Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gaming the System

We went to Hawai'i last year for a week - we won a trip at my company's holiday party. (Always fold your entry in a wacky way, that's the key.) We'd really, really like to go back, but tickets aren't cheap and aren't getting cheaper. Hotels aren't cheap either, but if you can get there, that's way more than half the battle.

So of course my devious little brain has been trying to figure out how to get somebody ELSE to pay for it.

My wife loves contests and has been entering all the ones she could find - we both entered the Hawai'i Magazine photography contest last month, so that's worth a shot. But there is a slower but more certain way to get other people to buy you airplane tickets: Frequent Flyer Miles programs.

Originally, you got frequent flyer miles by, well, by flying frequently. But no more! Of course, you can still do it that way (and that's the best way) but you can also earn them by doing various things or even win them in contests and promotions. I signed up for a Hawai'ian Airlines Frequent Flyer account and commenced to gamin'. So far:

1) Play games on Microsoft's promotional site for its new search service and trade prize tickets for miles: up to 2500 miles/redemption. It takes about four days to earn enough tickets for the maximum award. If Microsoft leaves this site up - which they won't - you could theoretically earn a one-way ticket from the mainland to Hawai'i every twenty-four days! If you want to play, it's at http://club.live.com. There are multiple programs eligible for miles awards.

UPDATE: Apparently this has been going on for quite some time and while Microsoft encourages you to redeem your points frequently, people are reporting having collected over 20,000 FFM this way. That's a domestic ticket to anywhere! The math:

Largest award you can redeem tickets for: 2500M/4300T
Max T/Day: 1000T
Cost T/M: 1.72T/M
Days to earn 20KM: 34.4
Days to earn SuperSaver Fare on HA: 30.1 (Obviously my estimate above was a little optimistic.)

But still, if you were nuts about it - and ask anybody, I go nuts about stuff - you could earn six roundtrips a year doing this.

2) Subscribe to "Hawai'i Magazine." 250 miles for a discounted rate on a magazine my wife buys anyway. :)

3) Open an account with Sharebuilder. 2500 miles after first securities purchase. If you do this right you can set up, make one purchase, and then cash out after you get your miles.

4) You can get a wide variety of credit cards that award miles for each dollar spent. However, these aren't necessarily the biggest bang for your buck - if your credit is good, you're better off getting a rebate card that pays cash back directly and using the cash for your tickets! The nice thing, though, is you can often heterodyne purchases on miles cards with purchases from "partners" who also give miles for dollars spent, and get several miles per dollar spent. That can add up fast.

5) You can wait for the Pudding Angel to reach down from heaven and give you millions of miles. I'd be all over this one but the Pudding Angel is notoriously hard to get hold of.

Interestingly, you can buy miles direct from most programs. For instance, Hawai'ian sells them for $15/500 miles plus a $4/purchase fee. That works out to just under a thousand dollars a ticket, and tickets go for about $400ea. Not really very economical. However, if you're 500 miles short and want to book a trip, as a convenience fee it's quite livable.

Here's a picture taken just outside the Kahului airport on Maui. This is the freaking AIRPORT. It's not fair, I tell you.



jimmyd said...

My g/f enters contests daily. She's been doing so for 5 or 6 months. So far, she's won a trip for 2 to Vegas w/ three days, two nights at a really cool luxury condo resort. (Not a hotel.) She's also won two round-trip tickets to anywhere Southwest flies,... and they fly all over the place. (Not Hawaii tho.) She's won a $500 shopping spree, a bunch of dinners at some nice restaurants, a laser mouse, all kinds of baseball hats, tee-shirts, DVDs, clothing accessories, coupons for free soda pop, chocolate, bread, and other stuff. BTW, read the rules of these contests. Some of them say only one person per household can enter. It would really suck if one of you won something cool but then got disqualified.

MarcWPhoto said...

I don't enter that many of the contests, but I'll be sure to watch for that. (The Hawai'i Magazine contest does allow it, I checked. But you have to send each entry in a separate envelope. I think they're in cahoots with the Post Office.)

If she hasn't already read it, your g/f might be interested in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, which is a book about a woman who essentially supported her family by entering contests. :)


Wendy said...

Pssst: That's from the hotel, not the airport. (Yes, I'm sure.)