Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 1
Welcome to the first in a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, then drop me a line. Hope you enjoy!
Meet Dan Pierson, an entrepreneur/digital nomad currently “planning world domination.” Originally from New York, Dan has been living in Buenos Aires with his dog Nevada, practicing his Spanish and running BsAs Copy, an Internet marketing firm specializing in sales copy and SEO articles.
Last year, I wrote a handful of SEO articles for Dan and we got to know each other through email and Gchat exchanges. Among other things, we chat about entrepreneurship and travel, so I was very excited to hear about his plans to travel on a round-the-world ticket.
Dan, in preparation for his future travels, used a frequent flier technique called “mileage running” to nudge himself to the top of American Airline’s elite statuses. Over the course of a week, he used my apartment as a launchpad for trips between BOS and LAX (Dan, thanks again for cleaning up after yourself). I’ll let him tell you more.
Tell us a little bit about what you are doing. What is mileage running?
I’m flying back and forth between Boston and Los Angeles (there and back) for five consecutive days. On the sixth day (tomorrow!), I’m once again flying to Los Angeles, but only as a stop-over on the way to Maui. Aside from earning a butt-load of miles, my goal is to reach American Airline’s holy of all holies: Executive Platinum. This status entitles the holder to various perks, including free upgrades to first class more or less every flight, increased award availability, priority boarding, etc… and some bad-ass luggage tags.
First things first: I’m a novice when it comes to mileage running.
A “pure” Mileage Run (MR) is a flight taken solely for the purpose of earning miles or status on an airline. Aside from cost and whatever particular promotion might be running, the destination doesn’t matter. In fact, if the fare allows, the mileage runner will likely turn right around and hop back on the same plane to avoid having to pay for accommodation.
It’s purely an economic proposition; how many dollars will garner how many miles. That’s a bit simplified, and there are other considerations (am I really sitting in coach for that 14 hour flight to Bangkok?), but it’s a good, basic definition to start with.
It all comes down to the “CPM,” or Cost per Mile. A “good” mileage run will usually come in at under .02 cents per miles. For example, the current mileage run I’m on nets me 21,000 miles per 180 dollars spent.
I still don’t get it. What are you using these miles for, free tickets?
Let me preface by telling you a bit about my life these days. I’m pretty mobile. I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for about 6 months, and plan to devote the next 6 months or so to travel. I have no schedule: generally, May 5th is as free as May 6th is as free as May 7th. That’s the opposite of most folks with 9 to 5 jobs.
People assign “dollar values” to frequent flyer miles, but I think that’s a mistake, on a number of different levels.
- First of all, there are 1001 ways to accumulate miles. For example, opening a credit card could net you 25000 miles (essentially free). You could also go on an airline’s site and purchase 1000 miles for 30 dollars. Therefore, I don’t think it makes sense to say that x miles cost x dollars.
- For the sake of argument, let’s say that one mile costs one cent (an arbitrary number). A typical “saver” roundtrip fare within the 48 states “costs” 25,000 miles. Here’s the thing: it’s only available three flights per week. Most people can’t take advantage of any of those flights due to work, family, etc. Fortunately, I can.
- Airlines frequently announce frequent flyer sales, in which they’ll discount the number of miles needed to travel to a specific location. “Wow, they knocked Sydney down to 40,000 miles? I’m there!”.
To sum it up: the more flexibility you have, the more your frequent flyer miles are worth.
How did you find out about this promotion? Where should my readers look for information like this?
As I mentioned before, I’m a novice. The leading site for all things miles is FlyerTalk.com. You’ll find gurus who know how to work the system to a tee. This particular mileage run is pretty straight-forward, but there are others that require significant tweaking; I’m still learning myself. Don’t be intimidated by the abbreviations, acronyms, and words you don’t understand. You’ll pick it up soon enough, if you lurk for a little while.
How do you stay organized?
I entered all of the flight info into a spreadsheet: cost of each flight, miles flown, miles accrued, status points, etc.
Have you run into any problems so far?
Surprisingly, no! My third day of BOS-LAX, I arrived at 7:45 AM, only to find that I was on the 4:30 PM! Luckily, I was able to get on standby on the earlier, 8:20 AM flight, so I didn’t have to wait around the airport all day.
On the other end of the spectrum, I sweet-talked an off-duty gate agent (incidentally doing the same run to earn miles for her niece and nephew), and she “bumped” me up to the little cocoon where the flight attendants hang out on Trans-Atlantic flights. Way nicer than coach, and we enjoyed a nice conversation about the different destinations in Latin America.
Let’s talk some numbers here. How many flights? Days? Miles? Cost?
I’m factoring in some travel done aside from these BOS-LAX runs, including trips to North Carolina, D.C., New Orleans, Miami, and Europe. But the vast majority of miles earned and status gained will come from 7 round-trip Trans-Continental flights, as well as a trip to Hawaii.
Redeemable miles: 155,450
Qualifying miles: 100, 377 (100,000 necessary for Executive Platinum)
Butt in Seat miles: (50,185)
This cost includes a $100 change fee on my Hawaii ticket (“you know what, I’m gonna need that extra week on Maui after all these flights”), as well as a $150 Platinum Challenge (needed because of time constraints-normally, I could have waited for the miles to post and status to be attained organically). I also factored in the trips to both domestic and international destinations. The Pure “mileage run” cost came out to a little over one thousand dollars.
Here´s an example of what this all comes down to:
I´m sitting in an Internet cafe in southern Spain. I just got off the phone with AAdvantage after booking my flight from Thailand back to the United States. I´m going to fly Qantas BKK-SYD, and then SYD-JFK. In first class. On the new A-380.
Total cost=67.5k frequent flyer miles (three round trips BOS-LAX, or about $600).
Each of those first class tickets would normally cost about $10,000.
In a nutshell, that´s how to work the frequent flyer mile system. It´s not for everyone, but if you can make it work for you, those worthless miles you hear people complaining about can be turned into golden flights of Dom Perignon and world class service.