Friday, March 30, 2007

Going For The Gold

Ed Note: I may not have blogged much this week, but hey-when I blog, it's always extra-long reading. And that's got to count for something, right?

I love, love, love to travel. But despite my propensity to jump on a flight to just about anywhere in the last few years, I’ve never achieved “elite” status with an airline. The reason: I’m cheap, and loyalty has always mattered less to me than finding a good deal. The closest I ever got to airline commitment was with the now-defunct Independence Air, which I flew so much in six months that I got a free ticket. Of course, a month or so after I actually got the ticket, Independence Air shuttered its doors, I lost my ticket, and I was burned on the experience.

Last fall, I decided to suck it up and try again—this time with American Airlines. I had booked AA for a cheapie Thanksgiving trip to Paris, and I knew the earned miles would put me about a third of the way to a free domestic airfare. My plan of attack seems to be working—mostly because Dallas is an AA hub and offers the most nonstops (at decent prices) to the places I’m going. I’ve earned enough miles for one off-peak international airfare or two domestic trips.

But “elite” status has still evaded me. The perks—free upgrades to first class when available, bonus miles for each fare you book, and discounts—are nice although certainly not necessary, but I’m a sucker for wanting what I can’t have.

Which is why, when I read this article in Budget Travel magazine about American’s secret 90-day Challenge, I got excited. It’s not advertised anywhere—you have to call them to sign up— but basically, if you earn 5,000 points in a span of 90 days, you’re automatically “gold” for the rest of the year. Sweet! The catch is that miles don’t necessarily equal points. For a deep-discount economy fare, for example, one mile equals only half a point. And given my aforementioned cheapness, I usually book the deep-discount fares.

But, I figured, if there’s any time this year to give it a shot, now’s the time. I’m in the airport right now waiting for a flight to Mexico with my husband to celebrate his 30th birthday. In the next 90 days, I already have trips planned (and mostly booked) for Louisville, St. Louis, Chicago, and Paducah. I have two other trips in discussion—to New York for work, and to Nashville for a friend’s bachelorette party. If I can’t get 5,000 miles in the next three months, when will I be able to do it?

But if, as the deadline gets closer, and it looks like I might fall just short of elite status, I’m pretty sure I’ll freak out and just book another trip. So if I show up in your town or at your doorstep unannounced at the end of June, at least I’ve given you a little warning.

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