What's the Best Cashback Tool for Holiday Shopping?
shopping online

Comparing Cashback Portals: What’s the Best Tool for Holiday Shopping?

If you’re buying anything online, the biggest tip I have is always the same: try a cashback portal. Of course, with the number of these platforms growing, the question becomes, “Which one is the best?” Unfortunately answering that isn’t so easy.

Luckily, I had an idea: compare some popular cashback tools using a set of real-world parameters. In other words, what types of cashback rates can you get on select holiday gifts using Rakuten, Capital One Shopping, Honey, and TopCashback?

So, without further ado, let’s dive into our cashback experience.

Comparing Cashback Platforms for Holiday Shopping

How I compared the services

For my experiment, I wanted to compare four popular cashback portals — which we’ll talk more about in the next section. Next, Because cashback rates for these portals can vary, I conducted my comparison on two separate dates: Wednesday, November 29th and Saturday, December 10th. Lastly, I decided to check on three specific items that might be popular gifts this holiday season. Those items included:

  • A Hydro Flask travel tumbler
  • A Sonos Ray Soundbar
  • A HelloFresh subscription

For Hydro Flask and HelloFresh, I relied on their respective websites. However, for the Sonos Ray Soundbar, I checked pricing and cashback from both BestBuy.com and Walmart.com.

With that, let’s take a look at the four cashback portals I compared.

The cashback portals

Rakuten logo

Rakuten

  • Minimum Rewards Required to Cashout: $5
  • Payment Options: PayPal, check, or American Express Membership Rewards points (paid on a quarterly schedule)
  • Cashback Expiration: Does not expire

Rakuten is, without a doubt, my most-used cashback portal. Of course, it’s also one of the most popular in general. By the way, it also used to be called Ebates before rebranding to share a name with its parent company.

One unique feature of Rakuten is that customers can choose to earn American Express Membership Rewards points instead of regular cashback. And while it’s nice that cashback doesn’t expire, one drawback of the service is that they only send out “Big Fat Checks” (which actually also include PayPal transfers or Amex point transfers) on a quarterly basis.

Capital One Shopping logo

Capital One Shopping

  • Minimum Rewards Required to Cashout: $5 (some options require more)
  • Payment Options: Gift cards to select retailers in various denominations
  • Cashback Expiration: Does not expire

Formerly known as Wikibuy, Capital One Shopping is a coupon code and cashback site. While the platform is owned by Capital One, the service is open to all and does not require a Capital One credit card. One downside is that you can only redeem cashback for a modest number of retailer gift cards. Most of these start at $5, but some do require more.

I should also note that Capital One Shopping is a bit quirky in that, from time to time, they’ll offer targeted/personalized cashback offers. For example, if you go to a site, you might end up with an email from the service a few days later offering an enhanced deal. Did that happen in this experiment? You’ll have to wait and see.

Honey logo

Honey

  • Minimum Rewards Required to Cashout: Seemingly no minimum, but gift cards start at $10
  • Payment Options: PayPal or gift cards
  • Cashback Expiration: After 12 months of inactivity

Officially named PayPal Honey, the platform is perhaps best known as a tool that automatically tries coupon codes for you (note: Capital One Shopping does as well). However, the service also offers PayPal Rewards, earning customers cashback on select purchases.

The biggest downside to me is that these rewards expire — as I learned by seeing that the $4.50 I previously earned had since left my account. To be fair, though, those points expired back when it was still Honey Gold and not PayPal Rewards. In any case, to prevent this, you’ll need to ensure that your account remains active. After 12 consecutive months of no activity, your points will expire.

TopCashback

  • Minimum Rewards Required to Cashout: Seemingly no minimum, but gift cards start at $10
  • $0.01 (some options require more)
  • Payment Options: ACH, PayPal, prepaid card (with bonuses), gift cards (with bonuses), etc.
  • Cashback Expiration: Does not expire

Admittedly, TopCashback is a site I’ve heard of for a long time but hadn’t really used before. Well, that might change after this because the site has some good things going for it. For one, not only does the site require just a penny in earnings before you can cash out but also has plenty of redemption options. Moreover, some of those options (such as gift cards) give you an extra bonus.


So, now that we know a bit about each platform, how did they stack up? Let’s take a look at…

The results

With all of that out of the way, here are the cashback rates I observed on each platform for our three selected items (across a total of four retailers) on both of our experiment days:

Hydro Flask

white HydroFlask
  • Rakuten rate (day 1): 3% back
  • Rakuten rate (day 2): 3% back
  • Capital One Shopping rate (day 1): 10% rewards
  • Capital One Shopping rate (day 2): 7% rewards
  • Honey rate (day 1): N/A
  • Honey rate (day 2): N/A
  • TopCashback (day 1): 5.05% back
  • TopCashback (day 2): 5.05% back

Starting off slowly, this one is probably the most straightforward. Although there was some variance with Capital One Shopping, the others stayed steady. Despite the dip, Capital One was still the top rate during both check-ins. But, just to highlight how much these things change, as I was writing this, I checked in a third time and found that Capital One Shopping was at 5%. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sonos Ray Soundbar

Sonos Ray Soundbar
  • Rakuten rate – Walmart (day 1): 1.0% back
  • Rakuten rate – Walmart (day 2): 1.0% back
  • Rakuten rate – Best Buy (day 1): 2% back
  • Rakuten rate – Best Buy (day 2): 1% back
  • Capital One Shopping rate – Walmart (day 1): 0.5% rewards
  • Capital One Shopping rate – Walmart (day 2): 0.5% rewards
  • Capital One Shopping rate – Best Buy (day 1): N/A
  • Capital One Shopping rate – Best Buy (day 2): N/A
  • Honey rate – Walmart (day 1): 0.5% back
  • Honey rate – Walmart (day 2): 0.5% back
  • Honey rate – Best Buy (day 1): N/A
  • Honey rate – Best Buy (day 2): N/A
  • TopCashback – Walmart (day 1): 2% back
  • TopCashback – Walmart (day 2): 2% back
  • TopCashback – Best Buy (day 1): 2% back
  • TopCashback – Best Buy (day 2): 2% back

This soundbar example raises a few important issues related to cashback portals. In the case of both Walmart and Best Buy, different types of products earn different cashback rates. So, while the portal may state that the retailer can earn “up to 10% back,” you’ll want to take a look at the department categories to get a more realistic idea of what to expect. On top of that, there may be some other restrictions for certain brands.

Here is also where I need to bring up a couple of things about Capital One Shopping. A couple of days after my second check, I got an email from the platform alerting me to the fact that the price of the soundbar dropped to $223 on Walmart.com (from the normal $279) — although this was only on the white model. On top of that, it noted a special 10% offer for Walmart. However, this email didn’t clarify any category restrictions for the 10% back. Even though it was directly related to the soundbar, I do have doubts about whether that would actually apply to other products as well. Seeing as I’m not buying the device myself, I unfortunately can’t answer that burning question right now.

HelloFresh

HelloFresh logo
  • Rakuten rate (day 1): $10 back
  • Rakuten rate (day 2): $10 back
  • Capital One Shopping rate (day 1): $25 back
  • Capital One Shopping rate (day 2): $5 back
  • Honey rate (day 1): 2.5% back
  • Honey rate (day 2): 2.5% back
  • TopCashback (day 1): $10.10 back
  • TopCashback (day 2): $10.10 back

This one was interesting in a few ways. At the top of the list, when I first checked Capital One Shopping, it was offering $25 cashback, which was well above other options. Yet, later on, it was down to just $5 (less than half of Rakuten and TopCashback).

Also, while three of the options offered a flat dollar amount for this one, Honey was offering 2.5% back. I’m actually not quite sure what that 2.5% is based on, but I assume it’s only the first purchase and not subsequent ones. If it’s going on the retail price of around $70, then the 2.5% would equal $1.75. That’s clearly not as attractive as some of the other deals.

By the way, with this one, you will also want to look at the discount you’re getting on the first box. While it was hard to keep track of due to how browser cookies work, in some cases, I’d see that I was getting a $10 discount on my order. Yet, in other cases, the box was more heavily discounted. So, if I were you, I’d try a few different links in Incognito and see which overall deal is best.

My Thoughts on This Cashback Comparison

woman opening Christmas presents

As you can see, there are a number of factors that can affect the cashback you can earn while shopping online. Depending on where you buy from and when you shop, different portals may offer different deals. Because of this, it is hard to say which is ultimately “best” overall.

With that said, I do have some thoughts on these results. First, Capital One Shopping seems to be a bit of a wildcard when it comes to cashback. If you can, I think it may be worth holding off on a purchase just to see if you can trigger a special offer first. At the same time, though, their limited redemption options may not make them as attractive to some buyers.

Next, as I teased in my introductions of the portals, I may have been sleeping on TopCashback a bit. While I can’t speak to the actual experience of using them, the deals seem to be pretty solid and the redemption options are plentiful. Plus, their low cashout threshold helps address another issue I’m about to mention.

Seeing as these cashback platforms each have their own pros and cons, you might just assume that it’s best to sign up for several of them and use them a la carte. Alas, that strategy might not be the best approach as over-diversifying your cashback could mean that you end up having a bunch of cashback in different places that you’re unable to actually redeem.

Ultimately, while it’s great to maximize your rewards, I’d recommend choosing one or two favorite platforms and sticking with them. On that note, I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of these four (with Honey probably coming in last on my list). Meanwhile, if you really do want to always find the best rates and aren’t worried about the over-diversification issue, you may want to check out tools such as Cashback Monitor to help you achieve that goal. Happy cashback season!

Note: I’ll be revisiting the performance of each cashback app throughout 2024 and reporting any significant money saving changes.

Per FTC guidelines, this website may be compensated by companies mentioned through advertising, affiliate programs or otherwise. (Note: advertising relationships do not have any influence on editorial content. Advertising compensation allows Fioney to provide quality content for free. All editorial opinions are those of the individual author and/or Fioney.)

Author

Kyle Burbank

Head Writer ~ Fioney
Kyle is the head writer for Fioney. He is a personal finance nerd, constantly looking for new apps and services to test and incorporate into his own financial game plan. In addition to his role at Fioney, he's written for other publications including Born2Invest, Lifehack, and Laughing Place, as well as his own site Money@30. He also creates personal finance and travel-related videos for Fioney's YouTube channel, which has garnered more than 2 million views. Currently, Kyle resides in Springfield, Missouri with his wife of 10 years. Together, they enjoy traveling (including visiting Disney Parks around the world), dining, and playing with their dog Rigby.

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