The Mileage Run From Hell in Pursuit of American Airlines Status
Jim from WINEtineraries shares his experience with a mileage run from hell while pursuing American Airlines Executive Platinum status. Let’s all be glad we weren’t on this trip with him.
The bio for my travel writer persona includes this sentence: “I enjoy the natural adrenaline high of travel as much as the next person, but I also try to limit the likelihood that the surprises I experience along the way will be unpleasant ones.” The saga that follows illustrates how Murphy’s Law can trump even “the best laid plans of mice and men”. Welcome to my mileage run from hell.
Reason for the Mileage Run
One of the quirks associated with the rollout of American Airline’s revamped AAdvantage program is that travel completed during the first 2 months of 2022 counts toward status for both 2022 and 2023. With this extra time to goose my EQM balance high enough to earn an extra 2 systemwide upgrades — but not wanting to risk getting stranded abroad by the U.S. requirement of a negative antigen test within 24 hours of departure — I set out in search of a unicorn. I wanted a domestic flight on a partner airline that would earn north of 10,000 EQMs and a minimum of 10% of the Loyalty Points needed to requalify for EP status in 2023.
Planning My Mileage Run
After some time spent following leads from FlyerTalk and trying many combinations on ITA Matrix, I found a trip that checked all the boxes. I could fly first class on Alaska Airlines from RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC) to FAI (Fairbanks, AK) via SEA (Seattle), returning to RDU in less than 24 hours. Perfect!
- Our daughter lives just 20 minutes from RDU, so I wouldn’t have to pay for parking (my goal is always to spend as little as possible on a mileage/status run).
- I had limited my search on ITA Matrix to minimum connection times of at least 1½ hours, so I felt fairly comfortable.
- The odds of misconnecting in FAI (where I wanted least to be stuck) were extremely low, since my outbound flight (AS234 from FAI to SEA) was an immediate turn on the same aircraft used for my inbound flight (AS223).
- The access my ticket gave me to the Admirals Club at RDU and the Alaska Lounges meant I would have free drinks, food, and even Starbucks coffee and pastries in the morning at SEA’s gorgeous North Satellite Lounge (pictured below).
- This trip would exceed my target to earn enough EQMs for 2 extra SWUs this program year and 21,002 Loyalty Points toward requalification for EP status in 2023.
To further minimize impact from sideways scenarios I could imagine, I preemptively uploaded the following to TripIt:
- a route map for the underground train connecting terminals used by AS at SEA
- contact and loyalty account information for the closest hotels to both SEA and FAI, in case of a missed connection, and
- the location of Priority Pass restaurants at SEA, in case I missed a meal because of a misconnection.
The Plan Starts To Fall Apart
Turns out I felt pretty overly confident. Almost from the get-go, things started unraveling — slowly at first, but then with ever-increasing impact.
RDU to SEA
The incoming flight for my departure from RDU arrived 31 minutes late, but the gate crew did an admirable job of recovery. My outbound flight to SEA ended up departing only 11 minutes late. We made up 18 minutes in flight, arriving 7 minutes early. Whew!
SEA to FAI
The incoming flight for my departure from SEA also arrived about 30 minutes late but, with a connection time of 1:40, I wasn’t worried. Even though it was 41° outside, the pilot for my flight to FAI taxied to the de-icing area. “What’s another 20 minutes?” I thought. But then there was a flurry of flight attendant activity toward the back of the plane. After about 10 more minutes, the captain announced that we would be returning to the gate to offload a passenger with a medical emergency. In the end, AS223 departed SEA 1 hour, 14 minutes late. The plane arrived in frozen FAI at the exact time our flight back to SEA was scheduled to depart.
FAI to SEA
But luck was on our side (or was it?). Along with the aircraft, the entire crew that flew us to FAI was scheduled to fly us back to SEA. With assurance that we would get back to SEA with (barely) enough time to make my connection, boarding started. Once everyone was in their seats, we taxied out to the deicing area. As the deicing fluid was being sprayed, loud screams of “Let me off this plane! I need to get off! Let me out!” filled the cabin, and the beleaguered crew made another dash toward the rear of the aircraft.
A 16-year-old who was traveling with his father was having a full-blown panic attack! The next thing we knew, the pilot came over the intercom to announce that this flight, too, would be returning to the terminal to offload a passenger.
But Wait…It Gets Worse!
Now things started heading south in earnest. With this additional delay, the pilots would time out before we could return to SEA! We sat at the gate for a good 45 minutes while Alaska Airlines’ Scheduling/Operations figured out a game plan. I put this time to good use by calling Alaska’s reservations to book the non-stop SEA-RDU flight 24 hours later. The incredibly helpful agent from Boise with whom I spoke assured me that I would still be in first class, have time to select my meal, and receive a hotel and meal voucher at any AS customer service desk when I finally made it back to SEA.
Around 4:00am, the airline announced a plan shuttle replacement pilots to FAI from ANC (Anchorage) on the first flight of the day. This would arrive at 6:15am. They also said that we could leave our checked bags on board, since we would be using the same aircraft. Bleary-eyed, we started making our way back into the terminal where all services had been shuttered for the night, in order to await the arrival of our replacement crew.
New Check-In for FAI to SEA
Before everyone could even deplane, either TSA or Alaska Airlines (or some combination of both) decided that checked bags would, indeed, be offloaded. Everyone would need to claim and recheck bags. We would also need to get new boarding passes and re-clear security. After all of that, we could board our already delayed flight!
Most passengers with onward flights from SEA, of course, needed to be rebooked. Thus, the lines to get new boarding passes moved at an agonizingly slow snail’s pace. As a result, the departure of our flight with our replacement pilots was further delayed until 9:45am. It would finally arrive at SEA at 1:54pm – 6 hours and 39 minutes late.
Overnight in SEA and flight home
Sleep-deprived, I found an Alaska Airlines customer service counter where I received my hotel and meal voucher. The (single) meal voucher (even though I would miss both dinner and breakfast) was for the princely sum of $12. That’s not even enough to buy a cheese enchilada “small plate” at the hotel (where the voucher had to be used)! Thankfully, my Priority Pass membership gives me access to participating airport restaurants. I used this for an early dinner before catching the shuttle to my hotel and again the next morning for breakfast before my flight (finally!) home, ending my mileage run from hell.
I recognize that everything that happened on this mileage / status run from hell is a “first world problem” and offer this accounting of my (mis)adventure to illustrate 2 timeless travel truths:
- Planning ahead can, in most cases, reduce the likelihood of events going sideways and minimize the impact when they do, but…
- Murphy’s Law can always shred “the best laid plans of mice and men”. Remember to add patience and a sense of humor to any travel plans.