Subscribe to Make Magazine Today!

2009-Native-American-Coin
Coins to Frequent Flier miles “hack” via DF.

Enthusiasts of frequent-flier mileage have all kinds of crazy strategies for racking up credits, but few have been as quick and easy as turning coins into miles.

At least several hundred mile-junkies discovered that a free shipping offer on presidential and Native American $1 coins, sold at face value by the U.S. Mint, amounted to printing free frequent-flier miles. Mileage lovers ordered more than $1 million in coins until the Mint started identifying them and cutting them off.

Coin buyers charged the purchases, sold in boxes of 250 coins, to a credit card that offers frequent-flier mile awards, then took the shipments straight to the bank. They then used the coins they deposited to pay their credit-card bills. Their only cost: the car trip to make the deposit.Richard Baum, a software-company consultant who lives in New Jersey, ordered 15,000 coins. “I never unrolled them,” he says. “The UPS guy put them directly in my trunk.” Patricia Hansen, a San Diego retiree who loves to travel, ordered $10,000 in coins from the Mint. “My husband took them to the bank,” Ms. Hansen says, and she earned


  • sam

    … 10,000 miles toward free or upgraded travel. (FTA)

  • stephen

    what i actually find interesting, is that this has been going on for years, and no-one noticed until now. there has been threads on the “deal sites” on how to do it since it was possible. people have also been doing it with “cash back” cards, which trully is free money.

  • Anon

    This is exploitative and unethical. It costs the government money to make and ship those coins, and they send them at no cost in order to encourage distribution of them, not exploitation of the system.

    This isn’t worthy of a maker. This is the kind of crap teenagers do. You should be ashamed to even post this.

  • Phillip Torrone

    @anon – posting about it this not “unethical” – it’s newsworthy and interesting.

  • Dirk

    But why is it newsworthy in Make’s blog?
    I don’t think it is, it’s not making, it’s thievery.

  • Phillip Torrone

    @Dirk – just my opinion… usually companies and governments rely on our bad math skills to take advantage of us – from credit card interest payments to the lottery. this was just math that benefited the customer (for one) no crime was committed according to the article, it was newsworthy and i thought it was interesting. knowing there are exploits for systems is helpful, i like reading “caper” novels, but that doesn’t mean i am going to rob a bank, it does help me solve unrelated puzzles however from time to time.

  • stunmonkey

    I love how certain people like Dirk have a double standard about business and math.

    If it is to the benefit of a corporation, it’s just plain good business, regardless of ethics, even if it is outright theft or misrepresentation.
    If it is to the benefit of an individual, its theft and should be illegal, even if it is completely within the stated rules.

    I had a neighbor like this who was pissed that it wasn’t illegal to work on my own car, as he thought changing the oil myself was ‘stealing’ from the dealership.

    Authoritarian turds don’t need to associate themselves with makers. The free will and thought parts are too scary for you. Go away Dirk.

  • Anon

    This is not a hack, but a way scamming a system. Who ultimately pays for this, YOU the tax payer.

    @PT. The man is out to get you with scary math? If you think that gov and biz rely on “our bad math skills” to essentially cheat us, you really need a reality check.
    What is your logic on the lottery? People have a minuscule chance of winning and if they knew that they wouldn’t play?

    This is not newsworthy as this is not a new idea. This is just a post saying “look the little guy found away to get a little money for himself at the expense of big brother/business (which is ultimately everyone).”

    @stunmonkey get a life. I seriously doubt your neighbor thinks anything other than “Great stunmonkey, is still working on the hunk of junk on his front lawn.” No one was being Authoritarian. Jump the gun much?

    • decoycatfish

      ok one more post…as for the poor math skills & lotto…

      http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1022757_cool_cash_card_confusion

      So yeah, lotto uses scary math or hope/hopelessness. or a combination of the two.

      Or you’re like me and feel its your civic duty to pay your poor tax twice a week >_>

    • RC

      Yes, the taxpayer is paying for this. Therefore, it is a stupid system (free-shipping on CASH) that should not have existed. End of story. I’m no more upset that people took advantage of it than I am that such an idiotic government program existed at all.

    • Dirk

      I don’t think I’m missing the point. The magazine is about making (“Make: The risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things…), so the blog should be about making, too.

      If this rip off (is there really anyone who argues that it is one?) is making for you, so it is. But to me it’s plainly the opposite.

  • Phillip Torrone

    “@PT. The man is out to get you with scary math? If you think that gov and biz rely on “our bad math skills” to essentially cheat us, you really need a reality check. What is your logic on the lottery? People have a minuscule chance of winning and if they knew that they wouldn’t play?”

    yes, in general we take advantage of each other, planet earth, population us. casinos, lottery, credit cards – bad at math? you suffer. it’s not scary math for me and like many people here. i wouldn’t say “the man” is out to get us, everyone is out to get each other. it’s how we thrived and got here as a species, i don’t expect it to end – if you have great math skills you’ll thrive, if you don’t you may be taken advantage of.

    i live a block away from a check cashing place, it’s cheaper and better to have a bank account but folks at the poverty level actually do not know this. these check cashing places are not illegal, although there are a lot of politicians that want to regulate them better so they can’t take advantage of some groups so often.

    the same folks that cash their checks, walk across the street and play the lottery, since i need to wait outside for packages from time to time, i talk to them about all this (if they decide to chat with me while i am hanging out). when they figure out the math involved with the lottery and how the check cashing places work they usually make immediate arrangements to alter their finances.

    if this “coin hack” were illegal, the folks would be arrested. they just took advantage of a multi-level marketing scheme, just like the airlines promote mult-level marketing schemes to extract more revenue from all of us. i’m cool with that, capitalism have more benefits than downsides it seems, at least for me it does.

    please be more constructive, post as yourself as opposed to “anon” if you’re going to insult people, thanks :)

  • japroach

    Is it normal for the government to use UPS to ship stuff? lol

  • decoycatfish

    @anon, dirk –

    when i read this post this morning i thought to myself, “decoy, how long before someone complains about this being posted? Not long, decoy. Not long”

    good lord, just because there wasn’t an arduino glued to the coins doesnt mean its not a “hack”

    • Simon

      I must admit my first thought was along the lines of Dirk. It’s not really a hack, it’s not making something, it’s exploiting the system and it’s a little unethical.

      I can’t imagine Make posting a way to get around free sample limits from say Microchip or posting a way to always get free shipping from the Makershed if there was some ‘hack’ that let people do that.

      Just because it’s ripping off the airlines/government/credit card companies doesn’t make it right.

      Saying that Make can post what they want, I don’t have to like it and things like this are good for interesting discussions. But it’s not worth getting your knickers in a twist over it :)

      • decoycatfish

        I think everyone is missing the point that make didnt point out how to get around free sample limits, or get free shipping, or anything that could be run currently. This post is about something that has already been happened, and fixed. Its interesting. Anyways, in my mind a hack is bending a system meant to do one thing in such a way that it does something different – doesn’t matter if its that circuit bent furbie or no cost FF miles. Maybe this post would be more at home on a more ‘social engineering’ centric blog like lifehacker – but not by much.

  • chris

    More exposure and the practice stops. I suppose it does cost the US govt and the money goes right into bank maybe defeating the purpose of circulating the coins? But it’s an interesting read. From what I understand other means of acquiring frequent flyer miles usually result in a interest rate from the credit card purchase? I wish it cost the credit card companies though rather than airlines and the govt.

  • anonymous

    Photoshopped, I’ve seen a lot of shops in my time. The shadows are all wrong and you can see the pixelation.

  • cde

    To take advantage of something and use it exactly how it was meant to be used. Next, jailbreaking your iPhone or opening up your computer is unethical cause the maker did not mean for you to use it how you will after paying for it.

  • Woody

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m not quite understanding the unethical tag. I just placed an order with Amazon and used my rewards credit card and got free shipping to boot. Is that unethical? (that’s a rhetorical question, it’s not unethical, it’s taking advantage of a freebie offered by my credit card company *and* a freebie offered by the merchant.. a two for one!… and they are both happy with the transaction as well).

    If you leave an old TV by the curb with a “free” sign on it and someone picks it up and sells it at a flea market for a profit, is that unethical? (that’s an actual question). I don’t think so, but maybe you could argue differently.

    If you find a collectible comic book at a yard sale for $1 and you buy it knowing you’ll get upwards of $1,000 for it, is that unethical? (again, a real question). Is this one more gray than the previous one? Would it make a difference if you only made $5?

    It seems to me that in this particular case, the fault lies more with the agency who made the offer for free shipping and no surcharge to cover the cost of the transaction. The people who took advantage of the offer for “hack” purposes didn’t cheat the credit card company (they get paid by the merchant as a percentage of the transaction). It’s rather obvious it’s a stupid offer. The Mint realized it was stupi and ended the offer (or at least placed limits on the offer).

    If it’s being judged unethical simply because it’s wasting taxpayer money, perhaps we should take a look at eliminating the penny…

  • alandove

    If you can buy cash as if it were a regular purchase, this would allow you to pay down high-interest credit card debts at the lower interest rates often given as promotional perks. Usually, the promotional rates apply only to purchases, not cash advances, but in this case you could turn one into the other – use your low promotional rate card to buy a bunch of dollar coins, deposit them at your bank, then write a regular check to pay off your higher-interest cards.

    Another option would be to use a “points” program that awards general-purpose points rather than frequent-flier miles for a specific airline. Run up a big tab of dollar coins on your American Express card, then convert the points into a Home Depot gift card (exchange rate: $0.01/point). Use that to buy tools and materials to fix up your house or make something cool.

    Of course, purchases usually don’t accrue any interest on a credit card until the next billing cycle, so you could also use this as a one-month interest-free loan. If you deposit the coins into an interest-bearing account, you’d clear a (small) profit margin.

    Note to all the haters who think this is some kind of taxpayer-robbing scam: spend a few minutes studying investment banking. The entire business model of the financial industry consists of using small disequilibria such as this to shave profits from other market players, including, in many cases, the government. It’s called capitalism.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone remember that deal wendy’s had three or four years ago where you could get a free round-trip ticket with 60 wendys cups?

    Back in undergrad four of us collected enough cups from one wendy’s dumpster to send all of us on free spring break trips to florida and california.

  • Michael Fusion

    sorry to come in so late, but i just wanted to point out that neither the bureau of engraving and printing nor the federal reserve bank are government entities. both are privately held businesses.

    thusly, taxpayers are not paying more for this workaround.

    also, it’s his blog. at least a few times people have complained that this or that wasn’t maker worthy. well, he can post what ever he wants to. i’m sure that if i had the opportunity that i would have done the same thing. and is it a hack in the truest sense of the word, there is no scam as there is no confidence given (hence con)

<<<<<<< HEAD ======= >>>>>>> parent of 8b2e674... Social share script and styles