Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Joys of a Mileage Run

I’m writing this post while 37,000 feet above Manitoba and Ontario provinces of Canada and thought I might try to help people understand what and why I’ve done what I’ve done. First, let’s define a mileage run. Simply put a mileage run is a trip booked with the main purpose to accumulate frequent flyer miles with an airline in pursuit of a higher tier status. The goal would be to do it at a very low cost since you are not using OPM (Other People’s Money – like your employer for example) and maximize your miles. Some go for a high pain threshold and have multiple segments and bounce all over. My preference was for as few connections as possible with as many miles as I could get.

The search began months ago when I realized my domestic travel was getting me miles, but not nearly as many as I needed to maintain 1K status with United Airlines. I needed 100,000 miles or 120 segments and $12,000 in spend in calendar year 2015 to keep 1K for 2016. I was over on spend and was around 80,000 miles and 85 segments. No way did I want to try for 120 segments – that’s the hard, painful way to get there in my opinion. I had a good start to the year with a trip to Italy in January for vacation and then west coast trips for work training and new employee stuff. As I settled into my new role, the number of flights were there, but the miles were much, much lower. The solution was a mileage run.

I started looking at one of my favorite forums on the Internet, Flyertalk, and reviewing the Mileage Run forum but none of the dates worked for me, or were to destinations I didn’t want to visit or needed a visa. I used Google flights and found a good price on a round trip to Hong Kong that met my requirements in cost, timing and most importantly, miles. I was able to get a round trip CMH-ORD-HKG-EWR-CMH that would net ~17,000 miles for ~$400. The cost was lowered to $400 as I was able to apply a voucher for a problem earlier in the year and it was part of their “apology” to me. I had to clear it with the CEO (my wife) and sell her one the value.

Why is 1K important to me? Having one of the higher status with the airline gives me a few benefits including 6 Global upgrades which on the right tickets will allow me to upgrade from Economy to Business Class. I also get earlier boarding (Group 1), a higher multiplier on miles I earn when I fly, free checked bag and priority access at the airport at the airport counter and in TSA lines. I also have access to a special phone number to call when things go sideways and I need help as well as access to an email service called 1K Voice that can help with some items. I also get Marriott Gold and Hertz Presidential Circle status as part of 1K. My family has flown with me on many trips for free due to the miles and we’ve experienced the benefits of free checked bags, priority handling and more over the years. The benefits are real and tangible to us so yeah, 1K is a good thing for our family.

Once booked, it was a matter of waiting for the weekend to come and it did. I left home Friday at 6AM to go to the airport. I had already checked in the day before so went through security and flew to Chicago. I had a long layover in ORD so went to the United Club and took one of my favorite seats where I can watch the planes taxi around and right next to a gate that usually has a 747 or 777 parked at it. I took some conference calls, sent many emails, talked on Twitter and worked on some documents before it was time to board. Remember those global upgrades I mentioned, mine had cleared so I knew I’d be flying for 15 hours in business class. This is a HUGE upgrade from Economy+. I’ve flown plenty of BIS (butt in seat) miles in E+ all over the world and know what a blessing it is to have business.

I settled into my seat 6D which was a rear facing seat but it’s one that will allow me to lay down. I had planned to get all kinds of work done on the way over. Since I was not staying long I didn’t want to adjust to the time there (12 hours ahead of home) so connected to the Internet, emailed with Julie, watch movies and got caught up on some neglected email aliases at work. The dinner service was fantastic and I enjoyed the salad, salmon and rice followed by a cheese course and some port before an ice cream sundae to finish it off. I could get used to this! After the feast I settled in for some sleep and got a few hours in before I woke up. Apparently I missed the mid-flight meal though no worry as I was still full from the earlier service. More work, more shows (Game of Thrones) and it wasn’t too long before it was breakfast service. 15 hours sounds like an eternity until you fly it in moderate comfort and it goes by quickly.

Once we landed in Hong Kong I cleared customs and went exchange some money into Hong Kong Dollars. My plan was to go to the hotel and check in, then take the MTR to Kowloon station and walk around, enjoy the harbor for a few hours, maybe take a Star Ferry over to Central before going back to the hotel to clean up and take off. I went to the desk for Marriott and they called a transfer for me and then walked me to car and drove me to the hotel. This was all free and for being a Marriott Gold (mid- tier status) they were treating me like I was a big deal. I love the Asian service mindset – makes US and Europe look bad. I was met at the hotel door by the Executive Lounge staff who walked me to the room and made sure everything was in order. They had upgraded me to a suite and it was nice!

I turned on the TV and noticed that there was a message that Typhoon Flag 3 had been hoisted. Crap. The rain outside wasn’t just normal rain, it was part of a typhoon. After looking at the weather map, it seemed like staying at the hotel was the plan. I got cleaned up and went to the Executive Lounge where I enjoyed some breakfast (for me!) coffee and chatted with Julie. She encouraged me to stay at the hotel and not wander around Kowloon in a typhoon. Bummer. I was looking forward to some sightseeing. Not to be this time of year it seems. Last time I was in Hong Kong was in mid-September in 2014 and they had a typhoon then. The one in 2014 was much stronger as the city shut down for a few days. This was just a Flag 3 (Read more about their system here: http://www.hko.gov.hk/informtc/tcService.htm)


So I hung out in the hotel room, took a nap, did some work, played Clash of Clans and in general killed time. I got cleaned up and headed to breakfast at the Executive Lounge which opened at 6AM and enjoyed some more coffee, dragonfruit and pineapple. I packed up and headed to the airport early since there wasn’t much else to do. I killed more time in the United Club and talked with Julie some more. I knew I would be sitting for 15 more hours so walked around the terminal quite a bit. Hong Kong airport is neat to watch planes as you have a huge mix from all over the world. Jumbos from far-away places to smaller planes from nearby destinations.

We were delayed due to weather initially for 95 minutes, but they revised the delay to 60 minutes as we got closer. I boarded and similar to the trip over, had used a Global to upgrade to Business class. I watched some Silicon Valley episodes and Office Space during lunch/dinner. It was another salad, steak, mashed potatoes and veggies followed by a cheese course. I skipped the port this time and went with a new offering, Buffalo Trace bourbon, as a nightcap. Very good bourbon and I had just been near their distillery earlier in the week. I got about 5 hours of sleep so that was nice. I wasn’t in the mood for work so watched The Wild with Reese Witherspoon. I’d like to hike the PCT but not for the same reasons. I think anyone who through hikes a big trail like that is awesome. Appalachian, PCT, John Muir, or any of the others would be a ton of fun. I would love to do a family hike of the Camindo Santiago de Compostela so we’ll see. Some day…..

So with just a few more hours to go and less than 1,000 miles to Newark what do I think of my first mileage run? In short, I enjoyed it but I like flying for flying’s sake. I still think it is fun to board a plane, take off and see different places, even if for only a short while. The renewed status will help for my day job when things get hairy I need help from the airline. I had originally wanted to bring either Julie or one of our kids. We couldn’t afford to have everyone go and for a long flight for a short stay it wouldn’t make sense to the younger two at all. I talked about it with Julie and she wanted to go but we knew the kids would want one of us around. Based on earlier conversations with the kids, I figured the two youngest wouldn’t want to go if Julie didn’t go and our oldest daughter didn’t want to go to Singapore earlier this year for a weekend getaway as she said it was too far. So the thought was to offer it up to all four but only one, our oldest son, might really want to go. Imagine my surprise when I offered it and they *all* wanted to go even if Julie wasn’t going! LOL. You never can tell with kids, they keep you guessing and on your toes. In the end I was the only one who went but it was a lonely trip. I didn’t have any work colleagues to meet up with and nobody to share the small experiences with. Maybe next time. ;)


I’ll leave it at this unless anything exciting happens in Newark or on the final segment.

10 comments:

I never bothered checking my United status until reading this. I'm currently Silver but I could've easily achieved the 1K by now. I'll be aiming for the 1K next year.

Hope you made it home safely.

Thanks, Elver! Made it home safe and sound!

Let's try this again :-)

Sounds like a good run! I've always wanted to do one, but I usually end up hitting Platinum with AA by the end of Q3, and would need 30-40k more miles to hit Exec Platinum at year-end - 3-4 runs doesn't make much sense, and Platinum still gives me enough benefits to travel comfortably with the family.

I will say that after four or so years of being President's Circle with Hertz, I made the switch (with status-match) to National last year and haven't looked back. Better service, reasonable prices for personal rentals, plus the ability to choose any car on the lot (better quality vehicles than Hertz more often than not), makes it a no-brainer.

I am a Gold Marriott and will be traveling to HKG next week. I am booked at the HK JW, will I be able to have a free ride from HKG to JW?

Hi MMC,
In my previous visits to HKG, hotels in Central and Kowloon would not offer free transfer. You could call or email the JW ahead of arrival to see. Good luck and have fun in HKG!

Thanks for your suggestion. Heard from JW who said it is not free, they can provide a sedan for 4 for $950HKD. So I will grab a cab instead.

Thanks, Ron. You mention calling Julie throughout your report--were you Skyping or other VOIP, or do you have some low cost global/roaming service that you can share witn us?

Hi Kimandjome,
Sorry I was not clearer on this point - I was using Whatsapp to "talk" with Julie via the airport and hotel WiFi. I usually buy a local SIM for my phone with a data plan when I travel but didn't this time because of my short stay in Hong Kong.

Dude
Why bother with 1K anymore? It gets you NADA IMHO. The program has been so diluted w/ respect to benefits. Boarding is now after GS, upgrades rarely happen, SWUs are impossible to ever use (I've had a 1 for 8 success rate this year, even in off periods) and UA's hard and soft products still stink. I am a 10 yr+ 1K, 2M miler, and I am happy to let my 1K status go in the name of flying other carriers with better service.

Hi DaveinCa,
You might want to read the 4th paragraph as to why I wanted to get my 1K. Please keep flying other carriers as you'll be one less 1K I am competing with for upgrades. ;) Simply put, it's worth it to me and my family.

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