Watch some ads, get more frequent flier miles
But spending about five minutes a day looking at ads can lead to a free flight by accumulating frequent flier miles through e-Miles, a Web site that gives hotel or airline loyalty points for watching TV ads and answering short surveys.
"There's some people who have more time than they did before to do this," e-Miles chairman and CEO Hal Brierley said of the effect of the recession on his company.
The site is easy enough to use. After signing up and telling about your interests so that ads are targeted at what you enjoy, you then watch an ad, answer a survey and get miles. Five to 10 miles are given for a simple click-through, and up to around 1,000 for singing up to an offer such as a cable provider.
I signed up for e-Miles recently and many of the initial ads are short surveys for 15 points. The TV ads must come later after defining what areas I'm interested in.
Earned miles can be deposited into your choice of sponsor programs: AirTran Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hilton Honors, Northwest Airlines or US Airways. There are no fees.
Like doing a puzzle in your spare time, spending five minutes a day on e-Miles can seem like a game that adds up. Of the 1.5 million people enrolled in e-Miles, 500,000 regularly participate and can earn 25,000 miles for an airline ticket in a year, Brierley told me in a telephone interview from his office in Dallas.
"I think more people are looking for more opportunities to save money and earn rewards," he said.
People don't go around saying how much money they make, but they're proud to tell you how many frequent flier or hotel points they have to get a free airline ticket or a free hotel room, said Brierley, who adds that e-Miles is meant for people active in their reward programs.
"It is not for someone who would say, 'I never travel,'" he said. It's meant for people who either travel frequently or are leisure travelers.
As for the supposed difficulty of redeeming miles for flights, e-Miles has found in surveys that the availability of reward seats is decent if travelers aren't looking to claim a prime seat during a high demand period. Now is a great time to get such seats on international flights, Brierley said.
By answering e-Miles surveys about their interests, customers can limit what areas they want to respond to, such as sports, jewelry and outdoor activities. They'll get e-mails from e-Miles, but won't be barraged with e-mails from advertisers, Brierley said.
Advertisements are typically obtrusive, but with e-Miles people can choose what ads they want to watch and when, and be rewarded for it.
If only watching TV ads was so easy.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net