Million Mile Secrets interviews me. An excerpt:
It’s cliché to say that we shouldn’t take this all too seriously, but I disagree: I’m passionate about miles and points. I practice full contact loyalty. I love these programs.
I think they offer a tremendous value proposition, and for all of their success I think they’re still widely misunderstood (perhaps because they’re so complicated, though therein lies the true opportunity).
I do my best to honor those programs that work well – for the travel providers and for the consumer, and to criticize those that I think are missing the boat.
Properly understood, the relationship is win-win and for my part my entire worldview has been changed by these programs, I see the world as much smaller and more accessible and I experience the world in a way I never would have thought possible.
The first three commenters on the post wanted to hear more about ‘earning 15 million miles from stickers’. And funny thing, I believe the amount was actually 16 million. It’s even the opening to the story on page 62 (about me) in the September issue of Town & Country, sadly not online so I cannot link to it.
The US Airways 2009 Holiday Big Bonus shopping promotion offered a 250% bonus on points earned through their shopping portal provided you made transactions with at least 5 different merchants (and the bonus applied to no more than 10 transactions). Track-it-Back was offering 40 miles per dollar for purchases. With the bonus that made 140 miles per dollar, roughly 7/10ths of a penny per point. If you donated the product to charity for a tax deduction, that would reduce your cost basis to half a cent per mile.
Now, the miles weren’t all for me. But Christmas morning 2009 I lined up a stack of credit cards belonging to friends and colleagues. Several Amex black cards, but also a Starwood Amex, Alaska Airlines Visa, British Airways Visa… and proceeded to complete the promotion for each of them, donating $2 trees, buying $5 gift cards, basically ensuring that I would have at least four partners other than Track-it-Back posting to each account in order to be eligible for the full bonus, and doing so at the lowest cost possible. (although I did make a few extra purchases for each account just in case, can’t be too careful with so much money on the line).
All told I executed over $100,000 in Track-it-Back purchases. And I crashed their Amex merchant account. I suspect I’m the reason that they no longer accept American Express, who assumed that transactions of that volume were fraudulent (when their standard purchases were likely under $100). And go get Amex to re-open a merchant account on Christmas Day! Still, I understand that this was the biggest promotion that Track-It-Back could possibly ever have imagined. Talking to their President, I recall that he was planning to go on vacation with his family the week between Christmas and New Years. He cancelled the trip, this was just too big.
They previously had offered 20 miles per dollar in purchases, but decided to make a big push for the holidays and doubled the mileage they’d offer, getting featured as part of the US Airways holiday shopping offer. They really hadn’t done the math to realize that folks would be buying the product purely for the miles with no interest in the stickers whatsoever.
Now, given how overpriced the stickers are for what you get, I’ve always assumed that the basic business model was to be selling miles anyway — people who could buy the product and expense them to their businesses might want to pocket the miles for their own accounts. The miles/marketing cost to the company is quite significant, but all they’re really doing is printing stickers. The idea is that you affix the stickers to important items, if they’re lost the person who finds the item might call the number of the sticker and Track-it-Back helps arrange return fo the item. They even offer a reward, although you can top off the reward amount. They don’t tell you want the basic reward they offer is, though. Guess what? I understand it’s… wait for it… more stickers. Their costs here are pretty darned low.
The US Airways holiday shopping promo burned up pretty much all inventory, they contacted everyone to let them know not to worry — the items would be shipped eventually. But some merchants don’t post miles until the product shipped. The company understood why everyone made the purchases — they would post the miles right away, and ship the product later, which they did.
All in, I did transactions which earned over 16 million miles that day. And lots of folks have been enjoying a ton of premium cabin international travel ever since, thanks to US Airways and their 2009 holiday shopping bonus.
As they say, now you know ‘the rest of the story’.