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How to Spend $2,000 on Stickers and Get 280,000 Frequent Flyer Miles

How to Spend $2,000 on Stickers and Get 280,000 Frequent Flyer Miles

boarding-passes

Greetings from vacation-land, where I’ve just arrived. I’m looking forward to sharing my 2009 Annual Review with you. But first, some big news in the travel hacking world has come up –

Yesterday I spent a little over $2,000 on stickers I don’t expect to use. On March 1, 2010, I expect to receive at least 280,000 new Star Alliance Frequent Flyer Miles in one of my mileage accounts as a result of the purchase.

This is a case study in travel hacking, and in this example, something I call mileage arbitrage. Previous case studies included my trip to a hair-loss clinic for a free consultation (result: 20,000 miles) and my purchases of $1 coins from the U.S. Mint with free shipping that I then carried to the bank for deposit (result: 30,000 miles and one sore back).

Unlike those deals, this one is still active—if you’re up for it, you can get your own monster set of miles too. You can also spend less than $2,000 (and get fewer miles), or if you’re more hardcore than me, you can spend more than $2k and potentially earn up to one million miles or more.

This post details exactly how it works. If you’re interested, don’t waste time getting started, because it takes a few days to set up and the deal may disappear without notice.

The Short Version

A holiday bonus from U.S. Airways – a bad airline with a good mileage program – offers a huge 250% bonus on miles earned while shopping with its partners. You only earn the bonus after the 5th purchase, but the first four can be made for well under $20 total. Then, you load up on one vendor that offers a generous 40 miles per dollar spent. Combined with the big 250% bonus from the airline, you can effectively buy an unlimited number of miles for just $0.007 – well under one cent per mile.

The vendor to make the one big purchase from is TrackItBack. Read more about the promotion here, and see a lengthy discussion in FlyerTalk here.

The miles can then be used for any Star Alliance flight anywhere in the world — not just U.S. Airways flights, thank God. Be aware that the bonus miles don’t post until March 1, 2010, however, so you’ll have to be willing to spend the money now and wait three months for the payoff.

A longer version is below for those who care…

How It Works

First up, you need to be a member of U.S. Airways Dividend Miles program—join for free here. Next, you need to make at least four separate purchases from the links on this promo page for the 250% bonus to kick in. The purchases can be as little as $2, and $5 or $10 gift cards are common. I used the following items for my purchases:

  • $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Certificate
  • $2 Tree Planting from Gaiam
  • $5 Sears Gift Card
  • $5 Borders Gift Certificate
  • $45 in office paper from Office Max

(To be safe, I did five purchases instead of four. I needed office paper anyway, so I bought a case—cheaper alternatives are available if you don’t need to stock up on something.)

Next, I recommend waiting a couple of days, and then making the 5th or 6th purchase of TrackitBack stickers. I’m not linking to it here because you need to make sure to use the link from the U.S. Airways page.

That’s where the huge bonus will kick in:

*Spend $384 now, get 50,000 miles on March 1
*Spend $769 now, get 100,000 miles on March 1
*Spend $1538 now, get 200,000 miles on March 1

And so on – I went for $2,150 and I expect to receive at least 280,000 miles in return. I thought about going all out for the holy grail of One Million Miles, but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger – a combination of cash flow issues and fear of devaluation held me back. For me, $2,150 for 280,000 miles was the best fit for my comfort zone.

Again, make sure all your purchases are done through the U.S. Airways links, and complete them shortly after clicking on the links. On March 1, 2010, you should see a monster bonus (effectively 140 miles per dollar spent) flood into your account. And then, of course, you start making travel plans.

Valuation

A conservative valuation of 280,000 miles would be about $5,600. Spend $2,000, get a $5,600 travel credit to use after March 1, 2010—I like it already.

For the kind of flights I’ll use them for, however, the valuation will be at least $10,000 or more. In my case I’ll be aiming for a South Pacific award via North Asia (ANA or Singapore Airlines over to Japan with a free stopover, then Air New Zealand down to Auckland and beyond) and at least one transatlantic flight from the U.S. to Eastern Europe on Austrian or Swiss Airlines. I’ve been doing this a while and am pretty good at getting high-value travel awards, so if you’re new to the game, you might want to assume a lower valuation.

The most important point is that you’ll almost never find the opportunity to effectively purchase an unlimited amount of miles for such a low rate.

What’s not to love? Just two things: one, I don’t like waiting 90 days for bonus miles to post. Two, U.S. Air is likely to devalue its awards chart at some point. I’m hoping it won’t be a huge hit, and I’m hoping they’ll give some advance notice so I can book awards at the current rate, but of course this isn’t guaranteed.

Time, Money, and Travel Hacking

When it comes to travel hacking, you’ll want to make sure that any particular opportunity is worth your time and effort. Look at it for yourself and make your own decision. For me, it’s worth it, but I don’t expect everyone in our diverse community to rush out and start buying $5 gift cards in advance of a $2,000 purchase of miles.

By the way, I advised Frequent Flyer Master owners of this opportunity yesterday so they can get a head start. I wouldn’t be surprised if U.S. Airways restructures the program at some point, so be sure you review the terms and conditions to make sure they haven’t changed before you drop a couple thousand dollars on miles.

Important Disclaimer: Be sure to keep a record of all your purchase confirmations. We’re dealing with an airline that is not known for its customer service. You might need to make a couple phone calls in March if the miles don’t post right away.

If that happens, the good news is that you won’t be the only one calling, and neither will I – it looks like a growing group of travel hackers from various outposts have committed to seeing this through.

Wrap-Up and Farewell…

I know this won’t help everyone who reads AONC – plenty of people don’t care about miles, or even travel in general – but for those who like to see the world, this can be a big help.

Combined with another strategy I recently used to earn 100,000 additional new miles (I sent the details to the Frequent Flyer Master owners’ list on 12-November), my U.S. Airways account is going to be getting close to half a million miles in early 2010, all without ever setting foot on a U.S. Airways plane.

I’ll also be cashing them out as soon as possible to account for any devaluation, and also to avoid leaving too many miles with an unprofitable company.

After I wrote about this new opportunity to my customer list, my Inbox of replies indicates that a bunch of people are already plotting to earn several million miles between themselves. If you decide to give it a try, would you please let me know? I’d like to keep a count on the number of miles earned from the AONC community. You can write me here or add a comment in this post.

And of course, if you have questions or general feedback, feel free to post your comments as well. I’m on vacation this week, so posting and responses may be delayed – but I will get to it as soon as I can.

That said, now I’m off to plan my life for next year. Over and out.

***

Update: This offer is now closed. Check back in March 2010 to see how the miles worked out!

###

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Image by KJD

34 Comments

  • Alan says:

    Not that I need to be reminded why I keep coming back here for updates, but goodness, what an informative post!

    Thanks for the tips, Chris. Hopefully this will jump-start a massive collection of miles in 2010!

    Alan

  • Caroline says:

    Amazing deal! Pretty basic question, sorry I don’t know the specifics of mileage awards. Are these miles earned with US Airways able to be used with Star Alliance? So if I paid the $1538 for 200,000 miles, I could get a Star Alliance round the world economy ticket which is 200,000 with them? Thanks.

  • Martin says:

    Yes, I think miles on any Star Alliance company can be used on the other Star Alliance airlines.

    One question though, is this offer open for non-US residents? I cant find any information about that on US Airways’s site.

  • Chris says:

    @Caroline,

    Martin is correct – you can redeem US Airways miles for awards on any Star Alliance carrier. In fact, that’s my preferred strategy. I don’t think the RTW fare with miles is best, though – a better value can usually be found in a series of single tickets, even if you effectively build a RTW trip with multiple tickets.

    @Martin,

    Yes, as far as I can tell, the offer is valid worldwide.

  • Elizabeth says:

    This is straight out of Punch Drunk Love. Love it! Thanks for sharing this deal with us :)

  • Hahaha, Chris I love your commitment to the Frequent Flyer mile deals. Most of them are more tailored to airlines in the states, but it’s always a huge pleasure to read and get inspired by such travel hacking ideas! Keep up the good work.

    Looking forward to seeing how you spend these miles next year!

  • So, will you be ebaying all the TrackBack packs? I’d say donate them to the needy, but people offering rewards for lost cell phones are likely in the ‘less than needy’ category. Still… One final comment, it will be interesting to watch the unintended consequences of this, both for the airline and TrackBack. Let us know if you get a thank you from either.

    Thomas

  • Chris says:

    @Thomas,

    Good question – I may do a big giveaway on the site. Let me check on that when I get home and open my big box of stickers. :)

  • Wow! This is a great tip! Man I wish I had better cashflow right now! I’m setting up the membership at least, and will explore how much I have to spend later tonight! Thanks again for the tip!

  • Japhy says:

    Did they remove Borders from the list or do you have to hunt for it somewhere? I can’t find the link for them.

  • Pete says:

    Thanks for this tip – hoping to load up…per your recs I made five separate purchases yesterday (prior to the big Trackitback investment) and the US Airways rep on the phone said they will be posted in “6 to 8 weeks”. Do they actually post sooner than that? Thx

  • James Clark says:

    Great travel hack Chris! At 40 points for 1 dollar spent I cant see them keeping this offer open long. I would be interested to see if anyone doing this resells the TrackBack packs on ebay, then work out what your ticket cost from the sales.

  • Tiger says:

    Hey Chris, I will be springing for this. I have several flights planned for next year and this could help make them more attainable.

  • Hugness says:

    The award chart for US Airways is here.

    If my understanding is correct and these are one way awards, then a round the world seems way better. A Round the World ticket is like $7,500 for a pretty aggressive itinerary.

    By contrast, we can see that North America to North America is 25,000 miles each way. So, if you were to just use this thing for bicoastal trips between SF and NY, let’s say, you’d only get 11 one way flights, which can be had for ~$120 each. That’s only $1300.

    Or if you were going to Central Asia and did three one-ways (at like $750 a pop, I’d estimate), then you’re looking at only $2300 worth of value.

    I guess the trick is to not make transoceanic hops and take advantage of undervalued areas of the chart like Africa->Africa (so Cairo to Madagascar for example for only 30,000). Is that right?

  • chris says:

    The coins are NOT dead… just not as worthwhile as before.

  • Alex says:

    Hey Chris! Great post yet again.

    @Thomson

    I looked on E-bay and saw someone selling the TrackBack stickers. Reselling may be worth your while if you want to get more miles!

    Cheers,
    Alex

  • Joel says:

    My favorite part about this site: it gives practical information and “hacks” that anyone can do for the slightest effort :) Thanks Chris.

  • Actual spend is $2200 for 280K points. That’s about .8 cents per mile. It is a good price, to be certain, but that is also a lot of cash to tie up and you’re depending on US Airways crediting the bonus correctly and still having a reasonable award chart in 4 months, not to mention still being in business.

    I don’t think that they’re going to go under in that time frame but the recent devaluation of their US-metal reward charts would have me a bit concerned.

  • BenC says:

    How do we know they are not giving 250% bonus on the actual dollars spent? Obviously we hope they give 250% on the “40 points for each dollar spent” for the stickers, but nowhere in their T&C’s does it spell that out.

  • Anca says:

    If I had money for this, one of my purchases would be Biscoff cookies/etc — delicious and you get 250 bonus miles. Only downside is they only come giant packages online.

  • Aaron says:

    Man..sounds like a good deal but if i do it what am i suppose to do with all the tackitstickers?? what are you going to do with them? I suppose i could try to sell them on ebay and get even more of a return. Those stickers are pricey. but seem to work according to their marketing ploy…really got me on board.

  • Gaurav says:

    This is an awesome deal. I don’t know what I am going to do with so many stickers. Can I gift those to my friends? Also the miles I get, when do they expire? I guess the miles are not only for international travel they can be used on domestic flights as well? I am newbie with this travel hacking so please bear with my comments/questions.

  • BTW, the new US Air reward chart came out last night. As expected, reward costs went up in many cases. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before dropping that much cash!

  • Bryan says:

    Nice find!

    The only thing that worries me is the disclaimer at the bottom of the US Airways reward chart that says new award prices go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010.

  • Tom says:

    Egad, if I could only find out if the miles I’d be getting via this hack could be used for an Economy to Business upgrade from Germany to Auckland (NZ) on Air New Zealand. I’ve been drilling through pages of the Star Alliance, US Airways and Air NZ websites but have yet to find an answer…

    Any advice from one of you miles experts would be highly appreciated!

  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, a couple of quick updates. I’m traveling this week, so I haven’t been able to go through all the questions as quickly as usual.

    @Benc,

    The consensus in the forums is that the bonus will be applied to the points, not the dollars. I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t fairly certain myself. However, there are no guarantees with this kind of thing, so if you’re hesitant, don’t do it.

    @Bryan / WanderingAramean,

    Actually, the upcoming devaulation is not so bad (I was expecting worse). Gary Leff has a summary of the changes here. First Class awards to Asia are left untouched, as is travel from North America to the South Pacific.

  • Robin says:

    To get the 280,000 miles, did you spend $2150 at TrackItBack?

  • Chris says:

    Yep – after the other transactions went through.

  • Robin says:

    One more thing on booking flights with the USAir miles. To book award travel on one of the Star Alliance airlines, you will have to call Reservations — you cannot book on-line. There is a $25 service fee for this + $5-10 for taxes (non-domestic flights are $35 or $50).

    I thought this chart was useful.

  • Neil says:

    Did the TrackitBack offer disappear? I did the 4 (actually 5) other purchases and then waited to make sure they posted before making the big TrackitBack purchase and now TrackitBack is not in the list at the USAIRWAYS Dividend Miles Shopping Mall.

  • Chris says:

    Nope, as of today (8-December), it’s still there.

  • Dan says:

    I’m in for 2k.

    Couple of thoughts:

    People buying hoards of miles through this promotion and planning to slowly use the stash over the next few years should be aware of things like inflation, reductions in availability, bankruptcy, and even the possibility that USAir could get kicked out of *A.

    Also, it’s amazing that Trackitback can offer this kind of a deal. As I understand it, they have to be paying USAir something for these miles. It effectively proves that while the product may have some intrinsic value, in monetary terms it’s worth nothing.

  • Eve says:

    Wow, Chris. I’m not in a financial position to buy anything non-essential at the moment, but this is AWESOME. Thanks for the info.

  • My fingers are gingerly crossed that I did everything right & that the bonus miles will post the way they’re supposed to. I did the five purchases, and even though I waited a week to make the TrackitBack purchases, the posting dates ended up being all over the place.
    According to the forums, the 250% bonus miles will be applied to EVERY purchase, but I’m not that hopeful. The fine print at US Airways says something about applying the bonus amounts according to posting dates….
    Anyway, I think it’s great value either way, as the worst case scenario still sees me getting a whack of miles at about 8cents per.

    And since I’m a full-time traveler, flying is simply the cost of doing business! So if I can spend $1200 (which I did) to get $5,000 in long haul flights – business class no less – then I will.

    Cheers, Chris – and thanks for the information. You rock!

    PS – The Track It Back stickers are awesome! I actually plan to USE them; great lifetime value – and great gifts too.

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