This is a true story gone truly haywire for a not too brilliantly conceived marketing scheme by Healthy Choice in the US…
At this point, two things seem clear: It will be a very long timebefore David Phillips will have to pay for another airline ticket. Andit will be even longer before many poor and homeless people in theSacramento area will want to see another cup of chocolate pudding.
Phillips, a civil engineer at UC-Davis, has become a cult hero in theobsessive subculture of people who collect frequent-flier miles byparlaying $3,150 worth of pudding into 1.2 million miles. Oh, yeah -he’s also going to claim a $815 tax write-off.
Last May, Phillips was pushing his shopping cart down the frozen-foodaisle of his local supermarket when a promotion on a Healthy Choicefrozen entree caught his eye: He could earn 500 miles for every 10Universal Product Codes (bar codes) from Healthy Choice products hesent to the company by Dec. 31. Even better: Any bar codes mailed bythe end of the month would rack up double the mileage, or 1,000 milesfor every 10 labels.
“I started doing the math, and I realized that this was a great deal,”he said. “I wanted to take my family to Europe this summer, and thiscould be the way.”
Frozen entrees were about $2 apiece, but a few aisles away Phillipsfound cans of Healthy Choice soups at 90 cents each. He filled his cartwith them, and then headed to his local Grocery Outlet, awarehouse-style discount store. And there he hit the mother lode. “Theyhad individual servings of chocolate pudding for 25 cents apiece,” hesaid. “And each serving had its own bar code on it. I did some moremath and decided to escalate my plans.”
Phillips cleaned the store out-bought every last cup of pudding in thewarehouse. He then asked the manager for the addresses of all the otherGrocery Outlet in the Central Valley and, with his mother-in-law ridingshotgun in his van, spent a weekend scouring the shelves of every storefrom Davis to Fresno.
“There were 10 stores in all,” he said. “Luckily, most of them wereright off the freeway.” He filled his garage to the rafters withchocolate pudding and stacked additional cases in his living room. ButPhillips wasn’t finished yet – he had the manager of his local GroceryOutlet order him 60 more cases. “A few days later I went out behind thestore,” he said, “and there were two whole pallets of chocolate puddingwith my name on them.”
All in all, he’d purchased 12,150 individual servings of pudding.Around this time, Phillips began to reveal his scheme to fellow readersof the Webflyer Web site (www.flyertalk.com), where he posted anaccount under the name “Pudding Guy.” Phillips’ tale was met withskepticism, if not outright disbelief, until he uploaded photos of hishaul. They’re still there, at their internet address ofhttp://www.flyertalk.com/pudding.htm .
But then Pudding Guy discovered he had a problem on his hands: Thedeadlinefor earning double miles was quickly approaching, and there wassimply no way Phillips and his wife could tear off all those bar codesin time.
“I had to come up with something to do with all that pudding, fast” he said.
Phillips trucked the pudding to two local food banks and theSalvation Army,which agreed to tear off the bar codes in exchange forthe food donation.
“We’d never seen anything like it,” said Larry Hostetler, communityrelations director for the Sacramento Salvation Army. “We’ve gottensome big donations, but always from companies and institutions, notindividual people.”
Phillips got his bar codes in the mail in time to beat the deadline,and then held his breath. The promotion specifically said I could getthe miles for any Healthy Choice product,” he said. “But still, itseemed like there was a good chance they’d get me on sometechnicality.” But then packages – large packages – started arriving inthe mail from Healthy Choice. In all, they contained 2,506certificates, each good for 500 miles. That’s 1,253,000 miles.
Under the terms of the promotion, Phillips could have the mileageposted in any airline account. He split 216,000 between his United,Delta and Northwest accounts and posted the rest – 1,037,000 miles – tohis American Airlines account. By surpassing the million-mile mark,Pudding Guy now has Advantage Gold status for life, entitling him to aspecial reservations number, priority boarding, upgrades and bonusmiles. While we talked on the phone, Pudding Guy did a little math – asyou might have noticed by now, he’s very, very good at math – andfigured out that the scheme netted him enough miles for 31 round-tripcoach tickets to Europe, or 42 tickets to Hawaii, or 21 tickets toAustralia, or 50 tickets anywhere in the U.S.
“Wow – 31 trips to Europe for a little over $3,000,” I said.. “That’sless than $100 a ticket.” “Oh, it’s better than that,” Phillips said.”Since I gave the pudding to Charity, I can take a tax write-off of$815. So that brings the cost of a ticket to Europe down to $75.”
As it turns out, Pudding Guy didn’t donate all his stash to the foodbanks. He kept about 100 servings for himself, and he’s just aboutfinished them. “Actually,” he said, “I really like the stuff.”
San Francisco Examiner