Things rich people will do with their credit cards…

…for a free airline ticket.
This was the topic last night, as I sat al fresco at a function with a college batchmate and her husband, who also went to the Ateneo but who was a couple of batches ahead of us. This couple loves to travel and so, naturally, the topic was about places to go and places we’ve been.
“Come Travelife with us to Malaysia then,” I said to them. We’re organizing a group to Malaysia for a weekend this May 18-20, which is literally a 3D2N package and therefore pretty do-able. The group leaves early Friday morning and returns late Sunday night, and it’s basically two nights at a very nice hotel in Malacca with a stop in KL on the way back. US$650 inclusive of airfares, breakfasts, two dinners, one lunch and most tours.
“Why Malaysia?” They asked me.

The answer is simple. Lots of people have never been to Malaysia even if it’s so near the Philippines — and that’s probably because many people take it for granted as being pretty similar to the Philippines. So they’d rather go elsewhere like the States, Europe, or even Hong Kong or Bangkok.
But in reality, Malaysia is about 50 years ahead of us, and it’s got an interesting complex culture, great shopping, super good food, and some pretty fascinating UNESCO World Heritage sites. Malacca is one of these UNESCO sites.
And don’t get me started about the shopping, because every clothing item that I’ve bought in Malaysia and worn in Manila has gotten rave reviews. Maybe the Malaysian psyche or that conservative fashion with a colorful flair suits me; but so far all my Malaysian outfits have been great successes. In fact I wore another long dress that I’d bought last year in KL to our Czech opera night, and so many people asked me where I’d gotten it. Bought in Malaysia, Truly Asia.
Anyway, back to our travel discussion with my college friends last night. They’re taking their whole family to the States next month, you see, and it’s all courtesy of a major financial firm that launched a travel campaign that enabled people to accumulate points by charging expenses to their credit cards, and then to exchange these points for airline tickets in anyone’s name — all in addition to mileage points earned on their regular mileage programs.

Apparently, this campaign literally took a certain segment of the population by storm, so that everyone — even very wealthy people who can well afford to just buy tickets…or should I say, especially the very wealthy people who can well afford to just buy tickets? — was frantically charging expenses to their credit cards and accumulating the points for tickets.
It’s funny how people just love freebies. I guess it’s human nature. Because I was told last night that so many people literally made a full-time career out of creatively charging stuff to their credit card just to get the precious points within the time frame for the promo.
To get one point, you needed to charge at least PhP10,000 in one go, and xx number of points plus a certain credit card status level got you a certain kind of airline ticket. That’s not very easy for a lot of people, but it is for a certain segment — especially if you’re creative about it.

How did people charge enough PhP10,000 expenses to collect points for airline tickets? So many people were able to get a serious amount of tickets so I hear Manila is literally going to be a ghost town this summer.
One family got 28 tickets to Europe, while another got 18 tickets to the States. Still, another friend made enough charge points to bring 20 people to London.
Even my friend last night who’s bringing his whole family to the States for a five-week holiday has five kids. With his wife included, that’s seven free tickets. Wow. That’s all major, major credit card charging — if you think about xx number of points X PhP10,000 x 28 persons, for instance.
Some of the expenses were legitimate and so the credit card holders were lucky. For example, some people got their tickets by paying hospital bills for a hospitalized relative on a daily basis. Others were building houses or refurbishing homes for businesses, so they got to charge tiles, wooden flooring, kitchen sinks and window panes to their credit cards and get air tickets in return. And, of course, some just really spent a lot of money — on travel, fine dining, or shopping.
Other expenses were still legit but quite creative — meaning they required a bit of effort to do but they weren’t unethical. Last night I’d heard about a guy who had four cars and who would load gas into his cars all in one go, just so he could charge at least PhP10,000 for gas at one time. I guess he had at least three drivers for his four cars, as I heard he would line up his four cars at the gas station once a week.
Still, others bought gift certificates from retailers to give as gifts or to keep for the future (one of the most popular places to buy gift certificates in advance was at a popular grocery wholesaler chain), and the advance purchases charged to their cards got them the points for the free tickets. Not a few also charged gambling activities to their credit cards and got the free travel.
Finally, the urban legend about the guys who own SME companies with credit card terminals, who took turns swiping each other’s terminals for “purchases” in a I’ll-swipe-yours-and-you-can-swipe-mine tit-for-tat exchange that enabled them to rack up serious points by swiping PhP10,000 on each other’s terminals without any money actually being exchanged. I personally don’t know anyone who did this, but Manila is rife with stories about such guys and how they are now fully loaded with airline tickets.

Once the points were accumulated, though, the redemption process was the next challenge. Towards the end of the promo, I was told that it was just completely crazy. My friends from last night redeemed their points on the last day of the promo and they’d woken up at 4 AM to get to the airline office by 5 AM and line up for the redemption.
Yes, 5 AM. And once they got to the building, the wife literally jumped out of the car and ran in case someone got their ahead of her. And guess what number they were at 5 AM? Something like #120.
Apparently, #1 in the line had been there from 9 PM the previous night and he’d just done an overnighter. “But I think the guy just sent his driver, and then he showed up in the morning,” my friend said.
“But here’s the funny part,” the wife added. “It was suddenly announced that early morning that only people with actual credit card documents could line up. And this was at 5 AM. So all the drivers and household staff who had just been sent to line up early by their employers without any documents had to leave the line. I could see them frantically texting at 5 AM. I guess they were texting their sleeping employers.”
She continued: “Can you imagine what would have happened if the airline hadn’t put in that policy? I would have probably been #230 at 5 AM.”
The husband added: “The other funny thing is that aside from the drivers, you knew all the other people lining up. Everyone was there. I saw my old classmates from college, and some of them had been there since 3 AM.”
I was so entertained by this discussion — and the extent that (some) rich people will go for an airline ticket. Of course. It seems everyone indeed loves a freebie. Good night.