We Fly High, No Lie: How to Play the Miles Game

Lauren Bell, Associate Creative Director.The former child star of a Heinz Ketchup commercial, Lauren got her first job in advertising before she could shake her speech impediment. Today, she continues to be heckled for her Chicago accent whenever it pops up (sodas up?) at PJA. When she’s not thinking about ads, Skittles, or her five house rabbits, Lauren’s got her mind on her United miles (and her United miles on her mind.)

This is something called “legroom.”
I hate walking onto an airplane. I don’t care where I’m off to. I don’t care how many Bacardi Diets I’ve had at the airport bar beforehand. I hate walking past the beautiful people relaxing in first class, and I hate walking into the squalor of economy. It’s like the Walk of Shame for the […]

I hate walking onto an airplane. I don’t care where I’m off to. I don’t care how many Bacardi Diets I’ve had at the airport bar beforehand. I hate walking past the beautiful people relaxing in first class, and I hate walking into the squalor of economy. It’s like the Walk of Shame for the mile-high club, only here, no one’s getting lucky. No way, José. Not in the confines of your 17-inch-wide economy seat, especially if you’re stuck in the middle one, enduring an encroaching muffin top from the passenger on your left while simultaneously elbow-wrestling over the armrest on your right. Seriously, if hell were 35,000 feet higher up, it’d be called economy. Meanwhile, God is smiling upon the shiny happy people at the front of the plane. They’re sipping their complimentary champagne, eating their hot meals with real silverware, and relaxing in free pajamas with noise-canceling headphones. It’s a few rows (and worlds) away.

But before you grab your parachute and head for the emergency exit, rest assured, there is hope! It’s just hard to see it from economy with a seat reclined just inches from your face.

Contrary to popular belief, first class isn’t just for the beautiful people with $18,000 to blow on a single flight. Nor is it reserved for frequent flyers or big spenders with a pocketful of airline credit cards. To get in on the miles game, all you need is some strategic spending and United. I know, I know: “United?! But I hate United!” That’s because you’re doing it wrong.

United has the best rewards program in the business, and for my husband and me, it’s made the skies decidedly “friendly.” You might be surprised to learn that a very small fraction of our miles actually come from flying. There are a ton of other ways you can earn United miles simply by buying the same crap you’d normally buy — clothes, meals, hotel rooms, $60 candles at Nordstrom, etc. — which I am going to outline below. Without further delay (because delays are for other airlines …), I present the rules to “The Miles Game,” all without getting a new credit card or booking a single flight. They’ll have you flying high in no time.

 

STEP 1: Sign up for a United MileagePlus account here.

MileagePlus is the name of United’s rewards program (like Southwest Rapid Rewards or JetBlue’s True Blue program.) And it is rewarding indeed.

 STEP 2:  Request missing mileage credit for any recent Star Alliance flights here.

Yep, you can get back credit for any United, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Swiss Air, etc flight taken in the past 12 months. All you need is your ticket number.

STEP 3: Sign up for MileagePlus Shopping here.

MileagePlus Shopping is simply a portal through which you can access certain online shopping websites, like gap.com, macys.com, nordstrom.com, and countless others. Through it, you can buy the same crap you’d normally buy online, but now you’ll get miles in addition to that crap. Miles are automatically applied to your United account. The reward changes from day to day and from store to store. Pro tip: Earn rates are typically highest on the weekends, so plan accordingly. Also, keep track of the miles you’re owed, as sometimes, MileagePlus Shopping fails to credit them.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Let’s say I want to buy a $50 shoes at Nordstrom.com …

1. I sign into MileagePlusShopping.com

2. I search for Nordstrom in the search field

3. I find the Nordstrom link to find the current earn rate. It is 4 miles/$ today, but it is always changing.

4. I click SHOP NOW. This will redirect me to Nordstrom.com. If I make a purchase during this session, I will earn 4 United miles for every dollar I spend. So if I buy a $50 pair of shoes at Nordstrom today, I will get shoes and earn 200 United miles to boot.

 STEP 4: Sign up for MileagePlus Dining here

You can earn miles by dining at MileagePlus Dining restaurants. Simply sign up, and register your payment card of choice. You can register as many cards as you want. This doesn’t charge you anything. It simply stores your card numbers so it can track whenever you use it to pay for a meal at participating restaurants. This, in turn, earns you reward miles. Pro tip: When you’re setting up your account, make sure you elect to receive emails from MileagePlus Dining. This will bump your earn rate from 1 mile-per-dollar to 3 miles-per-dollar spent at a MileagePlus Dining restaurant.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Let’s say I want to earn United miles for eating at a restaurant near my home …

1. I go to mpdining.rewardsnetwork.com

2. I search my current ZIP code, 02127

3. I see that nearby restaurant, Amrheins, is a MileagePlus Dining partner.

4. I have dinner with the hubs, and we argue over who gets to pay. I pay with one of my registered cards, because I always get my way.

5. I spend $50, and since I elected to receive junk emails upon sign-up, I earn 3 miles/$, or 150 miles. 

 STEP 5: Sign up at RocketMiles.com and get a 1,000-mile bonus after your first stay by clicking here.

RocketMiles functions much like MileagePlus Shopping or MileagePlus Dining — but for hotel bookings. Just sign up, register whatever credit or debit cards you use to book hotel rooms, and be sure to include your United MileagePlus account number during registration. It doesn’t cost you a thing! Whenever you spend the night at a hotel you booked through the RocketMiles website, the reward miles will automatically be applied to your United account. You can typically earn from 1,000 – 5,000 miles per stay. That’s HUGE.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Let’s say I want to earn United miles while booking a hotel this weekend …

1. I log into Rocketmiles.com

2. I enter my hotel criteria: city, date, # of guests, and loyalty program (United MileagePlus)

3. I choose the hotel I want. I notice that The Trump in Chicago is offering 5,000 miles and $445/night on 10/31 — sweet!

4. I select the room type I want and book. After my stay, the 5,000 reward miles will automatically be applied to my United MileagePlus account.

STEP 6: Whenever you reserve a rental car, do it with Hertz.

United recently partnered with Hertz to give its MileagePlus members (like you!) bonus miles for each rental. Starting 11/01/14, MileagePlus members earn 50 miles each day on all qualifying rentals. Plus, if you’re a MileagePlus Chase credit cardholder, you’ll also get an extra 750 miles per rental. And if you’ve flown enough to reach Premier-level status (ie: Silver, Gold, Platinum), you’ll get anywhere from 1,000-1,250 bonus miles per rental. It’s awesome. Pro tip: You can and should enroll in Hertz’s Gold Plus Rewards program beforehand. It’s free, and it means your rental car will be ready for you with the keys in the ignition when you arrive — no waiting necessary.

STEP 7: Register with Opinion Miles Club here.

Basically, you can earn miles for taking annoying surveys. Usually, they’re not worth the time. But you get 300 miles for registering and completing your first one.

 STEP 8: Earn miles by buying stuff through other websites, too.

- ScoreBig: Earn miles on sports, concerts, and theater tickets at scorebig.com. You’ll even get 1,000 bonus miles with your first purchase.

- Audience Rewards: Earn miles on tickets to Broadway shows by registering your MileagePlus number at AudienceRewards.

- Vinesse Wine Club: Earn 5,000 miles for signing up, plus 5 miles/$ spent on bottles of wine thereafter.

- MileagePlus Fitness: Join a gym and get 2,000 miles. Work it!

- For more ways to earn miles on everyday purchases, click here.

 STEP 9: Spend your miles and fly high.

My husband and I only started playing the miles game in August 2013, and so far, we’ve flown roundtrip to Paris and Italy in business class for free. Next, we are literally flying around the world in business class (Boston to Tokyo to Singapore to The Maldives to Istanbul to Boston) for 160,000 miles and 0 cents. That’s an $18,000 flight ($36,000 for two people) for free. The world is your oyster, people, and United offers it on a silver platter. Carpe milesem!

Tom and me sitting pretty en route to Paris. Look at all the suckers behind us.

Tom and me sitting pretty en route to Paris. Look at all the suckers behind us.

This is something called “legroom.”

This is something called “legroom.”

food

Business class passengers got a full ice cream sundaes complete with real glass cups and real metal spoons.

Lie-flat seats actually lie flat. I was too excited about the whole thing to sleep.

Lie-flat seats actually lie flat. I was too excited about the whole thing to sleep.

* Had enough miles talk, or are you thirsty for more? Read up at my favorite miles blog, ThePointsGuy.com. Or, if you want to learn about earning miles even faster with select credit cards (like the MileagePlus Explorer Card, the MileagePlus Club Card, the Chase Freedom Card, the Chase Sapphire Card, and the Chase Ink Card), or through United Premier status … well, that’s another blog post.

What Can You Learn from a Successful Unconventional Brand?

Hugh Kennedy, Partner, EVP Planning, Healthcare Practice Lead. Hugh joined PJA in 1992 and still loves coming to work. He also writes The Secret Life of the Life Scientist, a blog about marketing to those who discover. Hugh has three Swiss Mountain Dogs, two children, and one husband.

jon-olintobgood2013
Spend 3 minutes with Jon Olinto, Co-Founder of the thriving restaurant chain b.good, to find out Why he ignored advice about never starting a business with a friend, and why it was the smartest thing he ever did Why Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of an Unconventional business How overturning conventional wisdom can […]

Spend 3 minutes with Jon Olinto, Co-Founder of the thriving restaurant chain b.good, to find out

  • Why he ignored advice about never starting a business with a friend, and why it was the smartest thing he ever did
  • Why Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of an Unconventional business
  • How overturning conventional wisdom can be a winning strategy for you.

You can also subscribe to The Unconventionals on iTunes and Stitcher. And be sure to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter as well.

jon-olintobgood2013

How did b.good become one of the fastest-growing food chains on the East Coast? Last summer, Jon joined us to share the full story behind the rise of b.good on The Unconventionals.

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same: Staying Classy In Southie

Margie Ahnell, Senior Project Manager.Usually busy kicking ass and taking names on clients such as BSC, CTC, FIS, Genzyme, Honeywell, Novartis, NEAT, NxStage, Parallon, Red Hat and Trinity. And in my spare time, I like to walk fast and booze.

southie
I am here to tell you about a little town I live in called South Boston, otherwise known as Southie. I have lived in Southie for about eight years now but I am by no means a native. Families have lived in Southie for decades, even centuries, and I can understand why. But of course […]

I am here to tell you about a little town I live in called South Boston, otherwise known as Southie. I have lived in Southie for about eight years now but I am by no means a native. Families have lived in Southie for decades, even centuries, and I can understand why. But of course with the positive, there are some negatives but let’s focus on the good right now, shall we?

southie

1. I totes love my condo. All new everything and I have awesome condo mates.

2. Most nights you can hear a pin drop in my hood.

3. I ditched my car and donated it to karsforkids because I am in walking distance of three great markets and South Bay shopping center. And if I need a car…

4. Zip car has multiple locations within the area plus there is of course Uber.

5. I am in close distance to the airport (need that for going to see Mommasita).

6. New, good, restaurants are opening up all the time: Local 149, Lincoln, Stephies of Southie, Franklin Southie, Tasty Burger (which delivers I might add), Telegraph Hill, Amrheins (been there for centuries), and The Paramount.

7. It’s not wicked hard to find a bar. Whether it be a nice one (see the above) or your neighborhood dive bar. And who doesn’t like a drink every now and then. :)

8. Walking distance to Andrew Square and Broadway T stops which take me right into Harvard Square. And if I am lazy and want to take the bus, there are two locations directly around the corner from my house.

9. The projects are being re-done. Take a look at this: Old and New. I mean good googly moogly, can I live there in the new ones?

rsz_southie1

OLD

rsz_southie2

NEW

10.The fact that in the summer, I can walk out my door and in less than 10 minutes, have my fat butt sitting on the beach.

11.On the fourth of July, you can head up to Dorchester Heights (the highest point in Southie) and not only see the Boston fireworks but fireworks from towns all over the state, in every direction.

12.Sullivans on Castle Island – best lobster roll and fried clams evah!

Ya know, come to think of it, I am not going to talk about the negative. I am not going to mention the fatal stabbing that happened at my local market a half an hour after I left, or the shots fired on my street two years ago during hockey playoffs, or the crazy lady who lives in the projects across the street and shouts at her dogs like they are her kids, “Gino! Get in the cah! Come on Sebastian, let’s get in the cah!” Nah, I am not going to think about those things. Cause Southie has charactah and I like it!

So the next time you hear someone badmouthing Southie, tell ‘em you have it on good authority that the place is alright. And as the late, great, Robin Williams said, “the people are a can o’ corn.”

More from this author:

    It’s Easy: The Surprising Thing Clients Might Value Most

    Matt Magee, VP Digital Strategy. Matt drives the strategy behind integrated digital campaigns and helps make sure they deliver results for our clients. He’s otherwise occupied playing loud guitar in a band and marveling at his twin daughters.

    3956390396_3d751105c0_m
    Every quarter or so, our account team asks our clients to respond to a survey about working with the agency. There’s the usual variety of questions, each with the usual 1–to–5 answer scale and the opportunity to embellish with commentary. The results are eagerly awaited and consumed by all of us. This time around, I […]

    Courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21524179@N08/3956390396/in/photostream/Every quarter or so, our account team asks our clients to respond to a survey about working with the agency. There’s the usual variety of questions, each with the usual 1–to–5 answer scale and the opportunity to embellish with commentary. The results are eagerly awaited and consumed by all of us.

    This time around, I got to thinking about one client’s answer to this question:

     

    “Is the agency easy to work with?”

     

    This particular client gave us a passing grade, but also went on at length about how important this attribute is to them. Perhaps even more important than the smarts of our campaigns, the quality of the creative, even the results we generate and the rates we charge.

    This answer was pretty surprising to me at first. After all, we don’t devote a lot of thinking or effort to being easy to work with. It’s not a line item on any budget I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing in our portfolio about it. When I walk into a big client presentation, I know I’m focused on whether they like the work, not on how much they like the working.

    But it occurred to me that this is in fact more important than the work. It may be more important than… anything.

    Yes, a lot of resources get expended and energy gets exerted on making the things we make. Ads and apps, sites and strategies, content and contracts, positions and personas, research and reports. They’re all hard to make and deserve the effort it takes to make them well. They all matter.

    But they don’t last. The campaign ends. The video isn’t played anymore. The landing page gets taken down. The top priority, the unmissable deadline, the 17th revision fade into meaninglessness.

    What doesn’t fade? People treating people well. Relationship. Connection. The flow of respect and appreciation and reasonableness that people use to make a hard job easier for each other.

    Of course, when you have all that, it’s amazing how all the other things tend to fall into place.

     

    A Car, a Chicken, and An Unconventional Success: An Interview with Ling Valentine of LINGsCARS

    Hugh Kennedy, Partner, EVP Planning, Healthcare Practice Lead. Hugh joined PJA in 1992 and still loves coming to work. He also writes The Secret Life of the Life Scientist, a blog about marketing to those who discover. Hugh has three Swiss Mountain Dogs, two children, and one husband.

    darth-ling
    Ling Valentine is boss of LINGsCARS, a highly successful car-leasing site based in the northern English town of Gateshead. Ling was born in China and came to the UK in 1988. After earning a BSc in Applied Chemistry and an MSc in Environmental Management, she started a car leasing service with a website that upends […]

    Ling Valentine is boss of LINGsCARS, a highly successful car-leasing site based in the northern English town of Gateshead. Ling was born in China and came to the UK in 1988. After earning a BSc in Applied Chemistry and an MSc in Environmental Management, she started a car leasing service with a website that upends every convention about the retail experience. With more blinking lights than a pachinko parlor, LINGsCARS features karaoke, games, a walking chicken, and phenomenal customer service, the true secret to its success. Unconventionals caught up with “Ling Vader” at the headquarters of her rapidly growing enterprise.

    Unconventionals: The experience on your car leasing website goes against the convention of just about every other car site out there. Where did your inspiration come from?

    Ling: It’s because all other car-leasing sites do it wrongly. It’s a herd mentality. They think it’s about cars, but it’s not. It is about people, and trust.

    lingscars

    Unless you are a big name on the Internet, people will have doubts whether they should commit or not. A new car is a big proposition, and even leasing one means committing £15,000 or $20,000 over the term. If you credit-check most companies in this lease sector (at least in the UK), you find that most are either new-ish, penniless, in debt, unprofitable or a combination of the above. In fact, it’s often hard to find who runs many of them. They just trade under faceless names. Often they use off-the-shelf car leasing websites, re-branded for them, or they create a basic shell website.

    LINGsCARS is so very different. I am me. I am profitable, my business has a high net worth (over £1/2m), I’ve been trading 10 years, and I am transparent. People trust me. I do everything very openly on the web. I reply instantly and have the best online customer chat program in the world. Every communication is transcribed, saved and secure. Customers have full access to a full history of what was promised, said, and done. I have an excellent reputation and am the best at car leasing in the UK, possibly the world. I’m real.

    Some people get fixated on flashing gifs or bright colours, and miss what really matters to customers. I was inspired by the frustration that no one did this business well online, and when I saw the industry my husband was involved in, I thought I could do it far, far better.

    Unconventionals Why do you think people respond so positively to the buying experience you’ve created?

    Ling: My buying experience is the best in the UK, maybe the world. People respond positively and negatively. Some will like it, some won’t. So what? I am cultivating trust. But I am not twisting arms, and it’s just a fact that I will polarise opinions, so I don’t concern myself with that. If we guess that 10% of my website visitors look at me favourably and understand my ethos and want a car – I am interested in that 10% (or 5% or 1%; whatever the % is). I’m not really interested in the other 99,000 visitors. I will interact with anyone, have fun and chat, but at the end of the day, it’s about customers and money.

    The people who do respond positively get the best car buying experience on the web. Currently, as I type this, my admin department is typing and posting replies to customer queries in an average of 2 minutes 16 seconds. My car credit proposal department is doing it in 3 minutes 39 seconds. I set a four-minute benchmark between 9am and 6pm UK time. That is one example why customers respond positively, because the service is so good. They can often post a comment or question, stay online a minute or two and get an answer. In writing. No other car dealer in the world will do that. In fact, most car dealers AVOID putting things in writing because they don’t want their lies to come back and bite them.

    Unconventionals: The author Andrew Davies has noted that LINGsCARS is a good example of hedonic decline, where getting the thing we want actually makes us less happy than wanting it. Did you design your site so that leasing a car would be an interesting journey as well as a purchasing experience?

    Ling: Yes, I designed my website to be an interesting journey, but not really as Andrew Davies described. Mainly, I am pragmatic, and a lease car is a massive decision to make on the web. Very few other websites ask for that sort of commitment. So I designed my website so that people remain on it for a long time (if they are interested in a lease car) and the longer time people spend, the more likely they are to commit. It’s that simple, really.

    I also want them to have fun, as people can become very stressed making these big commitments. I want my website to be memorable as well. So there are many aspects to my thinking, but they are all simpler than Andrew’s explanation.

    Unconventionals: Are there other Unconventional businesses out there that you admire?

    Ling: Well, I admire businesses that speak plainly. Ryanair is a great example. They make it clear that they are there to make a profit and don’t mess on with lots of other rubbish. If you want a cheap flight, Ryanair are best in the UK. I like websites that do what they say on the tin.

    On the other hand, I dislike people copying the current Apple/Twitter type of big-type, boring websites that simply doesn’t give enough information. I also dislike websites with small or spitty photos. I dislike websites that don’t declare the parent company clearly. And I dislike websites who use “we” instead of “I”.

    Unconventionals: Finally, what’s with the chicken?

    Ling: The chicken is a real chicken, at my farm. We filmed it for fun. It took two whole days. Why not? No one else has a chicken. People like chickens. I would prefer a cat, but cats are hell to film.

    lingchicken