Rewards points auctions offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences
Rick Smeriglio and his wife
attended a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in February 2012 and watched their
10-year-old son rebound balls from a courtside bench and smack hands with Jeremy
Lin and other celebrity basketball players -- thanks to their Chase credit card's rewards points auction program.
Smeriglio won the Ball Kid Experience
on the Chase Ultimate Rewards auction site for 50,100 points, a $500 value. "I
stumbled on it by chance. I didn't even know they had auctions," says
Smeriglio, who works for a real estate firm in Connecticut. "My son and I are
sports fanatics, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Whether it's attending the Super Bowl
or the Oscars, hanging out with celebrities or enjoying an all-expenses-paid
vacation at a luxury resort, you can probably find someone auctioning it off
for reward points. Airline and hotel loyalty programs now have sites where
customers can bid on those big-experience rewards. As Smeriglio discovered, even
credit card reward programs are getting in on the auction action.
Since it's difficult to put a price on
experiences, auctions allow such rewards to set their own value, based on
demand. If you have piles of miles or hotel points accumulated via business
travel, you can use them as currency to land your own particular ultimate
Many reward auction sites will let
anyone peruse the items up for bid, and you can sometimes scan past auctions to
get an idea of what goes for how much. Some auctions, such as those for Chase Ultimate Rewards and Delta's Skymiles from American Express, require members to log in to view what's
on offer. At Delta, if you want to bid, you also have to register.
No credit card or PayPal account is
required for rewards auctions since you're paying with points or miles instead
of cash. Beyond that, it works pretty much like bidding on eBay, no fees
required. With MileagePlus auctions, for example, you can place a maximum bid --
in this case, the most miles you're willing to spend on an item -- and
incremental bids will be made automatically, up to that amount. Chase Ultimate
Rewards sets an auction minimum for each prize then takes bids in 100-point
increments. If you win an auction, miles or points are deducted and you'll be
notified by email.
It's wise to set your own limit ahead
of time. If the bidding goes too high, you can always bow out, but you may be
surprised at what you can score without paying a dime.
miles for VIP access
Auctions of celebrity meet-and-greets
and VIP access to high-profile events were an ongoing option for Continental
OnePass members. United did not have auctions. Now that the airlines are
merging, their loyalty programs have morphed into MileagePlus, which just
launched a splashy auction site called "Headliners."
"We plan to expand the types of events
and opportunities available through these auctions," says Krishnan Saranathan,
managing director for MileagePlus. "We want to provide really unique, once-in-a-lifetime,
money-can't-buy options. We also want to make auctions available to members
with lower miles balances by offering products such as sports memorabilia and
performing arts events."
On the block for April: a VIP weekend
at the induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Headliners also
auctioned off red-carpet arrival at the Oscars and VIP access to Fashion Week.
"One category that has a great level of
interest is experiences that only United Airlines can offer," says Saranathan.
"For example, we recently offered MileagePlus members the opportunity to use
our flight simulator in Denver. That was incredibly popular." United is also
the official airline for the Academy Awards, which gives them unique access.
Oscar packages sold for more than 500,000 miles this year.
Sports is a big draw at Delta SkyMiles
auctions. The four "most popular items" listed in February involved baseball or
basketball -- the big score being VIP access to Yankees spring training in Florida.
Active travel and rock concerts are also popular. A ski weekend at Beaver Creek
Resort in Colorado went for 200,500 miles after 72 bids, and a pair of tickets
to a Black Eyed Peas concert in Costa Mesa, Calif., sold for 201,000 miles. You can also
use miles to buy merchandise. Apple products get the most action, along with a variety
of gift certificates.
with hotel points
Members of the Starwood loyalty program
can use Starwood Preferred Guest points to live the superstar lifestyle -- however briefly -- with
admission to events such as fashion shows, movie premieres and VIP access to golf
Right now, SPG is partnering with Live
Nation, allowing members to bid on concerts throughout Europe. In February, five
trips were auctioned off for couples to see Sting perform in Paris and get
chauffeured around Paris while sipping champagne. A series of Sting concerts
auctioned on the site two years ago went for wildly different point totals,
depending on locale -- 10,500 points in Atlanta, 30,000 in Washington, D.C. Atlanta
fans got to see him perform for the price of a free night stay at many Westin or
W (category 4) hotels. As with any auction, part of the thrill of bidding is
Several hotel chains began holding
reward auctions about five years ago when the economy (and leisure travel) was
booming, but most abandoned the experiment. Marriott came out against points
auctions just as its competitors were jumping in, vowing publicly to make their
rewards available to all members. Ironically, it was Marriott that scored major
media attention this year for auctioning off trips to the Super Bowl on
SkyMall.com. You won't find ongoing auctions for Marriott points, however.
card reward auctions
Chase Ultimate Rewards has been holding
online auctions since its inception in 2009. Chase Freedom, Sapphire and Ink
rewards card holders can bid on everything from private lessons with a
PGA-certified golf pro to gift cards -- worth $250 to $2,500 -- from retailers
such as Home Depot and Best Buy. Offers change monthly, and you need to be a
cardholder to access the auction site.
During the holiday season, Chase auctions
off merchandise, especially electronics. When spring approaches and
vacation planning season starts, expect to find lots of travel packages to the
Caribbean, Las Vegas and Europe. During the first two years of the auction
program, people were getting amazing deals. As the program enters its third
year, bidding is picking up.
Expect to see Chase start auctioning
off its big-experience packages; they're selling out
way too fast at current prices. "Things like the Sundance Film Festival and the
finale party for Mad Men, season four, were snapped up in less than an hour,"
says Sean O'Reilly, general manager at Chase Card Services. "Forty packages to
attend Sundance this year sold out in 43 minutes -- and these were 300,000- and
Not all rewards offered at auction go
for crazy amounts of miles or points, so it's worth checking out your program's
auction site, if it has one. As long as you don't bid above the amount of miles
in your account, you have nothing to lose by trying for the experience of a
lifetime. Who knows? You might get lucky.
Rick Smeriglio met another dad at that
Knicks game who paid $2,000 at a silent auction to buy his son the same
honorary ball kid experience. "I got lucky," Smeriglio says, "but for tickets
to a game, to watch your kid on national television? Even $2,000 would have
been worth it."
He has his eye on another Ultimate
Rewards package for his other son, a hockey fan: tickets to a New York Rangers
game and a ride on a Zamboni. "I'm telling everybody I know to check their
rewards program," he says. "There are so many excellent opportunities out
See related: Credit card rewards options abound for sports junkies, 9 unusual credit card rewards and perks, More credit card holders can count on concierges
Published: April 3, 2012
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