Watching a mileage run explode and bailing out

Good morning from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where, after ~26 hours, I’m finally back where I’m supposed to be in this travel adventure. To say that things did not go so well yesterday is a bit of an understatement. To be fair, I started with ridiculous expectations. I booked a ludicrous mileage run: three consecutive same-day trips between Philadelphia and San Diego. The fares were low and the miles were tempting. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I think. I actually booked similar itineraries three different times and this was the second of them. The first was in June and I mostly flew it as planned. I pretty much hated myself when it was over and wasn’t going to do it again. And then I got excited by the prospect of finally getting to Million Miler (I should have this weekend) and I went stupid again. Needless to say that milestone still awaits.

Landings on RWY 29 at EWR on Saturday made for some fun views as we lined up for departure.

Day one of the trip went reasonably well. I had no trouble with the train up from Philly to Newark and the flight out to San Diego was on time, even with a small delay out of Newark. I got to visit the new club in SAN (review here)thanks to Gabe and my upgrade cleared for the redeye back to San Diego. I actually slept a couple hours on board. When I arrived in Dulles it was off to the pit known as the United Express operations in Terminal A. I spoke to the agent about a possible VDB (the kiosk spit out a coupon saying it might be necessary) and then waited out the 90 minutes until my flight departure with a breakfast sandwich from Five Guys. We boarded the flight and no volunteers were needed and I figured things were still going OK. After they closed the door to the plane the gate agent came back on board an off-loaded two non-revs and then paged me overhead. Apparently there were W&B issues and they needed to offload one more passenger. I jumped up, grabbed my bag and headed back inside the terminal.

I boarded the ERJ to PHL, only to deplane ~30 minutes later with a VDB voucher in hand and itineraries rebooked.

The agent was ready to rebook me via US Airways on DCA-PHL which would have been OK for catching my next itinerary but I chose to skip that. I had them drop the IAD-PHL segment off itinerary 1 and also drop PHL-IAD off itinerary 2. I would be able to camp out in Dulles for a bit, get some work done and start anew that afternoon. And I got a voucher, too. I made it to the BA lounge (access via Priority Pass Select from the AmEx Platinum card; review here) and spent a few hours in there. I got that work done which I had planned and had a few snacks, plus a much-needed shower. I moved over to the Lufthansa lounge next door and snacked a bit (slightly better food at lunch time than the BA option but not by much) and around 2pm started to make my way back over to the “temporary” terminal for my 5:30pm United flight. Yes, it was early but I wanted some real food and figured that was enough lounge time anyways. This was also about the time that I was supposed to be getting back on a plane from PHL to IAD. And that’s when the email notifications of delays started to roll in.

I laughed a bit as the alerts kept coming. First it was an hour (my connection would have been OK) and then it grew and grew. It was a typical rolling delay due to mechanical issues but it didn’t matter to me. I was smart and lucky earlier in the day to have dropped that segment so I was going to be just fine. After all, looking at the email telling me of a 3+ hour delay on the regional jet I was also sitting on board the 757 which would take me to San Diego, chatting with the flight attendants and enjoying a pre-departure beverage even though the upgrade didn’t clear. I was exhausted but things were still looking pretty good for the trip. And then the flight attendant noted that the air conditioning wasn’t running because the pilots weren’t quite there yet. Hmmm….but we started boarding anyways so they must be in the airport, just coming over from a connection, right? Wrong.

It turns out that the crew for the IAD-SAN trip was on that broken and delayed PHL-IAD flight. In other words that delay was actually going to screw me even though I had managed to drop it from my itinerary 9 hours earlier in the day. My connection in San Diego – originally 2.5 hours – was now down below 45 minutes and that was assuming the pilot actually got to the plane and we got out of Dulles anywhere close to their predictions. I spoke to the gate agent and she suggested I’d probably make the connection anyways. Ha! I called the 1K line and they were able to get me a seat on the next IAD-PHL flight (10pm; it was ~6:15 at this point) and drop the transcon part of the trip. This had just become a classic “trip-in-vain” itinerary.

Good thing I bailed…definitely would’ve been stuck in San Diego, though that’s hardly the worst place in the world to be stuck.

Adding insult to injury, the 10pm flight to PHL was delayed about 30 minutes due to the plane needing a tire change somewhere earlier that afternoon and the crew was playing catch-up the rest of the day. They were nice and forthcoming about the issue though the agents in the terminal were not so well informed nor sharing.

I made it to the Renaissance Hotel at the Philadelphia Airport just before midnight, roughly 18 hours after I initially arrived in Dulles. I had been in the airport there for 16 hours.

A few are missing, but that’s most of my weekend

Yes, I should have gone to Udvar-Hazy or called one of many friends in the area. There were many other things I could have done which would have been better than pretending that the seats in the gate area were my couch at home and napping there for 20 minutes at one point during the event which the Giants are still claiming was a football game. There are many ways the day could have gone better.

And while sitting here in the train station an email came in from United: I’ve been upgraded for the return half of my schedule EWR-SAN-EWR trip today. That segment was to be the MMer qualifying trip and the upgrade finally came through. Alas, it seems now quite unlikely that I’ll be making that turn. I don’t really need the miles (yes, more is always a good thing but my status for the year is secured and MMer is going to happen eventually). And even with the upgrade that’s another night where I’d be voluntarily subjecting myself to sleeping on an airplane for a domestic redeye. Combine that with weather forecasts for NYC today (hello, tornado watch!) and it seems like the smart thing to do is to head home and live to fly another day. Yeah, it skews my CPM numbers a bit for the year but I’m still doing pretty well on that front.

Besides, doing the smart thing every now and then is a nice change of pace.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So did you just pitch your last ticket and lose out, or did you retain some residual value?

  2. My expectation was that I’d lose out on the value of the last ticket, Colleen. At ~$150 for each of the return flights I was below the change fee costs so it was a choice between flying or just tossing it. In the end there was a weather waiver today in NYC so I got away with using that to hold the value of the ticket. At least in theory. We’ll see how well that works when I go to try to use it.

    1. I’m hoping for ORC. Lacking that I’ll take trip-in-vain. I’d rather the miles than the $150 back but I don’t know that I’ll have a choice in the end. It is on my list to deal with later this week after I’m a bit more rested.

  3. Take care. Actually, I hate red-eye MR! I always prefer to sleep in the airport instead of redeye back. I managed to use SDC to change 3 of my redeye to a daytime flight so that I can sleep at the airport. but i think SAN is a harder one to sleep…. at some point, dont u think u have too many miles and it is not worth it anymore? i have a usd 180 trip for almost 6000 miles and there was a major schedule change. I am hoping to get a refund as I have just re-qualified for 1k. sitting with over 500K miles, it is not clear if it is worth to acquire more miles when status is out of the question.

  4. Seth, At FTU you said how you look forward to things going awry on mileage runs, due to keeping the miles and often getting a more direct route. Looks like this one wash a wash. Amazing to me how well you think on the fly!

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