I recently completed an extreme mile run on Alaska Airlines. Six months ago, I wrote an article about mileage running when I booked this epic journey. Whether you are a points and miles newbie or an experienced veteran, there may come a time when you need to take a mileage run. In that post, I covered:
- Why you may need to make a mileage run.
- Are mileage runs “dead”?
- How do I decide on what makes “cents” for a mileage run?
- My mileage run toolbox.
TIP: If you are trying to qualify or requalify for a specific frequent flyer elite level, a mileage run may be an option for you.
I don’t have space here to cover those details so you can read the post here. I answer those questions and describe how I booked this trip to maximize elite qualifying miles. In this post, I write about the results of my trip and some problems that happened along the way.
My mileage run began at my home airport, Portland, OR and ended at Fairbanks, AK. With five flights in each direction, I had more schedule changes than I could count in the six months prior to flying. Most every week, I had at least one change involving:
- Time changes,
- Canceled flights and
- Rerouting of flights.
The rerouting of flights was my biggest challenge. I booked this trip to maximize elite qualifying miles (EQM). To drive down the cost, I used an Alaska Airlines Visa companion voucher to reduce the cost. I successfully booked the run that way I wanted to fly by using the multi-city booking option with the companion voucher. Success, I was able to be the master of my flight itinerary. Then trouble struck. Some schedule changes rerouted my return flights which shortened my return trip. When I called Alaska Airlines to put my routing back, I was told that because I used the companion voucher, I could not fly through the same airport twice during the same trip. I told the reservation agent that I saw nowhere in the terms and conditions that I couldn’t fly through Seattle twice and that the online booking engine let me book the trip. After a lengthy discussion and supervisor intervention, Alaska Airlines relented and let me reconstruct my itinerary back to the way that I wanted to go. Here are the terms and conditions of the companion voucher:
The reservation agent may have been talking about Discount code reductions may not apply to all flights however, the verbiage does not specifically prohibit passing through the same airport twice. I originally booked this trip to fly all outbound legs on Saturday and all return legs on Monday. Due to the complexities of changing flight schedules, we split the outbound trip to two legs on Friday afternoon with a layover at LAX. Below are screenshots of my final itinerary which includes passing through Seattle twice on the return trip.
TIP: If your flight changes in excess of 60 minutes departing or arriving, you can get your choice of flight from the airline. You don’t have to accept their choice of rebooked flight.
Since cutting the cost is a prime objective in mileage running, all ten of my flights were booked in fare code “N” which is the eighth lower economy airfare from full fare economy. I will talk about fare code “N” in the first class upgrade section.
TIP: Most people fly a mileage run in an east-west/west-eat direction such as New York to Hawaii which would cross five time zones. We flew in a north-south direction so we were never more than one time zone away from home.
Layover At LAX
Splitting the outbound leg made things easier and gave us a chance to eat dinner at our favorite Mexican take-out restaurant, Tito’s Tacos in Culver City, CA. I have been going there since 1972. We took the Culver City Bus #6 for our five-mile trip to Tito’s from our LAX hotel. The bus fare for those aged 62+ is just 35 cents in each direction.
Flying In First Class
Flying an extreme mileage run doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you can’t fly in comfort. As I mentioned before, we booked tickets in fare code “N” using the Alaska Airlines Visa companion voucher. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members that are MVP Gold (tier 3) or high get annual guest first class upgrade certificates. Even though the certificates say “guest”, you can choose to use the upgrade certificates for yourself.
TIP: You can use both the companion voucher and upgrade certificates for the same booking.
The upgrade seats for use with the gold guest first class upgrades are limited. You might not find confirmable space today but you could tomorrow. I checked every day and when I found available upgrade seats, I called Alaska Airlines to confirm our seats. This is not a set it and forget it process. Out of ten legs, we were upgraded to first class on all ten legs. There are four ways to upgrade to first class on a paid ticket. When you use the Alaska Airlines Visa companion voucher, there are only three ways to upgrade:
- Upgrades using available upgrade space and upgrade certificates,
- Upgrades during the first class upgrade window – 48 to 120 hours before departure depending on elite status level and
- Gate upgrades begin one hour prior to departure.
TIP: If you find available guest upgrade seats after booking using the upgrade certificate, call Alaska Airlines to have your ticket upgraded.
For this epic mileage run, we used all three types of upgrades:
- Three upgrades were confirmed at time of booking,
- Three guest upgrade available seats were available later and I called Alaska Airlines to secure first class seats,
- Three upgrades came through during the elite upgrade window period and
- One upgrade came through after I boarded the aircraft, seated in premium economy.
The gate upgrade does have a process that the gate agents are supposed to follow. Here are the order and tie-breakers for assigning first class upgrades at the gate:
At 24 hours before departure, the first class waitlist is available. Two hours before departure, we are number two and three on the waitlist.
Things were not looking good for flight 589. We boarded the plane and took our seats in premium economy, seats 7A and 7B. After sitting there for ten minutes, a gate agent boarded the aircraft with our new boarding passes for seats 1A and 1B.
The Alaska Lounge
Again, you can have comfort with a mileage run. Our flight legs were relatively short with three-and-a-half hours being the longest leg. At all of our connections, there were Alaska Lounges:
- Portland (2 locations – B and C gates),
- Seattle (3 locations – C,D and N gates),
- Los Angeles,
- San Francisco and
Each lounge offers complimentary food and beverages with a barista and bartender. Alaska Airlines locally sources food and wine focusing on choices from the Pacific Northwest.
At Portland international airport, the Alaska Lounge opened two new lounge additions. They built an annex in the lounge located at gate C-5. This is designed to relieve overcrowding at this lounge. An Alaska Express Lounge opened at gate B-4. The express lounge currently only serves beverages. The express lounge plans on serving food as soon as the catering logistics are finalized.
The Seattle lounge in concourse C will see construction begin to add lounge capacity by 60 seats. The lounge will remain open during construction which is expected before the Christmas holiday period. Also, the Seattle lounge in concourse D will close in early 2023 with renovations to be completed by summer. The new features will include expanded seating, a barista station, new offerings and an improved layout.
Fun In Fairbanks
We did have one full day to explore Fairbanks. In the morning, we went to Gold Dredge #8. You can read that review here.
In the afternoon, we sailed the Chena River aboard the Riverboat Discovery. You can read that review here.
Here is the other problem that we encounter. Alaska Airlines ticket agents can’t print out bag tags with more than two connections. I was standing at Fairbanks International Airport with the ticket agent and a supervisor trying to figure out how to check our bags. We agreed to short-check the bags from Fairbanks to Anchorage to Seattle to Portland. They arrived at PDX hours before we did and they were waiting for us at the Alaska Airlines baggage office.
This solution solved the bag flight issue but it created a second problem. Our bags were tagged to fly from Seattle to Portland on flight 2009. The bag logistics were solved but by doing so, it created an extra leg on our itinerary for us to also fly on flight 2009.
TIP: If you miss one flight, the airline will cancel your remaining flights on that itinerary.
In order to protect my downline flights, I had to call Alaska Airlines to have them remove the “ghost flight”. It took 20 minutes for the reservation agent and a supervisor to fix but they were able to remove the “ghost flight”.
By The Numbers
Was this mileage run successful, did it accomplish my objectives? Let’s look at the numbers. The cost of this epic adventure was $589.36 per person using the Alaska Airlines Visa companion voucher.
We earned 8,287 EQMs, looking at the cost per EQM, the math goes like this: 589.36 / 8,287 = 7.11 cents per mile (CPM). Likewise, the total bankable miles (TBM) is 589.36 / 21,219 = 2.78 CPM. Bankable miles is my term for the miles eligible to be redeemed for award tickets. My limit on funding a mileage run is to pay no more than 5 CPM for economy and 10 CPM for first class. Since all ten legs were upgraded to first class, the EQM cost of 7.11 CPM is very reasonable. I rate at cost cap for first class at 10 CPM because first class tickets will earn at least 50% more EQM for paid first class. As an MVP Gold 100K member, I receive a 150% mileage bonus on top of the EQMs earned. As far as earning 21,219 bankable miles, the Points Guy values Alaska miles at two cents per mile so 2.78 CPM including transportation to Fairbanks and back is more than successful.
You may notice that for two flights, the EQMs earned exceeded the actual flight (base) miles. That is because the minimum mileage earned on Alaska Airlines flights is 500 miles.
Overall, I met my objectives for this epic mileage run. Flying all ten legs as the result of first class upgrades actually exceeded my expectations. I have mixed feelings about the reservation agent’s interpretation of ambiguous terms and conditions for the companion voucher. Alaska Airlines baggage check has limitations of no more than two connecting flights so we were able to come up with a solution to get our bags to Portland.
Flying five legs back to back was like being in a marathon. I doubt that I will attempt to book such an extreme mileage run in the future.