Scott McCartney covers Presidential Dollar Coins.
At least several hundred mile-junkies discovered that a free shipping offer on presidential and Native American $1 coins, sold at face value by the U.S. Mint, amounted to printing free frequent-flier miles. Mileage lovers ordered more than $1 million in coins until the Mint started identifying them and cutting them off.
Coin buyers charged the purchases, sold in boxes of 250 coins, to a credit card that offers frequent-flier mile awards, then took the shipments straight to the bank. They then used the coins they deposited to pay their credit-card bills. Their only cost: the car trip to make the deposit.
Flyertalk’s MrPickles certainly deserves his 15 minutes in the Journal.
The coin program was a popular play on FlyerTalk.com, an online community where frequent travelers and mileage mavens share travel tips and profitable mileage plays. One FlyerTalker, identified by his online moniker, Mr. Pickles, claims to have bought $800,000 in coins. He posted pictures of the loot on FlyerTalk.
He says his largest single deposit was $70,000 in $1 coins. He used several banks and numerous credit cards. He earned enough miles to put him over two million total at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, giving him lifetime platinum-elite status — early availability of upgrades for life and other perks on American and its partners around the world. He also pumped miles into his account at UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and points into his Starwood Preferred Guest program account.
A spokesman for the Mint says it has no record of anyone purchasing that many coins, but orders could have been shipped to different names and addresses.
Frugal Travel Guy this morning says about this story, “I don’t think this will help us in the future, but then again, it is the US Government.”
The US Mint deal has hardly been a secret, much dicussed on Flyertalk (the main thread in the MilesBuzz forum has over half a million views) and Fatwallet, and the Mint has sent letters indicating they’re well aware of the practice. But media scrutiny brings a bit of unwanted attention. The best of the deal is no doubt in the past.
Of course there will be more in the future. Savings bonds, prepaid debit cards, there will be new opportunities to turn credit card spend into cash for the miles just as there have been in the past…