Cashback sites pay you a cash reward when you click through from them to buy goods or financial products.
Websites such as Quidco and TopCashback offer cashback on a variety of goods and services, from mobile phones to car insurance and bank accounts to broadband.
Here, we explain how to use a cashback website, highlight the latest deals and offer expert tips on maximising your earnings.
How to use cashback sites
The majority of cashback sites work in the same way although there are differences in fees, joining bonuses and how the money is paid. Here's a step-by-step guide to getting yourself set up:
Choose a cashback website
Register with one or more cashback sites. Most sites are free to join, but some charge an annual fee either as a matter of course or if you choose a premium account.
Search for deals
If you want to purchase a particular product or service, search the website to see if your favourite retailers or preferred financial services firms are offering deals.
Click the link provided
Once you find a deal you want to cash in on, visit the retailer by clicking on the link provided by the cashback site rather than going direct. If you've previously visited this retailer's website, delete your internet cookies before clicking through, so the cashback site is recognised as the referral source.
Complete the purchase
When you complete your purchase, the retailer sends commission to your cashback site. In turn, it pays a slice of this money into your bank or Paypal account. You may need to reach a certain cashback threshold before you can withdraw funds.
How to make the most of cashback sites
Get your friends to sign up
Many cashback sites give you a bonus if you refer them to a friend.
Do this by sending an email using the website's dedicated referrals page. The email will contain a link to the cashback site with a personalised referral code to confirm it was you who gave the recommendation.
Typically, you won't get the bonus until your friends earn a certain amount of cashback themselves, so encourage them to shop after they've joined.
Make use of freebies
Both Quidco and TopCashback include offers which allow you to make money for free.
You can earn free cashback by completing surveys, getting quotes from price comparison websites or entering prize draws.
The rewards offered are rarely astounding, but can be worth making use of if you have a few minutes to spare.
Earn cashback on the high street
You can earn cashback on high street purchases via Quidco's ClickSnap app. This app lists a wide range of offline cashback deals, which you can claim by buying the product then uploading a photo of the receipt.
You can also earn offline cashback via TopCashback's OnCard scheme. Once you register your debit or credit card with the scheme, a host of available deals will appear on the TopCashback website.
Simply activate the deal you want to, use the registered card to buy the product and the cashback will automatically appear in your account.
Think outside the box
It's not just everyday purchases that can earn you cashback. The real windfalls come when you’re signing up to a service for a period of months or years.
You could earn hundreds of pounds by signing up to a new broadband or phone contract via cashback sites. Check whether credit card, insurance or mobile phone providers are registered on cashback sites before locking yourself into a contract with them too.
It's also possible to earn big money by booking your holiday through a cashback site. There are often great deals available on flights and hotels, as well as extras such as car hire, travel insurance and airport car parking.
Withdraw funds as a gift card
Quidco and TopCashback both allow you to withdraw the cashback you’ve earned via bank transfer or Paypal.
However, if you opt to withdraw funds as a gift card with a specific retailer, you’ll earn a top-up on your cashback.
When you go to withdraw funds from your Quidco or TopCashback account, you’ll be shown a large list of retailers offering gift cards - and you can earn a top-up of up to 15% by utilising your cashback this way.
Use cashback credit cards
You can earn an extra bonus on your online purchases by paying for your goods with a cashback credit card, which will pay you back a percentage of what you spend on it.
The Which? Money Compare credit card tables let you search hundreds of cards from providers large and small to choose a great deal based on quality of service as well as cost and benefits.
To avoid being charged interest, make sure you pay off your balance in full at the end of the month.
Which? Money Compare table: cash back credit cards - our tables are updated daily
Cashback site pitfalls
While cashback sites are a great way to earn extra money on purchases, there are a number of pitfalls to be aware of.
Watch out for cookie trails
The most important thing to understand about cashback sites is the online journey you need to take to claim the money. This is tracked by small files called 'cookies' that contain useful information about your browsing history.
To be paid your cashback, there must be a clear ‘cookie trail’ which shows it was the cashback website that led you to the retailer's website.
If you've already browsed an online retailer's website and then decide to take advantage of a cashback promotion for this site, you’ll first need to delete your cookies. This will wipe your earlier records of being on that site - and set up a new cookie trail between the cashback site and online retailer.
If you don’t do this, the absence of a clear cookie trail could leave you without any cashback. Once you’ve made your first purchase at an online retailer through the cashback site, it’s usually no problem to keep earning cashback on future purchases.
Clearing your cookies could result in the loss of some useful information, such as pre-filled passwords on other websites that you may use, though most browsers give you the option to keep these stored.
Watch out for cashback site fees
It's free to register a basic account with Quidco and TopCashback, although premium membership on both sites will result in the first £5 of cashback earned each year being retained in return for benefits.
On both websites, premium membership unlocks improved cashback rates, bespoke promotions, comprehensive customer service and the removal of sponsored adverts, among other features.
Nevertheless, some of the lesser-known websites may charge a fee to join, or require you to earn a substantial amount of cashback before you can transfer funds into your bank account.
Cashback sites don't always have the best bargains
The lure of cashback can throw you off the scent of cheaper deals elsewhere. A £300 home insurance policy with £75 cashback is far from a bargain if you can get the same cover elsewhere for £150.
Also, if you have a discount code for a website, you usually can’t claim cashback on top of that. If this is the case, check whether the code offers a bigger discount.
Beware late or failed cashback payments
Cashback can sometimes take many weeks to reach your account. In some cases, the transaction may fail to track altogether.
This is commonly due to a lack of a cookie trail, but could also be down to issues with the affiliate links that transmit the payments between retailers and cashback sites.
If you fail to receive money owed to you, write to the site as quickly as possible via its official cashback claim link. We'd suggest sticking to the bigger sites such as Quidco or TopCashback in order to reduce the risk of losing out.
Know your rights: returning online purchases - information on sending a product back