There have been many great deals over time, and they never last. The lesson is to take advantage of what’s offered, make use of the benefits, and expect to have to move onto the next offer that comes along.
For all of the many great opportunities that there have been over the past couple of years, probably the greatest ones are even better. The funny thing is that in my frequent flyer youth, I never even knew how great I had it.
Then again, it was 2002 before I ever saw my first 20,000 mile signup bonus for a credit card. And it was 2003 before I excitedly signed up for a 40,000 mile offer for a Northwest Visa that took 2 years to get all of the miles. Still, we had miles for long distance offers back then and those were super generous. I was constantly switching long distance carriers.
But here are what I believe are the 15 most generous offers I’ve seen. They don’t include 40,000 British Airways points for test driving a Jaguar, or dumpster diving at Wendy’s for Airtran flights. Because as great as those were, I don’t think they were great enough. And they don’t include ‘mistake fares’, those are a whole different category.
15. Free status offers for Marriott Gold, Avis Presidents Club, Virgin Gold, Hilton Gold, Continental Silver just for becoming an AT&T customer.
14. Class of Service Bonuses on Upgrades (Earn more bonus miles on United than it took to upgrade US-Hawaii, the upgrade more than paid for itself).
13. 1-800-Flowers 100 miles per dollar with Delta. On December 30, 2003 1-800-Flowers sent out an email saying they would award 100 miles per dollar spent on flowers. I assumed they had bought a ton of Delta miles which needed to be awarded or else they would expire. So they thought they would generate some cash with this rapidly expiring asset. The email was targeted, but anyone could use the promotion. And it wound up being much bigger than they anticipated.
12. Lifetime American AAdvantage elite status for credit card signups and spending. American used to count miles earned from any source towards lifetime elite status. That means just credit card signup bonuses and spending were enough to become a lifetime Gold (1 million miles) or lifetime Platinum (2 million miles). I hit my lifetime Platinum before becoming a regular American Airlines customer many years ago though. It’s been slow going since the change though it won’t be long until I hit 4 million miles – sadly that won’t get even 75,000 mile elite status. And unfortunately lifetime Platinum isn’t worth what it once was.
10. Citi ThankYou redemptions for $2700+ airline tickets. Years ago you could get Citibank to buy you a ticket at any price if you met the conditions of the Thank You points program. People would manage to buy themselves $8000 coach tickets to Japan, cancel, and retain the airline credit.
Not surprising that they shut down that sort of gaming by implementing maximum ticket values into their award chart. The sweet spot used to be redeeming for business class tickets inside the US and Canada at a value of 3 cents per point — 90,000 points bought a ticket of “up to” $2700.
The preferred airline to do this with was Delta, because their credits were eminently divisible back them. After booking the first ticket in your own name from the credit, you could use the balance on tickets for anyone you wished.
And with the Citi Drivers Edge card you could earn up to 6 points per dollar, matched by the miles you drove (so 12 points) and redeemed at 3 cents per point (a 36% rebate on gas and grocery store spend).
9. 13,500 United miles and a free night at any Hyatt for every two one night stays. Hyatt did some amazing things to put heads in beds during the Great Recession, stacking Faster Free Nights (once upon a time those were even earnable on Priceline stays, sigh) with generous United mileage bonuses.
8. Track-it-Back. In the fall of 2009 US Airways offered a 250% bonus on points earned through their shopping partners (up to 10 transactions) as long as you made purchases from at least 5 different merchants. Track-it-Back sold their stickers with 40 miles per dollar which became 140 miles per dollar, or just over 7/10ths of a cent per point. Donate the items, and reduce your cost basis further.
7. Double, triple, quadruple bonus dipping (Continental, US Airways). About 13 years ago some members earned six-figure mileage flying cross country on Continental. Once upon a time you could fly just a handful of flights and earn Chairmans Preferred (100,000 mile flyer status) on US Airways. US Airways had no way to tell if you were targeted or not, so they posted on Flyertalk that people who weren’t targeted and signed up anyway would get in lots of trouble (hoping to scare folks off). Didn’t work…
6. Savings bonds, travelers checks, and the US mint. Over time there have been huge opportunities to buy money with your mileage earning credit card, at little or not cost, and then pay off your credit card with the money you purchased. Rinse, repeat. Whether savings bonds or travelers checks (thanks, AAA!), these eventually get shut down — because the company offering them winds up eating the credit card transaction fees without generating real business or over concerns of fraud. But many frequent flyers have earned many millions of miles.
5. KLM Status Match and Millions of Free Miles: In the Fall of 2001, KLM wasn’t just matching status — they were matching the account balances in your competitor elite account as well!
4. LatinPass 1,000,000 Miles: During the first half of 2000, you could earn a million miles (with the dreaded LatinPass program) for flying at least one international segment on each of the ten LatinPass member airlines, flying at least three segments on partner airlines (KLM, US Airways, TWA); staying at least three nights in at least two partner hotels and renting a car for at least five days from their car rental partners.
3. InsideFlyer-Starwood. In the Spring of 2002, Randy Petersen was giving away 2500 Starwood points with each Inside Flyer magazine subscription. Back then Starwood points converted 1->2 into Qantas plus bonuses. It was possible to buy 21 Inside Flyer subscriptions, transfer the Starwood points to Qantas, and redeem for travel on the Concorde. Donate the magazines to charity and further reduce your cost basis.
2. Goldpoints/valumags: Around Christmas 2001 it was possible to earn more than 100 miles per dollar with your choice of several airlines by purchasing magazine subscriptions from Valumags through the Goldpoints shopping portal. Some members donated the magazines to non-profits for the tax deduction, reducing their cost basis even further.
1. Pudding Guy. He was even memorialized in the PT Anderson – Adam Sandler film Punch Drunk Love.
What great mileage deals, on par with these, am I forgetting about? Hit the comments and let’s build a better list.