In a nod to the escapades of “Catch Me If You Can,” airline rewards expert, mileage geek, travel entrepreneur and author, Steve Belkin has released a new book, Mileage Maniac, that chronicles how he gamed dozens of airline loyalty programs over a decade of travel adventures.
In Mileage Maniac, Belkin reveals how his ‘Genius, Madness and a Touch of Evil’ outsmarted established airline loyalty programs of over 40 million miles. “I beat the airlines at their own game by playing by their rules but using my sometimes daring, sometimes dubious, but always effective playbook,” said Belkin.
Even before the term ‘travel hacking’ was created, Belkin was at the cutting edge of inventive and elaborate airline mileage earning schemes to earn international Business Class award tickets for pennies on the dollar. Mileage Maniac readers will laugh or cringe or likely, a lot of both, as Belkin’s madcap and convoluted mileage schemes teeter between creative exploits and greedy exploitation.
Belkin provides some introspective glimpses into the murky world and even darker ethics of the airline mileage earning underground. The book details how Belkin transformed underemployed improv actors and disabled Thai masseuses into “mileage mules.” His uncanny and fascinating knack for laundering otherwise innocuous stuff into mileage gold included hair transplant consultations, Jaguar test drives, empty hotel rooms, thousands of magazine subscriptions, luggage tags, and phantom trips to Cameroon. These tales of how and why he accumulated so many points will not disappoint.
“While stranded in Mozambique during the pandemic, I compiled two decades of my airline mileage exploits that put me in the crosshairs of most airlines’ security and fraud departments,” says Belkin. “I hope Mileage Maniac drives the conversation about the many challenges that frequent flyers face with airline loyalty programs today.”
Under the tutelage of mileage godfather and founder of FlyerTalk and Boarding Area Randy Petersen, Belkin pioneered mileage scaling and travel hacking. Petersen quips that Mileage Maniac’s “madcap and succeed-at-all-costs schemes reveal Belkin’s inner Catch Me If You Can streak.” Belkin and current mileage maestro Brian Kelly of The Points Guy fame were peers who developed their craft together during early 2000’s stints on the mileage geek site, FlyerTalk. Kelly notes, “Some people take it (the mileage game) to the next level and see opportunity where others don’t. That is Steve Belkin – a modern-day treasure seeker in the loyalty world.”
While Belkin has previously provoked the wrath of airline programs with his 40 million miles record, he offers a present-day provocation that will likely place him atop the airlines “most unliked traveler” list once again. As more airlines in 2021 eliminate award charts with opaque and unaccountable dynamic pricing, Belkin feels airlines are demonstrating they are actually ‘treachery programs’, not loyalty programs to endear customers.
Why earn something when you have no idea how much it’s worth to redeem?
According to Belkin, dynamic pricing is ‘anarchic pricing’ because airlines can price an award totally arbitrarily and randomly. Of course, mileage experts can figure out how to game the airline programs. But do regular travelers want to participate in a loyalty program where gaming the system is their only means of success? Belkin thinks not.