This site is kept by Boyce Richardson, journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker, of a leftist persuasion.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Post from the home of the bizarre: How a (U.S.) traveller got millions of free miles on points by buying pudding
As a temporary resident of the United States
(ending yeserday) I was exposed in
the last few days to many bizarre stories,
since the place seems to have become the
repository of the bizarre story, above
almost everything else. Here is a typical
example that was posted on my son Ben's
facebook page, apparently. It speaks for
itself about the values of the so-called
greatest country on earth. Bizarre is a mild
Air Miles are awesome, they can be used to score free flights,
hotel stays and if you’re really lucky, the scorn and hatred
of everyone you come in contact with who has to pay full
price when they travel. The king of all virtually free travelers
is one David Phillips, a civil engineer who teaches at the
University of California, Davis.
David came to the attention of the wider media when he managed
to convert about 12,150 cups of Healthy Choice chocolate pudding
into over a million Air Miles. Ever since, David and his entire
family have been travelling the world for next to nothing.
So how did he do it? Well, first we need to explain the kind of man
David Phillips is; he’s the kind of guy who reads every inch of the
small print on things. The kind of guy who learned to count cards
just so he’d never get ripped off in a casino. In fact, Phillips stated
that he could have probably been a pro card player if it wasn’t for
the cigarette smoke. Yes, this guy- according to him- could have
been a millionaire card player, but he enjoyed fresh air more than
the musky stink of success.
His most famous endevour was back in 1999 when he saw that
Healthy Choice was having a promotion on their frozen entrées
section. The offer was as follows: for every 10 bar codes of their
product a person sent in, they’d be awarded 500 Air Miles.
However, the company had an early bird stipulation that people
who redeemed the offer within the first month of the competition
would receive double that, meaning a person could potentially
receive 1000 Air Miles for buying just 10 of their entrées.
Upon catching wind of the deal, David scoured his local
supermarkets to see which, if any products offered the best
potential return. After some legwork, he found what he was
looking for- a discount grocery chain that was selling individual chocolate pudding cups for 25 cents each. This meant that for a measly $2.50, he could get 1000 Air Miles.
Realising the amazing return he was potentially able to receive,
David set out to hit every store in the chain in one day and
buy up every single Healthy Choice pudding they had.
Now, you’re probably thinking a guy walking into several stores
and asking to purchase all the Healthy Choice pudding they
possessed, even in the back of the store, would arouse suspicion;
and if anyone cottoned on to what he was doing, they’d try to get in on it too, because, why wouldn’t they? David apparently had the same concern and while buying the pudding, he told people he was doing it because he was stocking up for Y2K, which was just around the corner.
All in all, David spent just over $3000 on pudding, which may
seem like a lot, until you realise the total dollar value of the
miles he was set to receive was in excess of $150,000. However,
before that, he actually had to send off all of the bar codes.
According to David, his wife got blisters from peeling off
hundreds of stickers and his kids and co-workers grew
physically sick of the sheer amount of chocolate paste he
was forcing on them. Further, it began to look doubtful
they’d be able to peel off all the barcodes in time to qualify
for the early bird part of the promotion.
This is when David had another idea- why did he need to
have his wife and children suffer when he could get others
to do the leg work for him?
David approached the local Salvation Army with an offer;
if they gave him a bunch of volunteers to peel off all the bar
codes on his pudding, he’d donate the pudding to them. But
here’s the beautiful part, doing this counted as a considerable
charitable donation, which let David claim just over $800 back
in tax deductions at the end of the year.
But the benefits of David’s scheme didn’t end there. After
sending off the bar codes and getting back his 1,280,000 miles,
(he got a few more than just from the pudding because he also
bought some soup at 90 cents a can before he realised that
was the sucker’s method), he now officially had over a million
miles in his frequent flyer accounts, which automatically gave
him lifelong access to something called the “American Airlines AAdvantage Gold club” giving him and his family a number
of awesome flying related perks for the rest of their lives.
But we haven’t even got to the best part yet. David will likely
never run out of Air Miles because he’s still earning miles at
about 5 times faster than he’s spending them, despite traveling
quite often, thanks to various frequent flyer incentive programs
he keeps an eye out for and exploits just like the pudding
scheme. Today, he has over 4 million miles in his various accounts
and has flown to over 20 countries and taken numerous
vacations in the meantime.
In the end, for a one time cost of a little over $3000 (or a little
over $2200 if you subtract the tax deduction), and a few other
similar deals he’s taken advantage of to bolster his numbers,
David never has to pay for a flight in his life ever again. Genius.