For example, here’s what you’ll see for shopping at Staples.com:

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Gift card purchases will frequently be excluded from earning rewards, and it’s common to see select items or brands not eligible for cash back. Some merchants will indicate that your shopping cart must be empty before clicking through from Rakuten. Be sure to carefully review these store-specific restrictions to know whether to expect rewards from your purchase.

Can I use any credit card?

Yes. One of Rakuten’s best features is that your bonus is based on the purchase subtotal — the site doesn’t care how you pay. As a result, you can use a card that offers a category bonus with a specific type of merchant or a card that’s good for everyday spending. Most merchants will even allow you to use a gift card and enjoy rewards.

What about promo codes?

This is a bit trickier. Rakuten will frequently list available discounts for individual merchants on the applicable pages. If you click Shop Now next to any offer on Rakuten, you’ll still earn cash back on your purchase (assuming you comply with all other restrictions).

For example, here are a couple of recent promo codes for online shopping at Walgreens:

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In this case, you can use the WELCOME25 promo code by clicking the Shop Now icon, and you’ll still earn cash back — in addition to getting 25% off your order of $20 or more.

Many merchants, however, will prevent you from earning rewards when you use discount codes not listed on Rakuten. We’ve even seen TPG readers miss out on thousands of bonus miles. You risk losing out on any earnings if you receive a targeted mailer or email offer and use that code when shopping through Rakuten. You may still get cash back — but be aware that you may not.

How do I get my rewards?

Every quarter, Rakuten will distribute your earnings based on the following schedule:

Purchases posted between:
Payment sent by:

Jan. 1 and March 31.
May 15.

April 1 and June 30.
Aug. 15.

July 1 and Sept. 30.
Nov. 15.

Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.
Feb. 15.

As you can see, receiving your payment will take roughly 45 days from the end of the quarter. However, if your balance at the end of these periods is $5 or less, it will roll into the next quarter. You’ll never lose the rewards you’ve earned; they just won’t be paid until your cumulative balance surpasses $5.

You can receive a check in the mail or a deposit into a PayPal account, whichever is more convenient.

Or, if travel is on your mind as you look ahead, you can opt to earn Membership Rewards points instead.

Changing your earning preference

In 2019, Rakuten added the ability for all members to select between two earning types: cash back or American Express Membership Rewards points.

Many online shoppers initially prefer to receive a check or automatic PayPal deposit, but more advanced travelers may want to switch to Amex points. This option is available to anyone with a Membership Rewards-earning card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express or the American Express® Gold Card.

Related: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

Once you’ve made this change, your earning rate will shift from a set cash-back percentage to a set number of Amex points per dollar spent. In other words, a merchant offering 2% cash back will now offer 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent — so a $100 purchase would earn 200 Amex points rather than $2 cash back.

Note that new members are automatically enrolled with the cash-back option enabled. It would be best to proactively change your earning preference before shopping trips to take home Amex points on the purchases (though your initial bonus for signing up will remain in the form of cash back).

Here’s how to change your earning preference with Rakuten:

Log in to your account.
Hover over your name at the top right, then select “Account Settings.”
Scroll down to the “How would you like to get paid?” section.
Temporarily select “PayPal” or “Big Fat Check.”
Find the American Express section, click “Switch to Membership Rewards® points,” and follow the on-screen prompts to link your Amex account.

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Once you have made the switch, all future earnings through Rakuten will be deposited into your Membership Rewards account using the schedule detailed above. However, any existing cash-back rewards will remain in cash and be sent via check or PayPal based on the above payment schedule.

You can always change your earning preference. That said, think very carefully before changing your account from earning Amex points to another form of payment. This selection is irreversible, and the option for earning Membership Rewards points will disappear entirely from your account settings page.

In other words, only switch away from Amex if you are positive that you no longer want Membership Rewards points — because you won’t be able to go back.

Related: How to redeem American Express Membership Rewards for maximum value

How to maximize Rakuten

Once you’ve started using Rakuten to earn cash back or bonus Amex points for your online shopping, there are some additional ways that you can maximize the site.

Activate in-store offers

The vast majority of earning opportunities through Rakuten apply to online shopping. But when you log in to your account, you’ll notice an “In-Store Cash Back” link at the top.

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This allows you to earn bonus rewards when you shop in select brick-and-mortar stores. That being said, you must do two things to be eligible:

Add your card(s): When you go to the in-store cash-back page, you should see a “Add a New Card” link near the top. To be eligible for these offers, you must add the credit card numbers for any cards you plan to use at participating stores.
Link the offer: After adding your card, you must activate every individual offer you want to use. This is simple but essential. Visit the in-store offer page, find the merchant where you plan to shop, then click “Link Offer” underneath it.

Once you’ve done these two steps, you’ll earn the given cash back (or bonus Amex points) when a linked card is swiped at a participating store.

Consider in-store pickup

Over the last few years, many retailers expanded the ability to place an order online but pick it up at a physical store — often with curbside, contactless service. You may see higher earning rates for these orders than normal ones at some merchants.

This could be a fantastic option to avoid shipping charges, allowing you to get your items more quickly. And avoiding an in-store shopping experience can save time and money, as you’ll eliminate those impulse purchases.

Look for limited-time offers

Rakuten frequently offers enhanced bonuses for a limited time, which can be a fantastic way to boost your earnings. We recently saw increased cash back at several stores, and it’s common to see even higher bonuses during popular shopping periods — like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Finally, many individual retailers will offer bonuses, including free gifts, free shipping and buy-one-get-one-free deals.

Be on the lookout for these bonuses — or visit the email subscription page of your online account to sign up for email notifications of such offers.

Stack with credit card offers

When you shop through Rakuten, you aren’t prevented from leveraging discounts through programs like Amex Offers and Chase Offers. Since most of these post directly to your credit card (rather than being taken off the price at the time of purchase) and don’t require a coupon code, Rakuten still sees the full transaction amount.

This can also be a great way to use the annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit from the Amex Platinum. You’ll enjoy a $50 credit from January through June and another $50 from July through December. Starting at Rakuten should still allow you to enjoy these credits when you shop at Saks Fifth Avenue. Enrollment is required for select benefits.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Amex Offers

Refer friends or family members

Once you’ve started using Rakuten, you should get your friends and family in on the action.

When someone creates a Rakuten account based on your referral and spends at least $30 within 90 days of joining, you’ll typically earn a one-time bonus of $30 (they will get a welcome bonus of $30 if those purchases are within the first 90 days).

And, if your account is set to earn Amex Membership Rewards, this will be 3,000 Amex points, worth $60 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

To refer others to Rakuten, log in to your account and look for the “Refer and Earn” link at the top of the homepage.

From there, you can send emails directly to friends or family members or share via Facebook or Twitter. You also have the option to copy your referral link and send it via text message or with another mode of communication.

Once someone signs up, they are listed in “Your Referral Activity” at the bottom of the refer-a-friend page. And once they’ve hit the required spending, they’ll shift to the “Qualified” section. Your account balance will then jump by the bonus in effect at the time of enrollment, which will be paid out roughly 45 days after the end of the quarter.

Related: How to refer friends to earn points, miles and cash credits

Install the Rakuten browser extension

If you don’t want to remember to visit Rakuten every time you shop online, consider installing the Rakuten Cash Back Button. This browser extension is available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge, and it’ll automatically notify you when you’re on a participating site. Here’s what that looks like when I visit Kohls.com directly instead of starting at Rakuten:

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Rakuten will log a shopping trip and reload the website by clicking the icon to activate cash back. You’ll still earn rewards on your purchase, a nice shortcut in case you forget to start at Rakuten.com.

Related: Don’t want to miss out on earning bonus points? There’s an extension for that

Download the Rakuten app

Finally, you may want to download the Rakuten app to ensure you make the most out of the platform. There are a couple of reasons to do so.

For one, it allows you to quickly check for in-store offers that you may want to add if you’re unexpectedly shopping at a participating merchant. More importantly, some merchants are mobile-only. This means you can only earn rewards when shopping via a mobile app like Uber Eats.

Important reminders

While the above strategies can help you make the most of your Rakuten experience, there are some critical things to keep in mind:

Enable cookies on your browser: For Rakuten to track your shopping trips, you must have cookies enabled.
Clear your shopping cart: Many merchants won’t award bonus cash back or Amex points if you already have items in your cart. When you click from Rakuten to a retailer, be sure your shopping cart is clear.
Be careful with promo codes: As noted above, using promo codes not listed on Rakuten.com may void your rewards. A 30% discount may be worth it, but if you’re saving $5 on a $500 purchase, it’s probably not worth the risk.

Bottom line

Online shopping continues to play a massive role in consumer spending, and fortunately, there are many ways to make the most of your online purchases — including using online shopping portals.

Rakuten is one of the most popular, as it partners with over 2,500 merchants and allows you to earn cash-back rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points.

If you’re not a member, join Rakuten today and start using it the next time you shop online. You’ll be well on your way to lowering your out-of-pocket cost for many purchases you’re already making.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.

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