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getting a good chuckle out of the vanilla reload freakout

2012-11-12 - 11:19 a.m.

I've been watching the latest gift card hustle with some amusement. To me, it is simply not worth the effort. You jump through a buncha hoops for the privilege of paying 8/10 cents a mile. If you calculate the value of your frequent flyer miles at about 1 cent a mile, which you should, unless you want to end up being one of the screamers who yells about never being able to redeem their miles for a fair price when they need it, then you can see that by the time you factor in gas (to chase the elusive "reload" cards in question), time you could spend doing other things, would make more money Craigslisting any random piece of junk in your house and banking the cash toward your next trip. And cash has the advantage of being flexible. But people mostly over-value their miles. They have forgotten to compare what they would have actually spent for what they got. Instead, they compare a badly inflated price that no one pays to their cost. I got a funny email from someone I won't name, saying he got a $40K trip to Hawaii for $1,500. I doubt I paid $1,500 for my trip to Hawaii, you know? And that's all it's worth to visit the epi-center of extinction. Beaches are everywhere and usually more convenient. For wildlife, Hawaii misses by a mile. So...they've become the bridge that everyone thinks they have to photograph because everyone else has photographed the bridge. Nobody's paying $40K for that. He should compare the most he was ever willing to pay for a similar vacation, and that's the value of the deal. But, if he does, chasing Vanilla Reloads becomes a waste of time and probably actually costs him money, compared to checking out airbnbs and the other non-chain hotel options. Which would, of course, also be a lot more interesting than staying in the overpriced chain...

So, perhaps I should stay out of the whole discussion, since I think it's a lot of group hysteria and a fine example of the madness of crowds. But, apparently, Office Depot has had enough of shady people buying Vanilla Reloads and giving them the appearance of being a friendly home for gift card fraud. So they have yanked the deal while they figure out what's so great about it that a legit person as opposed to an Oxycotin addict would be interested in buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of these cards. (Good luck with that, folks!) Result: Screaming, yelling, and throwing around of all sorts of blame.

One guy who gets a lot of blame, probably because he is a nice clear writer who provides clearly written information instead of time-wasting bullshit, is the guy behind Million Mile Secrets. After I skimmed some of the mud-flinging, I couldn't resist leaving this comment there:

You didnít do anything wrong, and it seems obvious that you are an open, honest person. People are superstitious because they have no clue what ďkillsĒ deals, and itís a sad comment on human nature that people find it natural to blame the person closest to them, in this case the community of bloggers without which they would not know the deals existed. I have said it before on FT and Iíll no doubt say it again ó blackjack was supposedly ďkilledĒ when Ed Thorp published The Mathematics of Gambling around 1960. Thatís why the most money ever made by card counters, in the millions upon millions of dollars from all the teams floating around, reached its peak four decades later, right? Heh. Information doesnít kill deals. Information makes it possible for more people to use the deals and bring attention to deals and promotions that would otherwise be mostly ignored.

IMHO gift card etc. deals in particular are not being killed by bloggers but by actual criminal activity. Gift cards scams have been underway for many a year, and itís obvious that most Flyertalkers and bloggerís problem is LACK of information. They do not know how to avoid the appearance of being involved in criminal activity. The emphasis on secrecy from some elements helps enhance the appearance of criminal activity. The people out in the light are not the ones killing the deals. No deal or promo lasts forever, but itís sure as heck not gonna last long if you give businesses the impression that they could get caught up in a federal investigation.

But, as a very general rule, Iíve found that most promotions end with the money budgeted toward that promotion runs out. If you donít slam the deal hard, another team or individual will. So there is an element that promotes secrecy because they want to grab all the cherries before you even know thereís an orchard.

Everyone's got a right to their own opinion, but I strongly suspect that my opinion is actually right...

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