Monday 12 December 2011

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Mileage Run - I Just Need 15 Minutes in Dallas

I'm not much of a planner. Even when it comes to traveling, a lot more decisions are made or changed at the last minute than you might think. Car rentals, hotels, and even flights are always open for alteration, making it almost impossible for Lori to start packing any more than 24 hours in advance. The fact that she manages to gather our suitcases and get us on a plane each time should probably qualify her for some kind of Nobel Prize in making things work despite her husbands inability to commit to a plan. That's a category right?

The problem with all of my indecisiveness comes to a head every year in December when I have to start looking at how many more miles I need to maintain my elite status on Alaska Airlines. This is actually a more important thing to accomplish than it sounds. I don't like the word "elite status" as it kind of projects an image of me refusing to turn off my "Words With Friends" game after being asked by the flight attendant, because I'm too important. Believe me, the level that I achieve on Alaska Airlines barely qualifies me to use the bathroom on the plane, never mind lock myself in it prior to takeoff.

The reason I want the status is the three major benefits granted to people who fly over 20,000 miles per year. First, is the free baggage check. It applies to everybody on the same reservation as the status holder, so this can save us over $200 per flight if we're packing heavy (and since Lori has no idea if we're heading to Mexico or the Arctic Circle, we usually are). Second is the reserved seating section. Since my plans change frequently, we're quite often booking ourselves on to flights that are already very close to sold out. There's no way we're finding five seats together in the back, but more often than not we can get a couple rows in the reserved section at the front of the plane. Finally, elite's get bonus miles for flying - 50% extra for MVP, 100% extra for MVP Gold and above - and I can always use more miles.

So every December I add up how many miles I'm short from getting my status, and figure out how to get there. This year I'm approximately 2800 miles short. Normally I'd accomplish this easily through our Christmas travels, but since we're staying closer to home this year, I'm going to have to get a mileage run in to rack up the 2800 needed miles. Turns out that, flying from Seattle, a round trip to Minneapolis would get me there with 16 miles to spare.

Now if mileage running sounds like a strange concept to you, believe me I'm far from the only person out there doing it at this time of year. There's literally thousands of us on flights all over the country in December who didn't plan quite right for achieving our status goals. We're a fairly easy group to spot. We're the people jumping on board flights to Hawaii with no luggage because we don't actually plan on leaving the airport (I can hear my wife shaking her head right now). We're the people who don't argue with the gate attendant when the flight is oversold ("Sure you can bump me. Just put me on another plane somewhere else. I don't care where, just as long as it's over 1400 miles from here."), and flight attendants can spot us from a mile away as we're usually sitting in our favorite seat on the flight to Orlando, and then in the same seat on the flight back an hour later. "So how many miles were you short?" is a common conversation starter between the flight crew and the late year mileage runner.

So somewhere in the next two weeks, I need to fly 2800 miles on Alaska. Somehow I can't see myself booking a flight to Minneapolis in December, so I'm going to have to explore some other options. This can be a bit of a delicate operation, as there's a fine line to walk between finding a destination far enough away to get the needed miles in, yet not flying somewhere that my wife wants to go (I see the Bellingham-Honolulu route just went back on sale, but I'm not looking to get divorced for Christmas). Unfortunately my favorite route to Las Vegas would leave me about 50 miles short, so unless I can convince the pilot to take the long way, it looks like it's going to have to be a quick visit to Dallas or Houston. BBQ for Christmas anyone?