Everyone knows frequent flier miles can get you free trips and upgrades to first-class. But some airlines go a step further -- helping you pull off an in-flight marriage proposal or taking you to the zoo. Indeed, some frequent flier awards fall into the "weird and wonderful" category, according to Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorks, a company that tracks airline marketing. However, they might not be easy to find.
That's because airlines have added to their frequent flier programs, much like a "mad retailer who started with a hardware store, added a women's wear section and then fine wines," said Sorensen in a recent report. Though the right rewards can spark the imagination and create a more loyal customer, the cacophony of offerings often just "confuse and bewilder" frequent fliers.
Fliers who want to make the most of their reward program may well have to dig. But those who do could find some real gems that you can pay for with points, he said.
If you're a Hobbit fan, for instance, Air New Zealand reminds passengers about its country's connection to the Lord of the Rings movies by allowing frequent fliers to use points to buy a wide array of Hobbit-related mementos in its airport store, including a replica of Gandalf's magic scarf.
Frontier Airlines, headquartered in Denver, offers its customers family membership to the Denver Zoo for 11,000 miles.
All Nippon Airways partnered with Lexus to appeal to Japanese car enthusiasts by allowing them to buy a visit to the Lexus "experience store." There, nestled among the latest automotive models, is a fine-dining restaurant offering a four-course meal, including champagne for two, for a mere 15,000 ANA miles.
Cathay Pacific offers a "Hand Made in Hong Kong" tour that takes passengers through the city's historic handiwork trades (15,000 miles). And Avianca offers a Pizza Walking Tour of New York, complete with three slices from pizzerias throughout town for just 5,803 miles.
Wish you knew how to fly? EVA Air will let frequent fliers buy a 90-minute flight simulator session with a trainer for 100,000 miles. Just want to see a show? Both American and United Airlines allow members of their frequent flier programs to redeem miles for concerts, sporting events, Broadway shows and special performances.
The cost in miles varies and can be steep, however. Indeed, in a 2014 promotion American auctioned off a Justin Timberlake concert package that included two flights, hotel accommodations, transfers, meals and a $600 prepaid MasterCard. Top bid: 421,000 frequent flier miles.
The Portugal's TAP regularly runs short-term promotions on Facebook, where frequent fliers can bid for cruises, hotel stays and concerts. El Al has an in-flight marriage proposal kit, which includes wine and chocolates, for those who want to pop the question at 35,000 feet up. Cost: $60 plus 120 miles.
However, some rewards are a bit more weird than wonderful.
Air France, for example, offers branded purses made out of old life vests (9,000 miles). All Nippon Airways will allow frequent fliers to buy 747 aircraft memorabilia, including those not-so-cozy reclining seats (747,000 miles). Japan Airlines will allow you to visit the company's museum, which features displays of flight attendant costumes through the ages (2,000 miles). And for 4,000 miles, Virgin Australia offers a book with the disturbing title: "How to Land a Jumbo Jet."