Trade misery for miles

Travelers try to beat the rush at the airport

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: I flew cross-country from Los Angeles to Boston for the holiday this week. I took something of a circuitous route because of work: LA to Seattle to Minneapolis to Washington to Boston.

If I'd have done it all through one airline, I could call myself a mileage runner. For these folks, the longer the flight, the more layovers, the better.

Dave Demerjian is a writer with Wired Magazine and he recently wrote about his own 6,000 mile, six flight nightmare...I mean mileage run.


Vigeland: Dave, any plans to do it again?

Dave Demerjian: Uh, that would be a big no. I've loved airlines since I was a little kid and I was really excited to go on these mileage runs, but there's just something to be said for sitting in an airplane seat in coach for 27 hours and, you know, eating United Airlines snack packs for an entire day. It just...it sucks.

Vigeland: Well, tell us a little bit about your experience and what you did for Wired Magazine.

Demerjian: Well, you know, I do a lot of writing about commercial aviation and airlines and was telling my editor about these mileage runners and he was fascinated by it and gave it some thought and decided he was going to give me $500 and asked me to learn how to do mileage runs of my own and then to write about it.

Vigeland: What did $500 get you?

Demerjian: $500 got me two runs. One of them was Boston to Las Vegas round-trip, where I stopped in Washington DC, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago for $275. The second one was an easier run: I went Boston-Washington, Washington-Philly, Philly-Detroit, Detroit-Philly, Philly-New York, New York-Boston.

Vigeland: And that was considered one ticket?

Demerjian: That was one ticket. That was one ticket. That one was $196 round-trip.

Vigeland: And that's in one day?

Demerjian: That one I did it in one day, yes.

Vigeland: Oh my goodness. Well how many stops did you have on that second one?

Demerjian: Four on the second one, five on the first one.

Vigeland: So how do you even book that?

Demerjian: What you need to learn is every fare has a series of rules attached to it and it takes a long time to find the rules on these different Web sites, but one of the things that rule dictates is how many stops you can make and while most people will make, as you said, one connection or two, a lot of times the rules say you can make up to six or sometimes even more connections on a single ticket without changing the fare. So once you've learned how to interpret those rules and kind of understand where the different airlines fly, you can put together a run that has six or seven stops without breaking the fare.

Vigeland: Alright, so how many miles did you rack up?

Demerjian: Well, the first trip, which was the Las Vegas trip, if I had done the non-stop that would have come in at just over 4,000 miles. I was able to get close to 7,000 miles with the extra connections, so I almost doubled my miles on that one. The second one I wasn't really aiming as much for miles as I was for segments, so I kept the flights short up and down the East Coast and racked up, I think, eight segments on that trip.

Vigeland: Now why were you going for segments?

Demerjian: With all of the airline frequent flyer programs, you will reach elite status either by flying a certain number of miles in a year or for a certain number of segments in a year. One of the mileage runners I spoke to to research the story suggested that because I lived on the East Coast and there are a lot of cities close to each other, I should be going for segments instead of miles.

Vigeland: Is there anything that would make it worth it? When we first started discussing your story in our editorial meeting, the question that came up around the table was "What would make it worth it for you to do it?" and one of my said, you know, "Would you do this?" and I said "Absolutely not" and he said, "Well, what if you could fly all day and that would get you a free ticket" and I thought, you know, I might be willing to take one day off and fly around the country in order to get a free ticket somewhere. Is there some point at which it would be worth it to you?

Demerjian: I mean, I think the thing that killed me was sitting in coach. One of the runners I talked to to research this story did a run to Singapore via Hong Kong and Los Angeles -- he was basically in a plane for 38 hours -- but he spent the entire time in Singapore Airlines First Class, which is pretty much the nicest way you can fly, and he basically got plied with free alcohol, gourmet food and, you know, magazines the entire way and said that it was just kind of like a two day vacation. So, if I was being waited on in a fully reclinable sleeper seat, I might think about it.

Vigeland: But otherwise, no way?

Demerjian: I don't think so.

Vigeland: Alright, well is there any sort of, I don't know, milder form of this that a normal traveler could practice if we wanted to get a little more out of a regular trip, what kinds of things could we do?

Demerjian: One thing that a lot of business travelers will do who don't consider themselves mileage runners, but who want to rack up some extra miles, is they'll just tack an extra connection onto their trip. So, if they're going from New York to Chicago, they might add a connection in DC if they can pull it off and that will get them an extra couple thousand miles and if they do that a few times over the course of a year, they've done pretty well.

Vigeland: Dave Demerjian is a writer for Wired Magazine. Thanks for going through this for all of us.

Demerjian: Thank you.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...