HOWTO hack frequent flier programs

In this video from OSCON Ignite, Evan "rabble" Hanshaw-Plath gives a five-minute primer on gaming frequent flier programs to get free flights, perks and bonuses. I actually met Evan on an airplane -- we randomly had adjacent seats on a flight during my last book tour, and I noticed he was wearing a FOO Camp shirt and we struck up a long and interesting conversation.

Ignite OSCON 2010 - Hacking Frequent Flyer Programs (via Joshua)


  1. So the entertained systems wonk featured gives a quick 20 second caveat that all of the following is bad to actually do if you care about the environment. Further goes on to explain the degree to which it is bad (i.e. really, REALLY bad). This brings us to about the 1 minute mark.

    Then, we get four minutes of how going to extremes and excess within this system allows you to reap the material benefits of the system. How exploiting holes and backends in the credit market and this wild west of Loyalty Programs can allow you to sit on top. All very clever, all very slick and inventive. Further, the speaker gives anecdotal evidence of people actually doing this (see above).

    The point of this all is? The results of doing this are? Feeling self satisfied? More comfortable than the cattle in coach? Smug?

    I’m pretty sickened by all of this and further my resolve to fly as little and as humbly as possible.

    1. I’m with #2 on this one. Something to think about: a single transcontinental flight eats your “sustainable” portion of CO2 emissions for the _entire_year_. If you achieve any kind of airline “status”, whether by work or for pleasure, IMO you should be disqualified from the food ration line when the enviropocalypse hits. (Unless you’re on the menu…)

      Check out the math at “Without Hot Air” (which Cory reviewed on boingboing!):

  2. If you’ve got $2K lying around and nothing better to do than spend a week hopping economy planes in Southeast Asia, this is an amazing plan.

  3. So “flying kills the planet” but fly extra miles just to rack up points. Fly crazy routes instead of going straight there to get more points. Fly around the world cheaply to get more points… and when you finally get enough points, well, you can kill the planet faster by getting free flights! Why? because those fancy seats are cool!

    I don’t think peddling a bike around a city will offset this dudes carbon footprint.

    1. A little harsh, it’s not like he’s got a private jet to tool around in like some world-leaders. Those planes are being occupied any way.It’s like having a convoluted bus-route.

      What I got out of this however was more of a “Wow, I wish I had that kind of time and resources” more than anything.

  4. the why is easy: sometimes you need to fly and fly a lot, so make it better.

    I do 50-100k miles a year for work, it is a strain on my life, but I enjoy my job. One of the perks of traveling on the company dime is I keep the miles, so my wife and I get to travel more and better. Think 2 first class trans-pacific tickets for cheap.

    Doing a mile run (or a mattress run for hotel programs) can have great returns, if your almost at the top level on the company dime a little push not only makes your business travel experience better it makes your future personal travel better.

    I used hotel points for 10 days in “over the water bungalows” in French Polynesia, my business travel funded ~$10,000 worth of my honey moon, which could not have happened the way it did without it.

  5. I consider it a win the less hours I have to spend sitting in an airplane. This talk was basically “how to maximize your pain” for me.

  6. Sorry, All I’ve heard so far is how nice upgrades are, and that “flying more gets you miles!” and “volunteering to get bumped gets you miles!”, and “credit cards gets miles”

    Meh. Maybe I’m jaded, but this all seems to be common knowledge…

  7. Can’t recommend FlyerTalk enough – the help I got booking my 10th anniversary flight to Scotland with my wife netted me 2x FC seats that priced out at > $10k ea.

    The video is somewhat dated, however, and partially incorrect:
    1. Credit Card companies have cracked down on churning. I’m not sure there are any that will allow it any more.
    2. American airlines is the only airline that allows any miles earned to count toward lifetime status.

    For some great reading, I recommend:

    – The saga of pudding guy:
    – KiwiFlyer’s insane quest for lifetime status:

    1. I’m pretty sure Qantas points count towards lifetime status as well, so AA is not the only airline.

  8. See people this is how capitalism destroys things.

    It all starts off simple enough. Someone in marketing/sales has an idea about frequent fliers. Hey lets give them a points system, obviously the more they fly the more money we make, so we will give them some perks so they keep flying with us.

    Makes sense. Keep expanding that idea and then people start abusing it. And then people turn your system against you.

    Flying is not something I want done on the cheap. This isn’t like buying a car. I can be cheap and pickup a kia rio and if breaks down so be it. (I could also buy a BMW, which might break down as well, but at least I’ll already be on the ground.)

    I want the people who fly the planes, work on the planes, and any other part of the system that involves aircraft to be paid well and be generally happy. Because my ass is riding in your hands so to speak.

    1. I want the people who fly the planes, work on the planes, and any other part of the system that involves aircraft to be paid well and be generally happy. Because my ass is riding in your hands so to speak.

      You seem to be implying that there is a link between Frequent Flyer programs and/or airline safety? Because I guarantee you there isn’t.

  9. How to get More Miles:
    1) Spend more $$$ to fly a certain partner network so you can maybe, some day (if they don’t expire your miles or sell to a different airline and change your plan), get 1 free flight.

    2) Spend more time managing a crazy pyramid scheme of credit card offers, partner programs, incentivized “deals” you have to opt out of… wait, this is supposed to be a VACATION right?


    Just search for the lowest fare whenever you travel, the time and money you save over the above two methods far outweighs a “free” flight.

    The only people frequent flier miles work for are… duh, frequent fliers. Business people who get their flights expensed and basically get the miles as a perk.

    1. “Just search for the lowest fare whenever you travel, the time and money you save over the above two methods far outweighs a “free” flight.”

      This is exactly what I realized after using my bank card synched to miles for a couple of years. The amount of miles I got from everyday use through x number of years almost exactly equaled the amount it would have cost me to just buy a ticket.

      I don’t fly enough for work to make it worth my time, for those that do and consider trekking an additional 20,000 miles on a plane instead of spending time with family, that’s cool. It’s just not something I’d do.

  10. No offense, but the first half of the presentation contains no information and the second half is just wrong. The difference between the two mileage types is that only status miles (e.g., real flying miles) will give you status like lifetime whatever. With nearly all airlines, the “buy”-miles from credit cards will NOT give you status!

  11. My method of flying for free everywhere: Marry a nice lady who works for a major airline. We typically fly somewhere for a few days every month just because.

  12. You know what’s really ironic, i was on a plane, flying Buenos Aires to Dallas, when Cory posted this.

    1. You know what’s really ironic, you could have gotten that flight for free had you flown the Buenos Aires – Berlin – Tokio – Singapore – Dubai – Morocco – Madrid – Caracas – Mexico City – Los Angeles – Dallas route.

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