Free Flights For Trash Miners

Christian Science Monitor: For a new generation of opportunists, other people’s fast-food trash is their treasure.
Danielle is no stranger to diving into dumpsters. “You’d be amazed what they throw away at Trader Joe’s, it’s like whole meals over there,” says the young nanny from the Philadelphia area. But when she heard that the garbage outside Wendy’s restaurants had free airline travel in it, “it just seemed too good to be true.”
Yet, on a recent icy December evening, Danielle and a friend spent nearly two hours digging through dozens of grease- and ketchup-smeared garbage bags outside two Manhattan Wendy’s restaurants searching for soft drink cups with AirTran frequent-flier coupons printed on the side.
In all, the pair collected about 330 cups, more than enough for two round-trip flights for each of them. “It’s pretty disgusting work, especially when you grab a handful of chewed meat,” says Danielle, who asked that her full name be withheld to ensure that AirTran would honor her claim. “But it’s about the only way I can afford to see my family [in San Luis Obispo, Calif.].”
Wendy’s and discount airline AirTran are offering free frequent-flyer rewards when customers purchase 20- or 32-ounce soft-drinks. Coupons from the side of the cups can be redeemed toward airfare on the Orlando, Fla., airline; 64 coupons are worth a round-trip flight anywhere AirTran flies.
The AirTran promotion has already become the stuff of urban legend, calling to mind the California man who, in 1999, redeemed 12,000 pudding cups for 1.2 million frequent-flier miles. David Phillips, who paid $3,100 in all for the Healthy Choice pudding, became an instant cult hero and was the basis for a character in the 2002 movie “Punch-Drunk Love.” He estimated he had earned himself more than 30 round-trip flights to Europe.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. In order to both celebrate and critique the industry, I started AdPulp in Chicago in 2004. In 2006, I launched and led an agency content department at BFG. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.