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JOHNNY JET'S Q & A
With The Pudding Guy ~ David Phillips

PROFILE

David Phillips has gone to great lengths to fuel his passion for free travel. He once bought 12,000 cups of chocolate pudding to take advantage of a promotion that offered frequent flyer miles for every purchase. Spending about $2,500, David earned 1.25 million miles and a life-long nickname as ďthe Pudding Guy.Ē He claimed another million miles after flying through ten countries in Latin America in six days. David currently has almost four million miles in his various frequent flyer accounts. Heís traveled to over 20 countries while earning and spending frequent flyer miles.

Davidís mileage success stories have been covered by publications across the world, including The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The London Times, USA Today, The New York Times, and People Magazine. David has been featured on the Today Show, National Public Radio, CNN, and on hundreds of other television news and radio programs.

By training, David Phillips is a Civil Engineer, but he applies his knowledge of frequent flyer programs and his skill in finding promotion loopholes to his work as a consultant to large corporations, new internet-based businesses, and Hollywood (stay tuned). Contact David Phillips via puddingguy@hotmail.com.

DAVID'S ANSWERS

HOW OFTEN DO YOU FLY?
This is hugely variable from year to year. I usually travel for business once or twice a year and take at least two major family vacations. But one year I burned through a lot of vacation time and traveled to 16 countries on over 50 flights. Iím lucky because most of my travel is by choice, and I can usually fly for almost nothing using frequent flyer miles.
IN A YEAR HOW MANY MILES/POINTS DO YOU EARN?
Even with all the free trips I take, Iím still earning miles and points about five times faster than Iím spending them. Less than a million miles is a bad year for me. Getting over a 1.25M miles via $2,000 of chocolate pudding with an assist from the Salvation Army was the funniest example to date, but fantastic deals crop up all the time. To take advantage, you have to be willing to invest a little money and effort in the process, and maintain a good sense of humor.
In 2001, for example, I scored on some generous offers from Hilton by switching hotels every night whenever I was traveling. Five nights in New York City, five different Hilton properties. One long weekend in London was good for eight ďstaysĒ since we took the whole family. My kids actually enjoy this sort of thing. In fact, Iím not sure my 7-year-old even realizes you can stay in a hotel for more than one night at a shot!
With almost 4 million miles in my accounts now, Iím well set, but I still canít turn my back on a good deal. Half a cent per mile is my standard threshold. If I can earn miles for less than 0.5 cents per mile, Iím all over it. Crazy mileage run trips are the most enjoyable projects, but no-fly promotions can be good, too. As a result of these, Iíve got a freezer full of fancy steaks, a pantry loaded with multi-year supplies of breakfast bars, cereal, and popcorn, and my mailbox is overflowing with magazines-all byproducts from recent projects for miles and points.
WHAT CLASS OF SERVICE DO YOU MOSTLY FLY IN?
Mainly coach. Iím stingy with my miles. Iíd rather take more trips, take my family, and bring some friends along than enjoy the extra room. The food and wine up front has very little appeal to me. Entrees like chipotle shrimp with pumpkin and wild mushrooms just arenít my thing. Plus, I use to work at Baskin-Robbins, so I donít get too excited about hot fudge sundaes. Since American has taken out a row or two, all of their seats are pretty comfortable. I only wish all the other airlines would follow their lead and provide a decent coach product.
FAVORITE AIRLINE?
Americanís my overall favorite because I like their frequent flyer program best and their coach seats provide the most space. Iíve also got lifetime Platinum status with American, so I can avoid the long check-in lines and use the first-class counter. Thatís been a huge time saver lately.
FAVORITE AIRCRAFT?
I like Boeingsí 777 and 767 best, though any wide body works for me. I love movies so Iím also a big fan of any plane that has personal video monitors.
FAVORITE HOTEL?
The Grand Hotel in Stockholm tops my list. My wife and I had a really fantastic stay there in the dead of winter. A super cool spa, five kinds of herring for breakfast, the best beds on earth, and some very interesting in-room movies made for a really special stay.
FAVORITE HOTEL AMENITY?
Huge free breakfasts top my list. I love cook-to-order egg stations. Iíd quickly forego robes, slippers, and chocolates for a decent omelet in the morning.
FAVORITE AIRPORT?
I canít say I have an overall favorite. I like FAT (Fresno) because itís very close to my parentís house and they still donít have jetways. I like climbing up steps to the plane. Smaller airports are often the best for starts and destinations because itís much easier to come and go. On the other end of the spectrum, Iíve yet to have a good experience at JFK.
FAVORITE AIRPORT TO PASS TIME IN?
No clear favorite here, either. Theyíre still mostly noisy, boring, and uncomfortable. Once Iíve had my fill of chili, BBQ, or Mexican food, I usually seek out a quiet seat and spend my time reading. A good book can overcome even the worst airport. The airlineís private lounges can be nice, and are probably well worth the membership price if youíre stuck in airports a lot.
FAVORITE CITY?
Itís close to home, but San Francisco is tough to beat. London and New York are great for repeat visits, too. But I generally prefer visiting new cities, and just about any city can be a blast if youíre guided by someone who lives there.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT?
As anyone whoís traveled with me can attest, Iím not too picky about food. I eat-and like-just about everything. I prefer street food to nice restaurants. I usually pick off-beat items on the menu, things I havenít tried before. I recently had about 10 new dishes during a family style meal at an authentic Armenian restaurant. Strange stuff, but all good.
AISLE OR WINDOW?
Window. The sights can be great and no one ever has to wake me up when they need to get up.
ETICKET OR PAPER?
Since Iím known to lose things and the airlines are now charging for paper, e-tickets are best for me.
TRAVEL AGENT OR ONLINE?
I almost always book everything myself, though I really wish I had a relationship with a great travel agent because they can work magic for tricky arrangements. Iíd love to hear from any experts willing to take me on as a regular (though demanding) client. Send me a note!
FAVORITE TRAVEL WEBSITE?
All of the best frequent flyer schemes get good coverage at Flyertalk.com. Johnnyjet.com is great because itís one-stop access to all the best travel sites. Iím also a regular traveler to ptanderson.com.
FAVORITE TRAVEL COMPANION?
Even though I spend a huge amount of time waiting for them to emerge from public toilets, my wife Cindy and our daughters are the best. My travel photos turn out a lot better with such cute subjects included.
IF YOU WERE STRANDED ON A TROPICAL ISLAND, WHAT THREE ITEMS WOULD YOU WANT TO HAVE WITH YOU?
Assuming I donít have to stay stranded, Iíd want a charged satellite phone, GPS unit, and a solar still for water until help arrives.
Assuming Iím stuck there, and people arenít options, Iíd need a massive survival book. For mental stimulation Iíd pick a comprehensive language textbook to really learn Spanish. For entertainment, could I have a piano? I think the Swiss Family Robinson had one.
BEST TRAVEL TIP:
Ask local people for travel advice, but ignore strangers that offer help without your asking.