Saturday, May 11, 2013

Too cute by half?

We do a fair bit of our grocery shopping at Kroger.  We like the selection, the prices are reasonable, and it's a union shop, so I don't have to feel guilty about how they treat the people who work there.  One of the nice perquisites of shopping there is that they offer a discount on gasoline as a loyalty reward.

When you buy gift cards at Kroger, they give you double credit for the gasoline rewards.  (A couple of times a year, they give you quadruple credit.)  So, a $25 gift card to The Olive Garden, to pick a place at random, nets you 50 fuel points.  Cashing in 100 fuel points gets you 10 cents off per gallon.

One day I was in Kroger and noticed that they offer Southwest Airlines gift cards.  I fly a lot, and since moving, or semi-moving, back to Little Rock, I find myself on Southwest fairly often.  This morning, I was sitting in Phoenix, booking my flight back to Little Rock for tomorrow, and I had a flash of inspiration:  Go buy gift cards at Kroger (they call it "Fry's" in Arizona), and use them to get get fuel points.

My fare was $541.  (My client reimburses me for the flight.)  So I bought five $100 gift cards (the largest denomination) and proceeded to buy my ticket online. I was congratulating myself on how clever I was, and thinking about the 1,000 fuel points I'd just scored, when I hit a problem.

Apparently Southwest will only allow you to use up to four methods of payment on one reservation. This is a problem because I needed to use five gift cards and pay the rest with my credit card.  Sure enough, when I entered the fourth gift card, Southwest said, "Sorry, you'll have to remove a gift card to pay the balance with a credit card."

Undeterred, I called the reservations line.  No dice there, either.  "We use the same system you use for payments."  (By the way, they answered in 4 seconds, and the agent was as helpful as he could be under the circumstances.)

Now, I'm not one to take no for an answer, so I devised a plan to make it work.  Southwest doesn't charge any change or cancellation fees if you need to cancel a ticket.  They will store your funds for up to a year for later use.  So I looked around for a flight that was just over $300 (Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale worked nicely), and booked it using three gift cards and a credit card.  I then immediately canceled it, and Southwest helpfully told me that it was retaining my funds for later use.  I then went back to my original trip.

Success!  I used the $300 credit, the two remaining gift cards, and my credit card to complete the reservation.

I guess sometimes things just work out.  But I was sweating it all the way, and it may be a while before I try that again.

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