TBT (throw-back-thursday) is a new something I’m trying every Thursday where I’ll discuss stories of old. Between myself and some friends, I think I can come up with 52 crazy miles stories.
In 2011 I went to my first Chicago Seminars. Last few times I went I was invited to talk and people know me from travelisfree.com… But in 2011 they knew me from another story…
At the time, everyone was on FlyerTalk. Before Internet Brands bought FlyerTalk it was the hub of frequent flyers online and blogs were way less relevant. It was a community.
So when people introduced themselves at the Chicago Seminars, you shared your FlyerTalk username.
But I was instantly recognizable not by my username but by saying, “I was the guy with the Native American coins”.
9 times out of 10 I got “Oh yeah, I remember the Native American coins story!” and so I kept introducing myself that way.
$1 Coins (RIP)
Even if you weren’t into miles & points before 2011, you may have heard the stories-of-old.
Before they got shut down in 2011, you could buy $1 coins from the US Mint on a credit card, and you got free shipping on orders of $1,000, which was the limit.
Then you’d take these coins to the bank, deposit them, pay off the card, and keep all the miles. All this was fee free!
However, the US Mint wasn’t very savvy. Articles seem to indicate they didn’t know what we all knew. See, the purchase was limited to $1,000 in coins per 10 days (I think) and only limited by your credit card number. So if you just used a second credit card, you could get another $1,000 of coins.
Maybe the US Mint wasn’t so unsavvy, maybe they just didn’t believe that so many of us out there had so many cards. In an article I saw about “Mr. Pickles” (remember we went by FlyerTalk names, and that one stuck due to his notoriety from the article I guess) having a pallet of coins delivered to the bank, the US Mint couldn’t figure out how people were claiming to do this.
This isn’t a “claim”, it was easy. Many of us had tons of cards at the time.
I personally bought Amex gift cards through a portal that gave 3% cashback (I think). If I ordered $10,000 in gift cards, I got 10 different credit card numbers and I got at least 10,000 miles and I got 3% cash-back ($300 in this case).
Those were the glory days.
Others used virtual credit card numbers, which Citi let you create at the time.
Either way, there were no lack of ways to get multiple orders of $1,000 coins per week, and it was very profitable.
At the time my wife and I had just gotten married and this is right before we took off to do full-time travel. When we first got married we briefly lived in her home area of Amish country, Ohio. Her home town was 600 people and folks in that area are not used to untraditional anything.
Well, I’ll come back to that…
During the work week our closet would fill up with $1 coins, and on the weekend we would take them to the bank.
Carrie, my wife, both knowing the conservative community (like bonnets and no cars kind of conservative) and being from the small town where you know everyone, would dread taking the coins to the bank… Apparently for good reason.
This unfortunate weekend we went to the bank nearest to us, which was still far.
There are two things you need to know to make this story really make sense.
Thing 1: These coins are absurdly heavy.
Despite the fact that $10,000 could nearly fit in a shopping basket, one could not simply carry them. They have to be the heaviest metal on earth.
1 box of $250 coins is not noticeably heavy, but $10,000 is unnaturally heavy. There is just no way for me to exaggerate how heavy these things are.
Therefore we put them into a backpack that could roll for Carrie, and I’d take the other backpack.
Even with a rolling bag, she looked like a mime. A tiny bag and it looked like she was one of those bodybuilders pulling a semi-truck. It didn’t look right. I say all this to say, we probably looked crazy.
Also, it doesn’t help that we were the only people in Amish Country with hippie dreadlocks, at the time.
In fact, the community is so mono-culture that my moving there was a complete culture shock. Never had I lived somewhere with only white people. My co-worker said that people in the community would say to him, “don’t you work with that guy with the crazy hair?”, and there were no non-white persons living there, period. I’m not saying they’re prejudiced people (although I have stories), I’m saying that they were very not used to diversity of any kind.
Having dreads and living there was the only time in my life I got a K9/drug unit called on me to inspect my car for no reason. I was told “my story” (I only said I was driving home from a wedding, which was true) was “suspicious”. Shortly after that, I cut my hair so I could go back to the full benefits of being white majority, like not getting drug dogs called on you… Which I didn’t know was a benefit I had all my life until then.
All that to say, here we are, two hippies in crazy conservative Amish country, wheeling in a tiny bag of $10,000 in coins with the effort of pulling a semi-truck. It was probably way more suspicious than coming home from a wedding would be.
By the way, I met my friend Jason that fall at the Chicago Seminars and likely because of my intro as the “Native-American coins guy” he shared his coin stories. His bank was inside of a grocery store and the guy was sometimes doing $80,000 in coins at a time, which is nuts on its own. But my first thought was, “how did you get them into the bank?!” given my experience.
I thought it was hilarious when he told me that he filled a shopping cart with them and rolled them through the grocery store. It must have weighed a ton, I’m surprised the wheels would work with that much weight. It must have looked nuts!
Native American Coins? What are those?!
We had to drive all the way to New Philadelphia / Dover Ohio to get to a Chase Bank. It’s two connected cities because I guess in this part of Ohio if you hit 10,000 in population you need to split into two cities.
As soon as we walked in, the person who turned out to be the manager was watching.
“I’d like to deposit $10,000 in $1 coins… Um, they’re still in their rolls, like this”, as I open a box to reveal the rolls, and as we move all the boxes from the bags to the counter.
The guy starts the process to deposit them but at some point the manager lady walked over and started inspecting the coins.
She says, “I’m not sure we can take these?”
“Why not? They’re US legal tender and you’re a bank.” I responded.
“I’ve just never seen these Native American coins”.
Thing 2: They probably never have seen these coins…
Let me give a parallel. I’ve flown through Austin twice now with my emergency passport, and both times they called a manager. Yet, at every international Airport, including Mexico City, the person goes “An emergency passport? Did yours get stolen?”
It’s not that I’m suspicious in Austin, it’s just that they don’t see US passports as the main ID nearly as much as someone working at JFK. The JFK agent was shocked that the Austin agents wouldn’t recognize it. One man’s norm in New York, could be a rarity elsewhere.
Amish Country is the extreme version of this.
Point is, she didn’t take the coins.
Yes, it is unbelievable to me that a banker doesn’t recognize money, given how truly few variations there are. But it’s all the backstory above at play.
I wasn’t going to argue much further than, “this is money, and you’re a bank”.
After all, I knew there was another bank not 2 miles away in Dover.
But it was a super odd vibe. She nearly told us off and treated us like we were doing something super illegal. To her, it was a fact that she wasn’t taking the money and there was nothing about that. We were the odd ones, and it was almost a “I better not see you in here again” kind of goodbye.
So we packed all our coins back up and mime-wheeled our coins out of there and, lifting with our back of course, back in our trunk.
Same odd entrance into the Chase Bank in Dover.
Immediately though, the teller recognized Carrie, as they went to high school together, which for some reason makes the entire ordeal more embarrassing for her.
She sure looked confused, I’ll say that, but she took the money. She asked a lot of questions and her eyebrows told me that she’s never deposited that many coins before, but she did it.
End of story right?
Nope. The Worst Part Hadn’t Happened Yet.
An hour later we had just gotten home and I get a phone call.
Turns out, the bank manager at the bank #1 (in New Philadelphia) is also the bank manager for bank #2 (in Dover).
She immediately starts scolding me. After all, she explained that she didn’t take $1 coins… I mean, really? I’m supposed to know that no banks take legal money (directly from the US Mint) because you said you had never heard of Native American coins? Really?
So she scolds me and tells me that she has to debit my account of the $10,000 I just deposited (or whatever the amount was I deposited that time).
Sure enough, I checked my Chase account and it was back down to the pre-deposit amount.
Think about the severity of this!
I no longer have any of the coins, and I don’t have the money in my account. I have no way of proving I deposited legal tender to the bank.
Also, we were totally broke, and thus I freaked out a little.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I called Chase corporate.
I explained that I deposited money and the bank manager called me telling me she’s debiting my account. I no longer had the money and this is unacceptable. A banker can’t just debit your account because they deem your money unacceptable, despite the fact it’s from the Mint.
I swear to you 10 minutes later I got call back from the same agent informing me that the money was back in my account and they had a word with the manager.
Obviously, we never went into that bank again.
And to this day, Carrie will mention to people, “at least we’re not doing the $1 coin thing”. This experience was negative enough that the best deal of all time is not missed but despised.
In her defense… I don’t know if any of you have had awkward moments buying gift cards or money orders or whatever, but it’s awkward. This was 100 times more awkward. Everything from walking in, to getting scolded in the bank, to walking out, to having all our money gone(!), was a terrible experience. And given how far we drove, the experience took hours.
And the US Mint stopped selling coins for free shortly after, which stuck me with a ton of Amex gift cards. These weren’t debit cards either, so you don’t get a debit pin or ability to buy money orders. Like a ton.
When it was good it was great. But like many things in this hobby, when it’s bad, it can be really bad.
Everything turned out alright in the end, as it usually does.
This is hardly the craziest miles story I’ve heard, but it was my first personal crazy miles story, and it reveals a little bit of the tricks that were open secrets back then.
Often people are unwilling to share their big score specifics, even to their friends, until they’re dead. To me though, it’s a mindset. And while the deals in my TBT posts are dead, hopefully, they will be entertaining and part informational.