My 1K status with United finally posted last night so I decided to mark the occasion by booking a mileage run to Bahrain. Why are you looking at me that way?
The reason I decided to push for 1K status in the first place last year was because I knew at the beginning of the year I would need to fly about 50K miles for a couple vacations, weddings, and family visits. At that point I figured I may as well look for a couple mileage runs to see if I could reach 1K for maybe an extra $1,000. And I did. But that meant several weekends spent flying red-eyes to Kansas City or Miami, connecting in Houston after less than four hours of sleep or circling over Newark worrying if I’d miss my connection.
So when a good mileage run fare popped up on FlyerTalk to fly to Bahrain (BAH) via Washington (IAD) and Kuwait (KWI) for $860, I jumped on it. (Thanks to Great Circle Mapper for the map of my itinerary below.) By dedicating 48 hours to sitting in a metal tube, I could accumulate about 18,000 elite qualifying miles (EQM). It would take three domestic runs to get the same number, meaning three restless weekends. No, it’s not the best price at about 4.7 cents per EQM (cpm) since last year I had a few runs in 2011 booked at 2.7-3.4 cpm. However, it’s good enough for the convenience. For those of you who are interested, you can get a visa upon arrival for approximately $20. Although there may be some issues if you have Israeli immigration stamps in your passport…
It’s also a kind of initiation to the world of crazy travel bloggers. 😉 A year ago I couldn’t imagine visiting the Middle East for a few hours just for kicks. There was a cheap fare from Honolulu to Moscow in January I considered, but Megan threatened to kill me if I dragged her to Hawaii the first time for only a few hours just to head off to the coldest place on Earth. On this trip I’ll get to put my new iPad2 to the test and hopefully make some good use of my Star Gold status to enjoy the airport lounges in KWI and BAH. Maybe something will even go horribly wrong so I can see how United’s “good will” compensation improves once I’m 1K.
I’ll spend more time this week talking about the benefits and important pitfalls of mileage running. However, I want to briefly show you today why it pays to use ITA to price out your trips before going to a booking website.
I knew from ITA that the K fare should cost $860.20 including all taxes and fees. It was all operated by United, so I first went to United.com and searched from SEA to BAH. However, I got back something closer to $885, and instead of clearly listing every segment traveling SEA-IAD-KWI-BAH and back, it only showed SEA-IAD-BAH with 1 stop. Something was up.
So I went to Continental.com and did the same search. I found the lower $860 fare I was promised, but I didn’t really want to book on Continental’s website because (1) I just earned 1K and I wanted to make a little show of loyalty and (2) I was concerned that if I booked with Continental it would include my Continental frequent flyer number and reduce my position in the hierarchy for domestic upgrades between SEA and IAD. (Yes, you can theoretically change it back to UA’s number, but I had a lot of difficulty with this when I was traveling on a mixed United/Continental itinerary over Christmas.)
Regardless of my reasons, I knew the lower fare was there. So I went back to United.com and changed my strategy. Instead of a simple roundtrip, I searched for multi-city trip traveling SEA-KWI, KWI-BAH, BAH-KWI, and finally KWI-SEA. I knew the trip between SEA and KWI would route through IAD. And it worked!
So now I’m all booked and ready to go! I did seriously consider booking two, three, or even four of these one weekend after another but decided against it. This is a big change from my old mileage runs. We’ll see how well this works out, what other trips I take this year, and what happens as I (hopefully) start to wind down my graduate education and search for a job. I also swore last year that I’d never do multiple runs to the same place after Kansas City started getting old.
What crazy trips have you done just for the miles? Any recommendations for what is likely to be a long trip in Economy Plus? I’ll probably spend a good chuck writing a review article on my thesis topic, but everyone needs a break now and then. 🙂
Edit 7:42 AM PST: There are additional mileage runs being posted, such as this one to Laos, Nigeria (LOS). I was actually eating an early dinner at Pappadeux’s next door to the launch party for this route in Houston last November. But frankly I feel safer in Kuwait than Nigeria. Also, even though the LOS fare is about $140 less, the visa costs $90 more. So for $50 extra and a better-timed itinerary overall, I think I’ll stick with what I have.