I get to fly today (or at least that is the plan). I am on a mileage run out to SFO for just $150 round trip. So far, ½ of all my upgrades have cleared pre-flight. Have you ever thought about a mileage “run-run”? Take a look at what one reader shared with us all! Enjoy.
Post by LARS-ERIK OLSON
As a teenager, when I asked my parents for the first time to borrow the car, I drove it to the Grand Rapids airport and parked next to the runway to watch the planes land and takeoff. I fantasized that one day I would be inside one of those airplanes going somewhere… anywhere. Just the idea of flying seemed exciting to me.
Now, decades later, I still think it’s exciting. In fact, I find it difficult to sleep on an airplane because my “inner child” is too excited.
I thought that perhaps this year I could regain the Silver Medallion status that I once had, and as a result I’ve become a regular reader of René’s DeltaPoints blog, follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his SMS text alerts. I found out about a heavily discounted $517 fare to Moscow in late October. I thought it was strange because while the fare was offered by Alitalia, the flights were on Delta metal to Milan and Aeroflot to Moscow (and the same flights priced out almost double on Delta.com). By the end of this trip, I had obtained Silver (FO) and I was happy.
But then René let us know about a special fare he had found via The Flight Deal for travel to Hawaii. Actually, there were two deals that appeared around the same time, and I realized I could append one onto the other. The first would allow me to spend vacation time in Hawaii, followed by one where I would fly back to Hawaii, but not leave the airport. It would be a “pure” mileage run. Should I do it?!? I reached out to René and he replied saying “Silver is nice but Gold is much better,” and restated that the CPM (cost per mile) was a great value.
The first deal was a so-called “attack fare” from Newark (where United has direct flights to HNL) for $421 via Atlanta. I’ve never been to Hawaii and was excited as I tried to jump on that fare before it expired (“It won’t last long,” we were advised). I managed to successfully book dates giving me about a week to spend there. I also took advantage of the Hertz offer on Delta.com that, as an FO, would net me 3,400 miles for the one-week, $125 rental.
I left my apartment in Brooklyn in the early morning darkness on December 5th to take the subway to Penn Station in Manhattan, and from there a New Jersey Transit train to Newark Liberty (EWR). But when I needed to transfer to the “A” train, it took forever to arrive. Grr! When it finally did, some cops got off with three guys in handcuffs. By the time I got to Penn Station, I didn’t think the chances of making my flight were very good. Nevertheless, I quickly bought the $12.50 ticket to EWR and boarded that train.
On the train, I used my cell phone and called Delta using the priority number for Medallion members. I explained my situation and asked for help. She told me there would be both a change fee and also the difference in the price of the ticket to pay should I miss the flight and need to take the next one. At my request, she spent some time figuring that out and told me it would cost about $400 – but then due to spotty cell service inside the train, the call was dropped. It would be impossible to justify spending that much more money, and I realized I may need to cancel the vacation trip and just do the pure mileage run part.
As I was arriving at the EWR train station, I called Delta again. This rep told me to not even bother getting on the AirTrain monorail to the terminal, as it was certain now I would miss the flight. I explained again about the police action on the subway system that had delayed me. “Let’s see what I can do,” he said. Of course I expressed my appreciation. After a few minutes, he asked if he could place me on hold. My sister had advised me that with such an early flight at an airport so far away I should just go to the airport that night and not bother to try to sleep. Now I was cursing myself for not taking her advice.
The rep was back on the line. “Can you make it to JFK by 9 am?” he asked.
“Yes! I can,” I replied.
“Hold on then a little bit longer, I need to check with my supervisor.”
“OK, you’re booked on the 9am flight from JFK to LAX, and then from there to HNL. You’ll arrive in Honolulu only an hour or so later than your original itinerary.”
When I asked about what this was going to cost, he said that was why he needed to speak to his supervisor. They did all this at no additional charge (because it wasn’t my fault the police had delayed the train for so long)!!
I immediately headed for JFK and when I arrived at T4, I used the special check-in line for Silver Medallions and all went well. Phew! A very close call, but thanks to a Delta rep who really went out of his way to be helpful, my vacation was saved!
At LAX, I visited the SkyClub where a special table had been set up to promote the Bali-inspired Juara products that are being used as amenities in the SkyClub showers. As a happy coincidence for this vendor, the club was showing a destination video that featured Bali. I had visited that “Island of the gods” earlier this year (none of the flights on that trip were on Delta), so it was fun to watch that video and reminisce.
I sat in a bulkhead row on the flight from LAX to HNL and got the chance to chat with one of the friendliest flight attendants I’ve ever come across who was in the facing jump seat. It was a Honolulu-based crew, and she had lived in Hawaii for many years. She was a cheerful person, full of energy and seemed to never stop smiling during the entire flight. I was able to ask her about my crazy idea of being able to sleep in my rental car at a campsite or along the coastline in order to save money on hotels. She told me that while it may be difficult in Honolulu, that it would be possible as I drove around the circumference of Oahu (which was my plan) to find campsites and places to park overnight alongside the water… and that indeed proved to be the case. I stayed in hotels only two nights (one of which afforded a penthouse view of Waikiki), and thanks to a seat that fully reclined and campsite showers, was able to sleep in the car the other three nights.
For the return, I left HNL at 5:30 pm and arrived in ATL at 7:05 am just in time to see the sunrise. My connecting flight would take me “back” to EWR (you’ll remember I ended up leaving from JFK instead).
And now, for the first time ever, the craziness (I don’t think there’s a better word?) of a “pure” mileage run was to begin. Earlier in the year, I had taken advantage of a Milwaukee-based mileage run to LAX that I had also learned about via DeltaPoints, but I made that into a little mini-vacation that allowed me to meet up with friends in both L.A. and Milwaukee.
To take advantage of the next great deal, I needed to get to Oakland. I tried to use US Bank FlexPerks points to purchase this positioning portion of the trip, but couldn’t figure out a way to get their “Travelocity-powered” site to allow me to specify so many segments, so I ended up buying it on Delta.com for $328. I had only two hours at EWR before leaving to return to ATL, and from there back to LAX! I paid a short visit to the SkyClub, as I hadn’t seen it in it’s present incarnation.
On the flight from LAX to OAK, I was talking with the woman seated next to me about the nature of my trip. She was intrigued by the idea of someone flying just to earn miles. A guy seated across the aisle overheard some of this conversation. “Positioning?” he asked. Wait… how does someone know this word?
The guy, I find out, is Pablo D. from Florida who also learned about this particular mileage run via René and also followed DeltaPoints. He was going to be flying the exact same itinerary that I had booked! Suddenly I didn’t feel quite as crazy. I also learned that he was at the Chicago Seminars in October that I hadn’t been able to attend. I was flying to make it to Gold, and Pablo’s goal was to retain his Silver status.
We arrived at 9:30 and our flight out would be at 6:10 am in the morning. I had a room booked at the nearby Holiday Inn Express (courtesy of a friend’s IHG points) that has a free shuttle. The deal we both were about to take advantage of would take us on this routing: OAK > SLC > LAX > HNL > OGG (Maui) > LAX > OAK. All for $200 dollars (.022 CPM)!
When I boarded the flight to Salt Lake in the morning, I saw that Pablo had the starboard bulkhead Economy Comfort (EC) window seat. “How’d you get that seat?” I asked him as I passed by to my EC seat. He told me later that instead of just checking for the entire journey in advance, that he sets an alarm on his iPhone for 24 hours before each segment, which is when the EC seats first become available for free to FOs. A good tip!
Salt Lake City was cold and had quite a bit of snow on the ground. We were both happy to learn we had scored an upgrade to First for the two-hour flight to LAX.
We had four hours to kill before our flight to HNL. Pablo asked a passing Delta crew member if she could recommend a place to eat. “Lemonade in the other Delta terminal has really good food,” we were told. Our gate was in T5 as well, so we made our way through the long underground passageway, which gave us the opportunity to look at some of the Delta destinations featured on the corridor wall and compare notes on where our travels had taken us (e.g., Pablo has been in Paris, but it’s still on my bucket list; we’ve both been to Italy, I’ve been to Brazil, etc.) Lemonade turned out to be an excellent recommendation. We both thought the food was great, and had it not been for her recommendation, both of us would probably have passed it by. In fact, I have walked past it in the past because both the name and the signage didn’t seem appealing to me, but that was a mistake. They offer high-quality, tasty food (mostly salads, soups and sandwiches) at a reasonable price. Two thumbs up!
As we were eating, I mentioned how this was a much better value for us because we were hungry than having paid $25 (both of us have Delta AmEx cards) to get into the SkyClub to munch on carrot and celery sticks. And then I remembered that I had two United Club passes left from when I had the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card. Pablo was happy to accept my invitation to go check that club out. Actually there were two locations, and we passed by the first in order to go to the larger club. It was big and looked new and contemporary. There were no showers, but we sipped on wine, ate some fresh fruit and other snacks, and with Pablo’s trusty iPhone alarm set, tried to close our eyes for awhile in a Quiet Room that had an entire mirrored wall full of pillar candles.
When we boarded the flight to HNL, I was delighted to again see Raelynn, my favorite flight attendant! I was even more pleased that she instantly recognized me and greeted me with a big smile. “How did it go?” she asked. “Did you have a good time? Were you able to sleep in your car?” I told her it was great… that everything had turned out very nice. Later on during the flight, she wanted to know a bit more, and I told her about how thrilled I was that two local guys I had been taking photos of while they were fishing on a rock formation had befriended me. They invited me to take one of their poles and try to catch a fish myself and I did! “That’s the true spirit of Aloha,” she said. [By the way, my fish dropped off the line as I tried to reel it up out of the water. As you can see, we were up on a cliff and I really didn’t know what I was doing.]
The other cool thing about this flight was that Pablo had the window seat and I the aisle in a bulkhead EC row. In between us was a young woman who probably wasn’t too happy to be caught in the crossfire of a conversation that could last the entire flight. Pablo sensed this, and told her that it wouldn’t be as bad as she was imagining. The funny thing though is that in the latter part of the flight, we started to talk to each other and found out that she was a nurse at a Honolulu hospital. She was very interested in what we were doing and participated in our conversation. As we were about to deplane, she told us “This is the best flight I’ve ever been on!” Pablo and I were both surprised and quite proud she said that.
We had some time again before our next flight to Maui, and I thought Pablo would enjoy visiting a store I had discovered there that is full of aviation geek merchandise: lots of model airplanes, airline t-shirts, airline promotional items, etc. As we walked back, Pablo spotted Alec Baldwin walking the other way! I was curious about the SkyClub, and we found it kind of hidden in a lower outdoor courtyard location. The agent there said this had been a former Crown Room and that all the airline clubs were supposed to be located in this area. When we were walking around the airport however, I had noted many exceptions. I asked if I could take a couple photos, and thought it was interesting that they had an indoor waterfall.
The short hop between Oahu and Maui was on Hawaiian, and I thought that was cool since I had never been on one of their planes before. We had barely leveled off from takeoff when the crew served a blended juice-only beverage service. I realized why when as soon as they collected my empty cup, we were already well on our way toward landing.
Because I never returned home after my first trip to Hawaii, I still was traveling with one checked bag. I had to claim that and then check it in again with OAK as the destination. Pablo had previously vacationed on Maui with his family and he encouraged me to try to return to this island should I ever be able to make it back to Hawaii. But since I didn’t really know if I ever would be able to do that, I used this opportunity to walk outside the terminal, touch a few trees and breath the fresh air (so I could say that I had been to Maui… haha).
The DL red-eye flight to LAX that left at 11 pm was, unfortunately, one of my worst flights ever. The cabin temperature – at least in our section – was sooo cold that I was literally shivering, even with one of those thin red blankets. Many other passengers were complaining, but our section of the cabin didn’t really warm up until hours later.
Pablo and I both scored our second upgrade for the flight back to Oakland!
Once again I had to retrieve my bag and check it in again… this time to JFK (for this “positioning” itinerary I had booked outbound from EWR but return to JFK, which is not very far from my apartment).
I had to say goodbye to Pablo (pictured here on the right), who I felt had become a real friend. I’m sure I’ll see him again though; either on another mileage run, at one of René’s seminars, or here in the Big Apple.
I flew back to SLC and then back to LAX. I had 90 minutes, so at LAX I bought the exact same “Holiday” turkey sandwich I had had before at Lemonade, and also visited the SkyClub for a short time.
I arrived at JFK at 12:30 am and by the time I made it home via AirTrain and subway, it was 3 in the morning and I was exhausted. I was happy to be home and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed… but at the same time I felt really satisfied that all of this traveling had been both fun and worth it.
As a Silver Medallion, I earned a 25% bonus on each of the flights. When I include those bonus miles, I earned 30,440 SkyMiles for the entire three-ticket trip. But wait! The flight from SLC > LAX put me over 50K MQMs for the year, making me Gold… and GMs get a 100% bonus. I called Delta and was told I didn’t get the GM bonus for LAX > JFK because that segment was on the same ticket as the rest of the flights where I was just FO. Nah… I wasn’t buying that… that’s not the way the Medallion program is marketed, and asked to speak to a supervisor. I stated my case, and she credited me an additional 2,000 miles. I had paid a total of $950.17, divided now by 32,440 miles, yields a CPM of $0.0292. Not bad!!
Thank you so much Lars-Eric for sharing with us. Mileage runs are not for everyone but if you can make it a fun adventure, at the right price, they can be part of the mix you need to reach whatever elite level you want with our airline. If you see me in ATL or DTW or SFO along the way the next few days, be sure to come up and say “Hi” – René