Just when you thought mile-hawking couldn’t get much weirder…
As we reported in our November issue, AirTran A+ Rewards ran an unusual promotion toward the end of 2005, letting members earn 1/4 credit when purchasing soda at Wendy’s restaurants.
It seems a coupon was printed onto the cup itself, and large-bladdered folks could send up to 128 of the coupons in to AirTran — effectively earning themselves a free flight at 32 credits.
Word got out, and, well, as Greg Bensinger of the Christian Science Monitor found, neither rain, nor sleet, nor grease and grime will stay freebie seekers from doing their thing.
Bensinger spoke with Danielle, a young nanny in New York, who spent two hours in the December cold digging through garbage bags outside two Manhattan Wendy’s to find enough cups for a free flight.
“It’s pretty disgusting work, especially when you grab a handful of chewed meat,” Danielle told Bensinger. “But it’s about the only way I can afford to see my family [in San Luis Obispo, Calif.].”
Extraordinary measures in the name of free flights is nothing new to mileage junkies, though. David Phillips, known as “The Pudding Guy” in frequent flyer circles, earned fame in 1999 when he redeemed 12,000 pudding cups for 1.2 million frequent flyer miles.
“That’s why we put a limit on the number of flights you can earn,” Tad Hutcheson, AirTran’s vice president of marketing, told Bensinger.
According to AirTran, the promotion has accomplished its goal in terms of attracting new members. Of people who have redeemed coupons, 74 percent are new members.
And it goes without saying that in our Internet age, not a few of the cups have made their way onto eBay and other online auction sites. In some cases, the coupons are selling at $1.50 and up — more than the $1.29 price of a Wendy’s soda.
AirTran says it is trying to stop the most active online cup-brokers, but has no illusions about stopping the black market all together. As Hutchinson told The Monitor: “It’s not easy to prove, it’s not like we’re going to fingerprint every coupon and see if they match.”
Still, AirTran has tried to put at least a dent in the trade by purchasing some of the coupons itself.
The promotion officially ended on Dec. 31, but coupon holders have until Feb. 13 to get a 3×5 card with a complete name, street address and AirTran account number along with at least four but no more than 128 proofs of purchase/flight coupons per stamped envelope to Wendy’s/AirTran Airways Promotion, AirTran Airways Special Services, 1224 Bob Harmon Road, Savannah, GA 31408.