How to earn cash back online

Wouldn't it be great if you could earn money back every time you bought something online? Oh wait, you can! And we could be talkin' big bucks...

best cashback sites

It might sound like a crazy idea, but some brands will actually pay you cash if you buy something from their site by going via an external site first.

These external sites are called cashback sites, and they're a great place to start if you're on the hunt for ways to save a bit of money while at uni, without having to completely freeze your spending.

In fact, if you're a frequent online shopper, you could be earning £100s a year by using a cashback site. Here's how to make the most of them...

Looking for a cashback credit card? Our guide to the best student credit cards has the lowdown on which are the best to go for!

Bonus side note: Since our Money Expert, Jake, joined Quidco three years ago, he's earned over £600 in cashback!

cashback total

What is online cashback?

You can earn cash back when you shop online by using cashback sites.

The sorts of cashback deals that are available vary widely, so you could see yourself earning as much as £100 or just a few pennies on a single transaction, depending on what you buy and which brands you buy from.

It might sound quite complicated, but it's actually ridiculously easy.

To get started, simply follow these four steps:

  1. Sign up to a reputable cashback site like Quidco, TopCashback or Swagbucks
  2. Whenever you decide you'd like to buy something online, open a new browser and sign in to your cashback site account (alternatively, you could head straight to the cashback site to see which companies are offering the highest rates or best deals)
  3. Search for the retailer you want to buy from in the cashback site search bar (e.g. 'Topman', 'Sainsbury's' or even 'Sky Broadband' etc.)
  4. Follow the brand's link on the cashback site and it will take you through to their homepage 
  5. Simply make your purchase as normal! The cashback site will have tracked your click so it knows you made your purchase through them, and they'll register your cashback.

How much cashback can you get?

how much cashback can you get

Credit: Nickelodeon

The amount of money you'll actually receive will vary. For smaller purchases, cashback rates tend to be around 5 -10%, but if you're making a bigger investment - a new mobile phone contract or broadband package, for example - you could earn £100 or more.

Here's a list of typical cashback rates for some retailers as of May 2018. Rates will vary depending on what purchase you make, which cashback site you use and any special offers available.

  1. ASOS: 10 - 12 % cashback
  2. Game: 2% cashback
  3. National Rail: 3 - 8% cashback (when buying a Railcard)
  4. Paperchase: 6 - 8% cashback
  5. Virgin Media: £40 - £250 cashback 
  6. O2 Mobile: £5 - £105 cashback
  7. 8 - 11% cashback

How does cashback work?

how does cashback work

Credit: BBC

A lot of people worry that cashback sites are a scam - free cash does sound a bit suspicious after all.

However, they have quite a nifty business model that makes it all possible.

Cashback sites make their money by earning a commission for sending customers to shop websites, and you get a large slice of it (or all of it in some cases). Genius!

Companies like Waitrose, ASOS, and even broadband providers pay cashback sites to advertise them and direct customers towards their website. When a customer makes a purchase, the cashback site earns referral money which it then passes on to you.

Some sites, like TopCashback and Quidco, give their customers 100% of the cashback, and instead they make their money through bonuses they receive for referring large numbers of customers, or from premium memberships which typically cost around a fiver (more on this below).

Therefore, although you're paid by the cashback sites, the money you eventually receive comes from the brands themselves.

Which cashback sites are best for students?

best cashback sites

We've selected some cashback sites that we think offer the best return, as well as the best user experience, for students.

However, we'd recommend joining a few sites so that you can compare the cashback amounts between them, as they can often vary from one site to the next.

All these sites are free to join, so what's to lose?

  1. TopCashback

    Topcashback-LogoTopCashback is definitely one of the best sites out there, if not the best. They generally offer higher rates than their competitors, and most users give them glowing reports!

    Their Classic membership is free, but the Plus membership offers a bonus extra 5% cashback on most transactions, as well as extra money for referring friends and other perks. However, they will keep the first £5 cashback you earn as payment.

    Be careful when you first sign up, as you'll automatically be assigned a Plus membership that you have to opt out of.

    You can also trade your cashback cash for vouchers through Reward Wallet, and get an extra 23% value added!

    Also look out for their Free Cashback feature. This enables you to earn cashback just by completing certain tasks online. Currently you can earn £2.30 just for comparing car insurance quotes on, for example.

    Your cashback should appear in your account within seven days of your purchase, and once you've chosen a payout method, you should leave another seven days to get your hands on the cash (although it'll often arrive much quicker than this).

    Check out TopCashback »

  2. Quidco

    QuidcoQiodco-Logo are another leading cashback site, and are normally seen battling it out with TopCashback in the quest to offer users the best exclusive rates.

    They claim their average user makes £300 a year - that could bag you an extra holiday!

    Like Topcashback, you can also choose to pay £5 for a Premium membership that will get you quicker payment, ad-free browsing and other bonuses.

    If you register your credit card with your Quidco account, you can earn cashback on purchases you make in store as well as online.

    Check out Quidco »

  3. Swagbucks

    swagbucks_squareSwagbucks is a site leaning a bit more on the side of a rewards site than purely cashback.

    As well as getting cashback offers, you can also use the site for a whole host of other benefits, such as getting reward points and free gift cards for making purchases with certain brands.

    Earn your cashback and rewards by saving up 'swagbucks' (or SBs as they call them) as a sort of currency that can then be exchanged for rewards.

    Check out Swagbucks »

  4. Boom25

    Boom25Again, Boom25 is a bit different to your traditional cashback sites like TopCashback and Quidco.

    If you make a purchase through the site, you have a 1 in 25 chance of winning a 100% refund on whatever you buy. Basically, every 25th purchase wins.

    The site is completely free to use, and if you win they'll transfer the money straight to your PayPal account.

    There's the potential to earn back more here than you would with the other sites, but it's more like entering a competition. There's no guarantees, and there's only a slim chance you'll win.

    However, there are also hot deals, where the odds are stacked more in your favour - for example, every 7th or 10th purchase wins, as opposed to every 25th.

    If you're lucky with this, you could win some serious cash back, but obviously don't bank on it!

    Check out Boom25 »

Did you know there are cashback apps for food shopping too? Check out our guide to the best supermarket cashback apps!

Top tips for using cashback sites

If you're keen to give this cashback lark a serious go, there are a few things worth taking into consideration before getting started.

Here are our ultimate cashback dos and don'ts!


cashback tips

Credit: Nickelodeon

  • Clear your cookies – Cashback sites use your cookies to track if you have arrived at a retail site through them or another site. Therefore, if your browser history gets pages mixed up and doesn't register that you've come via a cashback site, you won't get your reward. Clearing your cookies just before making your purchase will ensure this doesn't happen.
  • Transfer any money you make out of your cashback account ASAP – leave it in your account too long, and it won't be protected if the website goes bust.
  • Do the maths before making your purchase – Cashback won't always necessarily get you the best deal. Shop around for student deals, check for promo codes and daily deal sites as well and work out what the best option is before making your decision.
  • Register your credit card with your cashback account – so you can start earning cashback on purchases you make online and in stores too.
  • Refer your friends - You'll earn extra cash for getting your friends to sign up with a referral link. For example, Quidco currently offer you £5 in their 'Tell-a-Friend' scheme.
  • Remember to use the price match - Both TopCashback and Quidco guarantee to match each other, so if you find you could have got a better deal elsewhere, you can submit a claim and get extra cash back. However, there are strict time limits on this (Quidco only give you 72 hours), so don't hang about!


cashback pitfalls

Credit: Paramount Pictures

  • Be lead astray by flashy deals – It's easy to get excited by a £100 cashback deal on a new broadband package, but if you don't actually need a new contract, don't go for it. Broadband providers also don't have the best reputation for being easy to understand, so even if they're offering great cashback, they might be stinging you with other charges!
  • Assume anything – Just because you've followed the instructions, it doesn't mean that the money is yours. Complications can unfortunately occur that might lead to you missing out on your cash. To avoid disappointment, try not to rely too heavily on getting your rewards – just think of it as a bonus if you make some cash! If you have any issues, contact the cashback site's customer service department.
  • Think that every deal is set in stone – There can be disputes between brands and cashback sites that might prevent you from getting what you're due. Admittedly, this is a pitfall of going for cashback – nothing is guaranteed until it's safely in your bank account.

So there you have it! You should be armed with all the info you need to get started on earning back some serious cash when you shop online.

Good luck, and let us know if you find any great deals worth sharing!

On the hunt for a quicker way to earn some cash online? We have a whole list of tried and tested inside methods to make a quick buck on the web – check them out!

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