Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year from the 100,000th mile...

                                                             - View of the Caribbean from Villa Del Palmar, Cancun

Well, here it is again- I’m passing the 100,000th qualifying mile mark on AA flight No. 1692 as we fly over the Gulf of Mexico.  This goes along with about 45 hotel nights, and 5 nights spent sleeping on planes.  That’s a lot of time actually, or figuratively up in the air.  Today though, I’m on my return flight from a fantastic, if short, holiday in Cancun.  I’m returning with some beautiful pictures and memories, including climbing (mostly all the way…no insurance in Mexico) up a Mayan temple, and relaxing days by the white sands and Caribbean blue water of Qunitana Roo.  It’s the last day of 2012, cutting it close for those qualifying miles…I know, I know.  However, I’d rather think of it as ‘expert planning.’ 

2012 has been a good one in many ways for me personally, though it seems it was a trying one for the world.  At least that’s the sense I get after having time to comb through this week’s Economist, Newsweek & Time poolside.  It’s one more reminder of how everything in life can be seen as a mix of good and challenging fortune.  This at least, you can count on.

A sentiment I try to keep close is that there is a big difference between ‘problems’ and ‘inconveniences.’  Recognize what is what.  Delays, setbacks, annoyances…flat tires, lost baggage, are the latter.  If you’re lucky, very few things you routinely encounter will manage to get into the former category.  (Trust me, all it takes is flipping though the ‘Middle East and Africa section of The Economist for me to realize I have very few actual problems)  Maybe for all of our collective psyches, the news could find a way to better delineate between the two?

Back to the present, it’s been a smooth flight so far with a strong tailwind that promises to get us to the gate 20 minutes early.  This (hopefully) should put us on schedule to get through customs and to our connecting flight in plenty of time.  Maybe even with a chance to make it home before the last minutes of the year tick away.  Don’t worry though, we have a plan-b involving the LAX Admiral’s Club, their complimentary Champaign, and a toast with a view of the runways.  Honestly, to send off 2012, it might make perfect sense.

Wishing anyone who might stumble upon this and actually read it a happy and rewarding New Year,

Fly Safe,


Thursday, December 27, 2012

So, about those thoughts from seat 18D...

 (Written last night enroute from SEA-DFW, posting from the DFW T-D Admiral's club on the way to Cancun!) 

View from Alaska Airlines Board Room- Seattle


Well, Winter 2012 mileage season is well past now.  As is the rest of the year itself.  I’m currently in the midst of the holiday travel rush full of oversold flights, long security lines and crying infants.  What a difference a week makes.

Tonight I’m at 37,000 ft. someplace over the Cascade Mountains, heading on the first leg of my trip to Cancun for a little family time and relaxation to end the year.  So far, so good on my way to 100,000 qualifying miles, the last of which I should be earning while over the Gulf of Mexico on my return from CUN.

Each time I fly for the sake of flying I have a few scattered introspective moments.  Maybe it’s the time away from the usual routine, maybe it’s the length of the flight, or just the altitude.  Still, here’s my ‘takeaways’ from this year’s mileage season-

Every now and then let yourself take a moment to realize and appreciate what you’re actually doing.  The depth of human ingenuity has reached the point where we can build a machine that reliably can carry over a hundred people, and their bags, coats….dogs, etc, at 35,000 feet going 500mph & cross the continent twice in a reasonable day.  The next time you’re annoyed at the minutia of travel, just look out of the window at the topsides of the clouds and allow the luxury of being proud of your species for a change.

Okay, that’s done… for some practical advice for the next time around-

Prepare and pack for delays-
Delayed and cancelled flights happen, no matter what your status is.  Know if you’re on the last flight of the night from any of your connections, and pack enough to wait it out until the next day.  If you see things going South fast, consider booking a refundable hotel room right away.

Airport lounge memberships:
They may seem like a waste of money, but if you’re going to be spending time in airports monthly, or even every other month, they can be well worth it.  They offer not just comfortable surroundings to work or relax before your flight, but free food and drinks, and even showers which are worth a lot after that overnight flight (some are better than others amenities-wise, but I’ve yet to encounter one that was superior to decent-hotel quality, and some are downright spa-like).  More importantly though, they generally entitle members to a staff of agents who can check on seat assignments, upgrade and standby lists, and save you in the case of cancelled or delayed flights.  I have had times that entire trips have been salvaged by this service when a plane came up with a mechanical failure, or a delayed flight would have meant a missed connection.  Even one of these occurrences in a year is worth the membership fee.  For deals, check discounts for your airline status, as well as offerings by some of the higher end charge and credit cards. 

In-flight preventative health care:
Couple simple tips- vitamin C, sleep at least a little on every flight you can, Tylenol PM over booze for overnights, move around on and between segments (no shame in doing a few stretches in the airport club), and….water, water, water.  Also, be aware of your original timezone no matter where you might be along the way and if you can try and eat and sleep on your regular schedule.

Safety first:
When they say to keep your seatbelt on, it’s good advice.  Some of the most common injuries on planes are due to unsuspected moderate to severe turbulence.  Your pilots are trained to fly in these conditions and the plane is designed to withstand these forces- your head is not.  Buckle-up.  Also, stay alert and prepared in the take-off and landing phases of your flight.  These are the times when if the extremely rare happens and something does go wrong, you can do something about it.  Fly in shoes you can move in, keep them on and your headphones off until you reach at least a few hundred feet. Know where your exits are.

There’s plenty to say here on all sorts of pet peeves I’ve developed but for now I’ll just remind you of the boarding procedure: Roller-Bin, Bag-Floor, You-Seat.  This should take 10 seconds.  

Overall, try have a good sense of humor about flying, whether for miles, business, or pleasure.  It’s a time when even the most meticulous of us will find many things out of our control.  Storms roll in, things break, flights are oversold, and babies are cranky.  When you find yourself nearing that breaking point when you can’t sleep, the movie’s a repeat of the one you saw the last Westbound flight, and they’re out of ginger ale…. look out that little window at the stars close above, the lights of civilization far below, and get some perspective.

Until the next departure, fly safe.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Amex, Avios & AA....

Yes, I'm back in the air and on the road this week, though now for honest-to-god planned holiday travel. While I'm away, I thought I'd put up the following 'retro-deal' post to do with Avios and Amex points because...well, I wrote it and I keep meaning to. Happy Holidays all, real posts to return soon to finish out the Qualifying Mile year.

Miles deal to PHX, or...”What to do with MR Points”:

I recently found myself needing to get to Phoenix from LAX for a weekend.  I wanted to fly American Eagle to stay within my airline and terminal comfort zone but I was feeling cheap and this once willing to forgo the Elite Qualifying Miles (“EQM”) for the flights since they would be minimal.  However, it seemed ridiculous to use the amount of American Airlines (“AA”) miles it would take to travel less than 500 miles each way.  I’d much rather save these for upgrades or long and costly flights.  So, it was time to get creative.  

Luckily, I have some AmEx Membership Rewards points sitting around from my Platinum Card (review to follow) and decided to put them to work.  While the MR points are nice, I signed up for the card mainly for the other travel perks like lounge access, airline fee reimbursement, the Fine Hotels and Resorts program...and the list goes on.  Much has been said about the best uses of MR points and while the consensus is they are best used on international premium fares, I didn’t have any of these on the near horizon.  The deal I found I consider a close second best.  Much has also been made of BA’s change to distance-based rewards for use of their Avios program but in this case that works to the traveler’s advantage.  In addition, until September 27th, 2012, you could transfer MR points to Avios at a 40% bonus.  These deals seem to come up from time to time, with 50% deals being reported on occasion.

British Airways Avios can be used to fly domestically since BA codeshares with AA on routes within the US.  The further twist, however, is that in order for rewards seats to be available using Avios they have to be available as “Milesaver” tickets from AA.  So don’t get big ideas about using Avios to book that already oversold flight for Thanksgiving this year.   

Here’s how I managed to get my ticket to PHX and back on American Eagle for a few MR points and $10:

1) Set up a BA Executive Club account.  This only took a few minutes and gave me someplace to transfer the PR points to.

2) Transfer MR points from AmEx at a 40% bonus.  This requires linking your BA account via the AmEx website.

3) Go to, put in the dates I wanted and made sure Milesaver tickets were available for the dates.

4) Head over to to book the flight.  There are a few wrinkles to know here since BA’s website isn’t super user-friendly.  First, make sure you’ve signed in and are ‘booking using Avios’.  Then plug in your dates and hit search.  This will bring up an error screen saying BA doesn’t fly that route...well obviously, when’s the last time you saw a BA jet hop from LAX to PHX?  To fix this, select “include partners” option to get the AA flights included.  The rest of the process is fairly straightforward- selecting flights, paying the fee just as you would when booking with AA.   

(Note the AA codeshare flight designation)

Now for the numbers on MR ponts vs AA miles:

1) According to the Executive Club site, their shortest flights require 9,000 Avios each way (flights less than 650 miles).  Note that you can also use their “Avios Calculator” to price your trip in Avios.  With the current 40% bonus, this means it requires 5,400 MR points each way.  The fees are likewise small, only $5 each way.  So, you can get to PHX and back for a total of 10,800 MR points and $10.  Not bad.

2) To compare, a Milesaver ticket through AA would have required 12,500 miles each way- 25,000 total and a similar fee.  On top of that, as discussed below I value my AA miles more highly than my MR point and as such am much more reluctant to part with them.  

In short, using a valuation of 1 cent per MR point (an average of the value these can be redeemed for) and 2 cents per AA mile (a low non-scientific frequent flyer consensus), option 1 “cost” me about $118, while option two would have “cost” $510.

For comparison, the cash value of these tickets on was $185 + tax and fees at the time I searched.

So, I’m off to Phoenix for $10 and some points I previously didn’t have a pressing use for.  Hotel and airport lounge reviews to follow!

Fly Safe,


Monday, December 17, 2012

Please remain seated until the aircraft comes to a complete stop....

"Make no mistake, moving is living." 
                                              - Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air

Safely and successfully back home again after the last weekend of mileage season.  Thoughts, stories, and feelings from seat 18D to follow.  Happy Monday everyone.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On approach....

Getting ready to start the final weekend of mileage running for the year.  This is the one that separates the women from the girls, the men from the boys, and the small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri ….from the people who won’t get that reference.

What? Didn’t anyone else know it’s good luck to start a trip with a Douglas Adams quote?   Get it?  Travelling the Universe..... Uh, anyone?

Okay, nevermind.  This weekend’s itinerary is over 22 hours of flight time- LAX-BOS-LAX-BOS-LAX, interrupted by one night in Boston to recharge, and go out to a proper South End brunch.  This weekend should also gain me my last reservation on OpenTable to make VIP status, which means very little, and my 25th qualifying check-in with Starwood Hotels to make Platinum status, which means quite a bit.  One stone...whole lotta birds in the next 48 hours.  Game face.

Yes, this means I’ve got an overnight flight followed by two more transcontinental segments ahead of me.  Why would anyone do that to themselves?  Well, see the rest of these entries for the reason.  I’m becoming convinced that it’s not just the perks, or the value I’ve painstakingly calculated per dollar spent.  It’s also about an almost compulsive instinct to reach goals.  Isn’t that why anyone does anything when it comes down to it?  

Still, there are those moments when you wake up on short final after passing out on your 6am flight face-down on your tray table in the tenth row of economy, with half the text of an Economist editorial on the social impacts of the rising Mongolian mining industry, which you knew going in you weren’t going to get through, temporarily tattooed to your cheek and think....was this really worth the miles?  

However, come December 31st at the end of the qualifying year....

The answer is



T- 6 hrs to LAX to start the journey.  As they say on approach- Looking forward to seeing you on another American Airlines flight soon.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Boston and good company...

Making our decent into Boston after a smooth and productive flight, I glance back over the wing to see a carpet of clouds streaked above by the jet trails of left by the other flyers headed to Logan, and on to wherever, for whatever purpose I start to think and reflect on this midpoint in my challenge & I decide...

Sometimes something happens that justifies the hell out of your actions, or so you'd like to pretend.  I'm going to claim this just happened to me.  I've just spent my LAX-BOS flight next to someone doing the same thing I am, for exactly the same reasons.  So this either shows that it's a perfectly logical thing to to Boston for an hour....or we're both crazy.  As we both appear to be rational, well educated and reasonable persons, I'm going with the former.   

Update- he may bump to a later flight to try and bring back Maine lobster....but I stand by my argument.

Touch-down in hour to the next...

Round 2....

"Early morning high-5, 737 style"

So, it's been a week since I've been in airports....a whole week, 7 days...more hours.

It's currently 6am and I'm back at the LAX Admiral's Club waiting for the 222 sunrise flight to Boston.  For those of you keeping track, this will be mileage run 2 of 3 on the way to AA Executive Platinum status for 2013.  To reach it this year, I needed an extra 18,900 flight miles since with the current promotion that equals out at over 37,000 elite qualifying miles.  The way the deals fell, I scheduled myself for over 20, 3 weekends.  

After last weekend's LAX-BOS-LAX-SFO-LAX run, I've put away around 6,300 of them.  Today should add another 5,800.  This time around I've routed through DFW to add a few hundred miles and break up the trip.  Today's goal: Breakfast in LA (done), lunch in Boston, and dinner in Dallas.  All in airports, of course.  The flights today look to be shockingly empty; I'm anticipating a row to myself on the first one.  Have I said before how much I love flying in mileage season?

Currently, LAX is covered in heavy fog but it doesn't seem to be slowing things down like last weekend in San Francisco.  My flight is delayed, but due to crew time-out and only for a few minutes.  What is getting to me though is the guy next to me on the long bench seat in the Club.  After chewing more loudly than I thought possible, making various other bodily noises, and laughing to himself for awhile, he's taken off his shoes and lay down with his feet just a few inches from my table.....really?

I mean I'm the first to say I've been in that place where after enough hours on the go the amount of giving a s*&t is running pretty low but man, come on.  This place is nearly empty....find some personal space.  Besides, I was here first and this is my favorite seat.  Seriously, I have spent many a wonderful hour exactly right here. It's near the bar, has a real table, 2 power outlets, AND a view of the runway and TBIT.  You're in my house now dude.  

.....Have I mentioned how I'm looking forward to that row to myself in a few minutes??

Until the next connection, fly safe.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

CruisingAAltitude- 1 Mileage Run-0....

Last flight of the weekend, the short hop back from SFO to LAX and I’m totally aviation-geeking out.  Remember when I said it was fun to see the retrofitted 737 a few flights ago?  Yeah, well this time I’ve got a brand new one to check out.  I’ve also got a uniformed pilot sitting next to me who confirmed it was probably less than a year old.  The cabin looks and feels more like a mix of a single-aisle 767, with the scoop-like overhead bins, and the pictures I’ve seen of the new 787 Dreamliner than the 737 workhorses I’ve gotten used to.  Okay that last comparison may be stretching it, but the larger, oval window frames, smooth lines, open feel and blue recessed ceiling lighting that changes to a gold/yellow when they ‘bring the cabin lights up are kinda doing it for me.    
            Even better, there’s the last minutes of a beautiful orange and blue sunset out the right-side window.  I’d take a picture but there’s no way my phone camera would do it justice.  I’ll just settle for enjoying it from the sky, and for having picked up over 17,000 miles in the last 24 hours (that’s about 6,000 real miles flown for those who read the math post).  Well, we’re already beginning our decent so it’s time to pack it up and head back to real life.   
            Until next week, goodnight and fly safe…

If you're going to San Francisco...

Turns out I’m kinda okay with being stuck in the fog.  And here’s why- The newly redone American terminal in SFO has about everything good that can be good about airports.  It’s airy, clean, well decorated, and much quieter than the major airports most of the time (it’s a ghost town in comparison to LAX today, and that’s with all the delayed flights).  

The Admiral’s club is new and well done, even down to the floor-to-ceiling fake pines that somehow don’t seem as tacky as they should.  Plus, yes they do have showers, and they're much nicer than mine at home.  And for delayed flights they make gate announcements.  I’m in love.  Only flaw is the view isn’t of very many active gates/taxiways/runways.  But there I’m spoiled, haven’t found one that beats LAX for that yet.

The food choices in the main terminal are great, and reflective of the city- Wine bar, organic cafĂ©, sushi, etc.  And the club makes a spicy bloody mary, both the glass and I are sweating a little.  Plus, it’s given me some time to tweet with my new best friend- that being, whoever is stuck on social media duty at American’s marketing division.  I’ve been sure to keep them updated with my travel plans, and they answer dutifully.  It’s like having a private anonymous mileage run cheerleader….or a tweeting robot buddy.  Now I’m just working out how best to have a little fun with it, since whoever it is must already think I’m crazy, so why not?  However, it does look like I’ll have to head out at some point here- my standby is going to clear, so once they get us a plane, I’ll be headed back to the City of Angels.

Lost in the fog....

Sitting on the runway waiting to take my short flight up to SFO and back.  Since I got in on time from BOS and I wouldn't mind getting home a little early from this weekend's adventure, I caught an earlier flight by a few hours.  This has it's benefits and drawbacks:

Benefits- Early arrival, lunch in SFO (way better options in that terminal), and I now know, thanks to Skymall, that the 'human slingshot' exists.
Drawbacks- Gave up my priority exit row seat, not sure if the Club there has showers (I could use one), did almost an immediate connecting flight for the second time in a row.

And, though I'm not sure how it plays, the weather is deteriorating in SFO, so all the flights into there are significantly delayed.  No, San Fran doesn't get the snow storms I'm worried about in the northeast, but through a striking bit of unfortunate planning, the runway setup doesn't handle.....fog well.  Yes if no one saw that as a potential issue with this...

Especially as I don't have anywhere to be until the evening, I'm willing to go along with it and still enjoy the little things.  For instance, our pilots are doing their best to remain congenial with the already delayed passengers and have started giving a (slowly) rolling tour of the scenic LAX taxiway- 

"And for those of you on the left side of the aircraft, you will be able to see two Airbus 380s, you may have heard about them in the news.  They're...really large..."

Gold star guys, gold star.... Consider me entertained.  Now, let's get up the coast.  There's some vegetarian pho with my name on it.

One down...

First flight of the mileage run season completed, and working on the next.  I’m currently on the transcontinental from Boston to LAX, about half way in.  My plane geek side is enjoying seeing AA’s 737 retrofitted main cabins for the first time.  They now have several rows of “main cabin extra” which offer a few extra inches of legroom.  It’s free with status, or a small upsell if you don’t.  On longer flights, it’s worth it to avoid getting your laptop snapped shut on your fingers when the person in front of you reclines their seat. 
            Managed to get some sleep on both flights so far, and feeling pretty good.  Thought it might be a good time to go back and explain more of what got me here in the first place.  (If you don’t care, and you’re more interested in strange travel stories, you can skip ahead a few paragraphs to my rant about what to pack to fly for no reason, which is more entertaining and has yoga pants in it)  As most things do, it starts with an argument.  Well, not an argument so much as an almost…sorta…but not really…but then again yes labor dispute between the airline and the pilots. 
            There was plenty of news coverage, slow flights, etc.  In response, to try and appease its frequent flyers, they’re offering double elite qualifying miles (DEQM) through the end of the year, as well as bonus miles towards future flights.  The short story is when all is said and done, the combination of my status level and the promotion is earning me triple miles towards future flights and double miles toward status.  Plus, the fares are at their lowest of the season.  I spent weeks checking fares, holding and re-holding, and doing a lot of math.  Okay, it was basic grade school level math, but it still counts.
            The basic conclusion was this- done right, the airline would be paying me to fly.  And I’d get back to Executive status.  Win-win.  The miles earned will be enough to redeem for two round-trip economy class tickets, or one first class trip.  The metric used by frequent flyers to tell if they’re getting a good deal is how many “cents per mile” (cpm) you’re spending on the ticket.  Anything under 5 is pretty good, things getting near 3 are mileage run territory, and anything under that is hard to pass up.  With some free AmEx gift card use, my tickets this month are averaging 1.5 cpm (redeemable) and 2.3 (elite-qualifying). Not bad, but the real value comes from the elite upgrades you get as a bonus for passing the 100k mark.  Their combined value is $3,000 minimally.  Then there’s the value of just having the status for the year, which is significant.  Moral of the story- I now know how much I value my weekends at…. Though I can’t figure out how I feel about it.
            Okay, enough math for this morning, but it had to be said.  Onto something else.  How about what to pack when you’re flying without leaving the airport?  This topic is brought to you by my perusing a thread with this title this week where people were sharing what was in their survival kit.  There were some unusual, but probably useful items- Japanese Gatorade, and a passport on a domestic flight….just in case you get re-routed through another country. (speaking of, the guy in the row in front of me is currently browsing through it…should I say hi?)  

Anyhow, here’s my list:
-Laptop, iPad, iPhone & chargers
-Change of clothes (or 2 in case of forced layovers)
-Pillow I’ve been carrying around in luggage since a JetBlue redeye years ago
-Advil, Tylenol PM, Benadryl …okay basically half a CVS
-Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.
-Snacks (mostly healthy, but there are also gummi bears involved.)
-Yoga pants because they’re good for overnights and also because there’s an honest-to-god yoga studio in the SFO terminal 2.
-Biggest sweatshirt I own
-Game face    
            Looking forward to completing the first round-trip transcontinental of the challenge!  Still going strong.