If there’s one website that I’ve seen come across again and again since I’ve taken an interest in personal finance matters, it’s Ebates. As Mint is to budgeting apps, Ebates is to cashback sites, as it seems to be the largest of its kind by far, boasting deals from more than 2,500 retailers. Now Ebates has all but completed its transition to Rakuten — the new name for what is still a great cashback tool.
Since joining Ebates some time ago and now using Rakuten for several months, I’ve made quite a few purchases, earning cashback each time thanks to the site. This includes both orders made online as well as items I’ve picked up in stores. Additionally there have been plenty of times I mistakenly went directly to a retailer’s website to purchase something, only to be reminded by my Rakuten extension that I should activate an offer — but we’ll talk much more about that in a moment.
With that little preview out of the way, here’s what you need to know about Rakuten and how it could save you money when shopping online and in-store.
Rakuten vs. Ebates
As I mentioned, the site formerly known as Ebates recently completed its transition to the name Rakuten. Incidentally the site has been owned by Rakuten since 2014 but only recently announced the decision to rebrand. While some have suggested that the updated site is lacking compared to Ebates, I can honestly say I notice no difference.
If you were already an Ebates user and are wondering how the change to Rakuten could affect you, the good news is that it shouldn’t. In my experience, my account was automatically moved over and all of my earned cashback — and cashback history — remained. But, for more on the switch, you can check out my full article on the topic or watch my video below.
How Rakuten Works
Rakuten site and the browser extension
There are two main ways you can find cashback offers with Rakuten: searching their site for deals ahead of time or installing the Rakuten browser extension, which will make it easy to opt-into offers as you shop around the web. Personally I actually like to use a combination of the two. For example, if I know several retailers will carry the item I’m looking to buy, I might check Rakuten ahead of time to see where I should start my search. As I mentioned there are also times when I get a pleasant surprise when landing on a site and have the Chrome extension alert me to a deal. In either case, you’ll want to ensure that you either click the link on the Rakuten page to visit the site in question or activate the offer using the extension before making your purchase.
Not only does the browser extension pop-up when you reach an applicable site but it will also help you find Rakuten deals when using Google. If you search for a product or service and you have your Rakuten extension on, your search results will display little ‘R’ logos above the participating sites and even show you what the cashback offer is for each listing. This could be a huge timesaver if you’re choosing a retailer based on Rakuten value alone — however, in some cases, you may still want to ensure that the pricing of the actual item is comparable, lest you overspend on the purchase itself just to earn cashback.
Even when it’s not alerting you to a deal, the Rakuten extension can still come in handy. Clicking on the logo will pop-up various at-a-glance info such as your current Rakuten balance, recently visited sites, featured offers, and more. It also gives you easy access to your Rakuten referral code, which we’ll talk about a little later.
Finding additional coupons and codes
Besides the cashback offers, both the Rakuten site and browser extension also list current promotional codes a la Retail Me Not and other such sites. To view these from the extension, just click the ‘R’ when it has an orange background. Alternatively, once again you can search the Rakuten site for the specific retailer and view their coupon offers there.
The Rakuten app
As you’d likely expect, Rakuten also offers a mobile app. Using this application you can view and search current deals just like you would on your desktop computer and even shop from participating retailers through a built-in browser. Alternatively, in some cases, selecting an offer in the Rakuten app may launch another app on your phone. Personally, this happened to me with Expedia, likely because I had their application already installed.
Although I prefer to do most of my Rakuten-ing on my desktop computer (and via the browser extension), having the app is helpful for a few reasons. First it will allow you to get push notifications and be alerted to special offer deals. Additionally it can help you easily research deals when you’re on the go — or even compare prices while you’re “showrooming.” Lastly, while you can activate in-store offers via the desktop site as well, it makes much more sense to do so on mobile in my humble opinion.
Earning your Rakuten welcome bonus
When you first sign-up for Rakuten, you’ll have the choice between claiming a $10 gift card for Walmart or adding $10 to your Rakuten balance. Now, while the Rakuten homepage declares “Sign Up and Get a $10 Bonus Today*,” the telling asterisk tips you off to the fact that it’s not quite that simple. In order to nab that $10 bonus, you’ll need to make at least $25 in qualifying purchases within your first 90 days of becoming a Rakuten user. In my case, I elected to receive the $10 Walmart gift card as my bonus, which I was able to easily add to my Walmart Pay account (note: this isn’t required for redemption but I just like using it) and was able to spend my free money without issue.
Rakuten referral bonus
Not only can you earn $10 when you sign up for Rakuten but you can also nab $25 by referring friends, family, and others to the service. As a Rakuten member, you’ll be provided with a special referral link you can e-mail to friends, share on social media, or — for example — include in an article. When those you refer sign up for the service and earn their welcome bonus (meaning they spend at least $25 in their first 90 days), you’ll earn a $25 bonus.
Like I mentioned, your unique referral link can be found by clicking the Rakuten browser extension button and heading to the “Get $25” tab. Similarly there’s also a “Refer & Earn $25” link in the main navigation bar of Rakuten site. This section of the site will also let you keep tabs on who you’ve invited to join, who’s joined, and who’s made their qualifying purchase. As a result, you can monitor your referral progress and perhaps even nudge your friends along if need be.
How Often Does Rakuten Payout?
Rakuten refers to their cashback payouts as “Your Big Fat Check.” Contrary to what that name implies, you don’t actually have to opt for a check, but can instead have your balance sent to you via PayPal if you’d like. However, in order to cash out, you’ll need have at least $5 in cashback to claim. Furthermore Rakuten only sends out “Big Fat Checks” on a quarterly basis.
Here’s a look at their payment schedule via their help page:
Thankfully, if you don’t end up earning $5 in a quarter, your money won’t disappear — it’ll just roll over to the next quarter, giving you another shot at making enough to cash out.
I should also note that, despite Ebates asserting that you must have at least $5 in order to receive a quarterly payment, I once got a PayPal payout for less than that amount. This has me wondering if the threshold really only applies to paper Big Fat Checks being mailed out. Regardless I wouldn’t count on getting a payout if you don’t have at least $5, but you may be surprised like I was.
American Express Membership Rewards points
Recently Rakuten rolled-out a new feature that will be of particular interest to certain American Express cardholders. Now users have the option of earning Amex Membership Reward (MR) points instead of cashback. Rakuten currently awards you 1 MR point for every cent in cashback you would get — so, instead of $12.34 in cashback, you would get 1,234 points.
Previously this option was only available to new users but thankfully Rakuten has since expanded the feature. To opt-in, you’ll want to navigate to your My Account page then select “Account Settings.” Then, under “How would you like to get paid?,” you should see an American Express option above PayPal and Big Fat Check. From there you’ll need to log into your Amex account so that it knows where to send you points.
There are a few things to note here. First, if you’ve already accrued cashback, it won’t be converted to MRs. Instead it will still be paid out via either PayPal of Big Fat Check (whichever you had selected) with any subsequent cashback then being paid in points. Secondly, as Rakuten will remind you again and again when you visit their site, it may still display your earnings in dollars and cents as well as show deals in terms of cashback — but rest assured you are indeed earning Membership Reward points. Finally points will only be paid out on a quarterly basis according to Rakuten’s Big Fat Check schedule, so you’ll still need to be a bit patient.
Overall I’m really glad this option exists and have personally converted my account. Considering that some travelers who use their MR points to transfer to airlines or other partners report getting 2¢ per point or more in value, this option could prove even more lucrative for Amex customers.
What Else You Should Know About Rakuten
Different sites may have different restrictions and exceptions
As you’re browsing the Rakuten site, you may notice that some retailers list a flat cashback amount while others say “Up to X%.” Why the difference? Well, some participating sites may apply different cashback amounts depending on the category while others might exclude certain items altogether. For example, you might see that Apple.com offers up to 2% cashback — although, upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that this offer excludes a massive list of products you’d likely be buying from Apple. As a result, I have a hilarious line in my Rakuten balance history that shows me making a $1,618 purchase and earning a whopping $0.38 back (the laptop I purchased was excluded from the deal but the $19 dongle I bought with it did qualify). While that may be frustrating, it is actually nice that Rakuten is able to apply cashback to some items in a transaction even if the bulk of your order doesn’t qualify.
Limited time increased offers
Something else to be on the lookout for are limited time offers where the typical percentage that a given retailer offers is greatly increased. This practice was especially prevalent around the holiday shopping season but I still see numerous “double cash back” promotions and the like. To take advantage of these flash sales, I’d recommend opting into emails from Rakuten as well as enabling push notifications via the mobile app.
Credit card rewards
Something else you should know about Rakuten is that any cashback you earn using the service comes in addition to anything you might earn from your credit card rewards. As a result, in addition to the 3% back I earned from using Ebates to purchase my business cards, I also earned 2% from my Uber Visa Card. This might seem obvious to some but it’s still worth mentioning for those who might not realize how these two potential benefits work together.
Tax and shipping
If you go into your Rakuten balance and view your transaction history, you may be wondering why the total amount doesn’t quite match what you actually paid. That’s because Rakuten cashback offers typically do not apply to any taxes collected or shipping costs. So, if you’re trying to compare your receipt to Rakuten, make sure you’re looking at the subtotal before these additional charges are applied.
Rakuten in-store offers
While the vast majority of Rakuten deals are for online retailers, they do also have some in-store offers that can be found on their mobile app. Like with Dosh and others, you can take advantage of these offers by linking a credit card and using it at a participating location. However, unlike Dosh, it seems you’ll need to activate each offer before attempting to redeem it. In other cases — namely the 1% cashback at Best Buy offer — you’ll instead tap the “Redeem Code” button, which will launch a QR for the cashier to scan at checkout.
For the longest time, this was one aspect of Rakuten I hadn’t yet explored. However that changed a few months back when I noticed that both Dosh and Rakuten (then Ebates) were offering in-store cash back at Sephora. This gave me the perfect excuse to try out the service and it worked like a charm! In fact, as I had hoped, I was able to take advantage of the Dosh and Rakuten offers at the same time, double dipping on cashback.
Another interesting aspect of in-store purchases in comparison to online ones is that it seems that your grand total is eligible for cashback when you shop in-store. That is to say that, instead of the tax being excluded before determining your kickback like with online offers, my experience would suggest you earn on the full amount. Granted, I’m basing this on only one experience but, if true across the board, it could be a significant factor in determining whether you want to order online or head to a physical store.
Other tools don’t stack with Rakuten
While I was able to successfully use a Rakuten in-store offer and Dosh at the same time and regularly earn credit card rewards alongside Rakuten, there are some cases where you can’t deals. For example, if you use other browser-based cashback tools like Honey Gold, you will likely need to choose between them. The reason for this is somewhat complicated but boils down to the fact that, due to the way each tool works, one will override the other.
I actually ran into this issue by accident when trying to make a purchase on GoPro. Although I activated an offer on Rakuten, Honey Gold popped up while I was checking out. Unbeknownst to me, that meant that Honey took over and my Rakuten shopping trip was invalided. Making this more frustrating, Rakuten was offering 3% on GoPro at the time compared to the 1% Honey Gold had. Therefore I’d recommend paying close attention to this and perhaps even temporarily disabling the tool you don’t plan on using for a given purchase to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
Final Thoughts on Rakuten-Ebates
After using Rakuten (and Ebates before it) for some time now, I can see why the service has become so popular. In turn, this popularity has also allowed it to improve its product by adding retailers, upping its offers, and still dishing out bonuses to new users and those that refer them — not to mention expanding with new features such as their American Express integration. With a convenient browser extension that not only leads you to deals but reminds you about them, it’s also easy to take advantage of Rakuten offers without having to make much of an effort.
If there’s any real downside to Rakuten it’s simply that you will have to wait for your money, unlike other cashback apps that allow you to cash out as soon as you reach a certain threshold. Then again, such restrictions are understandable since any returns made on items that resulted in cashback would negatively impact Rakuten if they had already paid out on those earnings. Additionally, looking on the bright side, this arrangement does give users something to look forward to.
Ultimately, it’s hard for me to come up with a reason why you shouldn’t at least sign-up for Rakuten. Even as someone who doesn’t shop online with super frequency, I was still able to easily earn my $10 welcome bonus. Of course, even if you don’t rack up much, it’s also nice to know you can leave it sitting there in waiting until you do earn enough to get your “Big Fat Check.”
For all of those reasons, I recommend checking out what Rakuten has to offer and seeing if this cash back-earning service is right for you.
Originally published at Dyer News.