David Phillips may never again pay full price for a plane ticket. And unless he gets sick of chocolate, he may never have to buy dessert again either. His two-story house in Davis, Calif., is still chock-full of chocolate pudding—the remains of the 12,150 cups Phillips bought in three weeks in an effort that netted him and his family more than a million frequent-flier miles.
The pudding pig-out began last year in early May when Phillips, 35, a civil engineer, was cruising the frozen food aisles and spied an ad announcing a Healthy Choice promotion: 500 frequent-flier miles for every 10 Universal Product Codes from its products—double that if the labels were mailed by May 31. “I thought this might be a good way to eat our way to Europe,” recalls Phillips, who took $3,000 of his family’s savings and began cleaning out supermarkets, sometimes filling up three shopping carts at a clip with the 25-cent puddings. “Shoppers who asked,” he says, “I looked them in the eye and said, ‘Y2K.’ ”
Back home, Phillips and his wife, Cindy, 35—who admits to panicking when she first saw the piles of pudding in the garage—and their daughters Katie, 7, and Emma, 5, buckled down to removing all those UPCs. “It was really fun,” says Katie. “We rented movies; I got to stay up late.” As the May 31 deadline loomed, Phillips began donating pudding to charities—provided they gave the family the bar codes. “The Salvation Army had a good sense of humor,” he says. “They pulled the labels off about a dozen cases.”
By mid-January, Phillips finally had his just desserts—frequent-flier miles worth as much as $50,000. In April he and the family will jet off to Spain, Italy and England, paying only $5 each in taxes. Don’t expect Phillips to flip over flan, however. “I still like pudding,” he says.