Man Who Tried to Bomb Asheville Airport Caught When He Tried to Earn Cash Back

A man tried to bomb the Asheville, North Carolina airport last week. Law enforcement had a real challenge identifying the perpetrator, until a loyalty program membership gave him away.

  • There was airport surveillance footage showing a white male in black clothes with a black cap.

  • FBI discovered a new REI Traverse 70 backpack in the woods near the airport. It contained “gloves, a fuel source, a roll of Gorilla Tape” and “what appeared to be an alarm clock bell” that matched “the bell missing from the clock in the bomb.” There was also a gray polymer spoon inside.

  • There was surveillance footage of some of those items being purchased at a Walmart and a Lowe’s but the man paid cash. They couldn’t identify him.

  • However a backpack and spoon were purchased in the same transaction at a nearby REI store. But there was no surveillance footage. And the man again was careful and paid with cash.

  • His identity was given away because he used his REI co-op membership number to earn cash back.

Copyright: joshuaraineyphotography / 123RF Stock Photo

There was no video footage this time. And again, the man paid cash. But, Anderson writes, “the individual … used an REI membership number when paying.”

An REI membership entitles a customer to 10 percent back on purchases every year. In this case, it also gave the FBI a name — Michael Estes.

Who doesn’t love good cash back?

Loyalty programs aren’t just an expense providing a rebate for purchases. They’re permission-based marketing, and highly personalized. Companies track purchase behavior and even predict what marketing is likely to be timely and effective to drive future purchases. It’s far less expensive and more effective marketing than mass advertising strategies.

And they’re so addictive even a careful would-be terrorist bomber can’t resist the allure of 10% earn.

(HT: @TravelSummary)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is almost as stupid as the guys who got caught in the first WTC bombing by trying to get their deposit back from Ryder

  2. @JohnnieD he wasn’t Muslim so it doesn’t fit neatly into the media’s fear mongering narrative and thus ignored.

  3. I don’t you can buy stuff at REI without membership. Had the man been smarter, he would have bought somewhere else.

  4. At first I thought @Evan was replying to @JohnnieD’s post about why the attempted bombing wasn’t heavily publicized.

  5. If you want the ultimate take on this read ( And I quote: “A white guy can’t be a ‘terrorist’ even if he, oh, say, attacks an airport with an IED or guns down dozens of concertgoers in Las Vegas. We reserve the ‘terrorist’ label for brown people from religions that aren’t particularly popular with white guys like Michael Estes.”

    That seems to cover why the story has been buried. Doesn’t fit the narrative of scary Muslim terrorism and “Build the Wall.”

  6. I can hear that conversation at REI now.
    Store clerk:”Sir do you have an REI membership number?”
    Bomber jerk: ” uh no I’m not interested in that today, I’m in a hurry”
    Store clerk:”don’t you like saving money and getting cash back Mr. Typical REI customer?”
    Bomber jerk:”dang it I knew I should have just gone to Kohl’s”

  7. Technically REI Membership is not a 10% cash-back program… 10% is typical return, however, it’s a co-op dividend program…. Splitting hairs perhaps, but just thought it should be mentioned.

  8. +1 Johnnie, Omar, & Steve! But the Vegas massacre was publicized by media–only the term “terrorist” was missing. I did not hear about Asheville until a week after the event! Maybe because the attempt failed & nobody was injured/ killed?

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