Why I Flew to Las Vegas with a 128 lb Carry-on

Back in the mid-2000s, Congress mandated that the $1 coin be introduced and set a production quota of them for the US Mint.  This was done likely as a handout to the guys who deal in the metals used to make coins but ostensibly with the intention of saving the US government multiple billions of dollars by phasing out the $1 bill.  Many featured different presidents but the most produced was the Sacajawea $1 coin intended as a naive tribute to native american culture.  And as a special Eff-you to the Mint, a large production mandate was set for this particular unpopular coin no matter the actual lack of demand.

The Mint responded by following the law and then trying to figure out what to do with the resulting warehouses full of coins.  It had no takers to meet their supply.  So, they ultimately ended up paying people to take the coins by accepting credit cards for the coins and shipping them out for free.  The only caveat was they insisted people agree to put the coins into circulation rather than depositing them directly into bank accounts.  (If the coins were deposited, they would be sent right back to the Mint so that wouldn’t help their problem.)

The Mint didn’t count on very opportunistic group of people.  See, there is a whole underworld of people who love to game the system regarding airline frequent flyer miles.  This hobby dates back almost to the inception the original American Airlines frequent flyer program developed in the early 1980s.  The most famous of the airline miles plays is the Pudding Guy who realized that by combining multiple coupons he could actually redeem miles in ratio that meant the airline was basically paying him to buy every single-serve pudding at grocery stores.  That scheme played out and eventually subsequent schemes were developed as people found other ways to game the system.  With a little google searching, you can find a whole industry of people who make the accumulation of mileage awards their life’s hobby or work.

The mileage schemers quickly found the Mint.  I found them as well and embarked on buying coins by the pallet as quickly as I could.  Since you’re buying them on credit card, you get free airlines miles.  One dollar spent meant one $1 coin would be delivered to your house.  Use an airline mileage credit card and you get miles.  

I went hog wild.  The UPS truck would show up to my home with boxes and boxes of heavy coins.  But, I refused to make myself a liar by breaking the promise I made to the mint to circulate the coins.  So, they started to pile up in my home.  I had drawers full of them at work and couldn’t keep up.  Invoices would be paid in shiny new coins, often 20lbs of coins in rolls, in little brown boxes.  My Subaru shocks were getting ruined because of hauling around hundreds of pounds of coins.  I was valiantly paying everything with coins but losing the war.  They were just coming in too fast.

Where could I get rid of all of these coins without breaking my promise to the Mint?  Where was cash king?  

Las Vegas!  

So, I cajoled friends into going to Vegas for the weekend.  My problem was: how to get them there?  Obviously, I’d get killed with baggage fees if I checked the coins.  But what about taking them on the actual plane as a carry-on?  I’m strong — why the heck not?

In likely one of the weirdest customer service phone calls on record, I spoke to six different people at Southwest Airlines over a 45 minute period until one of them informed me that, yes, there’s no weight limit for carry-ons.  Several weeks later, I packed two bags:  one with my personal effects and another with 128lbs of Sacajawea coins.  

Security was fun.  After they scanned the bag, I had a dozen TSA people asking what was in the bag.  I said, “coins” like there was nothing the matter.  The supervisor checked a box and I was on my way.  We boarded shortly thereafter and a cute little flight attendant wanted to help put my bag in the overhead.  I was sorely tempted to let her help but said no thanks.  She gave me a funny look as I heaved the thing up there with a huge clunk.

Once in Vegas, we had a nice hour spent while the Harrah’s casino ran the entire lot through their coin machine in the basement and paid us with crisp $100 bills.  True to my promise, we’d put them in circulation.

Michael Girdley