Do you remember the “Pudding Guy?” His name is David Phillips, and in May of 1999, while grocery shopping, he noticed that a package of Healthy Choice pudding offered 500 miles for every UPC symbol sent to Healthy Choice by the end of the year. And if you submitted proof of purchase by the end of May, you’d receive double miles.
David Phillips seized the moment.
A civil engineer with the University of California/Davis, Phillips didn’t fly all that often, but he did the math and spent about 50 hours buying and sending in $3,140 worth of Healthy Choice pudding coupons. For his effort, he received about $25,000 worth of airline tickets—1.25 million frequent flyer miles, to be exact. That’s 12,150 cups of pudding.
And among frequent flyer chat rooms, Phillips entered the pantheon of legendary mileage fanatics.
There are two lessons here: Keep your eyes open for similar opportunities, though they are few and far between. Secondly, don’t ever let anyone tell you that frequent flyer miles aren’t worth anything. Not only did Phillips profit—airlines earn millions a year selling miles to businesses that have nothing to do with flying.
Oh, Phillips donated the pudding to Goodwill, whose employees helped him cut out all those UPC symbols. Winners all around.
Whoever thought anyone could have a love affair with an airport carpet? That’s exactly what’s going on in Oregon as Portland’s airport replaces 28,000 square feet of carpet that was installed 27 years ago.
It’s a blue carpet (pictured), sort of turquoise, with a repeating pattern that’s actually a bird’s-eye view diagram of the airport’s runways. When Portland residents learned the carpet was going to be replaced, a grass-roots protest erupted that went nationwide thanks to social media. Companies began making bicycle helmets with the carpet pattern as well as keychains, socks, shirts, and other products. People got tattoos of the pattern. There are 31,000 Instagram photos of peoples’ feet on the carpet, and the rug has 1,700 followers on Twitter.
This carpet is a cult.
No one is more surprised than the architect, Jon Schleuning, who, along with a colleague, designed the carpet long ago. He was on my weekend radio show recently, and he was as bemused as anyone else.
Portland residents fear the new carpeting—which is going to cost $13 million–will be just another airport carpet though I’m not sure what just another airport carpet looks like. Guess I’ll have to go to Oregon to find out.
I’m old enough to remember the late ‘80s when wealthy Japanese investors bought up premium American properties such as Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort. Commentators worried Japan would soon own half of America. We know how that ended—the Japanese sold most investments at steep loses, and Japan’s economy is still in the doldrums.
Now it’s the Chinese.
In October, a Chinese insurance company paid nearly $2 billion to buy the iconic Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City from Hilton. A Chinese property investor put $900 million into a Chicago skyscraper that will be a luxury hotel. And recently, another Chinese insurance group bought New York’s newest luxury hotel, the Baccarat (pictured, that opens in a few weeks. The price per room was more than $2 million, a record surpassing what a company from India paid to buy The Plaza in 2012.
Until last year, the Chinese government didn’t allow Chinese companies to spend more than $100 million on properties outside of China; last year, that limit was raised to a billion dollars.
I hope we don’t see hand-wringing articles about how the Chinese are buying up America. They won’t. They’re into long-term investments, and Americans should welcome those investments.
Frequent travelers know never to buy additional insurance at a rental car counter because the price is way too high. But more than half of Americans do pay $20 or much more a day in the US—more overseas—to do just that, often because a counter agent worries them into it.
You do have options.
First of all, if you drive a car, your car insurance probably covers you—check your policy or call your insurance company to find out.
Many credit cards offer coverage if you use that card to pay for your entire rental. Be aware, though, some offer secondary insurance rather than primary insurance. Secondary means the credit card company will cover costs only after you’ve exhausted all other sources of insurance—like your personal car insurance. Obviously, primary coverage is better as it would not affect future insurance rates on your personal auto policy.
Writing recently in USA Today, Chris Elliott brought a website called InsureMyRentalCar to my attention. It’ll sell you coverage for as little as $5 a day; if you rent cars frequently, an annual policy is just $94. Purchase as little as a day in advance of your rental.
If you must have insurance, InsureMyRentalCar may be the answer.
I recently stayed at a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Washington, DC’s Chinatown. I checked in around midnight and couldn’t have received a warmer greeting. My room was spacious and spotless. The next morning, however, didn’t go so well.
On the desk in my room was a large placard touting the hotel and instructing me to speak up if my experience wasn’t a “9 or a 10.” A similar sign at the reception desk encouraged me to do the same.
So when I checked out the next morning and mentioned that when I took a shower at 11 am I only had cold water, I expected attention would be paid. Instead, the desk clerk shrugged it off by saying, “Maybe a lot of people were taking showers at the same time.”
Well, maybe, but that’s not quite the right answer. Frankly, I’m not sure what is—I’d booked my room through Hotel Tonight which bills me directly, so I don’t think the hotel could have knocked $50 off my bill then and there. But I think I’ll write a polite letter to Marriott—Fairfield is part of Marriott’s collection of brands—and I will suggest a cold shower ain’t a 9 or a 10.
When it comes to complaining, I always advise you say exactly what you want. This time, let’s see if Marriott offers anything more than a form letter.