Mileage Run

I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

Anchorage Mileage Run

Earlier this month I did my first really long mileage run of the year, all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. It was special because of all the miles I earned at a great price, and also because my friend joined me on his first ever run.

The day started early, he picked me up at 4:30 a.m. and we went to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. After a short stay at the Admirals Club, we went to our departure gate for the short flight to DFW.

This was my first visit to an AC in many months and I was glad to see that they had updated the coffee service. In the past your choice was regular or decaf and that was it. Now they have one of the newer machines that also offers cappuccino, latte, and mocha. For me, that is a welcome addition to the club.

We had an uneventful trip to DFW and quickly went to the Terminal A Admirals Club. Our DFW layover was 4 hours 45 minutes. I knew there was an earlier flight to Seattle and I hoped we could get changed to that one. The AAngel behind the counter gave us stand-by boarding passes for the earlier flight and told us to go the gate and see if they had any seats.  My hope was that we that we would make that flight and then also get an earlier flight from Seattle to Anchorage.

As we walked to the gate I saw a familiar face, Tom Horton, the CEO of AMR Corporation, American Airlines parent company, whom I had met last year when I went to the 787 Dreamliner event at DFW. I said hello to him and he spent several minutes talking with us. He had no entourage, was dressed casually, and seemed very excited about where the company was going, and expressed confidence that the Justice Department lawsuit blocking the American / US Air merger would be tossed aside. I was not only impressed by his enthusiasm, but also the fact that he stopped to talk with us and did not blow us off. Thank you sir!

We arrived at the gate and asked the gate agent if there was room for us on the flight. I suppose he was dealing with numerous issues at once, his attitude told us he was too busy to deal with us now, he told us to wait. My friend said to me, “We were just treated better by the CEO of a mufti-billion corporation that we were by a gate agent.!” He was right. But once the GA got all of the other things take care of, he was much nicer to us.  Everyone boarded the aircraft and he told us there were two seats remaining, we got them without having to pay a change fee (having elite status does have its benefits!) and we boarded the flight to Seattle. I had a first class upgrade on the original flight and ended up in coach on this one, but I was glad to give it up to get this earlier flight.

I sat in the front of the coach section, which AA calls Main Cabin Extra. The extra legroom was a pleasant surprise, I appreciated being seated in that area.

We arrived in Seattle and went to the Alaska Airlines Board Room club where I hoped we could be moved to an earlier Anchorage flight. This was when I found the benefit of my American Airlines elite status, and what it meant to not be able to use it. The very friendly Alaska staff said we could probably be moved to another flight, but we had to see a ticket agent, they could not help us. They also added that there would be change fees involved.  Change fees? With that news, we decided to stay at SeaTac for 4 hours and get our regularly scheduled flight to ANC.

We ate some snacks in the club, then decided to visit the food court for lunch. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the food court at SeaTac is one of the best places in the nation to watch planes depart and arrive.

You get your meal and then watch the show at the SeaTac food court. They have tables right by the window; if you are lucky you even get the chance to sit in one of the rocking chairs they provide.

You get your meal and then watch the show at the SeaTac food court. They have tables right by the window; if you are lucky you even get the chance to sit in one of the rocking chairs they provide.

I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

I really like the livery on the tail of the Alaska Airlines planes.

Always great views from the SeaTac food court. This Lufthansa flight had just taken off.

Always great views from the SeaTac food court. This Lufthansa flight had just taken off.

We soon made our way, by train, to Terminal N, the remote terminal that Alaska Airlines uses. We looked at the people waiting to board and said “Don’t they realize they are going to Alaska?” These people were in shorts, t-shirts, no jackets. We joked that they obviously thought they were going to Anchorage, Florida. How wrong we were.

We boarded: my original reservation said that I was in 9C, an aisle seat, but my boarding pass said 9B, the middle row. Again, another issue with not having elite status on Alaska Airlines. Fortunately, the two gentlemen I sat with offered pleasant conversation and the flight passed quickly.

We landed on time at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage and made our way to the People Mover, the bus that goes downtown once an hour. As soon as we stepped outside I was stunned at how gorgeous it was. Clear skies, no wind, moderate temperatures, just wonderful!

Beautiful flower beds greeted us as we stepped out of the terminal.

Beautiful flower beds greeted us as we stepped out of the terminal.

Almost all of the documentaries I see about Alaska show it as cold, remote, barren. That was the picture I had in my mind, it just never occurred to me that Alaska would have mild temperatures and flowers in bloom. As they say, that’s my bad, I should have known better.

We took a cab downtown, that cost $20. The public transit system has a bus, The People Mover, that goes downtown, but it only runs once an hour and we did not want to wait another 45 minutes for it to arrive, time was short.

We arrived downtown and walked near the water's edge, just amazed at how beautiful a day it was.

We arrived downtown and walked near the water’s edge, just amazed at how beautiful a day it was.

We got out of the cab at the Captain Cook hotel land walked a few blocks to the water’s edge where we walked through a park and I saw one of the most clever signs about dogs that I had ever seen.

When I got home I read the bottom part to my dog, she seemed to understand. :-)

When I got home I read the bottom part to my dog, she seemed to understand. :-)

By now we were hungry, very hungry. A guidebook had recommended The Glacier Brewhouse on 5th Avenue; we were nearby so we decided to stop there for dinner. We were led to our table after a short wait. Living in Central Texas we can visit seafood restaurants, although Red Lobster can get sort of old. One of the things I like about visiting a town on the coast is the seafood, it always tastes so much fresher. I reviewed the menu and decided on the Wood-Grilled Alaskan Salmon, cilantro marinade, seared crab and rice cake, skillet roasted corn relish, fresh lime hollandaise, and grilled fresh asparagus. I was glad I did.

My dinner: wood-grilled Alaskan Salmon with crabcake and vegetables.

My dinner: wood-grilled Alaskan Salmon with crabcake and vegetables.

I was glad I made that choice. The salmon was tender and full of flavor, but I really enjoyed the crabcake, easily the best I had ever had. I ordered their Barvarian Hefeweizen as my beverage, it was wonderful. My friend ordered a different beer, I don’t recall what it was, but they brought it to him in a wine glass, explaining that it was so high in alcohol content that they could not serve it in a larger glass.  He and I each had one sip and decided that was enough.

Once dinner was over we spent a few hours walking through downtown, we really did not have any specific goal, we just wanted to see the area.

Anchorage is a fairly good-sized city with a population of more than 300,000. Thus, while walking around downtown, we really don’t get a feel for being in Alaska, it just feels like another medium size city with department stores, fast food chains, etc. Other than the mountains in the distance, we could have been in Omaha for all I knew.

We bought some souvenirs, then found a place that a friend had recommended called Humpy‘s on 6th Avenue. We had a late night snack and some more of their home-brewed beer, which we found to be tastier than what we had at our previous location. We stayed quite a while, enjoyed the live music, then got a cab back to the airport. It was past 11:30 and our flight to Seattle would depart at 2 a.m.

By now we were thoroughly exhausted; it had been almost 23 hours since we had left my house and while that was not a challenge back in our college days, well, let’s just say we are not as young as we once were at leave it at that. :-)

There was a very long line at the security check-in which normally would not be an issue, but since we were flying out on Alaska Airlines we did not have elite status, thus no priority access and we had to wait on the security line. At least that made me appreciate my AA status even more.

We cleared security, went to our gate and soon thereafter were on our flight to Seattle. Once we arrived at SEA-TAC we went to the Alaska Airlines Board Room for coffee, juice, and pancakes. Fully refreshed, we boarded our AA flight to DFW. Once we arrived at DFW we were able to switch to an earlier flight to Austin, getting in 2 hours ahead of schedule.

It had been a very long weekend, but it was worth it. I earned 14,428 miles from a ticket that cost $355: that came out to 2.46 cents per mile, one of the best rates I had gotten in a long time. I also earned 7,260 EQMs It was worth it. And at that great price we have two more Anchorage trips scheduled — we’ll rent a car and get out of Anchorage on those trips.

Let the mileage runs continue! :-)

 

 

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

Austin to Portland – My First Mileage Run of the Year

Late February — it was about time for me to have my first mileage run of the year. Last year I had completed almost a dozen trips in January alone, the triple EQM award to San Fransisco was a great incentive. This year there weren’t any comparable deals, so I kept looking. I eventually found a trip I had taken many times before, Austin to DFW to Seattle to Portland to DFW to Austin for $240. Not great, but not bad either. I’d leave Austin early in the morning (6:10 a.m.) and be back by 10:30 p.m. It would be a long day, made even longer by the the fact that this was a mid-week flight and I would have to be up early the next morning to go to work.

The day started well, I got to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and got word that I had been upgraded to First Class for the AUS-DFW segment. Normally I would not be overly excited about an upgrade on a flight that lasts less than an hour, but I had a short layover at DFW and sitting in the front of the plane would get me off and on my way to the next flight more quickly.

I had an uneventful flight to DFW, got to my departure gate and was glad to see that I was number one on the upgrade list to First Class. An upgrade for a 4.5 hour flight, that’s nice!

My upgrade came through and I boarded the Boeing 737 for the flight to Seattle. I was looking forward to one thing: watching a movie. I got a Kindle Fire HD tablet for Christmas and had loaded some movies on there for the trip. The first was a classic movie, an all-time great, that I had never seen from start to finish: The Godfather. I set the Fire on my food-tray, plugged in the headphones, and started to watch it. The only problem was that I did not realize The Godfather was a three-hour movie. By the end of the second hour, I was hoping someone, anyone, would make Don Corleone an offer he could not refuse if it would end the film. :-)

While I joke about it, all it all I was pretty happy with the experience. The Fire was easier to carry around than a laptop, gave me an HD picture, and still had 70% power left when the movie was over. So, it was a good experience.

I did have to pause in the middle of the movie for a delicious breakfast.

Breakfast was a cheese quesadilla, potatoes, fruit, biscut, and coffee. It hit the spot.

Breakfast was a cheese quesadilla, potatoes, fruit, biscuit, and coffee. It hit the spot.

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

I always enjoy the view of the mountains as I fly to the West Coast.

 clouds

The Sun highlighted unique patters on the clouds.

It was soon time to land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC). It had been a smooth flight and we arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. I had a 90 minute wait before I took my Alaska Airlines flight to Portland. I spent that time in the Alaska Airlines Board Room, eating some snacks and catching up on my email.

It was such a dark and grey day in Seattle that this photo almost looks like it is in Black and White, but no, it's a color photo on a day lacking in color.

It was such a dark and grey day in Seattle that this photo almost looks like it is in Black and White, but no, it’s simply a color photo on a day lacking in color.

I soon made my way to the Alaska Airlines departure area for my short one hour flight to Portland aboard a Dash 400.

dash400

I’m always impressed by how well Alaska Airlines manages these flights. Although the flight is only one hour long, the flight attendants serve snacks, beverages, and complimentary wine or beer.

We landed on time in Portland. leaving me with another one hour layover. Shortly after we arrived though I received a call from AA flight status letting me know that the Portland-DFW flight would depart 30 minutes late.  I had a one hour layover in DFW for my Austin flight, would this delay cause me to miss my connection?

I called AA’s Executive Platinum desk and explained my concerns. The representative listened as I explained my story, then laughed and said “You don’t have anything to worry about sir, your flight to Austin is also going to be late.”.

I received the upgrade to First Class for the Portland-DFW flight which left 35 minutes late. We had a smooth flight to DFW where I connected to my Austin flight which also departed 35 minutes late. I should have been on the ground in Austin by 11 p.m., but it was almost 11:30 when we finally landed and well past midnight by the time I got home. This might have been okay for a Saturday flight, but on a Tuesday when I had to get up for work the next morning, it was not much fun.

But I did earn 4,775 EQMs and a total of 9,548 miles, so it all had a purpose. I never left the airport — my next mileage run however will give me almost a full day in Seattle, so I look forward to that. In the meantime, I continue to look for good deals, which appear to be few and far between. But I’ll keep looking! :-)

My AAdvantage Year to Date

We’re two-thirds of the way through 2012, and I must say it has been a pretty good AAdvantage year for me.

I’ve earned Executive Platinum status through February 2014.

I’ve used many of those miles to purchase a trip for later in the year when my wife and I will visit Bali, Indonesia. We’ll fly First Class on American Airlines from Austin to Los Angeles, then Business Class on a Cathay Pacific 777-300ER to Hong Kong. Then we’ll again fly Business Class on Cathay to Bali. This flight was originally on a 747-400 and we were seated upstairs. But Cathay, like many other airlines, is starting to ground the 747-400 to reduce costs. So now we are on a “regional” 777-200.

The difference between this plane and our LAX-HKG plane is that the 777-300ER is a three-class aircraft (First, Business, and Economy), and  business class seating is only four seats across per aisle; it is Cathay’s most luxurious aircraft. We’ll be in a forward section of the plane that only has two rows for a total of eight passengers.

The 777-200 is a two-class aircraft (Business and Economy), and business class is seven seats across per aisle. In other words, while it will be nice, it will not be as luxurious as the 777-300ER is or the 747-400 would have been. I’m sorry that we won’t be on the 747 for that flight, it may have been our last opportunity to fly on one of the most iconic aircraft of the 20th century. Japan Airlines, British Air, and Cathay Pacific are just some of the airlines that are grounding the 747-400 in place of more fuel efficient aircraft. Boeing has launched the 747-800, but so far only Lufthansa has ordered the aircraft for passenger service (several companies have ordered it as a freighter). Since Lufthansa is not a Oneworld partner with American Airlines, the chance of me flying with them is very small.

And that’s it for me for the rest of the year. I don’t have any other trips planned, no mileage runs on the calendar. What a difference from earlier in the year when I was flying so much!

I’ve looked for some 2012 mileage runs, but have not found many good deals. With that I have decided it make more sense for me to put my into flying and re-qualifying for elite status next year. I’ve seen some January-February R/Ts to Seattle for $235 which is good, but certainly not great. I may book some of those as we get later in the year if I can’t find anything better. I’ve looked at Flyertalk.com and seen some interesting deals (Honolulu to Chicago to Helsinki, Finland and back) but not found any that I can get to work from Austin.

I’ll keep looking, something is bound to show up. However, I think AA is probably holding off on any special deals until it emerges from bankruptcy and possibly merges with another airlines.

Disclaimer: I own stock in AMR Corp, the parent of American Airlines. The total value of my holdings is less than $90.