Frequent flyers can be a bit of a crazy bunch. The lengths that we will go to to gather frequent flyer or hotel points and status cannot be underestimated.
There is a well known story from the US about The Pudding Guy. He calculated that the value of the points he could earn far outweighed the cost of purchasing chocolate puddings. So he bought thousands of them and earned himself over 1.2 million frequent flyer points for around $2500. Definitely worth the investment. The sheer number of points also gave him lifetime gold status on American Airlines, so lounge access forever!
There have been a few other similar stories – Australia has The Cat Food Guy – but companies have wised up and now terms and conditions tend to be more restrictive. The cost to the promoting company skyrockets beyond what they had planned so all the best deals eventually get shut down as they become more popular. These companies do not understand the lengths travel hackers will go to. I know from first hand experience both the craziness and the benefits. My next international flight is in first class thanks to frequent flyer points.
How I Have Amassed Frequent Flyer Points
I am just small fry compared to these big players, but here are some of the crazy things I have done in the pursuit of points. Telling these stories normally results in raised eyebrows. It can appear to be too complicated. I think the benefits more than make up for it.
My teenage children will no longer come grocery shopping with me because apparently I am too embarrassing at the checkout. It is not unusual for me to split the weekly shop into many transactions. This allows me to gain the best value out of store loyalty cards and bonus deals. I am also likely to be buying gift cards for other stores for myself, because I earn (at least) 3points/$ at supermarkets, but at most 1.5points/$ at other stores. For certain promotions I have used the self service lanes to scan and pay for one item at a time! I’ve found that doing this when it’s busy annoys the attendants, the others in line, and most of all, my kids, so it’s best to choose a quiet time.
I have been known to pay bills in 1cent transactions when a bank offered a savings account with an earn rate of 5points per transaction. In fact I went further than that. Firstly I paid someone else’s bill just to be able to earn the points. Eventually I went out and signed up for for a service we didn’t need just to earn the points. The value of the points far outweighed the cost – and we did use the service.
Credit cards are their own craziness, but they have lots of benefits for frequent flyers. The credit card game involves a lot of “churning”. That is, signing up for a card, getting the signup bonuses, cancelling the card, and repeating. The cards all have their own benefits, and I am constantly reminding family members which card needs to be used where. I was thinking of printing up a pocket-sized list for each of them but with all the churning decided it would be an onerous task to keep it up to date. There are not many parents who encourage their children to get credit cards as soon as they turn eighteen to maximise points, but that’s exactly how my eldest daughter was able to fly in business class at twenty. (Of course I don’t recommend this if your child will just get into debt – my second daughter does not have a credit card!)
There was a time when we were able to use our credit card to transfer money onto a travel card for a small fee. We were then able to withdraw the money from an ATM and pay it straight back off our credit card. Our credit card limit was all that dictated how much we could earn for each small transaction fee. The banks though have a withdrawal limit on their ATMs. To benefit we needed to be dedicated and withdraw the maximum amount of cash each and every day. It was also interesting trying to pay consistent amounts off our credit card in cash. I’m sure people were thinking it was coming from some undesirable or illegal source!
I don’t even bat an eyelid any more when I hear someone is flying from Adelaide to Perth – via Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney! Commonly known as a status run, the extra stops may cost a bit more, but they also earn more status credits and could be the difference between being a silver and gold frequent flyer. The extra cost and time can be worth it as benefits such as lounge access begin at gold level. One common frequent flyer catch phrase is “Why fly direct when you can connect”!
The mattress run is similar to the status run. On one trip to Kuala Lumpur, Simon and I moved hotels every day to benefit from a promotion basing points and tier level on the number of stays not the number of nights. Instead of earning one stay, we earned seven. Moving hotels every day can be a little onerous. It can also quickly provide benefits such as room upgrades, free breakfasts and executive lounge access.
My favourite crazy moment was when I got a call from the fraud department of a furniture store. I had bought four $300 gift cards online using four different credit cards belonging to my family to take advantage of a deal offered by Amex. I hadn’t thought much about it, putting all orders in my name. My surname is different to the other three members of my family. I had also used a mobile phone number, a PO box as the address and a hotmail email address. I can see why my orders raised red flags! Of course the store itself knew nothing about the Amex promotion. I think the guy who called just decided to agree with the crazy person on the phone rather than argue!
The bad news is most of these methods no longer work to earn huge amounts of frequent flyer points. We can still do status runs and mattress runs, but current promotions don’t tend to give the same value. Frequent flyers are always finding loopholes and ways to beat the system, until those methods also go by the wayside. It really is a game, and if played right can reap some amazing rewards. Don’t spend those meagre points on a gift voucher, look at some of the other ways to earn points. If you find the next big loophole, be sure to let me know – I won’t tell anyone 🙂
Looking for ways to earn frequent flyer points? See my post on How to Earn Qantas Points – Without Getting on a Plane.
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.