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On a recent flight from San Francisco to Portland I spotted an ad in the Alaska Beyond inflight magazine that got my attention.

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Earn airline miles on Alaska Airlines just for walking? Sounds great, where can I sign up & what’s the catch? Is this some kind of scam?

At best, this ad is misleading. Nowhere does it mention that in order to earn airline miles for walking, you need to become a Pro member of Semler Heart. What exactly does that mean?

Here are more details, from the Semler Heart site:

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Become a Pro Member and start earning airline miles

You can earn airline miles with Alaska AirlineUnited Airline, or American Airline while walking with the Semler Heart app! One Semler Mile (2000 steps) rewards you one airline mile, up to as many miles as you can walk per month.

Typos aside (“airline”?), this page still doesn’t mention the massive detail. It costs $1.99 per month to become a Pro member, which is mentioned nowhere in the inflight magazine ad, nor is it mentioned on the Semler Heart website, nor is it mentioned on the app store.

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You don’t find this out until you download the app, sign up, and then click on “Go Pro!”

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Alright then, this is looking much less appealing.

Here’s another detail about how many airline miles you can earn by walking, from the Semler Heart privacy policy:

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Airline Mileage Programs

You may earn one airline mile for every mile you walk up to 100 miles per month on the airline
you choose from the selection we offer

While their website says you can earn “up to as many miles as you can walk each month”, that is clearly not the case. 100 miles per month is just over 3 miles per day, well below what most experts recommend, never mind what very active people are capable of walking.

So even if you walked a reasonable 5 miles per day, you’d still cap out on your earnings well before the month is over! The absolute best value you can get from this “deal” is 100 miles for $1.99 per month, which is 2 cents per mile. While that’s not necessarily a terrible price, it’s such a tiny amount of miles that there’s almost no practical worth. If you want to buy miles, wait for a promo deal where you can a larger amount of miles for a comparable price per mile. If want miles to keep an account active, you can shop online through your airline’s shopping portal. I certainly wouldn’t trust a subscription that then also required ongoing action on my part.

This return also depends on all of your walking being recorded accurately & for them to pay out properly. What happens if the app crashes or doesn’t record your steps accurately, & you don’t notice, so you keep paying $2 per month for absolutely nothing? That’s scenario seems to be exactly what they would want. There’s a reason why Semler Heart has hidden this monthly fee deep within the app, well after you’ve seen the ad, downloaded it, and gone through the signup process.

Now this doesn’t even begin to get into the questions of privacy & data sharing, but based on the fact that you’d be paying for what is a small amount of miles, that consideration would make an already mediocre deal even worse, depending on how much you care about privacy.

I had been excited when I saw this Semler Health ad in Alaska Beyond, figuring that it might be a cool way to earn a small amount of airline miles for walking, which I do anyway. I never expected it to be a huge number of miles, but I expected that I’d trade off a bit of data for a small reward. I was not expecting that it would cost $1.99 per month on top of that. I’ll pass.

What do you think? Add a comment!