My Saturday afternoons are just too exciting…

I’m not flying this weekend, which in and of itself is probably noteworthy. It has been 68 degrees most of the day here in Tampa with clear skies, so I have no good reason to leave the beautiful weather and travel through somewhere that has a travel waiver as a result of bad weather… especially since I’ll actually be traveling to the northeast next week. I like flying, but not that much! Then again, enjoying the nice weather doesn’t get me any closer to Million Miler status with United.

Instead, I had a “productive” afternoon, at least by my perverted definition. I had three goals:
1) Make a “mattress run” at a Priority Club hotel to get another night qualification towards the Sweet Dilemma (make two stays, get one free at any Priority Club hotel) and Crack the Case (unlock some “latches” and get lots of bonus points) promotions that they’re running
2) Refund my Costco membership
3) Make 10 debit card purchases (I have 10 SunTrust Delta debit cards that need one qualifying purchase each)

Due to time constraints, I only had a little over three hours to do all this, and the nearest Costco is about an hour from my house. Fortunately, the cheapest hotel in town (by a lot) is right by the Costco, so it seemed reasonable enough to drive out there.

So I left home this afternoon, stopped by the post office and bank, and then stopped at Starbucks. “Could I get a Grande sweetened ice coffee with non-fat milk?” “That’ll be 3.14.” One purchase down, nine to go. Once my drink was made, I went back to the register. “You know, that blueberry scone looks really good, could I get one of those too.” “That’ll be 2.06.” Two purchases down, eight to go.

I continued driving towards the Costco, and stopped at a McDonalds. “Could I get a fruit and yogurt parfait please.” “That’ll be 1.06.” Three purchases down, seven to go. Hey, look, there’s a Dunkin Donuts. “Yes, can I get one glazed donut please.” “That’ll be 75 cents.” That’s four purchases down, six to go.

I high tailed it over to Costco. I signed up for a Costco membership last year thanks to the Hyatt gift certificates they were selling at 20% off, but they have a “no questions asked” refund policy on membership, which costs $50. Since I’m not entirely satisfied with Costco, in the sense that the closest one is an hour away and I only went there twice, I figured it was reasonable enough to request a refund, which they gladly processed. When I signed up they even told me that they planned on having the Hyatt gift certificates for at least a year, which they didn’t. They were even really apologetic about not having the Hyatt gift certificates anymore, and hoped they would get more in the future

Hey look, there’s a Panera right next door! “Yes, could I get a medium drink please.” “That’ll be $2.05.” When I swiped my debit card, the lady helping me said “wow, is that one of those cards that gets you free flights?” “Yeah, I guess so,” I said. She said, “well, I bet it takes a long time to earn a free flight.” Little did she know I earned 25,000 miles with my $2 drink purchase. Five purchases down, five to go.

Then I went to my mattress run hotel, which was yet another adventure. The hotel cost $48.99/night, and was in an area in which I saw more cop cars than civilian cars. I got to the front desk, where the lady first had me wait for a few minutes. Once she emerged from behind the wall, I presented my credit card and Priority Club/InterContinental Platinum Royal Ambassador card. She gave me a blank stare — “what’s that?” “It’s the card with my Priority Club Platinum number on it, I just want to make sure it’s on the reservation,” I said. “Oh, I ain’t never seen one of them before.”

She asked me whether I was staying for business or pleasure. Hmm, how do I answer that? I’m not actually “staying” (just walking in the room and undoing the sheets), and does an addiction to points qualify as business or pleasure? After thinking it over for a second, she looked at my shirt (I happened to have my “Boarding Area” shirt on), and she said “oh, is that your company name?” “Umm, yeah, sure, so I guess I’m here for business,” I said.

Since she noticed my InterContinental/Priority Club card, she “briefed” me about the hotel. “We do things a little bit different than at InterContinental hotels, so let me tell you about the Candlewood Suites experience. We have a pantry on an honor system, kind of like a convenience store, and we only service rooms once a week,” she said. “Sounds good to me, I’m only staying for a night.” I went into my room, which had an absolutely awful odor and just felt so “tired.” On the plus side, it did make me very thankful for the hotels I can afford to *actually* stay at, even if only because I checked into two such hotels to get a free night at the InterContinental London or Paris.

At this point I needed to be home in 75 minutes, with about an hour of driving ahead of me. I still needed to make five purchases on my debit card. Ah, another McDonalds, perfect! “Yes, one fruit and yogurt parfait please,” I said. “That’ll be $1.06.” Six purchases down, four to go.

At this point I was passing my local Starbucks. “The usual?” “Nah, just the holiday gingerbread, please.” $2.40 later, seven purchases down, three to go. I was running out of options… and time!

Hey, look, a gas station! A pack of gum cost 89 cents. Of course it was too good to be true, since the attendant tried to argue with me over the posted $10 credit card minimum. I reminded him that this violated their merchant contract. Seemingly not knowing what I was talking about, he rolled his eyes and said “fine.” Eight purchases down, two to go.

Hey, look, a Walgreens! Mmm, Sno-Caps. A little over a dollar later, nine purchases down, one to go. Right across the street from Walgreens is a Subway. I do love Subway’s cookies. “Yes, two cookies please.” And with that, purchase ten was complete.

All in all, the hotel cost me just under $55, I got a $50 Costco refund, and I spent maybe $20 on the debit cards to earn a total of 250,000 miles.

Not a bad afternoon! And for the record, most of the pastries/donuts/cookies are still sitting in my kitchen. Nonetheless, this would probably be a good time to hit the gym.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. @Erik didn’t need to live near a Suntrust, Frugal Travel Guy had things set up with a local Suntrust for out of town blog readers to open accounts…

    @Alex that’s almost enough for lucky to fly TPA-ATL roundtrip! (in coach)

  2. How did you get 10 cards for Suntrust? Did you open 2 business accounts? I thought the limit was 5 cards per account.

  3. Ben: correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the T&C’s of the SunTrust offer state that the 25K bonus miles come after the first purchase you have to sign for (rather than any purchase at all)?

    Hilarious post. I sure hope I’m wrong.

  4. @ Erik — As Gary says, you can open an account regardless of where you live through Gary’s contacts at the Hilton Head Island SunTrust branch.

    @ Gary — ROFL!!!! Actually *hoping* for one trip in V Australia business class and one roundtrip to London in Delta’s new(ish) product… or maybe a trip on the AF A380 in business class out of IAD next summer, where there’s plenty of space, as much as I hate AF.

    @ Double D — Yes, two business accounts.

    @ Matthew — Hmm, hope I got this right. It is the first signature based purchase, though isn’t a signature based purchase any purchase where you don’t enter your PIN number? In other words, any purchase where you choose “credit” as opposed to “debit” on the machine? Or did I get that wrong?

  5. @Lucky: That’s a great question and I have no idea what the answer is.

    Anyone else have some thoughts on this?

  6. For those debit card transaction requirement, you could try supermarkets or C_V.Ss with self-checking machines. With ten bananas or ten cans of light and fat-free chicken broth you are done.

  7. @ lucky

    Wait… $20 for 250,000 miles? I thought there was a $55 fee per card, so wouldn’t it be $570?

  8. Wow! All of this and the privilege of 3,000 extra calories! Seems like a smart trade.

    Keep this up and you’ll look like Gary Leff! No wonder so many people whine about sitting in economy class . .. they’re just too damn large.

  9. I thought with the new banking legislation that merchants can now have a minimum purchase requirement? Not sure about that….

  10. A debit card transaction can theoretically clear as a “credit” transaction or as a “debit” transaction. Purchases submitted as a “credit” transaction should satisfy your “signature” requirement, even though a physical signature isn’t required in many states for small purchases (the amount varies by state and/or the merchant’s processor).

    Did the cashiers ask you “credit or debit?” If not, I’d suggest you check to see how the transactions went through, since in most cases merchants default to “debit” as the processing fees are lower. I’ve always thought that as long as you didn’t enter a PIN, it processed as a “credit” transaction, but now I’m not sure.

    @mark – you’re correct, the recent banking overhaul allows merchants to impose a minimum purchase requirement, I believe it’s $10. Not sure the provision is in effect yet.

  11. I’m a D E L T A cabin crew member and I must say, this is a creative way to get miles to “non-rev” !

    ~~Shanna in the ATL

  12. “and I spent maybe $20 on the debit cards to earn a total of 250,000 miles.”

    You meant 25,000 miles?

  13. @Craig

    I recently saw a merchant that had a sign that said “Minimum Purchase to use MasterCard/Visa is $5.”

    I E-mailed VISA with the contact info of the merchant, stating it was a violation of it’s merchant agreement; here is their reply:

    Thank you for contacting Visa. We value your business and appreciate your writing to clarify merchant practices.

    Visa has certain regulations that all merchants which accept Visa cards must follow. Visa merchants are not permitted to:

    ā€¢Minimum/Maximum ā€“ Debit
    Visa merchants in the U.S. are not permitted to establish minimum or maximum transaction amounts on debit card transactions, even on sale items.

    ā€¢Minimum/Maximum ā€“ Credit
    A new U.S. law (effective July 21, 2010) has gone into effect, which now allows retailers to establish a minimum purchase amount on credit card transactions. The minimum purchase amount must not exceed $10. This minimum purchase amount does not apply to transactions made with a debit card.

    ā€¢Visa merchants are not permitted to establish maximum transaction amounts on credit card transactions. However, some government agencies and institutions of higher education may establish a maximum purchase requirement on a credit card transaction.

    ā€¢Dishonored Check
    Visa merchants in the U.S. are not permitted to submit a Visa sales draft for a dishonored check.

    ā€¢Check Out Fees (Surcharges)
    In general, Visa merchants in the U.S. are not permitted to pass on the merchant’s transaction fee to the cardholder as a Visa “service charge,” “service fee,” or surcharge,” even on sale items. A merchant may offer a discount for cash, check, and, effective July 21, 2010, debit, credit or prepaid. However, the cardholder must be made aware of this prior to entering into the transaction.

    ā€¢No Amount on Sales Draft
    Visa merchants in the U.S. are not permitted to require a Visa cardholder to sign a sales draft that does not have a specific amount indicated.

    ā€¢Supplemental ID or Information
    U.S. merchants may not refuse to honor a Visa card simply because the cardholder refuses a request for supplementary information or Identification.

    Please notify the disputes area of the financial institution that issued your card of any merchant practices that you feel are inappropriate. Your card issuing bank has access to the appropriate Visa rules and regulations as well as to the Visa complaint forms, which should be used by your bank to document and file merchant complaints. It is not necessary for your bank to be the offending merchant’s financial institution in order to file a complaint for you.

    As an alternative, to report merchant practices that you feel are inappropriate, you may wish to contact the Visa Global Customer Care Services at 1-800-VISA-911 (1-800-847-2911) or go to our website at When calling, please advise the representative that you were referred to file a complaint. The staff will be able to initiate a complaint form over the phone.

    We hope this information proves helpful and thank you for writing.

    Visa Webmaster

  14. @Matthew – I don’t really see how you can argue with how generally unhealthy this “productive” afternoon was . . . typical FlyerTalker sloth.

  15. BUT did you use the mypanera card too? Works differently than most loyalty cards, they keep surprising you with free items, $ off items, etc. I am actually typing this from a Panera right now (as I am in one almost every day) drinking a free coffee…and of course it comes with free refills….and free wifi:-)

  16. Great post Ben. Now we need the corresponding report about redemption of the Pesos.

    To prove to your readers that you are the guru we all think you are how about a report on getting 2 business class seats on either Jet ( to india via bru), V Australia to JNB via Syd or Mel, or Korean to anywhere from the US.

    For thanksgiving me and the mrs flew Alaska and Korean business SFO-SEA-YVR-ICN-MNL and back for only 120k ea. Korean was very nice and I think this is just about as good as it gets with the pesos.

  17. for debit/credit cards, next time had to the gas station. $1 worth on each card at the pump…. at 10 cards that’d be $10. Also used that technique for the Chase accounts that required 5 purchase/month to waive acct fee (though only one local chain would permit 5 pur in a row w/same card; otherwise it’s usually 2 transactions per card, then on to the station next door).

  18. Sounds like more effort than is required! I always make small payments towards my monthly cable bill to reach required transaction limits.

  19. Lucky, I have the Chase Continental debit card that requires 5 purchases per month, so I usually go to a grocery store with a self checkout and make 5 separate purchases to satisfy the requirment, in increments of $2 if possible.

  20. Only 3h to do the tasks. Did that include writing this up?
    I would suggest going to a gas station and fill up your car with all your 10 cards. $2 on each and you’ll be done in 10 minutes.

  21. @Robb: That part of your post wasn’t my concern–it was the attack on Gary and your previous attacks on Ben–come on, you’re better than that…

  22. @Lucky: re: those goodies you got with all those card swipes . . . it looks like you got pi for your grande sweetened ice coffee with non-fat milk. ; )

  23. I assume all of these debit cards are in your business names and an authorized users name as well? There isn’t an issue with you personally using them? I’m waiting for my 5 cards currently and need to do the purchases, so I’m curious.

  24. Hey Lucky,

    You might have an interesting weekend flying next weekend if you are coming to the Northeast. Friday will have some light snow and Sunday is being forecasted as either a major rainstorm or a Nor’easter snowstorm depending on the storm track. Prime bump conditions!!

  25. You can also split up gas purchases to get multiple transactions (unless you live in NJ and someone else is pumping your gas, because that gets REALLY awkward…)

    I generally do the grocery store self-checkout thing.

  26. “Oh, I ainā€™t never seen one of them before.ā€

    Ha ha.
    I am back on Sweet Dilemma this weekend for IC AMS and LON

  27. Well, this was quite a post w/ 40+ comments (I know, I’m just adding to the madness). You have quite the blog followers. You should thank us! šŸ˜›

    This is most definitely the best blog on Boarding Area (along with Gary’s blog – that is also wonderful). It’s a shame that the other blogs aren’t as good, but then again the addiction to this blog is quite distracting enough (I seem to be checking every hour for a new post or follow-up comments). Keep up the fun posts like this Lucky!

  28. Haha, very nice writeup, i loved it. One quick question though. you had 2 business accounts, with 5 authorized users each to make 10 debit cards. Did you have to provide the ssn and birthdate of the additional users? or did you just use your dogs name and various spelling of your own name, with fake birthdays and 4 random numbers for the ssn?

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