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One Million Frequent Flyer Miles or $25,000?

I’m a fan of travel sweepstakes. You know the type: “Win an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba!” Sure, my odds of winning are minuscule. But so is the time invested in entering—typically filling in my name and email address on a website.

I know for certain I’m not alone in that guilty pleasure. For several years, I’ve featured a sweepstakes in every issue of the weekly FrequentFlier Crier newsletter, and it’s consistently one of the most widely read sections.

In my world, where miles are the dominant currency, the industry standard prize for travel sweepstakes has become one million frequent flyer miles, enough for multiple trips, in the comfort of first or business class, with the choice of when and where to travel left to the winner. The airlines—and non-travel companies as well—have discovered that the lure of a million miles will generate interest and participation from large numbers of consumers, including me.

So miles-focused am I that sometimes I overlook otherwise lucrative sweepstakes that don’t include a mileage prize. I almost did just that with the new “Discover the Details” sweepstakes from Sleep Inn hotels. The grand prize: $25,000, plus a bobble-head doll.

Although the airlines routinely value frequent flyer miles at 2.5 cents each for purposes of reporting sweepstakes winnings to the IRS, the miles’ real value—given the average price of a ticket and the difficulty in booking award seats—is about half that. So a million miles have an effective value of approximately $12,500.

That’s significant, but it’s just half the value of the Sleep Inn prize. So I’ll think of the Sleep Inn sweepstakes prize as being worth the equivalent of two million miles. And I’ll enter immediately. You might want to do the same.

You might also wish to consider two of my rules for sweepstakes participation. First, steadfastly ignore whatever marketing message the sweepstakes was designed to convey. I just don’t care. And second, be sure to opt out of any follow-up communications from the sponsor company.

Of course, miles or cash isn’t an either-or proposition. In fact, winning a million miles plus a nice cash prize would truly be the Grand Prize. But the odds of winning two sweepstakes are even slimmer than the odds of winning just one.

In case you’re wondering, my numerous attempts to win a travel prize have so far yielded nothing—no miles, no cash, not even a bobble-head doll. But the hope that underpins games of chance springs eternal.

Are travel sweepstakes a guilty pleasure of yours? Have you ever won?

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