Extreme Rewards

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You laugh at frequent flier points, and are bored silly by a few cents on the dollar cash back. What you are looking for is something unusual in a reward card. Here are some of the more interesting rewards that I have found.

Out Of This World

The Virgin Atlantic American Express Card from Bank of America card offers all of the usual features including sign up bonuses, elite qualifying miles, and anniversary bonus, nothing too exciting. On the other hand, through the end of January 2009, cardmembers will earn an entry into a sweepstakes for a trip into space on for every $10,000 spent. If you haven’t heard, Virgin Galactic was started by Virgin Airway’s founder Richard Branson to be the first space tourism company. They have contracted with aviation pioneer Burt Rutan to develop the first commercial passenger space ship. Before you dismiss this as a dream, note that Rutan already has built and flown into space his first prototype, creatively named SpaceShip One. His follow on ship for commercial operation is being named….SpaceShip Two. Like SpaceShip One, SpaceShip Two will only fly sub-orbital, meaning it will only be in space for a few minutes. In contrast, NASA’s Space Shuttle reaches orbit and is able to circle the Earth for days. Virgin Galactic is expected to be ready for operation sometime in 2010.

How Can I Go To Space?

My first thought is how can I use the Virgin Atlantic card to earn points for a space flight with Virgin Galactic, other than winning the sweepstakes. After some careful research, I have been forced to conclude that I am out of luck. While you can redeem 2 million Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points for a flight on Virgin Galactic, there is some fine print that says that only points earned through flights on Virgin Atlantic are eligible for this award. There goes my credit card reward idea. Furthermore, my quick calculation says that I might have to fly from Los Angeles to Cape Town, via London, in a full fare, first class ticket 40 times in order to earn that 2 million miles.

The good news is that if I somehow earned those 2 million miles, redeeming them for the Virgin Galactic flight would be a very good use of them. The Virgin Galactic flight sells for a coll $200,000, so that redeeming 2 million miles would be the equivalent value of 10 cents/per mile, outstanding! That kind of value might help when I am trying to convince myself that a few minutes of space flight would be worth my life savings.

Save The Planet

Once you have gone into space, and seen the world from above the sky, maybe you might try to do something to save it. GE offers it’s Earth Rewards card with the idea that your rewards will carbon offsets that will go towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thereby reducing global warming.

In the movies, saving the planet requires some sort of super powers, yet in the real world, things are a little more complicated. With this card, it turns out that the devil is in the details. The first problem is that GE only devotes 1% towards the greenhouse gas reductions. Since that is pretty much the bare minimum in the world of cash back returns you would do as well or better to get a cash back card and donate the equivalent amount. Then there is the problem with the carbon offsets themselves. Even if you fully in to the concept of carbon credits, it is a little fishy that GE s the credits from GE AES Greenhouse Gas Services. So GE is ing credits from another division of GE, a company that also manufacturers coal fired electricity plants. To me, all this adds up to a mind bending conflict of interest rather than an Earth saving altruistic donation. I think I will skip this card and save up for a new Prius.

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