A Look at How Rakuten (Ebates) Works in 2021

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A Look at How Rakuten (Ebates) Works in 2021

If there’s one website that I’d come across again and again since I’ve taken an interest in personal finance matters, it was Ebates. As Mint is to budgeting apps, Ebates (now Rakuten) is to cashback sites, as it seems to be the largest of its kind by far, boasting deals from more than 2,500 retailers. Its popularity has endured even with the Rakuten re-branding and the platform remains one of my most-used money-saving tools.

Since joining Ebates/Rakuten some time ago, 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 has now completed its transition to the name Rakuten. Incidentally the site has been owned by Rakuten since 2014 but it was only a few years ago that they 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

While Rakuten’s welcome bonuses can change over time thanks to special offers and such, their standard welcome bonus allows new users to earn $10 cashback. However, in order to earn this, you’ll first need to make a purchase of $25 or more using a Rakuten offer. What’s more, you’ll need to complete this purchase within 90 days of becoming a member. 

The good news is that, given Rakuten’s wide selection of retailers, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find somewhere to shop. Additionally, the requirement of spending $25 is pretty reasonable in my view. Of course, if you are concerned that you won’t find something to buy, you can always wait until you do have an order to place and sign up for Rakuten then to ensure that you can claim your $10 bonus.

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 email to friends, share on social media, or — for example — include it 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. Again, while $25 is the standard amount, you may come across increased offers from time to time as well.

As 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 the 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 to have at least $5 in cashback to claim. Furthermore Rakuten only sends out “Big Fat Checks” on a quarterly basis.

POSTING PERIODPAYMENT SENT
Jan 1 – Mar 31May 15
Apr 1 – Jun 30Aug 15
Jul 1 – Sep 30Nov 15
Oct 1 – Dec 31Feb 15

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 Rakuten 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

Not too long ago, 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 or 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.

Buying gift cards on Rakuten

While earning cash back on specific purchases is nice, there are times where I’d prefer to simply pick up a gift card instead and decide what to buy later. Well, now you can use Rakuten to purchase gift cards for select retailers and restaurants, earning cash back in the process. 

As I write this, there are currently dozens of options to choose from, with cashback rates ranging from 1% to 6%. In particular, some of the ones that caught my eye are Chili’s (3%), PF Changs (5%) and Nintendo (6%). What’s also great is that many of these options are available in multiple denominations from $5 up. That said, the amounts offered do vary by retailer.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure when this gift card marketplace emerged but I first discovered it last year. Since then, I’ve used it a couple of times to purchase cards, with my favorite choices being those where I might not otherwise be able to use Rakuten (such as at restaurants). Therefore, while the 1% back selections may not be the best value you can find, I think it’s worth checking out this section of Rakuten to see what types of gift card cashback offers you can find.

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 is 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 (which offered 2% back from online purchases at the time, but no longer does). 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. I should note that there was previously a Best Buy in-store offer where, instead of linking a card, you’d instead tap the “Redeem Code” button to launch a QR for the cashier to scan at checkout instead. However it seems that this deal is not currently available, so in-store offers with Rakuten are now a streamlined experience.

For the longest time, this was one aspect of Rakuten I hadn’t 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 double dip. 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 waiting until you do earn enough to get your “Big Fat Check” — or perhaps purchase a gift card on Rakuten to help push you over the $5 cashout threshold. 

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Rakuten and Ebates the same?

Yes. Rakuten has not only been Ebates’ parent company since 2014 but the name is now also used for the service itself. Ebates users will have their accounts automatically rebranded.

Is there a downside to Ebates/Rakuten?

Using cash back tools such as Ebates/Rakuten will require customers to enter some personal information and allow the service to monitor their purchases. This is something that certain users may be uncomfortable with.

How does Ebates/Rakuten work?

Rakuten (formerly Ebates) allows users to earn cash back on purchases they make from select retailers. By clicking offers on the Rakuten site, app, or using their browser plugin, customers can earn a percentage of their purchases back. These cash back balances are then paid out via a “Big Fat Check” on a quarterly basis.

Is Amazon on Ebates/Rakuten?

Yes. However, not every Amazon purchase is eligible for cash back. Instead Amazon offers different cash back amounts for various product categories, ranging from 1% to 5%.

Is Ebates/Rakuten legitimate?

Yes. Rakuten (AKA Ebates) is a legitimate cash back tool and holds an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. 

How do you get your money from Ebates/Rakuten?

Typically Rakuten offers will rebate users a certain percentage of their eligible purchases. This cash back will then be added to their balance. As long as your balance exceeds $5, Rakuten will either mail you a check or transfer funds to a linked PayPal account according to a quarterly schedule. Balances under $5 will be rolled over to the next quarter until breaking the $5 threshold. 

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Also published on Medium.

Author

Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at https://moneyat30.com/

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Comments

I’m an avid user of cashback apps. though haven’t heard it before, your review seems interesting and looking forward to try it myself.

Just had my first cashback last month on ebates and looking forwardfor next next month. It may not be that big but it works.

It is used and recommended by a friend and i already have read good reviews of ebates. I have yet to try this one.

I have used ebates for two years and earned over $600.00! It really works and I refer all my friends.

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