Cashback websites pay you when you click through them, go to retailers or product providers and spend. You can make £100s a year using them correctly.
This is a full guide to the top cashback sites, along with some serious warnings to make sure you protect yourself. You can also earn an extra 5% on top using a cashback credit card.
In this guide
How do cashback sites work?
If you want to buy something online or sign up to a finance product, rather than going direct, click to the company via a cashback site and you get paid for it. The amounts range from pennies for retail items to - at the top end - more than £100 for some mobile contracts.
You'll have to sign up to the cashback site, which should be free. If it's not, avoid it. Then simply log on and search for the online retailer you want to buy from, such as Argos or Tesco Direct. If it's listed, click the cashback site's link to visit that company.
Your visit is then tracked. If you buy something, an amount is put into your cashback site account once the transaction's processed. You can then withdraw this once it arrives in your cashback account, which can take a few weeks, or even months. For some cashback sites, you need to reach a set threshold before withdrawing.
Typical cashback site payments
|Debenhams||3% of product's cost||Marks & Spencer||4% of product's cost|
|Aviva home insurance||£20-£25 per policy||Tesco Direct||2% of product's cost|
|Esure car insurance||£30 per policy||Clarks||6% of product's cost|
|Last updated November 2016. Based on rates from TopCashback and Quidco, which may differ based on product category/spend.|
Why do they pay out?
Cashback sites take advantage of the way commercial payments from one website to another work. They use affiliate links, which allow the retailer to track where the traffic is coming from and then pay the cashback sites for the lead.
This is a common system, used by sites that send people through from comparison results, unique content or using links on advertising promotions. Cashback sites simply drive traffic by giving their users some of the money they're paid.
The amount of money depends on what's spent on what as well as the commercial deal, so can vary widely. The cashback site may earn its money per click, per transaction, application, or accepted applicant.
The technology's simple. Ready-made paying links are available from 'links warehouses'. Big cashback sites also have direct relationships, which means they can offer a wider range of providers, earn more or negotiate their own exclusive deals.
The 5 MAJOR cashback safety rules
While cashback sites can generate some users £100s a year, it's very important you understand there are substantial pitfalls in using these sites - and you need to understand them BEFORE you begin.
Think of cashback as a bonus only - it's not guaranteed
Tracking problems occur for many people using cashback sites. There are times when you'll expect to be paid but won't be.
If you do have problems getting paid, remember you need to contact the cashback site directly, not MSE. We just tell you about the top paying sites.
However, it's not just problems with cashback sites. They get the money from the retailers or product providers. Disputes in this area are common, so sometimes the cashback site doesn't receive the cash either.
Plus, unlike when you get cashback from a retailer, which is part of the product T&Cs, here you've fewer rights. The best way to approach this is to consider cashback as a bonus if you get it, but don't let it drive your purchasing decisions.
The cashback isn't yours until it's in your bank account
Never count the cashback until it's in your bank account. This isn't just because of tracking and processing issues. Cashback sites are easy to set up and many are small companies which can go bust (and some have done just that).
If it happens, you've little protection. You may count as a creditor to the company but in all likelihood, your money will be gone.
Never store cash in a cashback site - withdraw it ASAP
Most cashback sites set a threshold which you must reach before you can withdraw cash. The best practice is to withdraw as soon as you hit that level.
Never leave cash building up when you can take it out. Not only are you missing out on interest, but if the company goes kaput or changes its payout policy, the money's lost.
Focus on the cheapest deal, not the biggest cashback
It's easy to be seduced by £50 cashback for signing up for insurance or an extra 5% discount when shopping. Yet never let the cashback tail wag the dog. Not because of the warnings above, but simply because it may not actually be cheapest for you.
If the cashback doesn't happen, you need to be left with the best deal anyway and it might not be the cheapest without it. For example:
Deirdre Deal wants a telly. A cashback site brings up Asteroid Electricals, offering 5% cashback; meaning a £20 discount off a £399 TV. Yet two minutes using a shopbot would've found her the same TV on sale at £299.
Boris Bargain wants car insurance. He spots the Suffolk Mutual £100 cashback offer on a cashback website, so grabs its £540 policy via the site. Yet if he'd used car insurance comparison websites he'd have found Hippo Insurance at £370. As Hippo is also on a cashback site, Boris could've returned to get a further £25 off.
This is especially important for bigger transactions, where the cost of making a mistake can dwarf the cashback received. So read our relevant guides first, like Top Balance Transfers, Cheap Car Insurance, Cheap Home Insurance, Top Bank Accounts and Cheap Broadband.
Consider clearing your cookies
So when making your purchase, make sure you click through from the cashback site and not from anywhere else, as the rule's normally 'the last cookie wins'.
To be doubly safe, if you're expecting big cashback, clear your computer's cookies first to ensure the cashback is tracked. See more on controlling cookies at AboutCookies.
Don't think all cashback sites pay you the same. Many pay out 50% or less of what they get paid. We checked 10 of the biggest cashback sites for the top rates and feedback.
The best sites are over 100% payers, which ostensibly give all the money they earn to you. Here, we focus on those.
Find out how they do it
In 2005, Quidco launched the first 100% cashback site. On the surface the system doesn't seem sustainable, yet actually it's a very clever way to work. It's earned Quidco, and its fellow 100% operator TopCashback, a massive share of the cashback market.
These sites do exactly what they say on the tin. They give you 100% of the cashback allocated to you, meaning you get a bigger payout. It's been hugely profitable for many customers, but that doesn't mean these sites don't generate income.
They may keep the first fiver or tenner a year. If you join their 'premium schemes' some retain the first £5 you earn each year. There's nothing wrong with this, it's far better than charging a membership fee upfront. Of course, it means £5/year from every active member.
They get 'bonuses'. Let's say a retailer pays the cashback site 5% of every transaction. Of course, all that money is then passed to individual customers. Yet many retailers will also pay affiliates bonuses - so for example; if they generate £10,000 of sales, they'll get a bonus. These aren't and can't be allocated to individuals, so the cashback sites keep them.
The overall winner
If you want the site that pays the most, TopCashback* is the winner. It's free to use, and pays out up to 105% of the cashback it receives from the merchant.
It sounds strange, but it's able to do this as it passes on a little of the bonuses it gets for generating large amounts of sales. It's also the one that gets the best feedback from its users. You can take earnings as cash, or boost returns by swapping cashback for Amazon vouchers or Tesco Clubcard points.
How do I join & get cashback?
- Choose its free membership. TopCashback has no annual administration fees, meaning it's free to use. New users are are signed up to a three-month trial of its 'Plus' membership –remember to downgrade before the trial is up otherwise you'll automatically be charged for a year's membership.
- You can choose to pay a £5 membership fee. TopCashback's Plus membership* gives a 5% bonus on all cashback rates on its site - eg, a £100 cashback deal would net you £105 as a Plus member.
- Boost returns by 5%. If you choose vouchers instead of cash, you can get up to a generous 5% extra back – eg, with Argos or Currys.
- Earn cashback in-store. TopCashback followed in Quido's footsteps and offers cashback on certain purchases made in-store, see below for more details.
In second place
Our second best cashback site is Quidco*, which has similar payout levels as TopCashback above. Indeed, the two sites usually compete on exclusive deals.
How do I join & get cashback?
- Pick the basic membership. If you don't pick this, you'll need to pay a fee.
- There's a Premium membership available. For £5 Premium members get their cashback quicker, loyalty bonuses and ad-free shopping. You may also get access to higher cashback rates from time to time.
- You can pick how you get paid. You can either take the cash, have it paid into your PayPal account, or opt for an Amazon gift certificate with a 1% payout bonus (2% for Premium members).
- You can boost cashback in stores. Quidco members can also get cash in stores as well as online. Read full info on this below.
Plenty of MoneySavers have had huge success using cashback sites. Here are some stories for inspiration:
Have been paid out £1,200 + from TopCashback, 110% all round ace from my experience.
On track to clear over £200 in 9 months with TopCashback, don't know why I've not used them before.
Just on TopCashback this year I've had £300 and probably that much again through the others.
So far I've got back around £300 from buying things that I would normally have bought like my garden shed, washing machine, car insurance, home insurance and every day items.
There are a few ways to boost your cashback:
You can get money back on in-store spending at a few retailers with both Quidco and TopCashback:
TopCashback. Is our top pick and now it also allows you to earn in-store cashback by registering your debit or credit card through OnCard*. There aren't that many retailers available through this method, though some big names like Uniqlo (5%) and Maplins (4%) are on there.
Otherwise, the TopCashback app* lets you earn cashback on your in-store grocery shopping with deals on specific items. Using the app you unlock the offer, scan the barcode of the product and then take a photo of your receipt and the cashback should be approved fairly sharpish.
Quidco. Simply register your credit or debit card with Quidco, spend on it, and your purchase is tracked. Once it's processed, an amount is put into your cashback site account. It says card details are encrypted so no-one can access them. Learn more about in-store cashback with Quidco*.
For some merchants you have to upload your receipt once you've purchased in store for cashback, and in some cases you may get slightly different rates for doing it this way.
Quidco has also made it possible to open up or increase rates with some retailers by 'activating' them first on the website or through its iPhone or Android app. You'll typically have a seven-day window after activating, but in theory you could do it every week. See the full list* of retailers and offers.
Cashback credit cards give cold hard cash every time you spend on the card. Always make sure you pay it off in full so you're not charged interest.
There's no conflict between cashback sites and cashback cards, as when you spend money, whoever it's spent with, the cashback credit card gives you some of it back. The top card pays up to 5% back on your spending for the first three months. See the Cashback Credit Cards guide for the top payers.
You don't have to buy anything to earn cash via cashback sites - you can earn cash just for clicking links on the internet. Cashback websites give you a share of their ad revenue, and sometimes get paid just for sending traffic.
For example, at the time of writing TopCashback pays £2.30 for a Confused.com car insurance quote. Its Free Cashback* section lists the top offers.
Quidco also has a similar page with free cashback offers, including up to £3.85 for generating a new insurance quote via Quotesearcher.
With TopCashback, it'll actually beat the competing rate (including the extra 5% for Plus members) on top of it. You have to submit a claim within four weeks of your cashback tracking, whereas Quidco employs a more struict 72-hour policy, and will only match rates.
Other restrictions and limitations apply, so check all the T&Cs before relying on it to make a claim.
Cashback loopholes - they pay more than you pay them
Some companies pay more cashback than the product itself costs. In the past, cashback sites paid up to £25 for Cahoot savings account applications, even though these could be opened with just £1.
There are two warnings with this particular method though. First, be careful when applying for financial products, especially bank accounts, credit cards and loans. Applications usually add a search on your credit file, which potentially diminishes your credit score.
Secondly, each cashback site has its own rules for members. They may ban you if they think you're abusing the scheme, as if too many people do this with specific products, they'll lose their links because too few customers are using them to spend money.
Survey sites: Make money from giving your opinion
On a similar theme, it's possible to earn £100s a year without any special skill or talent by stashing cash from filling in online surveys.
You could earn cash or Amazon vouchers for taking part, and surveys are often short enough to fill in during breaks at work. For a full how-to, see the Survey Sites guide.