Shop For the Holidays While Racking Up Points and Miles

Make the season merry by redeeming loyalty rewards for holiday gifts

Blurred with motion people on an escalator at Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall on Boxing day 2011. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
••• Oleksiy Maksymenko/Getty Images

Remember how last year you swore that you wouldn’t leave your holiday shopping until the last minute? I made that promise to myself, too, and this year, I’m determined to keep it.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be such a stressful time — just a little bit of pre-planning goes a long way. That means making my list and checking it twice, setting a budget, verifying all my loyalty program balances, and getting clicking.

Earn points/miles on all your holiday gifts

I can recall all too well trips to the mall during the days and weeks leading up to the morning when gifts are opened. Consider a kinder, gentler and much more rewarding option – earn malls. Seriously, these will change your life and bring joy to your world.

Here’s the deal: Earn malls are a collection of online stores offering customers loyalty points for every dollar spent. What you earn will vary with each retailer. And make no mistake; you’ll have an incredible variety of outlets to choose from: major department stores, drug stores and clothing boutiques with names you know and trust.

Start by logging in using your loyalty program ID and password. Then search through the list of retailers, and hop to their sites to begin browsing. Once you’ve made your purchases, the points or miles you racked up will be automatically deposited into your loyalty program account.

No crowds, no packages to lug around, no tired feet. Earn malls are open to customers around the clock from the comforts of home with a cup of eggnog at your side, if you like.

Here are a few examples of popular earn malls:

  • JetBlue ShopTrue showcases 730+ retailers, including favorites like TOMS and Macy’s.

  • Amtrak Guest Rewards covers it all, from iTunes to The Home Depot, with more than 650 shopping choices.

Maximize your earn mall shopping trips

Around the holidays, check for special offers and promotions that allow you to supercharge your points and miles accumulation. Earn mall retailers often run limited-time sales that give customers opportunities to earn points at a rate that is double, five times or more than the usual one (usually one point or mile per one dollar spent).

When you’re making a big purchase, you may want to hold off and time your buy with a bonus event. It’s well worth it. If you haven’t signed up for your loyalty program’s newsletter, do it now to get a heads-up about enticing earning events. Retailers may also showcase specific gift items with amped up points and miles earning potential. Watch for those, too!

As always, charge your gifts to your rewards credit card to earn even more. And take note of rewarding loyalty hacks like this one: download (free!) the Points Booster Toolbar from Choice Privileges, which tells you when you’re on a site where points can be earned. You won’t have to try and remember them all anymore — just let the widget do it for you.

Use your points and miles to pay for holiday gifts

Holiday shopping can be fun. Earning and redeeming points and miles for gifts online removes the stress so you can relax and enjoy more time with family and friends. A fun way to do your holiday shopping is through a loyalty auction.

Check out those offered by Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. It’s a great option if you’d like to give someone an experience of a lifetime, from tickets to blockbuster Hollywood award shows to a spa-themed tropical getaway. Just make sure you have enough points in your account to cover your bids.

Gifts for them; a trip for you

Or you may decide that, after all the holiday baking, prep and entertaining, you may want to just take off somewhere. Imagine spending New Year’s Eve in New York or Madrid, or just reclining on a lounger watching the sun set behind a palm tree.

With all those loyalty points and miles you earned by buying gifts for your nearest and dearest, you can afford to be your own Santa and give the gift of a reward trip to yourself.