The 11 Greatest Miles and Points Deals Ever

There have been many great deals over time, and they never last. The lesson is to take advantage of what’s offered, make use of the benefits, and expect to have to move onto the next offer that comes along.

For all of the many great opportunities that there have been over the past couple of years, probably the greatest ones are even better. The funny thing is that in my frequent flyer youth, I never even knew how great I had it!

Then again, it was 2002 before I ever saw my first 20,000 mile signup bonus for a credit card. And it was 2003 before I excitedly signed up for a 40,000 mile offer for a Northwest Visa that took 2 years to get all of the miles. Still, we had miles for long distance offers back then and those were super generous. I was constantly switching long distance carriers.

But here are what I believe are the 11 most generous offers I’ve seen. They don’t include 40,000 British Airways points for test driving a Jaguar, or dumpster diving at Wendy’s for Airtran flights. Because as great as those were, I don’t think they were great enough. And they don’t include ‘mistake fares’, those are a whole different category.

11. Free status offers for Marriott Gold, Avis Presidents Club, Virgin Gold, Hilton Gold, Continental Silver just for becoming an AT&T customer.

10. Class of Service Bonuses on Upgrades (Earn more bonus miles on United than it took to upgrade US-Hawaii, the upgrade more than paid for itself).

9. 1-800-Flowers 100 miles per dollar with Delta. On December 30, 2003 1-800-Flowers sent out an email saying they would award 100 miles per dollar spent on flowers. I assumed they had bought a ton of Delta miles which needed to be awarded or else they would expire. So they thought they would generate some cash with this rapidly expiring asset. The email was targeted, but anyone could use the promotion. And it wound up being much bigger than they anticipated.

8. Track-it-Back. In the fall of 2009 US Airways offered a 250% bonus on points earned through their shopping partners (up to 10 transactions) as long as you made purchases from at least 5 different merchants. Track-it-Back sold their stickers with 40 miles per dollar which became 140 miles per dollar, or just over 7/10ths of a cent per point. Donate the items, and reduce your cost basis further.

7. Double, triple, quadruple bonus dipping (Continental, US Airways). About 13 years ago some members earned six-figure mileage flying cross country on Continental. Once upon a time you could fly just a handful of flights and earn Chairmans Preferred (100,000 mile flyer status) on US Airways. US Airways had no way to tell if you were targeted or not, so they posted on Flyertalk that people who weren’t targeted and signed up anyway would get in lots of trouble (hoping to scare folks off). Didn’t work…

6. Savings bonds, travelers checks, and the US mint. Over time there have been huge opportunities to buy money with your mileage earning credit card, at little or not cost, and then pay off your credit card with the money you purchased. Rinse, repeat. Whether savings bonds or travelers checks (thanks, AAA!), these eventually get shut down — because the company offering them winds up eating the credit card transaction fees without generating real business or over concerns of fraud. But many frequent flyers have earned many millions of miles.

5. KLM Status Match and Millions of Free Miles: In the Fall of 2001, KLM wasn’t just matching status — they were matching the account balances in your competitor elite account as well!

4. LatinPass 1,000,000 Miles: During the first half of 2000, you could earn a million miles (with the dreaded LatinPass program) for flying at least one international segment on each of the ten LatinPass member airlines, flying at least three segments on partner airlines (KLM, US Airways, TWA); staying at least three nights in at least two partner hotels and renting a car for at least five days from their car rental partners.

3. InsideFlyer-Starwood. In the Spring of 2002, Randy Petersen was giving away 2500 Starwood points with each Inside Flyer magazine subscription. Back then Starwood points converted 1->2 into Qantas plus bonuses. It was possible to buy 21 Inside Flyer subscriptions, transfer the Starwood points to Qantas, and redeem for travel on the Concorde. Donate the magazines to charity and further reduce your cost basis.

2. Goldpoints/valumags: Around Christmas 2001 it was possible to earn more than 100 miles per dollar with your choice of several airlines by purchasing magazine subscriptions from Valumags through the Goldpoints shopping portal. Some members donated the magazines to non-profits for the tax deduction, reducing their cost basis even further.

1. Pudding Guy. Dude is famous.

What great mileage deals, on par with these, am I forgetting about? Hit the comments and let’s build a better list.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. couple years ago AA shopping had 35 miles per dollar at ebags. On top of ebags 5% rewards and your CC rewards. that was amazing. too bad they didn’t have real luxury brands or my wife would have gone all in

  2. I think you should follow up this post with the “The 11 Greatest Miles and Points Redemptions I’ve Ever Made (For Myself And/Or For My Clients)”

  3. Faster Free Nights with Hyatt in I think 2010. Hyatt Lisle, IL had $39 rooms on a Costco rate that gave $25 food/beverage credit per stay. Plus normal points/stay credit.

    And you could pay with Hyatt gift certs bought at Costco for 20% off, get 2% from Costco at year-end, and pay for them with a credit card.

    Stay twice, get a free Hyatt night anywhere, worth conceivably up to $800-1000 or so (Paris, Tokyo).

  4. Sounds like I got into this hobby late into the game. The only thing I can brag about to future mile/points collectors is the Etihad Christmas sale of ’14, Redbirds, and using AA miles before 3/22/16.

  5. How about when all airlines issued triple miles for a year and all awards were good for the last seat on the plane and came with certificates for free car rentals and hotel discounts. ‘Twas the birth of MS.

  6. Most opportunities would be around if people had taken it slowly. But in this hobby the true “laissez Faire” attitude is seen. All for me, none for you. I will corner the market and don’t care if it brings unwanted attention. I am pretty sure a large portion of these hobbyists would resort to murder if the risk/reward ratio was good enough. Not much different than Mexican drug lords.

  7. Many years ago (I can’t remember exactly but I want to say mid to late 1990s ). Delta had something (IIRC) called the ” Executive Women’s Club”. It may have been initially targeted- and when I signed up they sent me 4 First Class Upgrades. Then I discovered that it was open to everyone and you didn’t need to be an executive, or even a woman. I signed up my husband and kids and ended up with a nice stack of FC upgrades. I’m still mad at myself for not taking advantage of all the opportunities in the Golden Years ( I only did 2 on your list :(. We thought it would last forever

  8. Wonderful compilation. For #8, was that Continental status for just one cross country trip? On #6, how did savings bonds work? #4 Seems like a crazy, wonderful scavenger hunt. How many of these did you personally do?

  9. We used to switch between Sprint/AT&T/MCI as long distance carrier for a bonus of 5/10/20K bonus per switch for a few years beginning in the late ’90s IIRC.

  10. Surely Steve Belkin and his team of Thai farmers deserve a mention – back and forth between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for six weeks straight

  11. I would give honorable mention to the US Air Grandslam events that would award a little over 100,000 miles if you completed all the “hits”. This was also at a time when you could book Envoy (business) class award tickets in off peak months for 60,000 round trip.

    I also think at one time there was a deal with some AA mile coupons on the back of cereal boxes but I don’t recall the details. I think it was 100 miles per certificate.

  12. I barely remember a deal offered around 2007-2010 where one could buy an Intercontinental Ambassador membership for approx. $125 & you received a free weekend night plus 35K or perhaps 50k Delta miles.

  13. US Air credit card signup last year. 50,000 AA miles for paying the $89 annual fee. No minimum spend. No running between Office Depot and Target. Ah, I miss going to Target every week depositing gift cards.

  14. I think the old Citi Thank You airline ticket redemption “scheme” should be on the list, especially since many frequent flyers got to take advantage of it. It got scaled back gradually (before finally being eliminated), but for several years you could redeem your points for a really expensive (and refundable) revenue ticket, and then cancel the reservation to receive a mega-voucher on your favorite airline. Not only did you then get several free trips, you also got to accumulate more frequent flyer miles because these were revenue flights.

  15. another great post! def missed out on most of these. I was too young back then. still if only I had known, I might have tried to get my parents or cousins etc to get in the game back then.

  16. You’re too young…

    50,000 miles got you an F ticket on TWA anywhere in the world plus a second ticket upgraded from the cheapest coach to F which because it was paid earned miles getting you back a significant percentage of the 50,000 miles you used up. No separate bucket for booking. Any F seat was yours. Often the free ticket earned miles too because TWA used system to credit your miles from a sticker you put on your ticket and much of the time they credited any flight, even award flights, that had the sticker.

    Triple miles for an entire year on UA, AA and TWA. Combined with $99 one way transcontinental fares. 15,000 miles for $198. Three round trips and you had enough for the award above.

    Segment upgrades on UA. I forget if it was every 2,500 miles or 5,000 but low enough that you created more each flight than the flight used. I ended throwing gobs away every few months.

    $99 Companion coupon from the AS credit card when it was applicable to F. Any F seat was eligible. You earned miles and the F bonus on both tickets and the cost was not much more than coach and often far less during holidays to places like Hawaii and CUN.

  17. Hyatt FFNs (using priceline nights) and SPG’s 2 stays = 1 free resort night made it fairly easy to game the system through purchase of low priced rooms and redemption for high priced rooms.

    I also like the deal where Priority Pass awarded 25k DL miles for a new membership.

    Finally it would be worth mentioning the long distance carrier signup deals where MCI and Sprint awarded huge amounts of bonus miles just for switching your long distance telephone service.

  18. It wasn’t too many years ago (13 to be exact) that I bought a new house and got a bonus free trip to Europe on Delta — 50K miles for using a realtor suggested by whatever partner it was (same time as you could change your long distance carrier every few months and make a killing on miles).

  19. And I topped off my Delta Amex account every December (if I hadn’t spend $25K) by buying a few thousand $$ of E-bonds. Just now starting to cash some of them in.

  20. This is going to be fun…
    In no particular order.

    1) US Airways offered 25k bonus miles for flying 7 segments in non-deep discounted economy class or higher. I did this on one ticket for just $100 more than the lowest economy fare. I was going to go anyway I just changed my routing! 3 segments outbound, 4 on the return. When I checked in it was the first time the agent saw a triple connection baggage tag. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe most fare rules now limit a max of 3 segments each way.

    These flights helped trigger base elite status where one year US gave us 2 trans Atlantic upgrade certs valid even on cheap economy class.

    2) The Northwest JCB credit card. Even Randy’s Inside Flyer magazine team didn’t know about this one. No annual fee and 1.5 Worldperks miles per dollar spent. While I usually got funny looks because most people in the US are unfamiliar with it, acceptance was on par with Diners Club for T&E and better at retail chains.

    Even Kmart and Sears (long before they merged) and the USPS accepted it back then and still take JCB today. I paid for my US Airways club membership in LAX with it and I had to explain to the agent it was a real credit card and to just run it through.

    3) Free worldwide companion ticket on TWA if you had more than a 50k mile balance in a competing program. All you had to do was send a copy of a statement. I’m sure there was a lot of creative use of scissors, glue and photocopiers for this promo but it got me to Athens for almost free. No crazy YQ’s.

    4) Free TWA lounge passes just for asking. Remember those mail in post cards in the inflight magazines where you circled the advertisers’ number and they mailed you their advert? If you requested info on the TWA Ambassador Lounge it came with a free pass with no expiration date. I don’t know how many cards I filled out but they kept coming. My family and I didn’t pay for lounge access for a few years. And combined with #3 above meant we didn’t sit on the floor or stairs at JFK like everyone else in July.

    5) United Airlines College Plus. If you were enrolled in Mileage Plus and a college student you got 10,000 miles for graduating by sending in a copy of your transcript and you could earn twice (I.e undergraduate and graduate). You also could get the no annual fee version of their Visa card (1 mile per $2). I still have this card today which looks just like other United credit cards and it lets me into the Chase / United lounge in the Westfield San Francisco Centre during the holidays.

    6) Double credits for booking online with Southwest.

    7) Free miles (maybe a few K) just for enrolling. My AA account includes enrollment bonuses from their two of their “heritage” airlines which I didn’t do any other activity.

  21. 8) ELoan offered miles for real estate loans. I think I earned 30,000 miles for doing a condo mortgage and prime – 1% HELOC! They even matched a competitior’s lower interest rate and still gave the miles.

  22. @Beachfan – that one I leveraged further… 100kx4 and then redeemed points for Hyatt gift cards under a promo offering 1.7c a point in value. There’s another step that made it even more valuable, related to where they sent gift cards instead of gift certificates and then had to replace them when i said i required the certificates to use abroad. but that’s a whole ‘nother story…

  23. @askmrlee:

    Your mention of Southwest reminds me that you could combine the double credits with purchase from SWABIZ for another credit. So for just over 5 one-ways of any price (as low as $19) you got a free no-blackout, non-capacity-controlled one-way anywhere. And 100 credits in a year got a Companion Pass. The good old days.

    Kellogg’s had 100-mile certs on cereal and granola bars also if I remember. Big Lots was a good place to get those for just over a dollar. The cereal sucked, so I donated to a church food bank. And do not forget 500-mile certs on $7 boxes of frozen Eggo waffles from Sam’s Club.

  24. Delta gave away 25K for just playing an online game in 2001. I remembered that because a lot of people donated the same miles after 911 happened.

  25. Oh how I wish I had been into miles and points back in the good ole days!!! I’m just getting to the point I understand the game and nothing really great has come around….yet 🙂

  26. united miles for graduation.

    northwest miles for playing their online games. think I earned 12K that way.

    AirTran birthday credits

  27. Number 1 in my book is What Steve Belkin did in northern Thailand (flying farmers) for
    millions of Aeroplan miles.
    My best deal was the AA “FLY 3” in 2006.:
    30K bonus miles for flying 3RT out of Dallas (either of the 2 airports) to either of 4 neighboring
    cities.Over a long weekend I did 6 RT DFW-AUS ,earning 60K bonus miles.
    (Randy, accompanied by a CNN International reporter was on one of these flights)
    Michael in YUL

  28. Sometime after NW and CO announced their alliance they gave a private Chicago concert to WorldPerks and OnePass elites in Columbus.

    What I couldn’t figure out was that Columbus wasn’t a focus city for either carrier. But I guess there were just enough elite members to celebrate. And I was only a base level elite at the time.

  29. Chase Bank half a mile per dollar for a new Home Equity Line of Credit. Draw the money and repay it immediately. Over 200k virtually free miles if I recall correctly. Some people did it multiple times on the same house!

  30. Another one: 1988 triple miles using an Eastern Get Up & Go Passport (about $1500 for one trip per week for 52 weeks). The guy I talked to bought two passports so he could fly out and back the same week, every week, earning triple miles the whole time. Talk about a mileage run. Insane.

  31. my personal favorite was borders gift cards, especially before they fixed borders bucks.

    toomanybooks, thanks for reminding me about swabiz. but i think that you could game it right so that you got 4 points per leg.

  32. Number 3 brings back memories Gary. I found that deal but was still in school and had no money to take advantage of it. If only it had happened a few years later. I did end up with quite a few Concorde items from people saying thank you though.

  33. @ctj. You know, I think it was 4 credits for a while on WN, via SWABIZ and booking online. Hazy recollection from maybe 12 years ago.

    After a bit of research:

    SWABIZ did offer double credits for the first year about 10+ years ago. Plus one for online booking and the regular one. And sometimes promos on top of that. Unreal.

  34. IMO some of the best deals were when you could purchase lifetime top status for hotels or airlines. The $2000 for Fairmont lifetime Presidents Club comes to mind (one free night and third night free annually).

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