From: Dan Kohn (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Mar 02 2000 - 15:09:28 PST
At this point, two things seem clear: It will be a very long time
before David Phillips will have to pay for another airline ticket. And it
will be even longer before the poor and homeless people in the Sacramento
area will want to see another cup of chocolate pudding.
Phillips, a civil engineer at UC-Davis, has become a cult hero in the
obsessive subculture of people who collect frequent-flier miles by
converting $3,150 worth of pudding into 1.2 million miles. Oh,
yeah -- he's also going to claim an $815 tax write-off.
Last May, Phillips was pushing his shopping cart down the frozen-food aisle
of his local supermarket when a promotion on a Healthy Choice frozen entrée
caught his eye: He could earn 500 miles for every 10 Universal
Product Codes (bar codes) from Healthy Choice products he sent to the
company by Dec.31. Even better: Any Healthy Choice bar codes mailed by
the end of the month would rack up double the mileage, or 1,000 miles for
"I started doing the math, and I realized that this was a great deal,"
he said. "I wanted to take my family to Europe this summer, and this
could be the way."
Frozen entrees were about $2 apiece, but a few aisles away Phillips
found cans of Healthy Choice soups at 90 cents each. He filled his cart
with them, and then headed to his local Grocery Outlet, a
warehouse-style discount store. And there he hit the mother lode.
"They had individual servings of chocolate pudding for 25 cents
apiece," he said. "And each serving had its own bar code on it. I did
some more math and decided to escalate my plans."
Phillips cleaned the store out - bought every last cup of pudding in
the warehouse. He then asked the manager for the addresses of all the
other Grocery Outlet in the Central Valley and, with his mother-in-law
riding shotgun in his van, spent a weekend scouring the shelves of
every store from Davis to Fresno.
"There were 10 stores in all," he said. "Luckily, most of them were
right off the freeway."
He filled his garage to the rafters with chocolate pudding and
stacked additional cases in his living room. But Phillips wasn't finished
yet - he had the manager of his local Grocery Outlet order him 60 more
"A few days later I went out behind the store," he said, "and there
were two whole pallets of chocolate pudding with my name on them."
All in all, he'd purchased 12,150 individual servings of pudding. Around
this time, Phillips began to reveal his scheme to fellow readers of the
Webflyer Web site (http://www.flyertalk.com) , where he
posted an account under the name "Pudding Guy." Phillips' tale was met
with skepticism, if not outright disbelief, until he uploaded photos
of his haul. They're still there, at http://www.flyertalk.com/pudding.htm
But then Pudding Guy discovered he had a problem on his hands: The
deadline for earning double miles was quickly approaching, and there was
simply no way Phillips and his wife could tear off all those bar codes
"I had to come up with something to do with all that pudding, fast"
he said. Phillips trucked the pudding to two local food banks and the
Salvation Army, which agreed to tear off the bar codes in exchange
for the food donation.
"We'd never seen anything like it," said Larry Hostetler, community
relations director for the Sacramento Salvation Army. "We've gotten
some big donations, but always from companies and institutions, not
Phillips got his bar codes in the mail in time to beat the deadline,
and then held his breath. The promotion specifically said I could get
the miles for any Healthy Choice product," he said. "But still, it
seemed like there was a good chance they'd get me on some technicality."
But then packages - large packages - started arriving in the mail
from Healthy Choice. In all, they contained 2,506 certificates, each
good for 500 miles. That's 1,253,000 miles.
Under the terms of the promotion, Phillips could have the mileage
posted in any airline account. He split 216,000 between his United,
Delta and Northwest accounts and posted the rest - 1,037,000 miles - to his
American Airlines account.
By surpassing the million-mile mark, Pudding Guy now has AAdvantage
Gold status for life, entitling him to a special reservations number,
priority boarding, upgrades and bonus miles.
While we talked on the phone, Pudding Guy did a little math - as you
might have noticed by now, he's very, very good at math - and figured
out that scheme netted him enough miles for 31 round-trip coach tickets to
Europe, or 42 tickets to Hawaii, or 21 tickets to Australia, or 50 tickets
anywhere in the U.S.
"Wow - 31 trips to Europe for a little over $3,000," I said. "That's
less than $100 a ticket."
"Oh, it's better than that," Phillips said. "Since I gave the
pudding to charity I can take a tax write-off of $815. So that brings
the cost of a ticket to Europe down to $75."
As it turns out, Pudding Guy didn't donate all his stash to the food
banks. He kept about 100 servings for himself, and he's just about
finished them. "Actually," he said, "I really like the stuff."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Mar 02 2000 - 15:21:56 PST