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'Pudding Guy' asks: 'Who wants to be a mileage millionaire?'

By Dave Jones on July 29, 2011 in University

Twelve years after parlaying $3,140 worth of chocolate fudge into 1.25 million airline miles, UC Davis’ David Phillips is still flying high as the “Pudding Guy.”

He travels the world (40 countries so far); he gives one or two talks a year, mostly to travel industry groups and frequent flier fanatics; and he still gets media inquiries several times a year. Next week, he will bring his “road show” to the Davis campus for a free, lunchtime presentation.

“Frequent Flier Miles 101 and Travel Tips from the Pudding Guy” is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, in Ballroom A at the Activities and Recreation Center. No reservations are necessary.

Vice Chancellor John Meyer of Administrative and Resource Management arranged the presentation as a summer treat for the campus. Phillips, a civil engineer, works for Meyer as director of Utilities.

During his campus brown bag, the UC Davis alumnus will give a quick primer on frequent flier programs and share his own experiences to explain how people can travel more and spend less.

“I run through about 10 different promotions I’ve taken advantage of, and use these examples to provide tips about how others can take advantage in the future,” Phillips said.

“Good deals continue to pop up all the time,” he added. “I’ve already helped quite a few people become mileage millionaires.”

Tips on how to fly for less

His pudding project of 1999 stands out as his most lucrative, and the one that brought him national and international fame — and his nickname! He’s been in newspapers and magazines and on television and radio, and he’s all over the Internet. Adam Sandler even borrowed the pudding angle for a movie, Punch-Drunk Love.

A quick recap: While grocery shopping, Phillips discovered a Healthy Choice promotion inviting people to send in bar codes for free miles. Subsequently, he came across Healthy Choice pudding cups for 25 cents each at Grocery Outlet.

He snapped up 12,560 cups — donating most of them to food banks — and banked his 1.25 million miles, enough for 50 roundtrip flights anywhere in the United States, 21 trips to Australia and back, or 31 trips to Europe. Phillips estimated the total value of those miles at about $50,000, considering he flew coach most of the time.

Less than a year later, he picked up 1 million miles in a deal called the Latin Pass — by flying 10 Latin American airlines in six months. Phillips did it on two trips over 10 days.

Altogether, Phillips has amassed more than 6 million miles — before and after he became the “Pudding Guy.”

But he does not always fly for free. “Recently, I’ve been traveling quite a bit to run marathons,” he said. “When you can fly to San Diego on Southwest for $75 round trip, it doesn’t make sense to use miles.

“Also, I buy a lot of ‘mistake’ fares. With all the crazy price matching that goes on in the airline industry, fares are often entered incorrectly. We flew to New York for $3 each, to Europe for $90, etc. That sort of counts as paying, right?”

As you might suspect, Phillips uses most of his vacation time for travel.

“One year I flew to Europe three times for long weekends with the family, twice to Asia for weeklong trips with friends, to Hawaii for two weeks with the family, and then 10 days in Africa with my wife,” Phillips said. “That was a great year!”

Daughters, all grown up, are mileage pros

The Phillips children, Katie and Emma, were 7 and 5 when Dateline UC Davis first recounted David’s pudding tale in 2000. And while the girls grew “sick” of all that pudding back then, they learned a thing or two about travel.

“They are real pros,” Phillips said. “Katie, who is 19 now, flew to Italy on her own last year, and our 16-year-old has flown to visit friends on the East Coast several times — all on frequent flier miles, of course!”

As for Phillips and his wife, Cindy, their best trip took them to the island of Mauritius in the southwest Indian Ocean, flying first-class on British Airways. “The best guy trip was when four of us went to Peru,” David said.

He described one of his best family vacations as a trip to Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula, for his family, his parents and his sister. “Amazingly, I was able to get seven free tickets to Mexico using frequent flier miles,” he said. “That’s not so easy these days.”

As for those pudding miles, they are all gone, Phillips said.

But not to worry. You may not score on frequent flier miles from Healthy Choice, but somewhere out there some other company is bound to miscalculate a promotion.

“Companies still make mistakes like this all the time,” Phillips said. “I recently heard from someone who took a cosmetics company to the cleaners when it didn’t limit the number of coupons you could use.”

Earlier coverage

“Engineer finds sweet travel deal in cups of pudding,” Dateline UC Davis (Feb. 4, 2000)

“Dave Phillips: A quirky world suits him fine,” Dateline UC Davis (Sept. 26, 2003)

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,