Are cash back programs worth the time and effort?


Not if they're complicated, experts say

If shopping is your jam, let me ask you this: If one of Amazon’s competitors offered you $40 to try their service, would you go for it?

Well, Rakuten is. The “Amazon of Japan,” not to mention the logo that basketball superstar Stephen Curry wears on his Warriors chest, is offering new members a one-time bonus and the chance to score additional rewards by referring family and friends. 

Until November 17, Rakuten is giving shoppers an extra $40 if they spend at least $40 in the next 90 days. Even if you don’t consider it a real bonus, you could consider it a wash and you’d basically have $80 of stuff for half-price.

Referring a friend is also an option for existing Rakuten members. You will both receive a $40 bonus when your friend joins and spends $40 within 90 days. 

Rakuten’s cash back game – winner or loser?

Rakuten’s also going for anybody and everybody who thinks their “cash back” programs are the best with members getting more than $60 average per year. The company says that it gives shoppers an advantage in that game because they have partnership deals with Kohl’s, Target, Sam’s Club, Old Navy, Lowe’s, Nike, Saks, Lulumon, et al.

To prove its point, it’s giving an extra 10% cash back on purchases made in the first seven days after a new customer signs up (max of $50 cash back).

And, there are ConsumerAffairs reviewers who love Rakuten’s cash back program, seemingly with all their heart.

“Rakuten never fails to amaze me. Have only been a subscriber for 2 years but no matter where I want to shop, there is always a cash back offer thru them,” Pam from Peoria Ariz., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “I made the mistake twice by not checking their site first. Never again. I missed out on $25.00 by directly shopping the store site. Learned my lesson. When looking for a product on line, always check Rakuten first. 98% of the time, you will find a cash back offer or discount coupon. Rakuten ROCKS!!

However, some ConsumerAffairs reviewers care to differ. Customers have cited issues with receiving cash rebates specifically from Rakuten and encountering delays in payment.

Some customers have reported not receiving the cash back for purchases made through Rakuten that they felt they were promised, while others have had their accounts blocked without explanation. There are also complaints about misleading information on just what the cashback percentages were as well as difficulties they experienced in contacting customer support. 

“Now it is simply a bait and switch tactic. Promise, notify, add money to your account then quietly remove all the big generated items,” wrote Edward of King of Prussia, Pa. “Since 2023 I have [had] Rakuten remove money after it was credited to my account. I was up over $118+ dollars to find out it was reduced to $36+ and tonight &25+ dollars. Seems like all the 15% promotion rebates have been removed after I have spent hundreds of dollars [and] those 15% rebates would have really helped."

To its credit, though, when Rakuten’s customer service team found a complaint, they were quick to respond and offer help through

The bottom line on cash back programs 

There’s no question that the cash back pitch is inviting and many consumers consider it found money. But are cash back sites worth the hassle? No

Not if they’re complicated, suggests ConsumerismCommentary’s Adam Luehrs. He says it’s perfectly fine to be skeptical about situations that seem too good to be true, especially when hunting for deals online. 

To help avoid being scammed or simply wasting your time while diving into the cash back world, he offers these tips:

  •   A cash back website should never come with a fee.

  • You should never have to recruit a certain number of new members in order to qualify for deals.

  • A reputable website will have reasonable payout periods and conditions.

In the final analysis, it’s you who has to decide how much you appreciate saving a few dollars here and there, versus saving a few minutes at the online stores you shop.

“A reputable cash back website certainly offers an honest way to walk away with some extra money in your pocket,” Luehrs said. “You could easily save as much as $20 or $30 when buying a big-ticket item like a television or a kitchen appliance.That may very well be worth the additional minute or two that logging into a rewards portal would require.”

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