*Update: Looking for more recent travel hacking posts? They’re over here.
This is a story that involves a) a frustrating series of calls to Expedia, b) a way to repay Expedia’s unhelpfulness by giving many of you $200, c) my attempts to order a total of $16,500 coins from the U.S. Mint, d) a Lasik eye exam in pursuit of Delta SkyMiles, and much more.
Yep, it’s another look at Travel Hacking – my odd hobby that elicits a range of adoration and puzzlement every time I write about it. First up, though, I’d like to rant about outsourcing and cluelessness. This serves no purpose other than entertainment, so feel free to think of it as a filter to get to the $200 coupon and other fun stuff.
You Can Skip This Part If You Want…
I’ve recently completed two bad experiences with Expedia over the past couple of weeks. Since I had at least five conversations with five different agents, I think it’s safe to consider my experiences to be the norm rather than the exception.
Expedia uses an outsourced call center that is a model of everything that doesn’t work with outsourcing. I know in some cases outsourcing can be a win-win, but in Expedia’s case, the consumers definitely lose. The conversations I had were painful. One issue was trying to change the date of a one-way ticket that was supposed to be easily changeable. I got the change, but it took more than an hour and a series of Kafkaesque exchanges.
First, the agent tells me over and over that there are two red-eye flights on Korean Air from Malaysia to Seoul, one leaving at 11:30 and the other at 11:45. I’m pretty sure there’s only one. We go back and forth, and finally I say, OK, I’ll take the 11:30, curious to see what will happen since I know there really isn’t an 11:30.
After a long pause he comes back, “Sorry, only the 11:45 is available now.” I think we’ll take that one, then. The conversation continued as follows:
Expedia: “What is the return date for the ticket?”
Me: “Uh, it’s a one-way ticket.”
Expedia: “OK, what day are you flying back?”
And then when it came to my domestic connection:
Expedia: “There are no flights between Vancouver and Los Angeles.”
Me: “Uh, I think there are at least five non-stops every day.”
Expedia: “No, no non-stops – and I don’t see any connections either.”
Me: “How about Alaska Airlines #705 at 5:00 p.m. or #703 at 1:00 p.m.?”
Expedia: “You want to go to Alaska?”
In retrospect, that last one was pretty funny, although at the time I was banging my head against the desk. To make one minor change in a ticket that was fully changeable required more than 70 minutes. To get an answer about another ticket that was canceled before I used it required five separate phone calls over three weeks. Anyway, I won’t be using Expedia again if I can help it.
(Sorry for the rant. It felt good to write it out, and I’ll feel even better when some of you tell me about the almost-free vacations you’re taking with the $200 coupon below. Just try to avoid making any changes to your trip after you book, or you’ll experience the same pain I did.)
….But Don’t Skip This Part ($200 Coupon Deal)
OK, I know I need to move on and let it go. You can’t win with situations like that, so I should just be glad I finally got things settled.
In much better Expedia news, if you’d like $200 towards a three-night trip that can sometimes cost as little as $250, here’s the deal. Log onto Expedia, search “flight + hotel” departing from the U.S. or Canadian city of your choice, and you’ll be eligible for a $200 discount anytime between now and the end of September 2009.
The coupon code you need is 200IHG. To validate it, you need to book a vacation package including a) at least one round-trip flight, and b) three nights at an Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, or related hotel.
If you’re creative, you may be able to get a trip for practically free by finding a vacation package that costs around $250 (taxes are about $50 and can’t be included with the coupon). If you want to fly to somewhere new and crash out in the Holiday Inn for a few nights, here’s your chance.
Tip: if you really luck out or are just going to a random destination (Cleveland, anyone?), the price may be under $200 a person and thus ineligible. In this case, you can add a carbon offset or rental car – or both, which is kind of ironic – to raise the price to just above $200 and thus eligible for the deal.
Keep in mind that it’s easier to find deals if you live near a major airport and aren’t flying too far. L.A. to Vegas works well, for example, as do feeder flights from commuter airports into Chicago or Atlanta. Canada is a bit trickier, although there are some deals out of Vancouver I saw when I looked at going the other way.
Be aware that a lot of travel blogs and forums are writing about this offer, so don’t wait too long, as the inventory of available opportunities decreases every day.
5,000 SkyMiles for a Lasik Eye Exam
Last fall I went in to a downtown Seattle clinic for a hair-loss consultation. The experience was a bit awkward (“Why are you here, Mr. Guillebeau?”), but I walked out with 20,000 SkyMiles for 20 minutes of my time.
I wasn’t the only one who did this – I referred about 40 friends and readers across the U.S. and Canada to the friendly hair-loss clinic, helping to create a cumulative total of at least 800,000 new miles. Meanwhile, friends were telling friends, travel forums were writing about the deal, and over all of North America, tens of millions of miles were paid out as the clinic saw a rapid increase in office visits.
It seems that Delta (or the P.R. firm that set this up) learned their lesson last year, because now they have a similar deal for a Lasik eye exam, but it’s just for 5,000 miles. I don’t think I need 5k Delta miles right now, so I’ll skip this one, but it’s there for the taking if you can spare half an hour to get your eyes checked. Here’s the link:
Free Platinum Status with Hyatt
I currently have Gold or higher status with Starwood, Hilton, and Hyatt – even though I stay in each company’s properties less than five times a year. All three of the statuses (is that a word?) have been bestowed through credit cards or promotional offers.
The latest bonus is from Hyatt, and it’s easy. You don’t need to get checked out for Lasik or lug $2,500 in coins to the bank. Just click this link and fill out the info:
That’s it – it’s only valid through September 2009, though, so you’ll need to do something to put it to good use before then.
Frequent Flyer Challenge Update
I haven’t written about the infamous Frequent Flyer Challenge in a while, but people continue to post an occasional update to the Google Document. As of today we are well above 4,000,000 miles that have been created for AONC readers. You guys are great. New readers (especially those in the U.S.), check it out and see if it’s something that would work for you.
My biggest challenge now is cashing out my 180k United balance to go on a big trip in November. If it works out, I’ll write about the itinerary and how I got the award.
How to “Buy Money” from the U.S. Mint
If you have a new credit card that requires a minimum spend before receiving a mileage bonus, how can you meet the requirement without buying things you don’t need? If you’re in the U.S., you can effectively buy money from the U.S. Mint. The money arrives in boxes of $1 coins, which you then take to the bank and deposit in your account to pay the bill.
In Seattle last year, I came home from the bookstore one day and found $2,500 in coins left on my doorstep outside. I couldn’t believe it. The UPS guy left $2,500 sitting on the street? My theory was that he had already taken the boxes out the truck and didn’t want to load them back, so he ignored the big “Signature and I.D. Required” sticker on the front. (Later, I realized that was exactly the kind of UPS guy I would be– so it’s probably good that I don’t work for UPS.)
Most of the coin sets have a $250 limit on each version, so you can’t go crazy and order tens of thousands of coins – $2,500 is the overall limit for those, hence my $2,500 order last year. However, a new Native American set that was recently released has no limit other than the backorder they are encountering due to so many people ordering. To check it out, I ordered $5,000 worth last month, and they arrived about 10 days later.
Let me tell you from experience, $2,500 in coins is pretty heavy, but I managed to lug them out the door and on to the bus in Seattle to my bank. When the $5,000 arrived here in Portland, I got my strength training workout for the week by struggling along with them for two blocks. I only had about five blocks in total to go, but it was just too much weight for one amateur athlete to haul.
My first strategy to solve this problem involved carrying one box at a time for a few steps, putting it down, resting, then walking back to get the other box and carry it a bit further. This was highly inefficient, of course, and I also felt nervous about leaving a box of $2,500 on the ground as I walked on with the other.
In the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department, a nearby homeless guy was watching me attempt to carry all the coins, and he let me borrow his Home Depot shopping cart to return them the rest of the way to the bank. I’m sure he was honest, but I thought it was better not to mention that the boxes I had been struggling with contained $5,000 in cash. I returned the cart to him afterwards and thanked him for the help.
A few weeks later, I decided to ramp it up by ordering $9,000 of the new coins and am still waiting for them to arrive. All of these charges earn miles for me, and my lifetime mileage balances with several airlines continue to grow because of it. Who knew that Native American coins could be so popular? Hopefully the homeless guy with the shopping cart will still be around, because if I can’t carry $5,000 in one trip, I’m not sure I can do $4,500 each in two trips.
There’s more I could tell you. I haven’t gone into the glitch fare I picked up to get home from Malaysia, or the itinerary for a friend of mine who went around the world in Business Class for just over $1,000. I could go on about this for a while, but it’s a love/hate topic and it’s already gone on for a while – see the note below.
Quick note: I don’t publish this kind of info all the time for a couple of reasons. One, because not everyone who reads AONC cares about it. Some of these tactics are valid only in the U.S., or sometimes just the U.S. and Canada.
Two, because most of these tactics will be irrelevant in a year, or even a few months from now. I want to focus on writing articles that are evergreen (I call it legacy content) that will help people no matter when they read it. But from time to time, I’ll do something like this to break things up. Make sense?
And That’s It
It’s a long post, but hopefully you learned something. Feel free to share your comments or questions, and do let me know if you successfully use the $200 coupon from Expedia. I just hope you don’t have to call them to make a change – if so, be prepared to throw logic out the window.
Image: Frederic Poirot