Friday, 16 January 2004





Many thanks to ARTA - the Association of Retail Travel Agents - for passing this tip on to me (and therefore on to you, too).  ARTA - and its member travel agencies - are always going the extra mile to look out for opportunities for their traveler clients.  Make sure you buy your travel through an ARTA agency.

As you know, very rarely I come across a deal so special that it justifies a special newsletter mailing. Here's one such situation.

The Wall St Journal had an article yesterday about buying gift cards that presents as a marvelous mileage earning opportunity, basically giving you a chance to repeatedly earn multiples of 2500 miles, with only a few dollars in trivial fees associated with each 2500 mile block.

Normally, miles are worth at least 2 or more each, so every 2500 miles means you're getting $50+ worth of miles for probably less than $5.

If you don't subscribe to the Wall St Journal, it is probably worth the price of the subscription.  Here's a quick summary :

Step 1 :  Buy one (or more than one) gift cards from  Pay for these cards with a Visa or Mastercard that gives you frequent flier miles for all your purchase

Step 2 :  Use your gift cards to get money orders at the Post Office. (See note 5 below)

Step 3 :  Use the money orders to pay off your credit card balance.

Step 4 :  Go back to step one and repeat, as often as you can.


I've just done step one myself, and - so far - it seems to work.

Update :  I've now received the first of the five $500 cards I purchased on 16 January.  I took it to the Post Office and, in return for a 70 fee, they issued me a $500 money order and charged it to my debit card.  The debit card charged me $1 for using it, so I had the Post Office charge the card $499, and I gave them $1.70.  So, the cost to me for 500 miles - something you'd normally pay $10 - 13 for and feel good about, was a mere $1.70.  Marvelous!

Now for some cautionary and explanatory notes.

Note 1 :  Don't use American Express to pay for these gift cards.  American Express treat these purchases as cash advances and charge you a fee for buying them.  The cost of the fee probably outweighs the value of the miles.

Note 2 :  You can buy a maximum of five cards a time, with a maximum value of $500 per card. I bought five $500 cards just now. I'll buy five more after the first five arrive in the mail and have been cashed in.  And so on.

Note 3 :  Because some people have been, ahem, 'abusing the system' and buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cards, Charter One is limiting the number of miles you earn.  It is not clear exactly what this limit is., but it is probably okay to buy about $5000 worth a month.  Keep a careful eye on whether you continue to earn miles from these purchases or not.

Note 3 Update :  Charter One is now limiting you to purchasing a maximum of $5000 worth of cards each month.

Note 4 :  Your Visa or Mastercard issuer may possibly start adding cash advance charges to these transactions, too, when they wise up to what is going on.  Best strategy - if possible, ask your Visa/Mastercard company to lower your cash advance limit down to zero.  That way, if they start charging cash advance fees on these purchases, you'll be automatically protected and your purchases won't go through any more.

Note 5 :  One person reported that their local Post Offices will not (or can not) accept debit cards as payment for money orders.  Perhaps this policy and capability is a bit inconsistent.  I had no problems, and the WSJ article treats it as a normal given fact that of course the Post Office will do this.  But if you have problems, try going to a 7-11 or a supermarket or some other place that issues money orders at low cost.  And, if all else fails, just withdraw the cash out of the card at an ATM.

Read more in the WSJ article and on the Charter One website.  But it seems good to me, and I'm delighted to have suddenly got another 2500 miles, apparently for free.

Should I point out that you only need about 50,000 miles to get a free ticket to Europe.  Use these miles to buy your airfare and join our May tours!

Until next week and the normal newsletter, please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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