Early November is a strange time of year for the frequent flyer mileage obsessed. With just a few weeks remaining in the year the number of points earned so far and the number remaining to reach the next elite status become crystal clear. And when the numbers align correctly, the truly obsessed set out on trips for no particular purpose other than to fly those few miles and make the next level. Plus fares from early November through early December seem conducive to these sorts of run, with routes selling somewhat cheaper (even this year) as business travel ebbs heading into the holidays.
Yes, it seems strange to pay to fly just for elite status. But depending on the program, expected future travel and just how close you are, the value of the benefits of elite status can be paid back with a quick trip. Especially now that pretty much every airline charges fees for checked baggage, but exempts their elites (and people traveling with them) from such fees, the value of status is actually a calculable number. And then there are bonus miles (unless you fly US Air) and upgrade opportunities, so the elite status can have real value.
This is at least the third time I’ve made such a trip. My first was on US Air a few years back. I flew NYC – Boston – NYC – Washington, DC – NYC one Saturday morning. The same flight crew worked the Washington, DC turn and one flight attendant recognized me getting back on the plane. I tried to explain that I really just wanted a lunch of chowder from the Legal Sea Foods in DCA but she wasn’t buying that. I finally explained the elite status benefits and the trivial costs and she understood and agreed that it made sense.
My second run was last year around this time. I flew from JFK to Anchorage, via Houston and Seattle in both directions, over a 36 hour period. We were on the ground in Anchorage for about 45 minutes, just long enough to brush my teeth and get back on the plane for a cat nap to Seattle. And that got me to platinum status with Continental, meaning no change fees on reward flights. I took full advantage of that benefit (and still will into early next year), more than recouping the cost of the flights.
For me this year I’ve actually flown about the same number of miles as last year (~100,000) but I have split them among a couple programs and I’ve had virtually zero business travel. This leaves me a bit short of qualifying for the lowest level of elite status on my primary program (Continental). My other main program (bmi) has seen a lot of points crediting in thanks to some flights on United, but they have a rolling 12 month qualification program, so I just reset to zero there on November first. With those two stats staring me in the face, and some pretty reasonable flight prices, I’m setting off this weekend on a pretty ridiculous sequence of 12 flights in about 66 hours.
The overall trip is NYC to Philly on the bus, followed by Philly to Orange County, California on Continental. That is today’s flights. Tomorrow I’ll wake up ridiculously early and head to the airport to fly Orange County – San Francisco – Los Angeles – Denver – Oklahoma City on United in first class, thanks to a small pricing error on their part. Sunday sees me flying Oklahoma City – Denver – Portland – San Francisco – Orange County on United and then finishing off the evening with a redeye flight from Orange County to Newark on Continental. Flight number twelve comes on Monday morning from Newark to Philadelphia. I’m planning on lunch with a friend before heading back up to New York later on Monday afternoon.
Like I said, pretty ridiculous. But I’ve already put a pretty big dent in my “to read” pile, I get to meet up with friends in lounges and on flights along the way, and it really is relaxing for me to be flying. And the points are fun to use, too.
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