How to feed the hungry and fly for free

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UPDATE 12/1/2014: The offer that this deal was based on has expired earlier than advertised. The advertised offer said that code RR57 was good until December 31, but it turns out that the code actually expired 11/30/2014.  I will report back once a new, working code is found.

Southwest Airlines has, in my opinion, the single best deal in the travel industry: earn 110,000 points in one calendar year and they’ll give you a Companion Pass good for the rest of that year and all of the next year.

One way to earn Southwest points quickly is through 1-800-Flowers.  1-800-Flowers is currently offering a promotion in which they’ll award 1500 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for each purchase of $29.99 or more in which the code RR57 is applied.

In addition to flowers, 1-800-Flowers offers various types of gift baskets. Some baskets contain food, such as fruits and nuts.  It so happens that these are exactly the types of foods that are in high demand by charitable organizations that feed the hungry.  Towards this end, I’ve been working  with a great local charity: Food Gatherers.  Together, we’ve selected baskets that are a good fit for feeding the hungry, and have developed a process that can be used to donate food.

In this post, I’ll show how you can use the 1-800-Flowers deal to earn 110,000 points and a Companion Pass and help feed the hungry through Food Gatherers.  Of course, you can donate to any cause you’d like, but the instructions below are specific to Food Gatherers.

Background details

  • 1-800-Flowers is running a promotion in which they are offering 1500 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for each purchase of $29.99 or more.  You must use code RR57 at checkout to qualify.
  • If you plan to earn miles by shopping at 1-800-Flowers I highly recommend signing up for their Passport program (found here).  For $29.99, you’ll get free shipping for a year.  You can stack deals by going through a portal to purchase this, and you can pay for Passport with a gift card.
  • With free shipping (thanks to Passport) and a $30 1-800-Flowers order, using code RR57, you will earn 50 points per dollar (1500 points / $30).
  • The Southwest Companion Pass requires earning 110,000 points within one calendar year.  Once achieved, the companion pass is good for unlimited flights booked with points or cash for the rest of that calendar year and all of the following year.  Purchase one ticket with cash or points and add a companion for free.
  • The best timing for earning the Companion Pass is to earn the 110,000 points as early as possible within a calendar year in order to use the pass for almost two full years.
  • The easiest way to earn the Companion Pass is to sign up for two 50K Southwest Airlines credit card offers (found here, when available).  That will give you nearly all of the required points once you meet the minimum spend requirements for those cards.  Currently, each offer requires $2,000 spend.  If you signup now and complete all $4K spend after your December statement closes (or in early January), then you’ll get 104K Southwest points in January, so you’ll only need 6,000 more points to get the Companion Pass.
  • This 1-800-Flowers offer can be used either to get the Companion Pass from scratch with 74 separate orders, or better yet, can be used to get the additional points you need if you have another way to earn points (such as the credit card offers mentioned above).  If you go the credit card route and need 6,000 additional points, you would only have to place four 1-800-Flowers orders to get 6,000 points.

Caution: your miles may vary

As I reported at length in a previous post (Gifting your way to a Southwest companion pass. Experiments in progress), I think I know how this 1-800-Flowers promotion will work, but my tests to-date have yet to fully confirm my assumptions.  The advice in this post assumes that my understanding of the promotion is correct.  There is always a chance that some details are incorrect so there is some risk of not receiving all of the points expected or, more likely, not receiving them when expected.

Sign up for Passport and Fresh Rewards

Before placing orders at 1-800-Flowers, make sure to sign up for their Passport program which costs $29.99 for a year of free shipping.  You can go through a cash back portal to 1-800-Flowers to buy this and get up to 20% cash back (find current portal offers here).  Also, make sure to sign up for their Fresh Rewards program which will give you credit towards free future purchases.

When to order, and when to deliver

When you use a promo code such as RR57, 1-800-Flowers awards points based on the date of delivery, not the date of purchase.  So, if your goal is to earn the Southwest Companion Pass this year, you should place your orders right away for delivery as soon as possible.  If your goal is to earn the Southwest Companion Pass early next year (which I highly recommend), then you can place your order any time this year for delivery in January.

If you plan to ship the baskets to Food Gatherers, please follow these suggestions:

  • Schedule packages to arrive Monday through Thursday.  Avoid holidays, including the day before a holiday.
  • If you plan to donate before Christmas, please schedule the package to be delivered no later than Monday, December 22.
  • For a 2015 delivery, I’d recommend scheduling deliveries for January 5th or later.

What to order

To get the most bang for your buck (AKA points per dollar), each order should be as close as possible to $29.99, but not less.  And, Food Gatherers has requested that we send fruit and nuts, but not candy or cookies.  Towards that end, we’ve identified two perfect candidates:

Arbor Harvest Fruit Collection

Product Code:93055. Deluxe size. $29.99.

FruitBasket

Vintage Pressed Glass Jar with Jumbo Cashews

Product Code:93597. $29.99.

Cashews

 

How many orders?

The number of orders you place depends upon your goals.  If you want to donate enough to get a Companion Pass in one fell swoop, then you’ll need to place 74 separate orders.

You can calculate the number of orders you need to place by taking the number of points you need and dividing by 1500.  For example, if you need 6000 points, you can calculate the number of orders as follows:

6000 points required / 1500 points per order = 4 orders

If the calculated number is not a whole number, round up to the next nearest whole number.

Taxes

According to my accountant, donations to Food Gatherers as described here are tax deductible at the price paid.  The fact that the donor will receive miles for the purchase, in his opinion, is not relevant.  Critically, the points would come from 1-800-Flowers, not from Food Gatherers.  That is, Food Gatherers would be able to honestly report that they did not give the donor anything of value in exchange for the gift. Of course, you should check with your own tax advisor for your situation.  Keep in mind that tax deductions are different from tax credits.  Unlike a tax credit, if you spend $30 on an order it will not reduce your tax burden by $30.  The exact amount that it helps reduce your tax burden depends upon many factors that are unique to your tax situation.

Costs and benefits

Let’s assume you take the extreme approach and place 74 orders for delivery in early January.  And, arbitrarily, let’s assume that you’ll save 25% of the cost of each order from your future taxes.

Here are your expected costs:

  • Purchase Passport plan for free shipping: $29.99 – 20% portal rebate = $23.99
  • Place 74 orders at $29.99 each: $2,219.26
  • Deduct $2,219.26 in donations from taxes. At 25% tax savings: –$554.82
  • Total cost: $1688.43

In addition to helping to feed the hungry, you will get:

  • 111,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points worth approximately $1698 in airfare.  This is based on my estimated Southwest point valuation of 1.53 cents per point (found here).
  • The Companion Pass can effectively double the redemption value of the points earned since each flight you take using points can include a free companion.  Of course, you might not use all of your points under these ideal conditions.  For example, sometimes you might fly alone or with more than two people.  Or, you might not use all of your points while the Companion Pass is still active.  So, let’s assume that the Companion Pass is worth half of the value of the points: $849.
  • Total estimated benefit: $2547

As you can see, without accounting for the value of your time, the total estimated benefit outweighs the costs even before considering the amount of good done by feeding the hungry!  In fact, this is true even if you do not take a tax deduction!

Ordering and donation instructions

Here’s how to order fruit or nuts and donate to Food Gatherers:

1. Browse to 1-800-Flowers and find the appropriate food items, or click through from here to: Arbor Harvest Fruit Collection or Vintage Pressed Glass Jar with Jumbo Cashews.

2. Log into your 1-800-Flowers account.

3. Order a single $29.99 item and ship it to:

Katie Bye
Food Gatherers
1 Carrot Way
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Phone: 734-761-2796

4. Under location type, select “Business”.

image

5. Schedule delivery based on when you want the points applied to your account.  Please see the section above titled “When to order, and when to deliver.

6. Save the address to your 1-800-Flowers address book to expedite your repeat orders.

7. Enter your name in the Card Message box.  For example, if your name is Jane Doe, you could enter: “Donation to Food Gatherers from Jane Doe”.

image

8. DON”T FORGET to enter the promo code!  On the final check-out screen, make sure to enter the RR57 promo code and your Southwest Rapid Rewards number.  If you don’t already have a Southwest loyalty program number, you’ll have to signup for one first.

1800Flowers_Enter_Promo_Code

9. Verify that the promo code was accepted.  You should see text saying something like “Promotion code RR57 ( SOUTHWEST AIRLINES ) has been applied to your order.”

10. Repeat all of the above for each order you want to place.

11. Send gift message to Food Gatherers once packages have been delivered (if you want a gift receipt).  I’d recommend setting up a calendar alert to remind you to do this. Once the deliveries have been made, send an email to Food Gatherers (info@foodgatherers.org), with details of your donation and your name and address.  This way, they can send you a donation receipt for tax purposes.  Here’s an example:

Please accept my donation of 74 boxes of fruit sent separately via 1-800-Flowers, and delivered on January 6th 2015. Sincerely Jane Doe, 123 Cashew Way, Somewhere City, CA 12345.

Note: I realize that the above steps can be overwhelming, especially if you intend to place 74 orders!  Please consider this carefully before deciding to go for it!

What can go wrong

This is far from a risk-free deal.  Here are some things that I can think of that could go wrong:

  • 1-800-Flowers might stop selling fruit and nuts at the $30 price point.  They might run out of stock or decide to raise prices, or whatever. The worst case would be if this happens half way through placing your orders.
  • 1-800-Flowers might stop allowing promo codes with the fruit and nut orders.
  • 1-800 Flowers might not award points for deliveries in 2015.  The current promotion ends on December 31st 2014. Despite the fact that at least four different 1-800-Flowers employees told me that we would definitely earn points if we make the purchase in 2014 for delivery in 2015, they could be wrong.  You could eliminate that risk by having the food delivered this year, but then you wouldn’t be able to maximize the Companion Pass benefit.  If you earn the Companion Pass in late 2014, it would be usable for only one year rather than two.
  • 1-800-Flowers could mess up and fail to award points.  Several readers have said that with past promotions they had to call to get their points awarded.  I can just imagine the phone call now… “Hi, I placed 74 separate orders using a promo code, but haven’t yet received the points…”
  • This might prove to be more work than expected.  Not only will it be a lot of work to place 74 orders, but things can go wrong at any point after that as well.  Keeping track of the orders and handling problems, could become a big job.

My Approach

I’ve thought about doing this myself, but realized that I don’t fly Southwest often enough to make it worthwhile.  Instead, I plan to run a contest to find someone who could really use those 110,000 points and a Companion Pass (details to be published in a future post). Once I pick someone, I’ll order 74 boxes of fruit and/or nuts and schedule delivery to Food Gatherers for early January.  I’ll use the contest winner’s Southwest Rapid Rewards number when I checkout.  In this way, if all goes well, the contest winner should get 111,000 points and a Companion Pass!

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