Fifteen years ago there were hundreds of frequent flyers routing themselves from around the world to Central and South America for a series of flights on small airlines many had never heard of until booking tickets. All in a quest to earn a treasure trove of one million frequent flyer miles.
I opened a box of files on this Memorial Day weekend of May 2015 during a bout of spring cleaning to reveal the LatinPass News Vol. 4 No. 6 frequent flyer member newsletter from January 2000. The 12-page magazine quality color photo newsletter is printed in English in one direction and Spanish when the newsletter is turned over and viewed from the reverse side. Here are the cover page opening words:
The Bonus You Have Been Waiting For!
Start the millennium off right by earning any of the following LatinPass Bonus Miles while you enjoy the service of our airlines and partners.
- One Million Miles Bonus will be earned by any member who flies at least one international segment on each of the ten (10) LatinPass member airlines. Flies at least three (3) partner segments on any of our partner airlines (KLM, US Airways, TWA). Stays at least three (3) nights in at least any two of our partner hotels and rents a car for at least five (5) days from any of our Car Rental partners. FROM JANUARY 1 – JULY 1, 2000.
- Five Hundred Thousand Miles Bonus will be earned by any member who flies at least one international segment on at least six (6) LatinPass member airlines. Flies at least two (2) segments on any of our partner airlines (KLM, US Airways, TWA). Stays at least three (3) nights in any of our partner hotels and rents a car for at least three (3) days from any of our Car Rental partners. FROM JANUARY 1 – JULY 1, 2000.
- One Hundred Thousand Miles Bonus will be earned by any member who flies at least one international segment on at least three (3) LatinPass member airlines, one of which must be outside of Central America. Flies at least one (1) segments on any of our partner airlines (KLM, US Airways, TWA). Stays at least two (2) nights in any of our partner hotels and rents a car for at least two (2) days from any of our Car Rental partners. FROM JANUARY 1 – JULY 1, 2000.
Number One Reason to Register For Promotions ASAP
The LatinPass promotion garnered attention among a few thousand members in the FlyerTalk frequent flyer community in January 2000, including me. The LatinPass promotion gained national attention after a Wall Street Journal story broke in March 16, 2000 that recently famous David Phillips, aka Pudding Guy from Davis, California had completed the million miles requirements. The LatinPass promotion was closed for new registrants on March 20, 2000.
Pudding Guy picked up more than 1,253,000 frequent flyer miles after he purchased 12,150 containers of 25-cent Healthy Choice Chocolate Pudding from grocery outlets around Sacramento, California. The pudding scheme story first appeared when Pudding Guy himself posted his story on FlyerTalk in December 1999. So within a month or so of his fame as Pudding Guy with talk show appearances and more, it was travel news when the WSJ story came out that he had embarked on another million miles scheme with LatinPass. In the story, Guy Booth, CEO of LatinPass mentions he thinks 40 or 50 people are going for one million miles.
The story of one LatinPass millionaire
With six months to fulfill the Latinpass promotion, I planned one trip to South America and Central America to fulfill the conditions for five hundred thousand bonus miles in March 2000. That trip took me from Miami to Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and back to Miami. In one week. I had a teaching job in northern California I was able to squeeze a few days off work for the LatinPass travel.
After the first trip I returned to South America in May 2000 flying to Quito, Ecuador on American Airlines frequent flyer miles in Business Class and then flying to Lima, back to Quito where the police questioned me why I had flown to Lima in the morning and back to Quito and was boarding a plane back to Lima again, with all three flights on the same day?
I handed over the LatinPass News with the Spanish language version face-up. Neither police officer bothered to read it.
In truth, I was back on the plane to Lima that night to connect to a flight to Cuzco the next morning. That flight would qualify as my tenth LatinPass member airline flight segment.
In the end, after more flights and hotel nights, I earned one million Latin Pass bonus miles, which posted to my account around September 2000.
Those one million miles funded dozens of vacation weeks with free hotel rooms at Hilton Hotels. Each month 30,000 LatinPass miles were converted into 60,000 Hilton HHonors points. Every two months we had 100,000 Hilton HHonors points to spend for six nights at nearly any Hilton Hotel worldwide. There were only a handful of higher category 6 hotels at 125,000 points for six nights in 2000.
LatinPass attempted to block all miles transfers to Hilton HHonors in February 2001, ultimately rescinded that blanket restriction and limited transfers to Hilton HHonors to 30,000 miles per month. Marriott Rewards also allowed transfers of miles into points at 1 mile = 2 points, but Marriott Rewards stopped miles-to-points transfers at the end of 2000.
LatinPass miles could be redeemed for TWA, US Airways and KLM flight awards at the time and for flights on LatinPass member airlines.
TWA Flight Awards with LatinPass miles
- USA to Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean, Mexico Business Class 60,000 miles
- USA to Europe Business Class 80,000 miles
US Airways Flight Awards with LatinPass miles
- USA to Bermuda, Caribbean, Mexico Business Class 50,000 miles
- USA to Europe Business Class 80,000 miles
KLM Flight Awards with LatinPass miles
- USA to Europe 1 Business Class 90,000 miles
- USA to Europe 2 Business Class 100,000 miles
- USA to West, East, Central Africa or Middle East Business Class 135,000 miles
- USA to Pacific, Asia or South Africa Business Class 150,000 miles
While these were great options for Business Class flights, I ended up flying for United Mileage Plus 1K status over the next several years after the LatinPass bonus miles and I did not have the need or time for using LatinPass miles on flights. Hilton HHonors points meant I could find low fares to anywhere worldwide on United, generally with a free upgrade as United 1K and have a free hotel room for six nights. There were also many Hilton hotels in 2000 to 2003 participating in HHonors PointStretchers at 40% off standard reward rates. Most international urban upper upscale hotels in places like Amsterdam Hilton, Barcelona Hilton, and Conrad Singapore were 35,000 points per reward night. PointStretchers would place these hotels at 21,000 points.
I paid around $2,500 to fulfill the LatinPass promotion for one million miles. That was about $25 for every 10,000 miles earned. I effectively traded about $125 in miles for around $2,000 in hotel rooms each time I redeemed a six-night reward stay for 100,000 Hilton HHonors points as a Hilton HHonors Diamond member. On most hotel stays I received a suite or junior suite upgrade for my six-night hotel stay.
Within five months of receiving my one million bonus miles, LatinPass started redemption restrictions.
IMPORTANT NOTICE BELOW:
Our One Million Mile promotion was a total success, far beyond all our expectations, however, because of that we must now find the way to reward the many winners in an orderly fashion so that all will receive the kind of service and attention they deserve. Airlines, as all hard core frequent flyers know, have restrictions on the amount of seats they allow per flight for award travel. That number can change based on availability and demand, however, restrictions do apply. The LatinPass Member Airlines, that is, Avianca, ACES, Aeropostal, Copa Airlines and the Grupo TACA are cooperating to the best of their ability to cope with the increased demand and the same can be said for our airline partners, US Airways, KLM, TWA and National. However, in order to maintain an acceptable ratio between demand and supply, we find ourselves in need to temporarily establish the following rules and guidelines:
• Effective February 9th, 2001, members of the LatinPass program, will be able to either redeem, for award travel on any of the participating LatinPass Airlines, including TWA, US
Airways, KLM and National or transfer to other qualified LatinPass participating programs up to Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand valid bonus miles per calendar year.
• Mileage accrued by a LatinPass member, either flying or using the services of non-airline partners, as of February 1st, 2001, will automatically release five times the amount of bonus miles, which can be added to the amount of bonus miles eligible for redemption during a calendar year. For example: a member has 500,000 million bonus miles in his/her account, he/she may only redeem up to 250,000 for award travel or transfers. However, if he/she accrues 10,000 miles, after February 15th, 2001, either flying on a LatinPass airline, renting cars from a participating car rental company, staying in a LatinPass participating hotel or using any LatinPass affiliated services, he/she will automatically be allowed to redeem 50,000 additional bonus miles. Transfers are not applicable.
• There are no restrictions as to the amount of “flight” miles that can be used for redemption or transfers, at any time.
• Our goal is to increase redemption opportunities for our membership and at this time we are in the process of expanding our program and negotiating agreements with a number of new worldwide airline and non-airline partners. As this happens, we will be lifting restrictions accordingly.
All other rules and conditions existing in the LatinPass Member Guide remain in effect.
A couple years after LatinPass, the company president stated the monthly transfers of about 250 million milers to airline tickets and Hilton HHonors points was a big financial hit to the company.
Over the years partners dropped out and fewer redemption awards were possible. Hilton HHonors transfers ceased, US Airways and TWA dropped out. In 2005, five years after the LatinPass million mile promotion, the company announced it would cease all frequent flyer mile redemptions for people who were not flying LatinPass member airlines on revenue tickets. LatinPass members with miles from the million mile promotion were given about a one week window to spend remaining miles. I redeemed miles for five business class tickets to South America to Buenos Aires, Santiago, Quito and San Jose Costa Rica.
LatinPass. That is some frequent flyer history I remember fondly.
I also uncovered some of the 1999 Healthy Choice original miles forms from their promotion that created Pudding Guy. I earned over 100,000 frequent flyer miles with Healthy Choice chocolate pudding in 1999. I thought about doing what David Phillips did, but I lived in rural northwest California and I would have needed to drive a couple hundred miles to find another grocery outlet from Eureka, California. I purchased about 1,600 containers of Healthy Choice pudding in 1999 in Eureka for about $400 to earn around 120,000 miles. More on that when I feel motivated to write more frequent flyer history articles.