DETROIT - The wide world of frequent-flier miles just got bigger.
Sure, Northwest Airlines Inc.'s frequent fliers can accumulate miles when they buy electronics or clothes online or when they charge a purchase to a WorldPerks credit card. They can even earn points by refinancing a mortgage or getting a loan.
Now add laser eye surgery to that list.
In what could be the first time frequent-flier miles have been offered with a medical procedure, D.O.C Optics Corp. and Northwest are offering 20,000 miles to patients who undergo laser eye surgery at D.O.C's new laser center in Royal Oak, Mich., before the end of July.
The offer is a gamble, said D.O.C President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Golden.
"We said, 'Look, we're going to try this one time because we don't know what's going to happen,'" Golden said in an interview.
Northwest said the idea is a natural step for D.O.C because the Southfield, Mich.-based company already offers miles with its glasses and contacts. D.O.C owns more than 100 outlets in six states.
So far, the company has received more than 500 e-mail inquiries and calls in response to the promotion, which was launched June 3. The calls are still coming in.
"We weren't prepared for the amount of calls that we got," Golden said.
All those miles helped John Altamirano choose D.O.C, where he had the surgery done June 17.
The 30-year-old engineer from St. Clair Shores, Mich., spent two days calling for quotes from other doctors and researching them online.
He narrowed the search to D.O.C and another doctor. Both had similar equipment and prices. That's where the miles came in, as Golden hoped they would for customers.
Altamirano had accumulated 75,000 miles, and he couldn't say no to another 20,000, nearly enough to redeem a domestic round trip.
"I'm getting a free trip out of the deal by going here," he said.
With so many ways to earn miles, offering them with some kind of medical procedure was bound to happen, said Tim Winship, publisher of frequent flier.com.
"These days I think, really, we shouldn't be surprised by anything. You really can earn miles these days for anything short of breathing," he said.
'Actually very cheap'
With the Internet, miles are easy to come by when shopping online by connecting to retailers through an airline's Web site.
Businesses such as D.O.C that offer frequent-flier deals buy miles from airlines for as much as 3 cents a mile, he said. That can be big business for the airlines.
"What most people consider to be the major expense of these programs, which are those free tickets, are actually very cheap to give away because the airline never displaces a revenue passenger," or a paying customer, Winship said.