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Thoughts on Risk and 808,185 Frequent Flyer Miles

frequent-flyer-miles

Last fall I wrote about a special promotion where you could earn an enormous Frequent Flyer bonus by buying a large quantity of useless stickers.

True story, as odd as it sounds. It was one of the best travel hacking opportunities I’ve been a part of yet.

As I result of the promotion, I woke up yesterday to an influx of new miles in my US Air account. How many? Well, I had already earned about 280,000 a few months ago… but this morning the new deposit read: 808,185 miles.

Here’s the proof.

(My favorite part of that screenshot is where it shows my US Air flight history: “0 miles and 0 segments.” Yep, I’m not a big fan of US Air as an actual airline—but as a mileage holder, I love them.)

The Miles Are Raining In!

The best thing is I’m not the only one planning a bunch of trips with new miles. So far I’ve heard success stories from about two dozen readers who also took part. One of the first notes I received came from Lorraine (originally from Calgary, now in Thailand):

Thanks to your post about the promotion with US Air and following your lead, I now have ONE MILLION miles in my US Air account!! WOW, WOW, WOW! Can hardly wait to start planning.

Then I received this note from Farsh (another Canadian — you guys are active travelers):

Duuuuuuuude! US airways, MILES posted! I received a total of 351,000. Looking to go location independent this year sometime. I’m planning to take a year off and travel, I would leave from either US or Europe and visit… Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Nepal, India, Tajikistan, Turkey, Syria, Tanzania, Malta, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, and the UK

Another note from Ty (not sure where he is from) arrived a few minutes later reporting 324,810 miles.

To try and get on top of all the reports, yesterday I sent out a message asking for everyone to report in with their totals. Long story short, I’m still reading through all the replies. So far, Greg got 250k miles. Bob got 600k. Chris (another Chris) got 210k.

Megan got 39,000. Mike got 51,000. Sherah also got 51,000 for a ticket from South Africa to Uganda. And so on—lots of folks, lots of miles, lots of free travel.

Even using a highly conservative mileage valuation, it’s clear that our own small group has generated more than $100,000 in free flights just from the people who have written in thus far. And since most of us are smart and use the miles to book flights that would normally be more expensive, the real value is likely much higher.

Whatever it is, I’m just glad it worked out. Fun times. Happy travels, everyone.

A Note on Risk

I hope you’ll forgive me for a brief soapbox moment. When I wrote about the deal last fall, I received a lot of emails from excited people, but I also received a lot of emails from skeptics. Someone even told me I was encouraging readers to throw away their money.

“Is this guaranteed?” several other people asked. Sorry, no. Nothing with travel hacking is ever guaranteed! I don’t think the airlines are going to guarantee to sell millions of miles for a fraction of their value; that’s why it’s a hack.

The people who attacked the deal and said it would never work were right—it didn’t work for them because they didn’t try it. Meanwhile, Lorraine in Thailand has one million miles, Farsh from Alberta is going around the world in Business Class, Sherah is going to Uganda, and so on.

As a matter of fact, nothing in life is really guaranteed either. Lots of people said they liked Tsilli’s profile because it focused on how a risk-averse person could carefully and gradually take a big leap. I liked that too, but the point is: eventually she took the leap.

Anyway, that’s the soapbox. Most importantly, congratulations to everyone who is mileage rich! Let’s have a party in Japan, or New Zealand, or somewhere. (I’ll actually be using my miles to get to places like Belarus and Madagascar, but it’s all good. Have fun in Japan.)

Everyone else, this deal is over now—but the next time a good thing comes along, don’t think too hard about it.

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Image: GT

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    38 Comments

    • Mark Dowdell says:

      Sounds like quite the win! Heck with paying for travel, it’s great to know that there are so many options out there to hack the system.

    • Phil says:

      Impressive Chris – that is quite a haul of miles. Approximately 30 times around the world in fact. You should be able to knock off some more destinations on your list with that. Happy Travels!

    • Bethany says:

      Wow! I wish I knew about this when it happened. I have almost 90k in my United account but that is nothing! I can’t wait to read about the next thing like this that pops up because I am definitely taking advantage!

    • Richard says:

      Hey Chis! Just wanted you to know that I got 100,000 miles through the British Airways Chase Credit Card per your suggestion. Can’t wait to take the trip from Chicago to Thailand this upcoming winter!!!

    • Andrew Boyd says:

      “The people who attacked the deal and said it would never work were right–it didn’t work for them because they didn’t try it.”

      love it…sounds like a twitter post to me.

    • Chris deserves a lot of credit for this one. His willingness to jump in himself and to promote the deal means that I’ve now got 320,000 miles. That opens lots of options. And I donated the things I bought to earn the miles to charity – so everyone wins. Thanks Chris.

    • NIck VIvion says:

      Perhaps with all of that money you save on flights, you can spend some of it on offsetting the thousands of tons of CO2 that will be emitted from the air travel!

      I have been a reader for a couple of months now, and have had this nagging thought in my mind. I wonder if you ever consider that as a traveler and blogger, you are participating in two of the most resource intensive industries (IT and air). I grapple with this issue as a filmmaker specializing in travel content, and as such try to engage in slow travel as much as possible. But it is an issue that most are completely ignoring – how can travel bloggers work towards a sustainable world?

      I would like to see a post on how you reconcile your obvious passion for the world with the fact that such extensive air travel might be damaging that very same world for future generations.

      Peace,

      N

    • Chris says:

      Hi Nick,

      I have written about that several times (and we’ve discussed various parts of the argument as well). See here for example. In short, I don’t think one has to choose between travel and the environment. As for blogging, I have no idea why anyone would consider that to be resource intensive.

    • Joe says:

      I was in for 440k miles with half redeemed already (booked 2x SEA-SFO-LAX-RAR-AKL-MEL-SIN-MUC-FRA-BOS-PHL-SEA in business earlier this week).

    • Walker says:

      I also received the 100,000 miles on the British Airways Visa offer thanks to Chris. I used the card to pay my property taxes and then will pay it all off the next month. Only cost was the annual fee of $75. This should help me take my family to Europe in a few years.

    • askmrlee says:

      Just curious Chris, did you spend about $8K to get the 808K miles? For a traveller like yourself, I think it’s worth it to have such a reserve. I’m surprised that even today there are still such windows of opportunity that spring up from time to time.

      Now the most important thing for people to do is make sure the miles don’t expire by having activity every 18 months. If you do miss this window, you have another year to restore the miles by getting a US Airways MasterCard with an annual fee. Don’t take the option to pay the reactivation fee, unless you absolutely have to.

    • Karina says:

      This is amazing! Just a question: have you heard from anyone who tried it and DIDN’T get the mileage rewards?? Or was it more like, worked for one, worked for all thing?

    • Shane says:

      I wonder Chris how do a lot of these work when you are a canadian citizen?

      I have an alsaka airmiles account and their Credit Card and I have gotten alot of points through them but not as much as I would like. There are ways to get points in Canada on Air Canada but it does not seem as easy as what it is for various american airlines. Just wondering.

    • Devin says:

      Hey Chris,

      Had I read your article, I would have done it. However, I am not a risk taker.

      I played poker for a living and did quite well. Made more money than I have doing anything else (I hated it, after a while). It was never risky or gambling to me because I had studied the game and learned how to take advantage of certain situations and the people who did not understand the game as well as I did. I still lost occasionally, but made money far more than I didn’t. I never considered playing cards gambling because if I did what I was supposed to do, I won over the long haul. If I didn’t, I lost. The risk had much more to do with trusting myself to do the right thing when I had the advantage.

      If a company, especially a large one, makes a bad deal for itself and gives away too much in a promotion, that happens. I would say reading the rules of the promotion, reading the fine print and knowing what your getting at removes the risk. Hope you let me know when this happens again.

    • I love it. I used to be very risk averse myself until I had an incident that made me realize that guarantees weren’t even guaranteed unless you had enough money to pay someone to fight it out for you.

      Once you realize that even the sure things in life are never really “in the bag,” it gets a lot easier to actually start living.

    • Chris says:

      @Mr Lee – $7k I think.

      @Karina – Good question. I’ve heard from a couple of people who received a 200% bonus instead of the full 250%, presumably because they did not complete enough transactions. I haven’t heard from anyone who did the transactions and hasn’t got the miles yet.

      @Shane – What kind of passport you hold or where you live doesn’t matter in this case. This deal was available worldwide, and you can then book awards on Air Canada or any other Star Alliance carrier. Generally speaking, I like to say that the U.S. has the worst airlines but the best mileage programs.

    • Monique says:

      It’s all about know what you’re comfortable with losing. If you’ve already written off the money as gone, you’re all set. 😛

      Glad to see it worked out for you!

    • Ian Coburn says:

      The difference between happy people who have lots of good choices before them and unhappy people who have few and bad choices before them is risk. It doesn’t have to be crazy, outrageous risk, but there will be risk. What does risk really do? It’s a choice that breaks a cycle. When I was 19, I wanted to be a comedian. I had to get to gigs. I had no car. I had no $. I needed $ for a car. That was my cycle I had to break. I bought a car via check on a credit card I got (they used to give cc’s to you in college like candy to a trick-or-treater on Halloween!). The oil pan got stripped, ruining the engine, and I charged a second car on a new cc. In two months I did enough gigs to pay off both cars. Not really crazy risk but risk. The result? I lived my dream job! As the saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gain.”

    • Andi says:

      Congrats to all!!!!!!!!

    • Mike Venti says:

      I think I started reading this blog a little bit too late to get that travel hack. I’m definitely going to be keeping my eyes open for the next one.

      Congrats to all of you who took the risk!

    • Denise says:

      I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do this. Please keep us updated. I don’t want to miss this again.

      Thanks for all the great tips. (I’m in Portland, too. My only consolation for not traveling is the flowers are beautiful right now.)

    • Meg says:

      One of these days I’ll get to figuring out travel hacking, biggest road block for me is getting time when the husband can go with me. (At least here, it’s been horribly hard for him to get approved leave; he’s military.)

      Nothing in life is ever guaranteed, and nothing worth doing is easy or without risk, right? 😉

    • Ty Kroll says:

      This promotion was great. I read through about 200 posts on flyertalk.com before taking the plunge. No risk; no reward. I hate being the one missing out more than losing the money. I can always make more money. These offers are rare.

      BTW, I’m originally from Hawaii. I’ve been location independent since 2003. Heading to Central America next.

      Thanks again for the info on this, Chris. Keep em coming!

    • marianney says:

      i am definitely jealous that i wasn’t on this bandwagon last year! oh well, hopefully the airlines still want to do deals like this in the future. i will be looking! 🙂 congrats to all who “cashed in” though!

    • Hazel Vargas says:

      To Ian Coburn who said ” What does risk really do? It’s a choice that breaks a cycle.” Wow. That’s a really quotable quote — is that original from you? Now, I know why I have so many excuses not to be able to do what I wanted to do. I am severely risk-averse. I must break this cycle. The princess has awakened from deep sleep. Thank you!

    • Nipun says:

      What I always get hung up is what do I do with US Air miles if I don’t fly on it? Can that be used on other airlines?

      Haven’t found a way to do that. You talk about collecting miles on different airlines on 5million miles challenge and how to use miles across the airlines will be helpful.

    • StacyWash says:

      I participated in this hack and I was willing to do it, but was very reserved with my approach. Now I am kicking myself! I totally could have gotten a lot more miles had I been a little less reserved. No regrets though, and now I know that this does work, so next time its on :)!

    • Dorinda Ivey says:

      I remember “scanning” your post last year about the mileage opportunity and thinking “oh, spend $$..maybe get some miles…blah blah blah…
      CONGRATULATIONS on quite an impressive end result! And believe me, now I will pay more attention to these opportunities!

    • Life’s all about taking risks. If you don’t take them you won’t get anywhere. Happy travels everyone:)

    • Great to see the investment paid off. Sadly you made the original travel hacking announcement when I was strapped for cash. Sure would be nice to have now as I am trying to book my flight from SE Asia to Switzerland. How much do you need for lifetime elite status on US Air?

    • Ole says:

      D**m but it would be nice to live in a country where those deals were on… But happy flying to all of you who do and can 🙂

      (and since that is just about all I am very unhappy about with my country, I’m largely OK on the balance of things, I should think)

    • Cheryl Paris says:

      Chris this is Great. I am sure you can enjoy lot of travelling in the miles which you have gained and others as well.
      Guys have a safe and enjoyable trip. 🙂

      Bye for now,
      Cheryl

    • Dave says:

      Chris, congrats on the 800K miles! Mucho impressive. I didn’t partake in this hack but I have used your mint coin purchase hack to great effect.

      Side note on carbon footprint and travel. I work for GE aircraft engines and I can assure you that we are taking every step possible to design the most efficient engines available. The aerospace industry takes environmental concerns very seriously and through more efficient combustion systems, use of biofuels, and aerodynamic enhancements to airplanes we will continue to forge ahead with greener technology. So don’t go taking a row boat to Madagascar just yet. We got you covered.

    • Brian says:

      Chris I’m really happy that this worked out for you and the other travelers who signed up. Maybe there was no risk in going after those frequent flyer miles but most of us are raised with the belief that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is and we do this to protect ourselves. Too many scams especially on the Internet. Once again, congratulations on the score but please understand our caution.

    • LOVE it Chris! The miles you’ve created and helped others create are HUGE but the hidden gem here is your commentary on risk. We’ve systematically tried to eliminate risk from our lives – look how many risk management companies and divisions there are out there. But in doing so have missed perhaps our biggest opportunities. First, there is no such thing as risk management – its an illusion and misnomer. Just ask everybody involved in the recent economic meltdown. Secondly, risk – defined as an uncertain outcome – is exactly where creativity and opportunity can create the MOST extraordinary results. The very nature of risking puts us in a position to reap the greatest rewards – as you just amply demonstrated. Way to go.

    • Sonicsuns says:

      congrats on a successful hack!

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