Drawing the line


Ever since I began posting tricks for earning points and miles people have approached me with schemes involving buying and returning merchandise.  The idea is usually to go through an online portal to buy merchandise and collect lots of points.  Then, return the items in a way that prevents the merchant from clawing back the awarded points.  Sometimes the tricks are simpler: buy items with one credit card and return for cash or credit to a different card so that the earned credit card points don’t get withdrawn.  I’ve never tried these tricks and I’ve never published them.  The reason?  For me, earning points this way crosses the line.  My line.

Everybody has a line that they won’t cross.  For some people, double dip techniques I often write about are across the line — their line.  Others happily take things much further.  As long as people aren’t breaking the law, I don’t think badly of them for drawing the line beyond where I do.  And, I hope that those who think I step over the line don’t think badly of me.

I don’t have a set rule for where to draw the line.  Basically, if it feels wrong to me, I won’t do it.  There’s also my exterior conscience – my wife.  Every now and then there is something that seems OK to me, but not to my wife.  In those cases I’ll refrain from stepping over her line.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • When Radisson first held its 50K promotion (earn 50K points after one night stay), I signed up my entire family… and my dog.  My intent was to book cheap Radisson stays from each person’s (and dog’s) account and then check-in just for the points.  My wife was very clear about this one: humans are OK, dogs are not.  She’s not usually one to discriminate against dogs, so I respected her opinion.  Our Lhasa Apso has a Club Carlson account, but has never booked a stay.  I don’t know how he feels about missing out on 50,000 points.  He doesn’t talk about it.
  • A few weeks ago, Million Mile Secrets (MMS) set off a firestorm by posting a way for non-elites to enter the elite security lines at airports.  Many readers were appalled and took MMS to task for advocating an unethical line-cutting technique. Others defended MMS and pointed out that this was no different than taking advantage of other travel related loopholes such as credit card churning, status matching, etc. To be honest, I thought his technique was great.  I saw it as a great way to get into shorter lines.  I didn’t think that anyone would be harmed in any meaningful way.  My wife, on the other hand, saw it differently.  To her, this was a clear, unconscionable, violation of rules.  End of discussion.  Back to the long line for me.

When I think about the difference between my line and my wife’s, I see a clear difference in philosophy.  The reason I don’t like schemes that involve returning stuff is that those schemes hurt the vendors.  The vendors incur many costs without any benefit: they cover portal fees, shipping & handling, credit card processing fees, and whatever costs are involved in handling returns. In return for all of that, they get nothing.  On the other hand, booking a room in my dog’s name does no harm (at least no proximal harm).  And, switching to the fast security lane does no harm except maybe to delay a couple of elite travelers by a few seconds.  In fact, it probably helps more people than it hurts (by shortening the longer security line).  In other words, I think that my line is drawn primarily by a judgment call about the outcome: does it hurt anyone?  My wife’s line, though, may be drawn by the rules: is it breaking any rules? 

So, given all of that rambling, the line I now draw can be described as “do no harm and break no rules.”  In truth, though, I don’t analyze each opportunity in this way.  I simply decide whether it feels right to me, and whether or not I should tell my wife Winking smile.

What about you?  Where do you draw the line?

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. Nice trick keep it to yourself and delete this article if you want it to continue working. You wonder why great deals disappear.

    Benjamin Franklin realized modesty can only be achieved by not becoming noticed for ones modest characters.

    We all want to be fawned over but all you did is piss a bunch of people off who deserve to be pissed.

  2. Sorry meant to post to Original Author of that cheap trick. Thanks for reminding people of the externalizes greed places on others.

  3. Just started to read your posts this month, it’s very interesting, thanks for writing all those blogs. I started this game only because I have to go home to see my elder parents once a year and it has to be in summer, the flight tickets easily cost our family of 4 $7000 this year, last year it was $6000. Luckily my friend pointed me here and my goal is simply get all of us a free economy ticket in the summer of 2014.

    With that goal, I guess my line is not that loose. I kind of agree on your line but can’t go as aggressive as you are on monthly spending as well as card churning.

    No matter what, I love your posts, please keep it up!

  4. The high road always provides a better view. Integrity means doing the right thing whether anyone is watching or not. High regards for being brutally honest.

  5. I think what bothers me the most is this: A person or company has a line of their own and they try to impose THEIR lines or limits on ME. An example of this might be something like, “I cannot run 26.2 miles so I don’t think YOU should be able to do that either–because I cant.” That bugs me. I often say to these types of people: Don’t impose YOUR limits on ME. Impose them on you and I’ll consider whether it fits my needs or not. If you cant handle a thing, it doesn’t mean another person works the same way you do.
    I hope that makes sense.
    As for buy/return… I have done it, oh yes I have done it. I don’t actively seek it out any more–I mean if a store lets me and it comes up for something like say returning an item I really don’t need and they let me put it on another card like a debit card, then so be it. But I don’t think I will really do the Nordies and Costco thing again.

  6. I agree with your line, but draw another one. I can’t lie. Even a small lie. If I cannot be truthful completely then I have crossed my line.

  7. Integrity can go a long way these days. It is hard to keep posting about getting more and more miles but at the end of the day, it is good that you drew the line.

  8. FM,
    So you say that you describe the line as “…break no rules”. So how about buying VRs from CVS? Does CVS have a corporate policy not to allow customers to load VRs with a credit card? And if so, wouldn’t finding a CVS that let’s you load them with a CC encourage a CVS employee to break the rules, thereby you’d be indirectly breaking the rules? I’m not trying to corner you, I’m honestly trying to decide whether I should continue buying them to hit my Chase BA Visa minimum spend.

  9. Paul S: Nope, as far as I know, CVS does not have a corporate policy against loading VR with credit cards. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they explicitly allow it, but individual stores sometimes do not. So, this one seems fine to me!

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