Middle Age Miles

Diary of a Mileage Run, 2018 Edition: Seattle-to-Phoenix and Back (including reviews of PHX Admirals Clubs!)

My 2018 mileage run took me to Candyland –
normally known as Gates D8-D9 at Sea-Tac Airport!

This article is Part 2 in a 5-part series we’re running on Middle Age Miles about earning and enjoying elite status on American Airlines, and Executive Platinum status in particular. Our 5 articles are:

* Part 1: Lessons and Strategies from My 2018 Journey to AA Executive Platinum Status

* Part 2: Diary of a Mileage Run, 2018 Edition: Seattle-to-Phoenix and Back

* Part 3: The Value We Get from AA Executive Platinum Status

* Part 4: Combining 2 Tricks for Massive Savings and AA Elite Qualification Miles/Dollars – Originate in Europe & Buy Biz Class Partner Tickets

* Part 5: Our Plans and Strategies for AA Elite Status in 2019

Intro to the Middle Age Miles Mileage Run, 2018 Edition

During 2017, for the first time ever, Philly and I qualified for Executive Platinum (EXP) status on American. We used and truly enjoyed the benefits of being EXP during 2018. The crown jewel of our EXP benefits was the 8 Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) between us. These allowed us to purchase economy seats relatively inexpensively to fly back and forth to Europe twice during the year, and use the SWUs to upgrade to Business class for both of the trans-atlantic legs on each trip.

We knew we’d get relatively close to re-qualifying for EXP during 2018 with our normal travels. But we also knew that we’d have to pull out all the tricks in order to get across the EXP thresholds of 100,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and $12,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs). We detailed all of our strategies and lessons learned from our 2018 journey to AA EXP status in Part 1 of this series. [Note: the EQD requirement for EXP has increased to $15,000 EQDs in 2019.]

With just a few weeks left in 2018, I could tell that I’d fall just a bit short of 100k EQMs given our travel schedule for the rest of the year. Thus, just like in 2017, I’d need a mileage run to qualify for EXP.

I found a good day for my mileage run in mid-December, Wednesday the 12th, when Philly and I would be in Seattle, she would be working all day, and I was otherwise free. Wednesday also worked well as a low-fare day of the week. I found flights with nice times between Seattle (SEA) and Phoenix (PHX). The round-trip fare of about $250 was fine, and I could book through the Citi travel portal and pay with ThankYou Points.

My mileage run itinerary became:

  • Outbound: AA 615 – SEA 8:25 am PST; PHX 12:23 pm MST
  • Return: AA 2197 – PHX 2:50 pm MST; SEA 4:57 pm PST

For this mileage run, I would earn 2,212 EQMs, 222 EQDs, and 2,434 redeemable AAdvantage miles.

The EQM earning here was also nice, because it would give me enough cushion so that I’d have some optionality to take an award flight on our Christmas trip to New Mexico if we found a good one. (We didn’t. We ended up flying to ABQ on a paid fare purchased with Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points.)

On my 2017 SEA-to-JFK mileage run, I’d kept a running diary of my day. That one ended up being interesting as it was my first time in JFK in years, we saw the Northern Lights on the return flight, and there was an airplane fire on the tarmac at SEA shortly before we landed. I wrote it all up and shared it with Middle Age Miles readers in Diary of a Mileage Run – Seattle to JFK and Back.

I had a lot of fun with that article and thought, why not run it back for my 2018 mileage run? It wasn’t quite as exciting as 2017 but it turned out to be a good day nonetheless. So, settle in to a cozy couch with a warm drink and enjoy, Diary of a Mileage Run, 2018 Edition: Seattle-to-Phoenix and Back:

Pre-Mileage Run Joy

December 8 – How about some pre-mileage run good news?

This was a great start – my complimentary upgrade cleared for the return flight, and I was auto-assigned to a window seat, which I really wanted for this flight (and turned out to be a very good vantage point for views and pictures, as you’ll see later!).

Mileage Run Morning – Getting Started

5:30 am (Pacific time) – Time to get up! With our body clocks still being on Central time (we had just arrived in SEA from DFW the day before), no one needed an alarm. Philly was getting up for a morning run in the SpringHill Suites fitness center, and I geared up for my exciting day of flying.

6:23 am – Step out of the SpringHill Suites Seattle Downtown/South Lake Union into a classic December Seattle morning – chilly, drizzling and dark. And Google Maps says it’s going to be a 12-minute walk of more than a half-mile. Blah. It’s funny how we would never even *think* of doing this in Dallas, but it’s the daily way of life in Seattle.

6:28 am – Hey, I’m passing by the brand new Hyatt Regency Seattle and it looks like it might be open! Indeed, there are a few people milling around in the lobby, and I suspect that it soft-opened just a night or two before. We’ve watched its construction over the months leading up to now and wondered when it would open. It’s billed as “the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest,” and maybe it will help ease the chronic shortage of hotel rooms in downtown Seattle. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay here sometime on one of our semi-regular trips to Seattle.

[UPDATE: Staying at the new Hyatt Regency Seattle looks even better now that we’ve scored Explorist status and a pocket full of Club Level Access Awards from our recent Vegas trips!]

6:34 am – I’ve arrived at the downtown Westlake Station to catch Seattle’s light rail, the Link, to SEA airport. It’s a barrier-free station, but of course I’m being a good citizen and buying a ticket. It’s a whopping $6 for my round-trip ticket – from downtown to SEA airport this morning, and from the airport back downtown this evening once I return. What a great deal. By comparison, an Uber ride would have been in the range of $35 each way. And to boot, my ticket purchase will code as 3x Travel when I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve at the ticket kiosk.

6:39 am – I just missed the train before, but here comes another one 5 minutes later to pick me up!

Here comes the Link train!

6:40 am+ – The Link train is smooth, nice and comfortable. And it’s not crowded at this hour of the morning, heading out of downtown. There are several stops as we make our way downtown, then after we exit downtown the stops become fewer and farther between. It’s a nice way to travel and an incredible bargain to SEA airport, if you can get to a station. Unfortunately, there’s only one Link line.

Seattle’s Link train, on the way from downtown to SEA airport

SEA Airport and Boarding

7:18 am – After a 39-minute ride from downtown, we pull into the Seattle airport station. Note that it’s a bit of a walk to get into the terminal – covered, but outdoors such that it’s still chilly. I’ll say that it’s at least a third of a mile, but less than a half-mile. If you walk briskly, you’ll be inside the terminal in less than 10 minutes.

7:27 am – I didn’t need to go to the airline counter, as I’d checked in on the AA app and gotten my boarding pass, and I certainly didn’t have any luggage to check today. So I went straight to the TSA Pre-Check security line. Can you believe this? There’s no line at all. I literally didn’t break stride when I walked straight up to the TSA agent. How often does that happen?

7:28 am – I’m through security into Terminal D. I can’t go to the Alaska Lounge any more, since they quit accepting Priority Pass a few months ago. Sadly, this means no pancakes for breakfast.

No yummy pancakes for me today 🙁

7:29 am – The Centurion Lounge in Terminal B seems too far to walk, given that I’ll be boarding in less than 30 minutes. Looks like I’ll go with a protein bar for now and hopefully something to eat on the plane.

7:34 am – I arrive at our departure gate, D9. The bad news – I’m #4 on the upgrade list, 1 has cleared, and first class is full now. No upgrade today. The good news – gates D8 & D9 are now Candyland!

Candyland at SEA gates D8 & D9 for the holidays!

7:45 am – Here’s a cool text from my good buddy JBTx. He’s just booked his family into the Park Hyatt Vendome for their holiday trip to Paris, using Hyatt points. He’d been keeping a close eye on award availability as the 14-day cancellation deadline approached, and when space opened up, he grabbed it. This is a great points-and-miles score by JBTx and a great illustration of how paying attention to details, like knowing the cancellation policy, can help us find some great opportunities.

7:47 am – Continuing the text conversation with JBTX – He notes that loyalty programs, done correctly, are brilliant. We do get locked in, nudged by dangling carrots like the Paris Park Hyatt Vendome. I guess I have to agree. I just put extra cash into AA’s pocket for today’s flights (TYPs from my perspective), for absolutely no reason other than elite status benefits in AA’s loyalty program!

7:52 am – I’ve boarded onto our old-US Air Airbus 321 for my morning flight. The seats on this plane have been refreshed, but otherwise it totally fails on all modern flight conveniences. No power. No in-flight entertainment except on your personal device. No Main Cabin Extra seating except for bulkhead and exit rows. AA, this is really weak.

It’s also a reminder that I need to start packing a portable re-charger for all of my flights. Unfortunately, that’s just one more thing to add to my already too-heavy backpack. Ugh.

I’ve chosen seat 8F for this flight. I booked a bit late in the game, and all of the Main Cabin Extra seats (bulkhead and exit row only, remember) were already taken. At least row 8 is the next best thing. It doesn’t have any seats immediately behind it, as row 9 is an exit row. This allows people in row 8 to recline without bothering anyone. I *never* recline an economy seat when there’s someone behind me. But in row 8 on this plane it’s very nice to be able to recline and create some extra space.

The view from seat 8F – note that I can recline without bothering anyone

8:18 am – Doors closed! This is great. I had been watching the seat map for this flight intently on Expert Flyer, hoping that the middle seat on my row would remain empty. Things were looking good. But then there’s the agonizing wait as people file onto the plane. One person after another passes while I keep my fingers crossed tightly that no one comes for 8E. And once the doors close, I’m home free. Empty middle seat – yay!

Flight AA 615 – Let’s Fly to Phoenix

8:25 am – It’s an on-time pushback. So far, so good today.

8:43 am – Well, it was an on-time pushback but a long time on the tarmac. Here’s an interesting sight, though. Check out the Sea-Tac fire rescue plane with its foldable wings:

Sea-Tac fire rescue plane with wings that fold up!

8:46 am – Time for take-off! We’re officially in the air, 21 minutes after we left the gate.

Mostly-cloudy morning view of Puget Sound shortly after takeoff

9:06 am – We’re now flying past Mount Rainier, which is always a treat when flying in and out of Seattle. It’s not the best weather conditions or angle for a picture, but I do my best.

Mt. Rainier

9:08 am – It’s time for drink and snack service. One benefit of EXP status that Philly and I have really enjoyed is being able to get a complimentary snack box or other food item on each flight where we’re seated in Economy. AA does a very nice job with the fruit & cheese trays and the snack boxes that it offers. And today’s serving is perfect for me – a nice Power Bites snack box for breakfast.

A breakfast of champions on AA – Power Bites snack box, Coke Zero, and tasty Biscoff cookies for dessert

9:10 am – My seat mate in 8D is giving me a funny look as I’m staging my breakfast and taking a picture. I go ahead and just confess that I’m a travel blogger, so within a few weeks the whole world will get to see my beautifully-staged photo.

9:45 am – After enjoying my breakfast snacks, I’m treated to some nice views of Reno and Lake Tahoe in the distance.

Reno, Nevada, nestled between the mountains
Lake Tahoe

9:50 am – It’s time to go to work. Today I’m writing Part 1 of our “What’s In Our Wallet?” series – Our Cards and Breakdowns by Annual Fee and Date Acquired. This was a series I’d been looking forward to writing for a while, and I was very happy with how it turned out. I think it has lots of good advice and strategy for acquiring cards, deciding whether to keep-or-cancel, and earning tons of points by maximizing bonus categories. Here are links to Part 2 – Why We Acquired and Hold Each Card, and Part 3 – Our “Spend Matrix” – How We Use Bonus Categories to Maximize Our Points-and-Miles Earning and Travel for Less. Our readership stats tell us that Part 3 has been one of our most popular posts on Middle Age Miles.

10:59 am Pacific / 11:59 am Mountain time – Touchdown in Phoenix! It was a smooth flight, and it’s a very pretty day here. PHX was a very good choice for a one-day mileage run in December as weather problems are very unlikely.

Approach into PHX on a pretty December day
Approach into PHX

11:00 am Pacific – 12:00 pm Mountain time – Had a nice chat with my 8D seat mate about Middle Age Miles. She and her husband are roughly the same age as Philly and I, and it sounds like they have a similar style of travel. Hopefully she’ll check out Middle Age Miles and maybe even see this article!

PHX Airport and the Admirals Clubs

12:08 pm Mountain time (I’ll use Mountain time while I’m in PHX and switch back over to Pacific time on the return flight to SEA) – I’m off the plane, having arrived at Gate A18. I’ve only been in the PHX airport 3 times in my life, and only once in the past 5 years, so I’m not too familiar with it. I can see on the AA app that there’s more than one Admirals Club.

When we de-plane, we’re right across the hall from one of the Admirals Club, and it’s the one I’m familiar with from my most recent visit. I know it’s not too large. But it’s very handy, so I’ll camp out here.

PHX arrival gate A18

12:10 pm – Easy admission into the Admirals Club, using my authorized user (AU) card on Philly’s Citi AA Executive card. I don’t even have a referral link for this card, but I’ll still tell you that it’s one of the most useful cards we have. As the primary cardholder, Philly gets a full Admirals Club membership. In addition to getting her and 2 guests into Admirals Clubs, this also gives her and 2 guests full access to Alaska lounges, which is very helpful to us in Seattle. In addition, you can have up to 10 AUs on this card (we have 6 – each of the 5 Middle Age Miles kids and me), and each AU receives Admirals Club access for themselves plus up to 2 guests each. The card also gives the primary cardholder the ability to earn 10k EQMs with $40k spend, which we’ve used each of the past 2 years to help Philly reach EXP status. The $450 annual fee isn’t cheap, but for us the benefits are well worth the price.

PHX A20 Admirals Club entrance

12:15 pm – Yep, this Admirals Club is small. It’s full but not overcrowded. I’ve settled in to a nice counter space looking out the window onto the tarmac, where I have access to 3 much-needed power plugs.

Tarmac view from my counter seat at the PHX A20 Admirals Club

Over the next hour and a half, I finish the “What’s In Our Wallet? Part 1” article, and schedule it to publish at 2:00 pm Mountain time.

Here’s a quick tour in photos of the PHX A20 Admirals Club. Like I said, it’s pretty small.

PHX A20 Admirals Club bar area
PHX A20 Admirals Club seating area
PHX A20 Admirals Club snacks
PHX A20 Admirals Club snacks
PHX A20 Admirals Club soup and dessert treats
PHX A20 Admirals Club coffee machine

1:45 pm – With my article finished, it’s time to get a quick cheese snack and shut down my laptop, and pick up a few delicious Admirals Club brownies to go. Boarding time will be 2:20 pm for my next flight. I’ll be departing from Concourse B, so it’s a bit of a walk.

1:57 pm – I leave the A20 Admirals Club for my walk over to Concourse B, with a quick stop at the A7 Admirals Club along the way.

2:07 pm – I’ve arrived at the A7 Admirals Club – and dang, it’s much nicer and larger than the one at A20! I chose poorly. (Although, in fairness, the particular spot I nabbed at the A20 club worked very well for me with the counter space and power plugs.)

Let’s take a quick tour in photos of the A7 Admirals Club:

Entrance to PHX A7 Admirals Club
PHX A7 Admirals Club small business center with computer
PHX A7 Admirals Club bar and eating area
PHX A7 Admirals Club sitting area
PHX A7 Admirals Club additional seating
PHX A7 Admirals Club tarmac view
PHX A7 Admirals Club drinks – coffee and Freestyle soda machines
PHX A7 Admirals Club magazine and newspaper rack

2:13 pm – After a very quick visit to the A7 Admirals Club, I’m back into the terminal to walk the rest of the way to Gate B4. From here, I can see my plane for my next flight, which is pretty cool.

AA plane for my return flight to SEA – still painted in the old AA livery

2:17 pm – I’ve arrived at Gate B4. And guess what? There’s yet another Admirals Club right here, up a staircase just past Gate B4! I debate whether I have enough time to go in, but it seems like boarding for my flight will start very soon and I decide to pass.

2:21 pm – On-time boarding for AA flight 2197. I was upgraded for this flight, and as I mentioned earlier I’m assigned to a nice first class window seat, 4F.

2:24 pm – Now I’m on the plane, and there’s a lady in my seat. We chat, and she says she’s her seat is B4. Ok, but you’re actually sitting in 4F, and also, there’s a guy in 4B already. Mass confusion about seating ensues. It turns out, the lady who’s sitting in my seat is reading the gate number, not her seat assignment. Oops. She’s actually supposed to be sitting in 5F, and her husband (currently sitting in 4E) is actually supposed to be in 5E. There is a lady currently sitting in 5E, but she belongs in 4E instead.

2:27 pm – All seating confusion is now sorted out, and everyone is now situated in their correct seats. Suffice to say, we did not help facilitate a speedy boarding process.

AA 2917 SEA-to-PHX – finally settled in to seat 4F

2:34 pm – I had a nice offer of a pre-departure beverage from our flight attendant. I’ll say, in my experience AA has gotten much better and more consistent about this over the past couple of years. This isn’t a critically important service to me, but some people seem to obsess over it. My seatmate in 4E orders a Diet Dr. Pepper. Philly would be proud!

AA Flight 2197 – Turning Around and Flying Back to Seattle

2:55 pm Mountain time / 1:55 pm Pacific time (I’ll now switch back to Pacific time for the rest of this diary) – We make a very slightly late pushback from PHX Gate B4.

2:05 pm Pacific – After a quick taxi, we’re back in the air!

How about a cool take-off view of Chase Field, home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks?

2:43 pm – It’s a little far off in the distance, but we now have a nice view of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead, and you can just make out Hoover Dam on the right edge of the lake

2:44 pm – Vegas baby! Funny thing, Philly, Maria and I are headed to Vegas tomorrow. We’ll be right back down there in about 32 hours.

AA 2197 view of Las Vegas
One more Vegas view

2:47 pm – Did you know that you can ski, only an hour outside Las Vegas? There’s a small ski resort, Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard (aka Lee Canyon Ski & Snowboard Resort), on Mt. Charleston. It has 3 chair lifts, 26 trails, and a terrain park. So the next time you’re in Vegas and want to escape the craziness for a day, remember that you can head out to Lee Canyon for some skiing.

Mt. Charleston, Nevada – I’ve actually skied there!

3:04 pm – I’m discussing lunch with the flight attendant. She says that the choices are chicken cobb salad or pasta with red sauce. I could swear I pre-ordered something different – something with noodles that sounded Asian. The flight attendant says yes, that’s the pasta, just a different description. I’m not saying I don’t believe her, but hmmmmm.

3:21 pm – Finally, here’s my lunch. Crinkled pasta with red sauce and a few lima beans mixed in. I’m now positive that this is not what was described on my pre-order. I’m almost certain it said stir fry noodles.

AA 2197 lunch – NOT stir-fry noodles

3:23 pm – This pasta doesn’t look that great.

3:25 pm – I really wish I had stir fry noodles.

3:30 pm – I’m finished with lunch. I ate more roll than pasta. It wasn’t horrible, but it didn’t have any meat and was pretty meh. At least I have nice dinner plans with Philly & Maria tonight at Six Seven Restaurant at Seattle’s historic Edgewater Hotel. The hotel is most famous because the Beatles stayed there when they visited Seattle as Beatlemania struck the US in the mid-sixties. They have some great photos at the hotel from that visit. Maria is a huge Beatles fan, and she’ll love it. [And indeed, dinner at Six Seven that night was fantastic. Highly recommended when you visit Seattle.]

For the rest of the flight, I finished another Middle Age Miles article, the Overview for our Dubrovnik Trip Report. We ultimately decided to hold off on that series, but we’ll be back to it within the next few days. I’m very excited to share our stories and tips from that trip on Middle Age Miles!

3:51 pm – Chocolate chip cookie – yay! My 5-year-old self is very happy right now.

AA 2917 chocolate chip cookie – yum!

4:33 pm – The pilot comes on the intercom to announce that it’s very windy in Seattle. He needs early preparation for landing and flight attendants in their seats even as we begin our descent. Everyone quickly shuts down and buckles up for landing. This should be fun.

4:54 pm – We’re getting close, passing by downtown Seattle. It hasn’t been bumpy so far, thankfully.

Nice view of downtown Seattle on approach, on a clear December evening
Views of CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks, and Safeco Field, home of the Mariners

4:58 pm – Touchdown in Seattle. The last couple of minutes of this flight were indeed pretty darn wobbly as we descended into the winds.

5:04 pm – We’re pulling toward our gate, and there’s an ambulance of fire truck with lights flashing, speeding across the tarmac. This is two years in a row where my mileage run flights have returned to Seattle, to the sight of flashing emergency lights. Last year, a plane had caught on fire just before we landed!

Emergency vehicle rushing across the tarmac at SEA

5:10 pm – We’ve arrived back at Gate D9, exactly where I started 9 hours ago – back to Candyland! It’s time to catch the Link back downtown, enjoy a nice dinner with Philly and Maria, and look forward to enjoying another year of EXP status and benefits ahead in 2019!

Back to Candyland!

We hope you’ve enjoyed Diary of a Mileage Run, 2018 Edition: Seattle-to-Phoenix and Back, as well as the rest of our series about earning and enjoying elite status on American Airlines, and Executive Platinum status in particular. These articles are fun to write, and I hope they’re fun to read too!

Do you have thoughts on my mileage run? Or mileage run strategies or stories of you own that you’d like to share? Please let us know in the Comments!

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