Ten to twenty years ago was probably the golden age of earning miles. We were well past earning miles only for flying (though the bonuses for flying started to become less generous) and past earning miles only for credit cards (though the bonuses for those hadn’t yet gotten as large). Instead there were huge bonuses for engage with partners.
- Dumpster diving at Wendys Soda cups could be turned into free tickets on AirTran
- Bosley hair restoration consultation gave me 10,000 Delta miles when I still had more hair even than I do now
- Test driving a Jaguar thanks to British Airways family accounts meant a free roundtrip to Europe, and this was before fuel surcharges were a thing
- Shopping promotions like the one US Airways ran in 2009 where I earned 16 million Dividend Miles across a number of accounts at a net cost of less than half a cent apiece
These are just a few of the 15 greatest miles and points deals, ever like the 1,000,000 LatinPass bonus, KLM’s match of all the miles in your account with a competitor airline, and of course Pudding Guy who was immortalized in the Adam Sandler film Punch Drunk Love.
But was there anything better, really – besides buying fee-free travelers checks from AAA – than buying coins from the U.S. Mint which I first wrote about in 2008?
You’d buy coins from the U.S. government at face value, pay by credit card, and get free shipping. There were ever-changing rules about how many coins you could buy and how often, but for a time it was unlimited – and some people bought seven figures worth.
The coins were heavy. You had to take them to the bank. And you had to track shipments. But that there was no net cash cost to the deal, and no real limit for awhile on how much you could earn, plus that it lasted in one form or another for about three years makes it an all-time classic.
Here’s a video that I missed explaining the exploit (HT: PoEntre). I didn’t know that sent out over $88 million in dollar coins in 2009 alone.
I covered the deal again in 2009 and then the per-person cap on the amount of coins you could buy was lifted. Later they imposed a ‘per household’ amount restriction then lifted it, but said you could only order coins every 10 days.
A guy who went by MrPickles went on the ‘Star MegaDO’ and told Wall Street Journal writer Scott McCartney. McCartney’s piece on it was arguably the beginning of the end, drawing attention and even criticism by Members of Congress, though it took awhile to eventually peter out.
The McCartney piece was also the inspiration for a law professor’s idea, endorsed by Paul Krugman, to mint a trillion dollar coin and deposit it at the Fed. It’s one of those times when the frequent flyer hobby crossed over into ‘real life’.