Reader Profile – January, 23 2003

Reader Profile – January, 23 2003

In 1999, David Phillips spent about $2,500 on 12,000 cups of Healthy Choice chocolate pudding and earned 1.25 million miles in the process. For his artful exploitation of the promotion rules, Phillips forever will be known as the “Pudding Guy.”

Phillips’ story, which first surfaced on FlyerTalk, was covered by publications across the world, including The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The London Times, USA Today, The New York Times and People Magazine. Phillips has also been featured on the Today Show, National Public Radio, CNN and on hundreds of other television news and radio programs. The pudding story even inspired a 2002 movie, P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, staring Adam Sandler.

Phillips currently has over five million miles in his various frequent-flyer accounts and has visited over 20 countries during the course of his travels. Phillips is a Civil Engineer by training and currently works for the University of California Davis as a utilities manager.

I’ve earned miles by buying loads of pudding, pop-tarts, magazine subscriptions, frozen steaks and popcorn, but people are surprised to hear that I’ve actually earned more miles by flying.

When I started flying a lot for business, I didn’t even sign up for frequent-flyer accounts for the first year or two. Ouch!

It’s amazing where my pudding story turned up. Among other things, it was the subject of a Catholic devotional, a Playboy Advisor question, a math problem for grade-school students and an award-winning movie.

There are few people willing to take quick action when a good travel deal crops up. I’ve given up alerting most of my family and friends because they never move fast enough to take advantage.

If you haven’t realized it yet, the really good deals are increasingly short-lived. If it seems too good to be true, it might not be, but it probably won’t be around for long. Two-for-one mile transfers into Marriott Rewards, $20 fares to Europe, 112 miles per dollar for magazine subscriptions, 50,000 HHonors points for a long weekend in New York — they were all good while they lasted. A daily check-in to FlyerTalk is mandatory.

A good rule to remember is that the airlines and hotels can change their rules whenever they want. You can fight them, but you’ll never win.

I’ve always liked American’s frequent-flyer program the best. Their partners and awards just can’t be beat for me.

It thrills me to make good use of my frequent-flyer awards. For 40,000 AAdvantage miles each, my family and I went from Sacramento to London, stayed overnight to catch a show, flew to Milan to visit some friends, then flew on to Barcelona, which was our real destination. That wasn’t even full use. though, as we could have added a stopover in New York and a couple more nights in London on the same award.

What I love is online award booking. I hate having to call someone to check award availability. If you’re trying to use miles for a free flight and points for a free stay, it’s just ridiculous trying to get them in sync. Marriott has a great online system for checking award options. Some airlines are doing this as well, but it’s still way too primitive. What would be even better is if the airlines offered combined airfare/hotel awards with online booking. That would be sweet.

It’s not right that most frequent travelers know the airline/hotel program rules better than the people that work for these companies. Many of us feel like we’re field trainers. Actually, I think the hotels would be smart to officially recognize this and take advantage of it. That could be really cool.

I don’t want fancy food on an airplane. I’d be much happier if the airlines would just set out a pile of Subway sandwiches or fast-food burritos at the gate for us to pick from. The champagne I do enjoy though.

What happened to the idea of in-flight gambling? I’d be all over that.

Why should there be expedite fees for booking free tickets close to the travel date? That’s a huge scam that the airlines should scratch. I think they’d be much better off encouraging last-minute, online booking and filling up the empty seats.

I’ve always thought that most of the hotel program promotions have been extremely dull. I see some huge opportunities there.

If I can help it, I try not to stay in a hotel when the annual Leatherfest convention is going on. I decided this after my last trip to Atlanta.

I think serious jet lag is sort of enjoyable. You’re seeing all sorts of new strange things, people are talking but you can’t understand them — then you crash asleep in the middle of the day or you’re wide awake when everyone else is sleeping — most people have to take serious drugs to get these sorts of experiences.

I never ask but I’m endlessly curious about what happens to all the waste from the airplane toilets.

If I had to pick my all-time favorite trip, it’d be the one my wife and I took to Sweden a few years ago right before Christmas. We’ve never had so much fun. Even the lost luggage coming and going didn’t phase us.

Like I say — constantly — I really wish I had more vacation time. Travel has been central to our family experiences, and it would be great if we had the time to take longer trips.

How much money would I have if I paid more attention to real estate and the stock market instead of free-travel schemes? I try not to think about that too much.

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