Saturday, September 26, 2015

It's that time again...again....

AA heritage at the Air and Space Museum in DCA (on a layover, of course)

** disclaimer- posted unedited from Miami under time constraints.  Be kind.**

Is it really 2015?  Have I been doing this for over 5 years?  It both seems ridiculous, and like it’s been even longer.  

Today marks the first day of the ‘real’ 2015 ‘mileage season’ for me, if you don’t count that little jaunt over (around? down?) to Hong Kong this spring.  Today’s flight out of LAX is headed to Miami, and from there my traveling companions and I hop the 777-300ER that we all love so much for a relatively quick flight down to Sao Paulo, Brazil.  We’ll have a 2 day one night stay, and then take the return flight up to Miami again, and stop in JFK on our way back.  You know… like everyone does. 

The upgrades have cleared for both the long hauls, and I’ve got a plan to do a flight change to get the last segment taken care of as well, so all is good so far. 

I wanted to take a few minutes before I get distracted by the in-flight movie or views of the southern transcon route to do my traditional ‘start of mileage season’ rundown.  I almost forgot (read-ran out of time) but, what are 5 hour morning flights for?

This year, due to some fluctuating work travel plans, I’ve booked two long hauls- Sao Paulo, and back to Jakarta- as well as a couple cheap domestic flights that were too good to pass up.  This year’s been full of travel so far, but much has been domestic and relatively close to home in comparison with my average, so I’m having to manufacture a decent amount.  I don’t mind the adventure, though. 
2015 Flightpaths.  As I always say- 'yes, really.'

The Sao Paulo trip will be my first visit to Brazil (and I’m now the proud owner of a shiny new ten year Brazilian visa thank-you-very-much).  We’re scheduled to meet some of my work contacts upon landing and spend some time with them getting shown the city.  I’ve been waiting for a deal to GRU to come up for a few years, so I’m excited to finally be on my way. 

This trip also has a nice long stopover in Miami, so we can check out the newly opened Centurion Lounge in Terminal D (new lounge smell…yes, I’m tempted to say it), as well as some time in JFK on the way back. (Spoiler alert, it's fantastic, though crowded)

I’m also lucky (crazy?) enough to have been doing this long enough to have met quite a few other long haul mileage running friends.  I’ve met them online through flyertalk, by chance in airports, and even gotten some of my ‘real life’ friends hooked on this ‘game.’  The upshot of all of this, is that I rarely mileage run alone.
Chance meeting with other mileage runners (and their Flyertalk-tagged bags) in CGK, all en route to Tokyo for the day! There are dozens of us out there I tell you, dozens!! ;)  

Dinner at Nobu at the HKG Intercontinental with strangers who are now all best friends!
What’s really great about meeting other mileage runners, is that they’re uniformly intriguing.  They are on average, highly educated, self sufficient, of course well traveled, and come from all walks of life.  Mileage running is probably the only ‘pass time’ where a normal weekend could be meeting a bunch of strangers from around the US for the first time in the Toronto airport, flying with them to Hong Kong, going out to Nobu at the Intercontinental, and then ending up having a beer in someone’s hotel room from a 7-11 at 2am (local time), after the bar at the Ritz closed for the night.  And… it’s considered completely normal behavior to everyone in the group. 
Cheers to Mileage Running buddies - They're the only ones who will go on 3 hours sleep to be there when the new lounge opens at 6am, talk on and on about planes with you for 5 hours until your flight, and consider it all to have been time well spent. 
Now, I know entries in a travel blog are supposed to be ‘entertaining’ or ‘enlightening,’ or at least funny or something.  However, I have learned from experience that consistently my most read entries are the dry, ‘mileage math’ so, someone likes them.  And in accordance with that… here’s some more!

Besides, I’m convinced ‘Universal on American’ is turning in to basically the golf channel with some re-runs of Fallon, so what better do I have to do? (RIP 30 Rock, I miss you)

This weekend’s trip nets around 14,000 miles, and my tour of Asia is worth roughly 21,000.  The combined cents per mile ‘CPM’ of the deals works out to just shy of $0.04, which is pretty decent.  Plus, when you add in the REAL steals of this year- two $81 ROUND TRIP tickets to Chicago from LAX, it drags it down even further.  As usual, this year’s totals put me solidly in the realm of ‘even money,’ if not ‘making money,’ on the trips. 

As I’ve rambled on about earlier [SEE] miles and EXP benefits can be thought of as a unique kind of currency, the exchange rate of which depends, not on market forces, but on what you spend them on.  Overall, I’ve given them a $0.02 price tag, but the truth is if you’re spending them on run of the mill domestic tickets, without being too selective of what you redeem for, you’re probably more likely to be getting $0.015 or even a bit (or a lot) worse. However, if you’re creative, and take the time to redeem them for first class, business class, or better yet, international first or business, you can pull down some seriously fantastic ‘conversion rates.’ 

Case in point, our trip to Peru this spring.  [more on that here] We spent 60k each, plus a nominal tax amount.  We were able to book business class tickets non-stop from LAX to Lima on the 787-900 with LAN.  These tickets would have cost an average of $5000 if paying cash.  Doing the quick math, this is a whopping 8 cent per mile redemption!  I’ve had similar redemption rates to Europe, especially when taking Airberlin’s business class to avoid those outrageous ‘fuel surcharges.’ So, if you do a mix of big ‘aspirational’ award trips with your everyday hopping around the US, and redeeming for Y to F upgrades, which always seem to come out to $0.02 on the nose, 2 cpm is a fair valuation, in my opinion.  

All of this, of course, is to be taken with a grain of salt as the overriding truth is that miles are a currency, and like any modern currency, they’re subject to depreciation.  Airlines will always be upping the amount of miles to redeem seats, and condensing the amount of seats available.  So, the logical plan is to spend as you earn, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to plan ahead, get things booked well in advance as this will ‘lock in’ the ‘price’ for you.  Then you can sit back, relax, and brag to your friends about the awesome deal you got on that ‘life changing’ trip, until their eyes glaze over, and they change the subject to the weather, the traffic, or something having recently caught on fire that they need to attend to immediately.

So…. What has all of this got us?  To summarize: 

-It’s mileage season again, and the sky’s the limit as usual for the bizarre routings and adventure. 

-Appreciate and cherish other people willing to indulge in above-described bizarre routings and adventure with you.

-Miles can be worth more than you think, especially if you have a hankering to explore Inca ruins, or to bike down the ‘runway’ at Tempelhof park.

-Oh, and 7-11s are open 24 hours in Hong Kong.  That might be the most important lesson of them all.

Happy flying,

~Cruising Altitude
Good night, skies. 

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