Phil’s Trip To Nowhere: A Mileage Run Tale

This is a story of desire for recognition in a cold world governed by arcane calculations and the eldritch math of the airlines. One man’s fight to have a more comfortable seat. I am, of course, speaking of the classic folly of doing a mileage run. TL;DR version: I’m not doing that again, or at least not like I did it this time.

At the end of September, when I figured out that I was going to be taking a surprise trip to Chernobyl, I realized “Hey, that’s a lot of miles round trip for San Francisco to Kiev. I wonder if that’s enough to get me any kind of medalliony, statusy type things…” I did the math and then gently placed my head on the desk because, dammit, I was within ~2000mi of Gold.

I have friends and colleagues that travel a lot. A LOT. I appreciate their advice and wisdom on how to build the most efficient travel kit and how to make the most of the trip itself. They’re eternally hunting the finest $/mi deals and are active on FlyerTalk. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told “On the plane and in the airport, this is some of the most productive/creative time I ever get.” Above all, they have taught me that some medallion status, any status, as a frequent flyer is the difference between misery and, in our TSA blighted world, less misery.

So, I thought I’d give it a go. I would do a mileage run, AKA a trip taken purely for the purposes of accumulating flight miles toward medallion status. The thing you want is a calculator which will find the optimized $/mi round trip route from a designated location for a certain distance. Since you don’t particularly care where you go, that’s all you need. Funny enough, the airlines don’t really like these tools and do their best to thwart them. They tend to appear and then vanish again within the span of days.

With the help of Google Flights, I was able to build an itinerary from San Francisco to Minneapolis-St.Paul to Chicago to Detroit and back home to SF again in the span of 18hrs. Does this seem very dumb, at the very least incredibly silly, to you? Well, you’re not alone. My Lovely Assistant made it quite clear that she intended to enjoy the entirety of the bed and all the kitties while I was on my Idiot Holiday. It went wrong pretty much right away.

On a positive note, to diffuse that tension right away, every single leg of the flight arrived on time or a little early and I got home safe and sound.

My first error was my departure time, 12:15am from SFO after a full work day and no naps beforehand. That bit about “most productive & creative time” really, really doesn’t work when you promptly shoot your sleep schedule in the foot. Error number two was that I was flying, for the midpoint of my trip, to Chicago and this was going to be Game 3 of the World Series. When I bought my tickets a couple weeks earlier, this wasn’t in my calculations. To be fair, I don’t think about baseball much at all other than traffic avoidance for A’s and Giants games. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of Chicago sportswear at the gate…

After a fitful doze in my seat from SFO to MSP, we arrived and I got the good news that my gate for the Chicago flight was right next to my arrival gate. As this was an actual flight to Chicago, for the day of World Series Game 3, the sports fan gear intensified. I was particularly impressed with the man wearing Bulls shoes, Bears sweatpants, several layers of Cubs shirts and jackets, and a hat that had been sectioned like a pie into Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox zones. Because it was 5am, the shouts of CUBBEEZ were muted, but still happened.

I think I fell asleep taxiing for takeoff for the 50min trip from MSP to ORD. It wasn’t even remotely enough sleep. I arrived into O’Hare (which autocorrect kept wanting to change to O’Hate) in a blur of blue jackets and hats. Ate some deep dish pizza for breakfast, I know that. Tried to find the Field Museum annex in the airport, but was confused enough that it didn’t work out. I managed to get back to my gate for my flight to Detroit in a timely manner and, again, passed out on the plane.


The Art Tunnel Between the Detroit Int” Concourses – you’ll have to take my word that it was playing some Vangelis-esque music.

DTW is an interesting airport, which I felt well enough rested to wander around and enjoy. It is, above all, new. I can understand the critique that it feels sterile because of it’s open and austere steel & glass design, which puts it in the same boat as the Virgin/Southwest terminal at Las Vegas McCarran. What was weird to me was that I had a very hard time finding the bones of the old airport terminal this one clearly replaced. One of my hobbies is wandering around buildings and rooms to find the vestiges of construction and uses gone by (this is a good demonstration of how it works in this post). I eventually figured out that mezzanine level of Concourse C is part of the footprint of the old terminal, but all the structure is gone. This gives everything a very Delta City feel. It is impossible for nerds of a certain age to go to Detroit and not make Robocop jokes.

The crime DTW is most guilty of is putting Tim Horton’s on their map and then only having a Timmies coffee dispenser station and pre-packaged pastry rack inside the MSNBC store. That is a LIE you have printed on an airport directory which I assume has been disappointing travelers for as long as it’s been up. I’m surprised Canada hasn’t declared war because of this.

On the flight home to SFO, because I’d stuck my brain in the no sleep blender, I was useless for any task more complicated that watching movies and TV shows. I wish to report that, in this state, Star Trek: Beyond was a very enjoyable. Would’ve made a great two-parter TV episode.

In conclusion, this wasn’t the worst idea but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it right. Getting to see several different airports in quick succession in a day isn’t something I normally get to do, so it’s gave some weird perspectives. IF I ever do this again, I’m starting this party with a 10am flight, not a midnight one.

And because I can, let’s hear from the nice folks at OCP.