How I got started mileage running….

One of the questions I’m asked most often in person is how I got started with my insane hobby, which has turned into a full time obsession. I never posted about it, but this seems like a good time to provide some background.

My parents are both from Germany and my dad worked for a German bank in New York for years. I made my first trip to Germany when I was just a few months old to see relatives, so I’ve always loved traveling. When I was about five I decided I wanted to be a pilot, and did all kinds of planning about how I’d be so damn awesome. At the time I decided that when I became captain I would start upgrading people until there were no empty seats left up front because it would build goodwill. I hadn’t realized non-revs would do that part of my job for me. 😉

Anyway, I was lucky to get to fly once a year in paid business class to Frankfurt on Lufthansa on the company’s dime when I was young. I remember being in the Senator Lounge at JFK with my dad, back in the day when being Senator was truly special. When we entered the lounge they’d take our boarding passes (they knew my dad) and would say “let’s see if we can find you a better seat,” typically resulting in an upgrade to first class. Anyway, eventually that ended, but I still loved airplanes, travel, and more than anything else, Lufthansa!

Another hobby I acquired as I was growing up was beating the system. I remember when an electronics store had a promotion whereby they would buy Play Station games for $10 a piece, regardless of the title. While I didn’t even have a Play Station (what can I say, I was never much into video games), I noticed that the electronics store was selling some games for around $6. I would buy ten games, pay $60, and get back $100. That was an easy way to triple my allowance at the time!

Fast forward to about six years ago or so when I needed to go with my mom to Germany in the summer to visit relatives. My mom had 100,000 Delta miles, but there was no availability for a coach award, which would have cost 50,000 miles. I decided to get creative and looked on Ebay. Hmmm, 100,000 Delta miles for around $1,000! That was basically the same as a coach fare, and for those 100,000 miles I could get a first class award on Air France. And that’s exactly what happened. My mom and I flew together on two Air France first class award tickets to Frankfurt. Of course in retrospect I realize buying miles on Ebay is a big no-no, but at the time it hadn’t occurred to me.

Suffice it to say that I enjoyed Air France first class a bit more than the airline I had been flying before, which was Condor (Lufthansa’s low cost carrier) nonstop from Tampa to Frankfurt, back when they still flew that route. I thought to myself “hmmm, how could I earn miles at such a good rate for myself, and maybe get other benefits out of it as well?” Given that I loved flying, I loved premium cabins, and I loved travel, I decided to do some investigating. One day I stumbled upon FlyerTalk.com, and just a few weeks later I got an offer in the mail from United. While I didn’t really have any airline affiliation at the time (in terms of miles), United was always my favorite US airline. Why? Because they had such close ties to Lufthansa, and Lufthansa was the airline I had such fond memories flying in first and business class growing up. Besides, as a German, I thought of it as “my” airline.

So in United I got an offer entitled “The Great Offer.” Sounds grand, doesn’t it? Well, it was targeted, and as it turned out I received the best version of the offer. They were basically offering 5,000 bonus redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles for every segment flown, up to ten. There were two catches — the ticket had to be in a minimum of a “V” fare class, and only segments beyond the number of segments flown last year counted. That worked out particularly well for me, given that I flew ZERO segments on United the year before. In other words, for 10 segments I would get 50,000 bonus elite qualifying miles and 50,000 bonus redeemable miles. How the hell could I turn down such an offer?

Two mileage runs later, which cost me a grand total of $700, I was sitting on over 60,000 elite qualifying miles and well over 60,000 redeemable miles. Talk about an easy way to Premier Executive! Anyway, at the time I was 14, so I did a few more mileage runs that year, and BAM, I was 1K. It was kind of fun being a 1K without even being old enough to sit in an exit row.

I figured 1K would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, given that 100,000 miles sounded like a LOT. I had only flown about 50,000 miles that year, and I was exhausted. Then came the next year, when I was certain I wouldn’t requalify. Then came the fall and United offered a double elite qualifying miles promotion. It was like a box of chocolates where you promise yourself you’ll eat just one, but you end up eating the whole box. Well yeah, I requalified in no time. Year after year I flew more and more, although I kept telling myself it was the last year.

As I continued this “game” I got better and better at it. Every year I learned new tricks, and every year I got better deals. While my parents were skeptical about the whole thing at first, they are since advocates for mileage running. I can’t even count how many international first and business class trips we’ve been able to take to amazing destinations thanks to my hobby. I’ve seen places I’d never thought I’d see and have been able to do it all in the relative comfort of premium cabins.

And that’s my story. I’ll probably end the year having flown close to 300,000 butt-in-seat miles and I’ve gotta say, I’ve had a blast racking up and redeeming those miles!

Anyway, if anyone is so inclined, feel free to share what got you started with flying/traveling/mileage-whoring. It’s always interesting to step back for a moment and think about what got us started.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, Lucky. I got started when I was researching for my trip to PVR in 2005 and found Flyertalk. Like you, my travel is 100% on my own dime. I was 1P for the first 2 years then 1K for the last 3 years. Even my wife and daughter have been 1P for the last 3 years. I took my daughter on a MR and she thought nothing of it :-). Because of FT & MR’ing, we’ve enjoyed many trans-oceanic trips in premium cabins that we could never have afforded otherwise.

  2. In late 2007, I needed 2400 miles to qualify for 1P… so I took a SEA-SFO-BOI-SFO-SEA rt, upgraded into 1st with 2e500s for $40. That was enough to never turn me away from MRing.

  3. I remember the above promo Coins. At the time, I was flying my 5 R/T’s JFK to California. How could I manage an additional trip? I didn’t.

    Before FT, I was a UA Premier member. In the old Prodigy days, a friend suggested I fly JFK/LAX/ONT to get the extra 500 mile segment. I told him he was crazy. He said that’s 1000 miles extra per trip x’s 5 trips per year for a total of an extra 5000 miles a year. With the Premier bonus of 25%, that was an extra 6250 miles. Ok. It made sense.

    Remember the Summer from Hell (2000)? This is when the pilots had their ‘action’. Well, this was my first year on FT. That fall, UA was offering PremEx lite for 42000 vs 50,000. I think 1k was 84 vs 100. In 2000, I was up to 35,000 miles. Who wouldn’t ‘go for it’. :>

    Been PremEx ever since.

  4. Thanks Ben, great to hear the story behind the miles wizard! I retired last year, and just got started on miles-chasing this year in response to the American Double EQM promotion. After 10 mileage runs to get top status, I am a bit breathless, but having fun. We’ll see if it becomes a permanent habit….Thanks for all of your tips and ideas-they really help.

  5. For me, I’ve had the fortunate benefit of traveling on my company’s dime. As I started to do research on some promotions, I really got hooked.

    My favorite was staying at Holiday Inn in Moscow during all my business trips with the bonus promotions and parlaying that to 10 nights free in Bora Bora at Intercontinental.

    I bought a Royal Ambassador certificate on ebay and was upgraded to an Over the Water Bungalow for the entire time.

    That convinced my wife that it was worth it!

  6. As a child, I loved flying. I had relatives in the midwest and lived in San Diego, so I got to go back there every couple years or so. My dad was a TWA loyalist and my mom was AA, but once or twice we got to go on United – and that was MY favorite! I remember we almost always went on 727’s and I hated them, I only hated MD80’s more! I went on a DC-10 once and a Delta L-1011 on my way to space camp. That was my favorite! I didn’t fly much in college except for one SBA-SFO-SBA trip each year for my job (back when United still flew a 737 on this route.) After 9/11 i didn’t fly at all until 2006, and the 3 flights I took were all on WN. Then in 2007 I flew to Hawaii on United and opened a mileage plus account – all excited about the 777 which by that time was looking a little run-down so it was kind of a disappointment. I flew one more time on UA in 08 and a quick hop on WN as well.

    Beginning of this year I decided I would shoot for 2P via a planned increase in my leisure travel, and I did the free trial on “first class flyer.” Somehow I stumbled upon this blog in March and then everything changed! I flew 79,000 BIS miles during the DEQM promotion without taking any days off my full time job. I’m sure I’ve made every newbie mistake in the book, but I’ve learned SO much from this blog, flyertalk, and the upgrd podcast.

    A change in jobs (right smack in the middle of the DEQM promotion) will provide me some business travel, and 2 1/2 more weeks a year of time off. My life has changed so much and I have rediscovered my love of flying. I’ve gone to some flyertalk events and had a blast. I’ve started doing new things to “shake up” my flying experience and make it more entertaining (like wearing a Glenn’s Gotta Go shirt) and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me. My first award trip will be taking my sister to New York in p.s. first class over thanksgiving, and I’m totally stoked about it.

    Thanks Lucky, FlyerTalk, and UPGRD.com folks! You’ve really helped me discover an extremely fun hobby!

  7. Neat to hear about how you got started Ben. For me, I was obsessed with credit card points for a while and I was running a little business that consisted of essentially flipping computers when I was getting double Amex points. It worked really well to the point where I was spending about $50k a month and pulling down 100k points a month but in Amex put the hammer down on that one. They simply couldn’t understand how a 22 year old making $40k a year could spend $200k and pay the bill in full.

    It was about that time I started doing research on using some points for a trip to Asia and found FlyerTalk. I ended up finding my first mileage run (ORD-ONT for $139 on UA) the first time I searched FlyerTalk and since I already had 2.5k EQM I decided to stick with United. I ended up doing a few MRs in my first year to hit 1P in 2006 and got pretty good at booking circuitous routings. In 2007 I had a chance to realize how cheap TATL fares always are and since I had decided to go to Asia twice a year, I went for 1K and that’s now an annual thing for me.

  8. Lucky,

    Thanks for sharing! Great Story!

    When will you make MM on United? I figure you are pretty close!

    Sadly, I have never done a Mileage Run before, although I love to have the opportunity to do one day. With work and family responsibility, it has not been possible. The closest I have come to doing MRs is creative routing. Instead of BRU-PEK, I did BRU-LHR-SIN-PEK or instead of LHR-IAD, I did LHR-LAX-BWI.

    Fortunately, most of my travels on someone else’s dimes in premium cabins. United is my first love and hope they survive and grow again. GS has been great on the ground, but I’d rather have better inflight amenity and offerings.

  9. Thanks for sharing the stories, folks! Great stuff, and it just shows all the different backgrounds represented in this hobby. To be clear, I wasn’t meaning to single out “mileage runners.” Anyone that’s interested in miles/points/travel counts in my book!

    @ UA_Flyer — I’m closing in on around 600,000 United lifetime miles. The first few years I was 1K I only flew about 60,000 miles or so thanks to double EQM, but I’ve been making up for it. I’m hoping to make MM in about 2-3 years at the latest. Here’s to hoping they don’t devalue the program in the meantime!

  10. Lucky,
    Thanks for sharing! Nearly all of us caught the bug early, but Mileage Running at the age of 14?!? Pretty amazing and some pretty trusting parents. I love how you were running two years prior to being able to legally drive to the airport. Amazing…

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