Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seattle Mileage Run

While I haven't been doing much flying lately, I have in fact been doing a lot of flying in airplanes. In the first 10 days of November alone I flew almost 9,400 miles to bring my total for the year to about 21,700 miles. But even with this crazy end-of-year increase in my flying, I haven't been in the skies anywhere near as much as in 2008. Last year, with plenty of help from trips to Germany/Austria and Japan, I flew over 52,500 miles.

So what does that mean to most of you reading this? Probably not too much, other than it may sound like I fly commercial too much. On the other hand, to at least a few fellow frequent flyers out there, this probably seems like a ripe opportunity for a mileage run. What's a mileage run? To put it simply, it's when you book a trip to get as many miles as possible and - in many cases - to get yourself over the hump to the next status level for your frequent flyer program.

With over 50K miles flown last year I'm currently a Gold Medallion on Delta. If you travel even semi-frequently it's wonderful for all the eliminated fees, priority boarding and (of course) the free upgrades to first class. Anyway, I needed to get to at least 25K miles by December 31st to make Silver Medallion and my one remaining business trip wasn't going to put me over the magic number. So I searched long and hard and found a dirt-cheap fare ($244 w/taxes) from Dayton to Seattle and back this past Saturday, then worked the routing to fly as many miles as possible.

When all was said and done, I managed to accumulate 6,309 MQMs (those are the miles that count towards elite levels) and - thanks to bonuses and other promotions - ended up with 19,241 total miles out of the trip. That comes out to 1.27 cents/mile, which is quite a bargain in the land of mileage running. If you're still curious, continue on below as I recap the adventure segment-by-segment.

A slideshow of my photos from the entire mileage run

DAY-MSP | NW5085 | CRJ | Seat 3A, Coach Class | 2h 19m

And so it began. I departed Dayton just past 7:00 am on Saturday the 5th, a bit tired having only slept about 4 hours the night before. Bad idea when you're embarking on a 24 hour journey across the country and back, in case you're wondering. I managed to read a couple magazines and snapped a few photos enroute. We picked up some time on our way and landed about 15 minutes early.

Also I need to note that it was one of the Gate Agents in Dayton that was able to switch my itinerary to add the extra MSP-CMH segment. Originally, I had booked DAY-MSP-DTW-SEA for the outbound but I knew from my online route planning that I could add in an additional leg since I had 2-hour layovers in both Minneapolis and Detroit. Yes, most folks would think it's odd to add a fourth segment but that netted me an extra 598 miles. Woo-hoo!

MSP-CMH | NW7226 | DC-9 | Seat 4A, First Class | 1h 50m

Due to adding the aforementioned segment, this was my shortest connection of the entire trip at only thirty minutes. Since I was (intentionally) sitting near the front of the plane from Dayton, I quickly deplaned, caught the tram, and was at the gate across the terminal within ten minutes. Boarding was already underway so I walked straight on to the plane and took my seat. I felt a built guilty starting this early but, given the journey ahead, didn't care too much and had the flight attendant bring me an Irish Coffee.

Departing Minneapolis - St. Paul

We pushed back about five minutes ahead of schedule and had a quick taxi to Runway 17. Once airborne I got a great view of the airport as we climbed out before we soon were on top of an overcast. A small section of clouds broke and I was able to see the Lake Michigan shoreline just North of Chicago down below while I enjoyed another Irish Coffee. We passed by South Bend (I recognized the airport from above) and made our arrival into Columbus from the North. Touchdown was again a few minutes early and I spent my hour or so in the terminal checking the Internet on my iPod and wandering around the concourse.

CMH-DTW | NW3745 | CRJ | Seat 7A, Coach Class | 1h 9m

The shortest hop of the day, in the always-delightful CRJ... cough, ahem, cough. They're honestly not terrible but it is nice to be able to get out of your seat without smashing your head into something and that's usually not possible in these little spam cans. Then again, considering I usually fly a 150, who am I to complain?

It was overcast most of the way in but I did catch a brief glimpse of Cedar Point as we passed overhead on arrival into Detroit. We skimmed the tops of the clouds for a couple minutes and I was able to take some photos and video. Our arrival into Detroit was one I've made countless times so I was able to sight-see a bit as we headed down the chute. Once again, we landed early and I soon found myself wandering through my fourth airport of the day.

Three flights under my belt and I was only 200 miles from home. In a normal scenario? Crazy. During a mileage run? Great planning and routing! :)

Aircraft on the ramp at Detroit Metro

DTW-SEA | NW2269 | 757-200 | Seat 4A, First Class | 5h 14m

I took some more photos inside the McNamara Terminal and then called my Grandma on the phone. It's become a bit of a tradition that I always call her when I'm headed off somewhere on an airplane - to the tune that she now instinctively asks, "so where are you at now?" every time she picks up. We were able to catch up and talked for around 20 minutes before it was time to board and I hopped on the airplane.

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendants came around to take our dinner orders and I also asked for a margarita. While I'm still not a big fan of the Northwest/Delta merger (I was a loyal NW guy) I do have to hand it to them on the drink front - the switch to Coke from Pepsi and the Signature Cocktails (one of which is currently the margarita) are two major steps up in the cabin. The hot towels came about 15 minutes later, followed shortly by dinner. I ordered the barbecue chicken and it came with salad, potatoes, vegetables, and a delicious slice of pumpkin cheesecake. I also had a glass of white wine with the meal.

Throughout the flight, I talked a bit with the lady seated next to me. She was from Seattle but travels to Detroit semi-frequently on business. We talked about work, the airlines, Christmas decorations, and other random stuff and she also gave me a couple little tips for my very brief stay in Seattle. I was able to get through two more magazines (seriously, the only time I read anymore is when I'm on an airplane) on the flight before I turned my light off and napped for about an hour.

I really do tend to have good luck on most of my flights (knock on wood) and today proved to continue that streak as we made it to SeaTac about a half hour ahead of schedule. Aside from the fact that it's always nice to be early, it was especially helpful to me since I was able to catch an earlier bus downtown from the airport. I only had about three hours before I needed to be back at the airport so an extra half hour in the city was rather substantial. While waiting for the bus, a couple folks asked where I was coming from and (since most people get confused when you say you came from Dayton and are on your way to Dayton) they were quite amused by my mileage run and wished me luck.


What do you do for three hours in a city you have never set foot in before? Well I hate to be a stereotypical tourist but I decided that a visit to the Space Needle seemed like a logical choice. The bus from the airport dropped me right downtown and I decided it would be easy enough (and good exercise) to walk the 10ish blocks to Seattle Center. I brought my tripod along for the journey, as I figured a fun way to spend my limited time in the city doing would be to take some neat photos.

I made it to the Needle, stopping a couple times en route to snap a shot from different vantage points. When I finally made it to the entrance at around 7:00 pm I saw a sign that said there was a private party so the observation deck would be unavailable after 6:00. Seriously?!? I just flew across the country and it's closed?!? Just my luck... and I'd even checked their website a couple days in advance to be sure it was open. Oh well, I honestly wasn't that annoyed and instead took some more exterior shots. It did mean I wouldn't be able to take any photos of the downtown skyline but I could live with that. Not like I won't make it back to Seattle sooner or later.

My first shot of the Space Needle

Taken from the lawn in front

I just like how this one turned out

Afterward I stopped for dinner at Golden Singha, a Thai restaurant I noticed on my earlier walk over from downtown. The place looked nice and busy so I figured it couldn't be too terrible, plus I expected at least half-decent Thai being on the West coast and all. I ordered the Chicken Pad Thai and the food was on the table in record time. It seemed to be a little family-owned place and I can attest that the noodles and chicken were very tasty. Perfect meal to fill me up and tide me over until breakfast the next morning - which really wasn't that far away since it was already about 11:30 Eastern time.

Westlake Ave / 5th Ave / Olive Way

I continued on back towards downtown and stopped to take some photos at an intersection along the way. Having the tripod on hand, I was able to play around with the shutter speed and aperture to get some nice exposures with all the traffic whizzing by. Then I walked one more block to Westlake Park and spent about 30 minutes photographing all the Christmas decorations and people wandering around downtown. There was a band playing Christmas music outside and the whole place was wonderfully festive. I hung around and enjoyed the vibe of the city for a few more minutes before it was time to head back to the airport. My total cost for the trip to/from the airport was a whopping $4.00 - I love good public transportation!

Christmas Decorations at Westlake Park

Seattle's downtown Christmas tree

The vibe sure made it feel like the most wonderful time of the year

Traffic and pedestrians at Pike St & 5th Ave

SEA-ATL | DL1060 | 757-200 | Seat 6D, First Class | 4h 38m

I had just settled into my seat when another guy about my age sat down next to me. We got to talking and it turns out he was also in Seattle on a mileage run; he was headed back home to Atlanta after about six hours on the left coast. Given the obvious connection we spent a whole boatload of time talking about various airline/travel stuff. Turns out we both use the FlyerTalk website (home of crazed frequent flyers like ourselves) so we got into discussing some of the tricks of the trade we've learned from others on there.

Since this was a red-eye flight, both of us wanted to get to sleep. I had a glass of red wine and a margarita and he had the same. Except neither of us was tired and we ended up talking a bit longer. So we had another margarita, and then another. The flight attendant was in a cheerful mood and kept bringing drinks to us so who were we to complain? After one more glass of red wine, I was definitely set for the night and we only had about 1.5 hours left before reaching Atlanta. Like I said earlier, there are definitely some perks to the whole elite thing. ;-)

Of course, I was setting myself up to be rather exhausted, since one hour of sleep doesn't do much for the body. We landed in Atlanta about 6:00 am (I think it was a little early again, but my mind wasn't exactly sharp at this point) and I went to the Gate Agent to see if I could go ATL-DTW-DAY instead of my direct ATL-DAY routing. Always gotta try for those extra miles! Unfortunately, it wasn't possible so I was stuck waiting around for about two hours until my scheduled flight. I wasn't all that keen on falling asleep and possibly missing my flight so I read a bit and grabbed a egg and sausage wrap for breakfast all while running on very limited sleep.

ATL-DAY | DL2088 | MD-80 | Seat 2D, First Class | 1h 36m

After what felt like forever waiting in the terminal, we boarded the airplane and I tried to fall asleep right away. I nodded in and out but never truly fell asleep as we were stuck in a looooooong line to be de-iced and the Captain kept coming on the PA with updates. We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited... let's just say I definitely had the true Atlanta experience. Finally, about 45 minutes behind schedule, our plane was de-iced and we headed out to the runway and departed.

I managed probably another 30 minutes of shut-eye on the way home until we were approaching the Ohio/Kentucky border. Looking out the window I saw many familiar sights and was able to take quite a few photos. One of the most interesting things to me was the smoke from a power plant being blown North by the prevailing winds - that plume must have traveled 75 miles out and I could still see where it was dispersing when we were almost to Dayton. It's kind of disgusting to think about all the things like that in our air, honestly!

Mmm, look at that delicious smoke pouring from the powerplant...

After a very scenic approach into the airport (we passed over downtown and the Air Force Base) we touched down about 45 minutes late. I really couldn't complain though, considering that 5/6 of my flights within the past 24 hours were early. Then I caught the first shuttle back to the parking lot, hopped in my car, drove home, and went straight to bed for an hour and a half. Enough to get some rest but not enough to screw up my sleep later that night. And come Sunday evening, I went to bed at 9:00 pm and slept for a good 10 hours straight until it was time to get up for work the next morning.

Back home in Dayton, the Birthplace of Aviation!

So was I completely crazy to go on this here mileage run? To some extent, yes, as it is definitely a physically draining experience. But overall I'd still say no way! How often do you get to wake up on a Saturday morning, bounce around the country on airplanes, have dinner in Seattle, and be back home in your own bed the next morning? Aside from the obvious reward in the form of miles, that sort of experience is simply hard to beat.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File


  1. I had to read this one twice to really get it.....what a wild trip. Thankfully I have never been one that had to travel for work. After getting this behind the scenes view it sure sounds like a fun run to top the mileage numbers. As always great shots!

  2. Yup, it's a little sacrilegious to be pimping the airlines as a GA pilot but there are some nice things about commercial if you fly enough to take advantage of them. The trip was a lot of fun and it's always neat to think about all the folks you meet while traveling.

    I do wish I could get up myself more often now but I'm a broken record at this point about work/daylight eating into my flying. Plus we've all got to watch the money a little more during the holidays.

  3. You had all those drinks and then jumped in your car and drove home?

  4. ^ Of course not! I had the last one probably around 5:00 am and wasn't in my car until noon. No way I would have ever hopped in a car if I didn't know I was perfectly fine to drive.