Who would ever leave more savings for less? I would, and you should too, but for good reason.
First, for those who are unfamiliar, a rebate website is one that gets a commission from referring a customer who makes a purchase. The rebate website then passes some of that commission onto the buyer and keeps some for themselves. Some of the top players in the category are TopCashBack, Ebates, and FatWallet.
The principle is the same with all of them. You create a login, and every time you want to make an online purchase you first go through one of these sites, which will provide a tracking link and a pre-negotiated rebate percentage which will arrive in some weeks. If you would prefer to earn miles instead of dollars you can always use the airline shopping malls like this one. The balance in your rebate account builds and at some point, you may choose to cash out, I do so when I hit $25 or $50.
Cash Rebates Vary By Site
The goal, one would think and I would usually agree, is to then find the maximum rebate per purchase and build an account at that site. Let’s look at some examples. TopCashBack often has better rates and double offers, here is a limited offer for double the rebate on Accor Hotels.
Here is one from Ebates for Accor as well, but this at the normal rate of 5%.
And now one from FatWallet.
With that kind of disparity, it’s a simple decision, right? Go for TopCashBack and get 10% of your purchased stored in your account for later when the commission is paid out. Not necessarily.
For some retailers, there will be a variable rate, allowing better commissions for higher margin items, and lower commissions for those that have slim margins. Expedia, for example, will pay varied rates for different products. Here, the disparities are a bit less dramatic.
And here is a line from my actual payout for an airline ticket on FatWallet.com.
TopCashBack Lacks Tracking and Customer Service
In my experience, there is no question that TopCashBack has the best rates. The issue is their shocking customer service. After living in Britain for three years (and loving it) there is one portion of the society that remains lacking – customer service. Retail shops close 15 minutes before the time posted outside (US ones often allow you a few minutes after close to finish a purchase), restaurants tend to have poor service by servers who are paid much better than their US counterparts, and don’t depend on a tips left by patrons to survive. Hold times, sending complaints and requests by mail, and the list goes on and on. The reason why I rant here is because my experience with TopCashBack which is clearly a UK company with both US and UK websites has been appalling.
When I first started to use the site, I was thrilled. For hotels I already intended to book, I could earn, 3%, 5%, even as much as 16% back in some cases without increasing the cost of the booking, and still earning miles on my credit card. There was just one problem. The rebates are only good when you actually receive them. There are several that to this day I have not received at all, and others that I received only after disputing a non-tracked link, then chasing them up again and again to determine where the rebate was.
There is not a customer service number anywhere on the TopCashBack site at all. In fact, even an email is tough to conjur up. I finally had to get sleuthy about it, and pretend to have a media request in order for them to return an email.
If you have a non-tracked link you will receive the standard email that states, “We intend to respond within 10 days.” TEN DAYS??? For those of you in the UK, there is a simple shrug of the shoulders but for the Americans you might as well have just said, “We’ll get to it, when we get to it” and then of course if you have my experience, they will come back on day 9 just to say,
“We are investigating the claim and intend to resolve it as soon as possible, though sometimes this can take up to 3 months.”
How Bad Is TopCashBack’s Link Tracking?
If the site always tracked the links it would be fine, you would never need to contact their terrible customer service, therefor, you would never have to encounter this. In my own tests, no less than 60% of the links never tracked and 20% are still unanswered and I will never receive compensation for the rebate I am due.
Even for the Brits though, 10 days is a bit long for a simple email back, and while sometimes these matters could (I guess) take as long as a quarter of a year, even they would probably do business elsewhere.
So I did just that.
Alternatives to TopCashBack
I believe in a capitalist society the best way to make a statement (other than putting up a snarky blog post of course) is to talk with your wallet and your feet. If I don’t like the way that TopCashBack (TCB) runs their business, then I should shop elsewhere, right?
First I tried Ebates. I found though, more often than not, that the retailers I wanted just weren’t there. Links tracked for me at a rate of 50% which was on a mere two purchases, however, I was exhausted after digging up receipts, and emails and sending it back to TCB only for them to need further documentation all while communicating only through their internal message system (why can’t we just use emails like adults?). It’s probably unfair to dismiss Ebates for this bad experience, but I put them on hold while I tried FatWallet which came highly recommended.
I first tried the service and was a little disappointed because their commissions were smaller, but tried them anyway. The first thing I really loved was this little screen that pops up once you have clicked on a retailer link to be redirected to their site.
What a simple, yet clever idea. When I make purchases here, I leave myself a note of how much I spent, what the rebate rate was at the time (sometimes there are bonuses) and the purchase number given when I close the sale with the retailer. In five transactions, four were tracked and posted perfectly, with one that did not.
I gave it a few days and when it did not track in my cash back screen, I submitted a support request. Response was quick (within 24 hours) and I provided my details as I had left in the note for myself. Within another day the click and purchase was tracked in my account and I was paid on it a couple of weeks later.
When I was first checking FatWallet out, I had made some clicks into stores to see how it worked, and got an email a couple hours later that said, “We saw you clicked but didn’t track a purchase, did you make one that we should follow up?” How awesome is that? What a contrast to TerribleTopCashBack.
So though the rates are lower the customer service and success rate is much better with FatWallet. Ultimately, I would rather have $1 back on a purchase that I know I will receive than $10 back from the Nigerian Princes over at TCB.
If you want to join in, you should definitely use my referral link (yes I get credit when you join, and yes you will get credit when you have your friends join), but just to clarify, this is not why I wrote the post. If it was I would be smarter to refer you to TopCashBack where the bonus is twice as much (though you won’t ever receive it anyway, right?). I wrote it to warn you about TopCashBack, and encourage you with FatWallet after my mix of experiences with the two.
Have you tried TopCashBack and had a good experience? Really? If not, which shopping portals do you use?