ARUN RATH, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Imagine flying around the world round trip in a span of days, for the purpose of earning frequent flier miles. That's the idea behind mileage runs: spending hours in an airplane to gain status on an airline. As NPR's Daniel Hajek reports, it's no vacation.
TRAVIS MACRITCHIE: So front pocket - I mean, I grab my Kindle, headphones, phone charger...
DANIEL HAJEK, BYLINE: Travis MacRitchie is packing a single carry-on bag for a flight halfway across the world.
MACRITCHIE: I'm going off on a pretty ridiculous adventure. So fingers crossed, it'll go OK.
HAJEK: He's headed to the Middle East, on a flight to Bahrain. And here's why this adventure is so ridiculous: He'll be back home in three days.
MACRITCHIE: All right. Here we go.
HAJEK: MacRitchie is embarking on his first mileage run - LA to Washington, D.C.; D.C. to Dubai; and Dubai to Bahrain. This three-day, round-trip flight he planned will earn him 36,000 frequent flier miles, guaranteeing him gold status with United Airlines.
MACRITCHIE: The perks definitely make travel much, much easier.
HAJEK: Priority security screening, complimentary upgrades and airport lounge access. For MacRitchie, being pent up in a plane is worth it.
MACRITCHIE: I enjoy the process of like, traveling itself. To me, it's fun. So I can definitely think of worse things to be doing on my weekend.
HAJEK: This may sound expensive, but his ticket is just $600. His boarding pass prints out, and MacRitchie is on his way.
HOWARD RAPPAPORT: It really is about getting a deal.
HAJEK: Howard Rappaport is an editor for the Frugal Travel Guy blog. He says mileage runners scour the Web and post on forums - like fliertalk.com - for specials, discounted prices and mistake fares.
RAPPAPORT: Looking in one of the forums there, someone had posted a deal that American Airlines had a fare from Philadelphia to Beijing, China, for just under $450. And that would be round trip.
HAJEK: Rappaport already bought his ticket. And never mind the destination. He says mileage running is all about gaining status.
RAPPAPORT: When it comes to loyalty, you can kind of get caught into a trap. It's almost like a drug because when you start getting those benefits, you don't want to lose those benefits.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING AIRPLANE)
HAJEK: Three days later, Travis MacRitchie returns from his marathon flight. He walks out of LAX with messy hair and a scruffy beard. He looks exhausted.
MACRITCHIE: Oh, man. Well, it was successful in the fact that I got back here OK, and I'm still awake. So yeah, I made it.
HAJEK: He spent over 40 hours in the air. He was actually in Bahrain for just half a day.
MACRITCHIE: Walked around Bahrain for a little bit, ate some shawarma. And that's about all I did. (Laughter)
HAJEK: He says the trip back felt like an eternity.
MACRITCHIE: That that plane would not get there. I felt like we were going in reverse.
HAJEK: Still, MacRitchie says he would do it again, if the price is right. But those days may be numbered. Starting in January, United and Delta will incorporate spending requirements in addition to miles. If you want to maintain the top premier status on United, you'll have to accrue 100,000 miles and spend $10,000 for those flights. Ariana Arghandewal, managing editor at fliertalk.com, says that defeats the whole purpose of mileage runs.
ARIANA ARGHANDEWAL: Mileage running is going to be a dying sport in the future because very few mileage runners are going to see any value in spending, you know, $10,000 just to get upgrades and a certain number of miles and bonuses on their flights each year.
HAJEK: But miles earned this year will still get you status next year. And there are still two and a half weeks left before 2014. That's plenty of time to fit in some quick, last-minute trips around the world. Just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy the flight.
Daniel Hajek, NPR News.
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