While you may try to rack up frequent flyer miles from travel, airline-branded credit cards or online shopping, have you ever thought about pudding? One clever traveler turned a Healthy Choice promotion into enough miles to fly the world multiple times.
In 1999, Civil Engineer David Phillips noticed a promotion from Healthy Choice offering 500 American Airlines miles for every 10 product bar codes sent in, with a double bonus for sending them in the first month. Phillips figured out that the promotion would extend to all of their products, and searched his area supermarkets for the best deal. He started with 90-cent cans of soup, and then found a better deal: individual packages of chocolate pudding for 25 cents apiece. He bought every one available, spending a total of $3,140. This gave him 12,150 puddings worth over 1.2 million airline miles.
The story gets sweeter when you hear how he collected the bar codes for redemption. He started by putting his family to work, but they were soon (literally) sick of peeling the pudding lids and eating the stuff. He offered them up to Salvation Army for free, in return for the bar codes. For this, he was also able to get an $800 charitable tax deduction, bringing his investment down to around $2200. Netting over a million miles also gives him lifetime gold elite status on American, giving him an extra boost for accruing miles. His story inspired a similar plot in the movie “Punch Drunk Love.” Phillips continues to take advantage of frequent flyer promotions and deals, and now has over 4 million miles in his accounts.
Like free travel? Of course you do. There are a few contests you should enter, especially if you are a seasoned business traveler or a bubbly sociable traveler. Like most online contests, they will require social media savvy and some old-fashioned popularity contest-winning charm, but hey, you could win free travel!
-Jauntaroo’s Best Job Around the World: The vacation matchmaker site is looking for a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the world for one year (or at least a few exciting destinations like Berlin and the Maldives), with all expenses paid. You’ll be representing Jauntaroo and creating social content, and earning a $100k salary for your trouble. There’s also a “voluntourism” component, promoting the site’s partner charities and “travel with a cause” motto. To enter, upload a 60-second video detailing why you should win by September 15 and get your friends to like it, as only the final five will make it to the interview.
-“American Way” Road Warrior: Already been around the world, with an expertly-packed carry-on and the efficiency of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”? If you’re a true “road warrior” you know that “American Way” is the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, and they have an annual contest to award the ultimate business traveler. The grand prize includes a half million AAdvantage miles and a trip to Curacao, plus a slew of other prizes befitting a frequent flier, such as noise-canceling headphones. Fill out the application (sample question: what makes you a true road warrior?) by August 31, and the five finalists will be posted online for the public to vote on the top three winners.
It was not yet 6 a.m., but I had a bad feeling about how the day was going to go. The stone faced desk clerk had no interest in checking me in here in Vienna, not to mention through to my final destination, Seattle.
“No. Different booking.”
“But it’s with the same airlines…”
“Different booking. No.”
“So I’ll have to…”
“You’ll need to collect your bag in Amsterdam, and then check in again when you get there. Take your bag to the departures desk.”
“I don’t understand. These flights are on the same airlines. Can you check me in, at least, so I can drop my bag…”
“No. Different booking.”
I gave up. Priority club, my ass.I accepted the boarding pass for my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam and headed through security. I told myself to chill, my stop was six hours and I had a lounge pass tucked into my wallet. I’d recheck in Amsterdam and then spend the morning napping in the KLM lounge.
At the check-in desk in Amsterdam, I asked the clerk what the problem was, why I couldn’t check in, why I couldn’t get my bag through.
“It’s terrible,” she said, “but they’re responsible for your luggage. If they lose it, they have to pay to have it shipped. They don’t want to do that.”
“But it’s with the same airline, both of my flights are KLM/Delta.”
“I know,” she admitted. “It makes no sense.” She shook her head.
I felt somewhat placated. It wasn’t a huge annoyance, but I wanted someone to agree that it was ridiculous. Off I went to clear security again and to breathe the rarified air of the frequent flier lounge.
“No. This pass is no good here.”
“But it says on the website that …”
“Yes, but not for day passes. We don’t take the day pass here. Delta doesn’t pay for the use of the lounge, so we don’t take their passes.”
I thought I’d understood the rules; I’d read them before buying my pass. I couldn’t bring a guest, but I only wanted to bring… myself. Obviously I had not studied the small print with enough detail. And I’d made the mistake of asking the KLM Twitter account, not the Delta Twitter account, about access. What I don’t understand about airline partnerships could fill a book.
“You can buy a pass for 45 Euros.”
I’d spent 50 dollars to buy the lounge pass. It’s not so much money, but I was getting crankier and crankier. I was trying not to get angry. I was tired. I’d been up since 4:30 that morning. I knew I’d be tired; I rarely sleep well before a long flight.
“But you’re partners,” I said. “You give me partner status everywhere else.”
“Let me see what I can do,” said the desk clerk, who then called a supervisor, a cool woman in uniform who offered to sell me a pass for 45 Euros. I looked at the KLM agent, angry at her and at myself for not making sure I’d understood the small print.
I told myself to chill. Again. Schiphol is a nice airport. There are worse places to spend a few hours drinking coffee and people watching and dozing in lounge chairs. There’s good food, and Wi-Fi that’s not great, but is fast enough for complaining on Twitter about how you’re angry at your airlines.
“Get more coffee,” I thought. “You’re just tired. This isn’t a big deal.”
I got coffee and juice and a sandwich on good brown bread with very fresh mozzarella. I opened my laptop and complained. I drank my juice. I drank my coffee. I hammered away on my keyboard, the picture of a crabby, tired traveler on a stopover.
This business with my lounge pass was the last act in a comedy of errors in my travels to Europe and back. Thanks to a cargo problem on my outbound flight two weeks earlier, my connection in Schiphol to Frankfurt was airtight. I was the last passenger to board the plane – my luggage would not make it. I was not particularly worried. I’d seen a series of flights to Frankfurt following mine. Worst case? My bag would show up while I was sleeping. I could chill.
I went to report the missing luggage at the Delta counter in Frankfurt.
“You need KLM,” said the man at the desk.
“But I checked in on Delta… and there’s nobody there.”
“There HAS to be somebody there,” he said, clearly exasperated, and then, walked me back to the KLM desk. There was nobody there. I walked out into arrivals and asked at the information desk, and then, was directed back into the baggage hall.
The clerk had materialized, removed the “Closed” sign, and was taking missing baggage reports from two impatient Israelis who’d boarded just before I did. It was my turn.
“Here’s your claim number and the website where you can find out when your bags will arrive.”
I stowed the printout with my documents and headed to the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to get there. My luggage was reported on the ground and ready for delivery not long after I’d had lunch. At about 12 hours, I asked for help in calling the number given to me by the clerk at the baggage desk.
“Oh, lord, don’t call that number! They’ll charge you by the minute!”
“Wait, I have to pay them to tell me where my stuff is? That’s crazy.”
I checked with customer service online. “Your luggage is on the ground and ready for delivery,” they said.
“Well, I KNOW that,” I replied. “I’ve know that for 24 hours now.” My bag did finally appear, nearly 36 hours after I’d arrived.
“We’re sorry for the delay,” said the note from KLM. “We hope you understand.”
I’d had it with ground services by the time I returned to Schiphol two weeks later. Any one of these events in isolation I’d have written off as bad luck, a bad day, or general travel mishaps. But the aggregation was making me irritable. The Delta KLM partnership began to feel like a an embittered marriage, kept together for the sake of the kids. I imagined them bickering after the little airplanes had gone to bed. “You said you would…”
I gazed past the plastic chairs and iPad-using Germans and families of bleary Americans in sweatshirts, breakfasting in various states of disconnection with their surroundings. Just on the edge there was the pale purple glow of the Yotel, a pod hotel that offers hourly cabins with showers. I looked at my crumpled, useless lounge pass, at my overpriced juice, at my angry typing on the weak Wi-Fi and then, I checked in for three and a half hours of attitude adjustment.
It cost me 46 Euros for the stay. For that, I got a tiny, clean, super efficient cabin with a comfortable single bunk, a shower and toilet, a TV (which I did not turn on), a powerful Wi-Fi connection, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks (which I did not take sufficient advantage of) and some much needed private space in which to reset my state of mind.
It was money well spent. When I checked out of my cabin after a short nap and some silent lethargy, I felt human again.
Airline partner terms are unclear, delays happen, the mystery of why you can check in here and not there – these things are all part of the process. The follies of transit are a critical part of travel and often, they are unavoidable. As a seasoned traveler, it’s rare that I let this stuff get under my skin.
But sometimes, when patience wears thin, you can throw a few bucks at a problem and not make it go away, but at least make it better. Upgrade your seat to Economy Plus, spring for a taxi and get an airport hotel the night before the early flight. Don’t buy the Day Pass, that way lies madness, but get yourself something nice. Travel is totally glam, but sometimes, it’s wearing and takes a toll. Give yourself a break. Book the pod for a few hours and make yourself human again.
Plus, you can use that refreshed energy for complaint letters to the airlines on the long flight home.
Accumulating frequent flier miles seems to be the easy part of the deal. We fly. We get miles. They add up. However, when we look a bit closer we find there are rules, and that all miles are not equal. Once we get tens of thousands of miles on a given airline or alliance, however, the focus shifts to using them. And that’s when life as a frequent flier can get difficult.
A good first step is to decide if you even want to play the mileage game or not. Frequent travelers, for business or pleasure, may have an easier time of deciding while those who rarely fly anywhere might think there’s no real point to it. Experts disagree.
Some do say frequent flier mileage programs are a scam. Consumer expert Christopher Elliott recently advised, “Remove all the frequent flier cards from your pocket. Grab a pair of scissors, cut the plastic into tiny little pieces and toss it in the trash,” reports John DiScala on his JohnnyJet website.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” replies DiScala who travels over 150,000 miles a year on about 30 different airlines. “In fact, I say do the opposite. Travelers should sign up to as many reward programs as possible because it’s basically free money if you play the game right.”Following that advice, or just falling into having loyalty accounts on a number of airlines, passengers find that figuring out which program to use for any given flight can be a chore. A new tool can help.
Milez.biz is a cross program comparison and calculation tool that can calculate redemption between any two destinations for over 70 different programs.
Entering any two destinations along with a choice of frequent flier programs produces quick results starting with the lowest rate for award flights found in the selected system. You can also transfer rates and calculate the number of points needed to convert and transfer from a hotel or credit card program.
An info button brings some extra information about the program in question and a click on “Login” links directly to the frequent flier program’s login page. Not a member? No problem, clicking “Apply” links to the frequent flier program’s application page.
“Check Rates” links to the frequent flier programs own calculator or rates tables.
Better yet, if the frequent flier program being viewed is distance based and a connection is necessary, the calculator will finds the best connection, then calculates the flight distance through that connection.
Need additional incentive to invest a little time in knowing about frequent flier programs?
“I’ve taken hundreds of flights all around the world thanks to using my frequent flier miles,” says DiScala, “including treating my parents first class to Europe on multiple occasions.”
Tom Stuker, an automotive sales consultant who lives in both suburban Chicago and New Jersey, reached the record-breaking number earlier this month on a flight between London and Chicago, United announced in a press release.
This is just the latest milestone for Stuker, who is one of commercial aviation’s highest-mileage travelers. In July 2011, he became the first person to fly 10 million miles on United and United Express. He began clocking his miles after joining United’s loyalty program in 1983. Since then, he has logged most of his miles flying to Asia and Australia and has flown to all 50 U.S. states.
Stuker estimates he has been on board 6,000 United flights, including about 400 flights this calendar year alone.
“It has been a phenomenal year flying with United,” said Stuker in the statement. “Everyone at the airline, from the customer service agents to the flight attendants to the ramp workers, has made my travels feel effortless.”
For those of us unable to comprehend just how far Stuker traveled this year, United has offered some insight, pointing out that “a traveler would need to trek around the world about 40 times” and “[c]ruising at 570 miles per hour, a single nonstop flight of [one] million miles would land 73 days after takeoff.”