Mileage Run! (or, How to Travel 18 Hours to Spend 18 Hours in Miami)

Here I am at Washington Dulles Airport, a place I abhor…

And it’s the busy Christmas travel week…

And I had to wake up at 3:45AM to fly here …

And I still have another flight to go…

And it’s worth it because with this trip, I will have flown over 100,000 miles for the year on United Airlines, achieving 1K status.

route map


Left: ordinary security line. Right: priority security line.

Anyone who’s seen the movie “Up in the Air” knows the obsession some frequent fliers have with mileage points.  I’m no George Clooney (although I’ll be your best friend if you tell me I look like him), and it’s not just some abstract competition.

1K benefits include international upgrades, priority for domestic upgrades, first boarding and dedicated phone assistance, in addition to benefits I already had with Premier Executive status (for 50,000 miles and up): preferred security lines, double mileage points for every flight, free baggage handling and space-available domestic upgrades. With three trips to Japan already scheduled for 2011, the international upgrades are worth it all by themselves, since non-1Ks have to pay approximately $500 just for the chance to upgrade, with no guarantee.

My winter and spring 2010 were very heavy travel seasons, and by summer I seemed to be cruising toward 100,000 mile status as if propelled by tail winds. Then, uh-oh. Around the end of September I did the nitty gritty calculations and realized that I would be short by 11,247 miles. I phoned United and learned that I could exchange some regular mileage points for up to 5,000 of those miles. That left 6,247 to fly.

LAX-IAD-MIA = 6,418 Round Trip


This is surprisingly difficult within the United States. Everyone always says that America is 3,000 miles from sea to shining sea, and they’re wrong. Round trip to Boston from my home base in Los Angeles is only 5,332 miles. Honolulu: 5,112 miles. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with an incredibly patient United reservations agent figuring out that the only way I could get to the magic 6,247 was to fly to Miami, and only via Washington Dulles Airport (6,418 miles). To my surprise, flying through United’s other hubs of Chicago or Denver was significantly less mileage. I even made a spreadsheet.

Dawn over California, December 20, 2010


And so yesterday, with 11 days remaining in the year and a reasonably priced e-ticket in hand, I lit out. By 4:45AM I was at LAX for my 6AM flight to Dulles. On board, I watched the sunrise over California and read stockpiled New Yorkers and Details. On the connection to Miami, the lady next to me was also making a mileage run.

Terminal J, Miami International Airport


I would have turned right around at MIA, but no flights would get me home the same day. Fortunately, I love Miami and am always happy to stay there. This trip even yielded some surprises: a spiffy new terminal (the old one was grim), an assignment to review a swell new hotel in Miami Beach, a lively dinner with concierges from several nearby hotels, and getting to stay up late (an advantage if you’re on Pacific Time) to see a once-in-every-400-year lunar eclipse.

The next morning: the dreaded flight drama. My plane from Miami was delayed, threatening my connection in Washington. I phoned United and learned that all the later flights from Dulles to LAX that night were sold out.

To their credit, the flight attendants were on the case, apologizing for the delay (other companies: follow this example) and asking non-connecting passengers to remain seated until connecting passengers could deplane. Dulles is a mammoth airport (did I mention I abhor it?), but fortunately the departure gate was just across the corridor from the arrival gate, so I made my connection just fine.

…and got upgraded.

…and ended up sitting between two pilots and got to discuss my fear of turbulence in minute detail.

…and our arrival was 30 minutes early.

So in the end, things were as they should be.


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