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My award booking partner Steve Belkin has a new book out, Mileage Maniac, which any frequent flyer or mileage junkie will get real enjoyment from.
I’ve done a lot of mileage earning in the 30 years since I joined American AAdvantage for the first time. There was even one US Airways promotion I used a dozen years ago to generate 16 million miles across multiple accounts. But I don’t think anyone has ever scaled mileage offers the way that Steve has. That’s because when he sees a good deal, he says that if it’s good for him to do – or to do for himself and his wife – then it must be good to do coordinating in 20, 40, or 100 friends’ accounts too. Steve is all about scale.
Steve talks about recruiting other people to fly in his name and about hiring disabled Thais to fly for him out of the opium capital of the world – until the DEA got involved.
Steve tells the Thai “Baht Run” story as being about crediting miles to Air Canada Aeroplan, getting rice farmers to become Super Elites so their miles could be redeemed for business class tickets with no capacity controls. That’s true. But there was another version where he had Thai flyers earn United 1K status and obtain international upgrade certificates.
I still have the 20 year old email where he wondered whether I wanted a rice farmer for an employee, who would gladly make their upgrades available to me? Steve was paying unheard of wages for Northern Thailand, but people taking 5 trips a day out of the opium capital of the world with no checked bags raises.. red flags. He then switched to paying New Zealand college students to fly to Europe several times over their summer break.
He tells the story of eBay Anything Points, Goldpoints-ValuMags, flying the Concorde for $1000 in magazine subscriptions, british midland Diamond Club, TrackItBack, and easyCGI. But I have to wonder, Steve, what about Emmi cheese?
Steve tells some of the best war stories about mileage programs, but as you read along you have to wonder, are the good old days over? And in some ways they are. Airline loyalty programs aren’t as valuable after perpetual devaluation, and even walking away from any semblance of transparency or consumer commitment by eliminating award charts. Even Hyatt will follow Marriott with ‘high and low season pricing’ which undercuts the ability to get outsized value for points, while Hilton and IHG have eliminated award charts altogether.
However bank programs still offer great value.
- I was just approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 100,000 bonus point offer (after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening). This is one of the best card deals I’ve ever seen.
- FinTechs are well-funded, and partnering with established payment companies. Some of the easiest points I’ve ever picked up were 110,000 transferable points with a new Brex account and then another 100,000 for a few minutes’ work setting up a free Paypal integration (210,000 total points free).
The good old days may be gone, but that doesn’t mean today isn’t great (just different). And the lesson in Steve’s book and his mileage career is still true, that if there’s a great offer on the table it’s even better multiplied out by 100.
Mileage Maniac is available in paperback for $8.49 with free Prime shipping.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® Earn 65,000 AAdvantage miles.
[…] award booking service partner Steve Belkin, author of a new book on his 30 years of mileage exploits, has another project that’s […]