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Middle Age Miles

Diary of a Mileage Run – Seattle to JFK and Back

On this mileage run, I got to see a big apple in the Big Apple!

As part of Middle Age Miles’ series of introductory posts, we look back in time to 2017 for what I hope is a very fun article about my one-day mileage run from Seattle to JFK and back, as part of my plan to reach Executive Platinum elite status on American Airlines for the first time in my flying career.  We hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

Miles and points enthusiasts do things that “normal” people think are crazy.  This is a story of a crazy idea that turned into a unique and enjoyable – but very long – day.

Intro to a Mileage Run

I’ve been Platinum with American off-and-on through the years, but I’d never flown enough to make it to Executive Platinum.  The more I got into miles and points, the more I realized the benefits that Executive Platinum conveys, and the more I coveted the status.  In mid-2017, I realized that my expected travel for the rest of the year would put both Philly and me within shouting distance of Executive Platinum.  She bridged part of the gap by getting the Citi AA Executive card and putting $40,000 of spend on it, which gave her 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs).  I on the other hand decided to embark upon some extra travel to get myself to Executive Platinum.  As part of my late 2017 effort to get to Executive Platinum, I found an opportunity to do a cost-effective one-day mileage run from Seattle to JFK and back.  And that’s where the “normal” people say … crazy.

After some research into the best mileage run options, I settled on a one-day cross-country back-and-forth itinerary between Seattle and JFK.  The flights were remarkably cheap – my fare was only $265.32 round trip.  I booked my flights using Amex Membership Rewards points – original cost was 26,532 points, and at the time I still had the 50% points rebate through an Amex Business Platinum card (now 35%), which resulted in a net cost of only 13,266 Membership Rewards points.  As an AA Platinum at the time, I could get Main Cabin Extra seating at no extra cost, which turned out to be extremely helpful as I was not upgraded on either leg.  AA 44 would leave SEA at 7:35 am and arrive JFK at 4:01 pm, and after a layover of just under 2 hours, AA 45 would depart JFK at 5:55 pm and arrive back into SEA at 9:20 pm.

Earning for these flights was 4,844 EQMs, 226 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs), and 1,808 redeemable AAdvantage miles:

Here, for all to enjoy, is my running diary of my Seattle-to-JFK-and-back mileage run:

Getting Underway

5:00 am (Pacific time) – There’s my phone alarm, breaking the silence and darkness of our room at the Westin Downtown Seattle.  It’s Shakira, Whenever Wherever.  I love that song.  But I hate waking up at 5:00 am.  Maybe I need to change my alarm so I can still love the song!

5:01 am – Kiss the beautiful-but-sleepy bride.

5:02 am – Check the AA app for upgrades.  I’m #4 on the list and it appears that only 1 first class seat is open.  Not looking good.

5:02:30 am – Check the AA seat map.  I’m in 8F.  Middle seat 8E is occupied.  And the plane looks pretty full.  Still no good news to start the morning.

5:04 am – Update Award Wallet.  Good news there – 200,000 AAdvantage miles have posted from two Marriott Rewards Flight and Hotel packages I recently redeemed (for a trip to Paris – see my Paris Trip Report).  My miles from yesterday’s DFW-SEA flight have also posted.  Earnings for the DFW-SEA flight were from American’s regular “fare” chart, not “special fares.”  Since September 2017, Amex Membership Rewards redemptions for AA flights have no longer earned under American’s “special fares” chart.

5:19 am – Thankfully, Philly has a sense of humor about this mileage run adventure – she got me a special shirt for the occasion:

5:22 am – Good-bye kisses for the beautiful-but-still-sleepy bride.

5:38 am – My Uber driver arrives to pick me up at the Westin.  The Uber app says he’s given 4,732 rides.  Not his first day on the job!

5:54 am – Entering SEA airport, I can see Gate D8 and our plane is there.  Nice.

5:56 am – After a smooth, easy ride out of downtown, my Uber driver drops me off at SEA.

 

6:02 am – In the TSA security line, I chat with a nice couple from Fort Lauderdale who I’d met earlier in the Westin hotel elevator.  I hope they will see Middle Age Miles someday.

6:09 am – I’m through security and at the Alaska Lounge.  I’ve chosen the Alaska Lounge over the Centurion Lounge because of the wonderful, magical pancake machine!  Plus, the Alaska Lounge is closer to my departure gate in Concourse D.

 

6:10 am – The nice lady at the Alaska Lounge check-in says that I can get in with my Priority Pass this morning.  Yay!

6:12 am – The wonderful, magical pancake machine isn’t working today.  Boooooooo!!!

My Alaska Lounge dream breakfast

My Alaska Lounge breakfast reality

6:22 am – Actually, I had a peanut butter bagel and orange juice for breakfast.  Not pancakes, but still, thank you to Priority Pass and the Alaska Lounge.

6:46 am – The Alaska Lounge has plenty of people, but it’s still not completely packed.  TVs are tuned in to ESPN and CNN.  And I have a nice seat to watch the sun rise over the planes parked at SEA Terminal D.

 

6:53 am – Time to head to the gate for boarding – and to check out the lovely Chihuly glass bowl displayed in the lounge entrance.  As a side note, if you ever get a chance to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle at the foot of the Space Needle, don’t pass it up.  What an amazing artist.

6:59 am – 6 minutes to boarding.  A dude waiting at the gate says he left his cell phone somewhere in the terminal and asks if I can watch his bag.  Hmmmm.  I must have a friendly face.  Gotta work on that.

7:05 am – Time to start boarding.  The dude with the lost phone isn’t back.  I’ll hang on for a while, no hurry to get on the plane.  And no upgrade.

7:09 am – The dude comes back, and he has his phone.  Whew.  He thanks me profusely, and I feel better for having helped him.  Boarding is just now at Group 4, so I didn’t miss a thing.

7:13 am – As I’m boarding, a flight attendant named Carol gives me a spirited “Good morning!”  I reply with, “Thanks, I’m glad to be here.”  Carol chimes back, “We’re very glad to have you with us today.”  The other flight attendant rolls her eyes and says we should be in an AA commercial 🙂

Off and Away – AA Flight 44, SEA-to-JFK

7:34 am – On-time pushback.  Chalk one up in the T=0 column for AA today.  The flight is completely full.

7:52 am – We’re rolling … and in the air.

7:54 am – A nice early-morning view of Puget Sound.

7:56 am – And a nice, colorful early-morning view of Mt. Rainier

8:07 am – Our pilot comes on and tells us we can see the trifecta of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood from the right side of the plane.  I take a shot at catching them all in a photo.  Mt. Rainier is prominent in the middle, Mt. St. Helens is visible to the right of Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Hood is barely visible in the distance to the left of Rainier.

8:20-8:40 am – This is a plane with no seat-back in-flight entertainment (IFE), but you’re supposed to be able to bring your own device (BYOD) and connect.  I can’t get any in-flight internet to work.  Too slow, not connecting.  It’s a good thing I wasn’t counting on this to entertain me for the flight.

8:23 am – I can, however, get the AA app to work (slowly).  I check my return flight and learn that the plane will be coming in to JFK from Port-au-Prince (PAP).  I’d actually kind of expected my plane to just turn around and return to Seattle, which had made me more confident in booking this same-day round-trip.  I’m relieved that we’re on time.  It also looks like our departure gate for the return flight will be close to the JFK Admirals Club, which will be nice.

8:42 am – Time for the classic American Airlines snack – a Diet Coke and Biscoff cookies!

8:43 am – I watched our flight attendants make a flawless delivery of Executive Platinum coach snack-and-drink benefits to the gentleman in 9F, who orders the fruit & cheese tray and a Bloody Mary.  Impressive.  It might be fun to make Executive Platinum, I think.

[Side Note, 6 months later – My experience as Executive Platinum has not been quite like this.  I’ve received this level of service maybe once or twice out of about 10 flights. And actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever yet been proactively offered the snack-and-drink benefit, although it’s always been given once I asked for it.]

9:01 am – We’re flying over some fascinating geological formations, which my picture won’t do justice.  It turns out these are the Crazy Mountains in Montana.  I’d never heard of them before.

9:12 am – Continuing my window-watching, I see a good-sized town below with a unique layout given the river, the shape of the town, and the location of the airport.  I figure this town will be fairly easy to identify once I can see our flight route.  I give you … Billings, Montana.  Looks cold.

Next 3 hours – I did some work, and I watched 2 episodes of Expedition Impossible, a 2011 one-season Mark Burnett reality TV series, somewhat akin to The Amazing Race but filmed in the wilderness of Morocco.  It’s pretty entertaining.  One of the contestants is Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, the former NFL player who has gone on to co-host the past few seasons of American Ninja Warrior.  Another contestant, believe it or not, is blind.  He and the guy who helps guide him through the race are phenomenal and inspiring.

12:37 pm Pacific / 3:37 pm Eastern – It’s our first sighting of land after flying through low cloud cover on our approach.

3:43 pm Eastern – Wheels down at JFK!  I’m halfway done with flying today.  It’s very cloudy and rainy in New York.  But good news, my return flight is showing on-time.

Layover Time – A Couple of Hours at JFK

3:57 pm Eastern – I’m off the plane and walking through the underground tunnel between sections of JFK Terminal 8.  Maybe my expectations were low, but JFK is actually nicer than I expected.

4:01 pm Eastern – It’s a Britto Big Apple in the Big Apple!  How cool.  The apple is a gift in memory of Eunice Kennedy Shriver from her son Anthony.

 

4:03 pm Eastern – Apparently a revival of Cats was playing on Broadway through the end of 2017.  My step-daughter would love this 🙂  I saw Cats about 20 years ago when my job as a young lawyer took me to New York for a few days.  I’d be up for seeing it again, for sure.

 

4:09 pm Eastern – Time for some New York-style pizza!  I picked up some pie from Abitino’s in the food court and took it back to the Admirals Club to eat.  It’s food court pizza, but this hungry traveler sure enjoyed it!

4:13 pm Eastern – I made it to the JFK Terminal 8 Admirals Club, where I was able to enter as an AU on Philly’s Citi AA Executive card.  The lounge was busy but not crowded.  Most people were sitting in the cushioned chairs, with a few in the bar area.  The Admirals Club staff and bartender were friendly.  And I got a peek of the much ballyhooed Flagship Lounge off to the right as I entered.  I don’t believe the Flagship Lounge was open.

For me, it was very nice to slip in to a quiet TV area just to the left of the entrance, pick up a drink to enjoy with my pizza and some yummy brownie bites for dessert, and catch up on the day’s news.

 

4:35 pm Eastern – The incoming plane for my next flight has arrived from PAP, and we’re on time for a 5:55 pm departure.  Excellent.

5:10 pm Eastern – I left the Admirals Club to head to Gate 7 for departure.

5:18 pm Eastern – Here’s another cool-looking apple near Gate 6!

 

Heading Back – AA Flight 45, JFK-to-SEA

5:28 pm Eastern – I’m back on board.  Like my first plane of the day, this one is a 737-800 with overhead drop-down screens and no seat-back IFE.  I’ve chosen the exact same seat as my first flight, 8F.  I didn’t even try to connect to the WiFi on this flight.

5:50 pm Eastern – Door closed.  Hoping for another T=0 departure.

6:00 pm Eastern – Uh-oh.  We have a delay that’s not being announced.  The door has been closed for 10 minutes and we haven’t moved.  Does this count as an on-time T=0 departure under American’s metrics?  I don’t know.  But it shouldn’t.

6:02 pm Eastern – And here’s our pilot.  Apparently other planes are blocking us from pushing back and getting out.  That sounds like a misfire in coordination, but at least it’s not serious.  Our pilot says we should still arrive a little early into Seattle.

6:04 pm Eastern – I guess the traffic blocking us in has moved, because we’re pushing back from the gate.

6:31 pm Eastern – After a long wait on the taxiway, we’re wheels up for Seattle!

5:37 pm Pacific / 8:37 pm Eastern – My neck hurts on the left side.  Note to Self: If I ever do this again, I should switch sides of the plane for the return flight so I can lean my head in the opposite direction.

5:39 pm Pacific – Here’s an announcement from our pilot.  He says that there’s some unusual magnetic activity tonight, and it you look out the right side of the plane, you can see the Northern Lights.

5:39:10 pm – Wow!  I have never seen the Northern Lights before.  How cool!

5:39:20 pm – Forget what I said earlier about wishing I had switched sides of the plane 🙂

5:40-5:47 pm – The Northern Lights put on a nice show outside my window.  The Lights weren’t especially bright, but at the same time they were unmistakable.  I tried to take a few pictures with my iPhone 6 camera, although I was very pessimistic about my chances for success.  I’m not going to post them here as the Lights really don’t show up well at all.  But if you sit in the dark and magnify the pics, you can actually see some green bursts.  And if you magnify them all the way, there are a bunch of green pixels in the photos.  So aha, I have “proof”!

5:47-6:02 pm – The Northern Lights were still visible for about 15 more minutes, but dimmer.  For a few minutes afterwards, at times I could still see the Lights faintly in the distance.

As best I could tell from the timing and our flight path, we were over central Wisconsin during our Northern Lights show.  What an unexpected treat.

6:39 pm – The drop-down screens are showing yet another commercial for the Barclays AA Aviator Red MasterCard with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles.  I’m wondering – Could I get this sign-up bonus again when I hold an Aviator Silver card (upgraded from Red about 6 months ago), but I don’t have an Aviator Red card now?

[Researching this issue later, I learned that at least generally, Barclays will not approve a new personal Aviator Red card if the applicant already holds another Aviator card of any type.  That said, though, I was approved in January 2018 for a Barclays AA Aviator Business MasterCard while I still held my Aviator Silver personal card, and I indeed received the sign-up bonus for the business card.]

For the next couple of hours – More episodes of Expedition Impossible.  I’m very glad Philly loaded up my Kindle for this trip!  Thank you baby!!!

Approximately 9:00 pm – Unbeknownst to any of the passengers on our plane, Hawaiian Airlines flight 875, an Airbus A330 ferry flight from Paine Field (PAE) to SEA, has an engine fire upon landing at SEA.  The fire was extinguished and all was safe at SEA before we landed, but I did notice lots of emergency vehicles on the tarmac when we taxied to our gate and wondered what was going on.  None of the emergency vehicles even had their lights flashing by the time we arrived. Fortunately, there were no reports of any injuries as a result of the fire.

9:08 pm – We make our first serious descent into SEA.  It seems late to start our descent, given our scheduled 9:20 pm arrival time.

9:10 pm – Looking out the window, it looks like a snowstorm outside.

9:12 pm – The wing light is on now.  Definitely a snowstorm.  Yikes.

9:16 pm – Our pilot makes his “prepare for landing” announcement.

9:18 pm – Finally descending below the clouds, we get our first glimpse of the ground.  Fortunately, there’s no more snow or rain outside.

9:26 pm – We get a great view of downtown Seattle on approach.

9:30 pm – Touchdown in Seattle.  My flying is done for the day, and I’m safely back on the ground.  Yay!!!

We’re Back in Seattle

9:38 pm – As we’re taxiing, the guy sitting behind me is on the phone.  Exact quote: “I ordered tomato juice and Spaghetti-O’s and had them shipped to your hotel.”  Whaaaaaat???  I would love to know the context that would lead anyone, ever, to say that sentence.

9:39 pm – We’ve arrived at our gate.  Yay again!

9:58 pm – I’m picked up by my Uber driver, after about a 10 minute walk from the gate to the SEA Uber pickup area and another roughly 10 minute wait for my Uber driver to pick me up once I reached the pickup area and requested a ride.  The Uber setup at SEA is interesting, and not necessarily convenient.  They have created a designated pickup and waiting area on Level 3 of the parking garage. Here is a link to Uber’s website with instructions on how to get to the pickup area from the terminal.  Be prepared to walk, be prepared to wait outdoors (but covered) for several minutes for your ride, and be prepared to have to focus closely to identify your car amidst the chaos of the pickup area.

10:21 pm – After a smooth Uber ride, I’m back at the Westin downtown at the end of a long day.

10:23 pm – Kiss the beautiful-but-once-again-sleepy bride.  Good night!

17 hours, 4,844 EQMs, that much closer to earning Executive Platinum status, and a fun blog post with some fun stories.  I’ll call that a good day 🙂

 

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