Drawing the line

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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with one credit card and return for cash or credit to a different card so that the earned credit card points don’t get withdrawn.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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