Personal Finance > Saving & Spending > Travel
Miles get more than travel
April 7, 1998: 4:08 p.m. ET

Auctions let you bid miles for gourmet cooking classes, celebrity encounters
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NEW YORK ( - While most frequent-flyer program awards are generally predictable (seat upgrades, free flights, etc.), there are a growing number of premiums up for grabs that don't have anything to do with airline travel.
     These rewards include everything from luxurious, private banquets to VIP admission to major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four. What's even more unusual is the way they're offered -- by auction.
     For some years, airlines have used this method to get some of their most loyal customers to redeem their miles. Recently, the popularity of these auctions has seen a strong increase. From an industry standpoint, frequent-flyer auctions help airlines or hotels take some program "liability" off their books. From a consumer standpoint, auctions generate interest in a program, and can go far beyond what is normally offered as a standard award.
     Still, auctions aren't for everyone. Some travelers prefer saving their miles for more conventional and consistent benefits. In addition, many auctions are well beyond the reach of all but the most peripatetic of passengers. Minimum bids for some sporting events can run as high as 400,000 miles.
     Northwest Airlines is an industry pioneer by developing its own unique brand of frequent-flyer auction. Last September the company held a live auction at the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. The 24 items up for bid included attending the Grammies as a VIP guest; flying on a five-day, all-inclusive vacation in Hong Kong; spending a day at Jazzfest with the Neville Brothers; jetting to London for a private cooking lesson with Richard Shepherd of Langan's Brasserie; and appearing in a Northwest Airlines commercial.
     This latest Dream Perks auction was the most successful of the three held since 1996, according to Northwest spokeswoman Marta Lockland. The highest public bid was 450,000 miles in exchange for a luxury vacation package to Bali. The highest bid on a "surprise" lot (available only to people present at the auction) was 550,000 miles to spend two hours at a private rehearsal for a Billy Joel-Elton John concert in New York.
     Northwest also raised $25,000 cash for several local charities, including: Bobby McFerrin's Connect program, which exposes inner-city youth to chamber and orchestra music; the Déva house, the first hospice house in the country dedicated to children; and the Twin Cities chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
     Lockland added that the Dream Perks auctions have evolved into more entertainment-oriented events since their inception, and that more awards have been added that are off the beaten path. While the details have yet to be finalized, there is even some talk that the next Dream Perks auction may take place in an international market.
     Currently, Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts is hosting "Room Auction for UNICEF" on its website. The company is auctioning off various weekend hotel packages each week, with new hotels added regularly. Each package includes one free weekend night at an Inter-Continental property, plus a choice of upgrade to a club floor or junior suite; an additional guest room at half price; daily breakfast for two; or double bonus miles with participating airlines. All proceeds go to UNICEF. Back to top


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