The sun had yet to rise, and yet there I was, again, making the short hop between New York City and Washington, D.C.
It’s just 214 miles in the air. More time is spent boarding and taxiing than actually flying. Normally, for this route, I’d prefer the train. It’s a slightly longer journey, but an easier trip. The time is uninterrupted, so I can sit down and work.
But airline frequent flyer programs have a way of making us do very irrational things over and over again, even after we’d sworn to ourselves we wouldn’t fall into that trap again.
And so I found myself again up in the air, taking another round trip Thursday morning on American Airlines between New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Related: What’s the fastest way to get from New York to Washington, DC?
I’d already done this sort of thing 11 times since the start of the year.
In recent weeks, I’ve kissed and hugged my family goodnight after a flight home with them and walked off to another gate and – yet another – waiting jet. I’ve purposely connected in Washington on my way from New York to Charlotte, a route where there are plenty of nonstops to pick from.
Sure, the beginning of the year was busy with travel for all sorts of reasons, and I could partly blame that. But it’s also true that I’ve been chasing flights and “segments.”
Let me explain.
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For the past 14 months, American flyers have been living under a revamped AAdvantage program where they have been trying to earn Loyalty Points (a quasi-equivalent of airline miles, though they’re not exactly the same thing).
American Airlines has made a game out of earning elite status again. There are creative — some of us might even say “fun” — ways to now earn Loyalty Points toward status. In fact, you technically no longer need to step foot on a plane and fly to obtain American’s highest status.
Related: Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage
At the beginning of the year, I’d already reached the top tier of American Airlines’ elite status levels, a tier known as Executive Platinum. (The name is perhaps some combination of a successful business leader and a precious metal?)
I did so through a combination of flying, credit card spending and some creative leveraging of shopping bonuses and even dining out.
That’s right: To be one of the top American Airlines customers, you never need to actually fly. What a time we live in.
Theoretically, one could just charge $200,000 on their American Airlines credit card and be done with it. (Even less with spending bonuses.) My pockets aren’t quite that deep, but I am a master at figuring out where to earn points and tracking my progress.
Some of the ways I earned the 200,000 Loyalty Points (soon going up to 250,000 points) needed to earn Executive Platinum status include:
- 1,250 points every time I rent a car with Avis, even just for the day.
- 1 point per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels — and I had a lot of hotel stays.
- 465 points for getting gas at a BP station thanks to the SimplyMiles site.
- 1,200 points for subscribing to The Wall Street Journal.
- 11,250 points for renting a home via Marriott through American’s online shopping portal.
Of course, there was also plenty of flying, online shopping through American’s portal and spending on my two American Airlines cobranded credit cards, all of which got me that much closer to my status goal.
Related: Which credit card should I use for American Airlines flights?
Those things brought me most of the way to achieving the status and perks I wanted to earn for this year. However, most of the way isn’t the same thing as getting across the line.
To get valuable systemwide upgrade certificates, good for upgrading yourself anywhere in the world American flies, I also needed to complete 30 flight segments. That’s 30 takeoffs and (hopefully) 30 landings.
Even if I didn’t want the upgrades, there are other valuable options unlocked with those 30 segments, called Loyalty Choice Rewards.
Related: How to use American systemwide upgrades
To start 2023, I was 12 segments short of that threshold with several flights booked to kick off the year. But as I saw the end of American’s elite qualifying period looming on Feb. 28, I decided I was going all-in.
So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been doing things like adding extra segments to existing flights. For once in my life, I wanted the connecting flight instead of the nonstop route. Rather than take Amtrak to and from Washington, like I normally would, I’ve opted to fly.
Then, I ran out of trips to add, tweak or take.
So, early Thursday morning, I boarded a plane to get the last segments needed to hit the magic number of 30. No business meetings, sightseeing adventures or casual lunch outings with friends were planned.
The goal? Just fly to where I was going and get home as quickly as possible so I could hopefully beat some storms in the forecast that afternoon. The cost: 15,000 American AAdvantage miles, which TPG values at $265.50, plus $11.20 in taxes.
Yes, this is irrational. Some might say it’s wasteful … and maybe they’re right.
I prefer to look at it as an investment in my future travel. My one (more) morning of flying will mean a much nicer international trip at the front of the plane — or a nice stash of miles to help jumpstart my next adventure.
I had initially built a 90-minute buffer into my Washington layover, knowing that the slightest issue can upend flying these days.
But there were no delays. My 6 a.m. flight took off from LaGuardia’s Runway 31 at 6:19 a.m.
I used American’s mobile app plus my elite status to go standby on the 8:10 a.m. flight home. (I was No. 1 of five people on the list; there were 100 empty seats, according to the app.) In fact, the Airbus A319 that I flew down from New York (registration N763US for all you fellow aviation geeks) ended up being my shuttle home to New York.
Yes, I picked this route in large part because of the nearly hourly service during peak periods.
During the flight to Washington, I watched the sun rise over the Eastern Seaboard. Then, my Airbus coasted over the Potomac River for one of my favorite landings in America, passing all of the capital’s monuments. At 7:14 a.m., my plane was at the gate, the door opened and I started my extremely brief layover in Washington.
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SCOTT MAYEROWITZ/THE POINTS GUY
After just 24 minutes in the terminal, I was walking back down the same jet bridge, back onto the same jet home. The flight attendant, who I had just said goodbye to, welcomed me back on board. By 9:08 a.m., I was walking off the plane, back at the same gate in New York that I had left from a bit more than three hours earlier.
As far as mileage runs go, this was pretty easy. My first-class upgrades cleared both ways and I traveled early enough in the day to avoid any flight delays.
On top of that my new Loyalty Choice Rewards arrived in my inbox just a few hours later.
I can pick up to five systemwide upgrades, or 85,000 miles or a combination of both.
It was painful to wake up early, but at least it’s not like the old days when frequent flyers would book cheap year-end flights to Hong Kong to earn status – back when it was based primarily on how far you flew. I never did that, but I’ve done my share of unusual things for status.
If you need proof of just how irrational it is to chase segments, consider this: Starting with its new elite qualifying year on March 1, American Airlines is getting rid of the requirement.
So, maybe this week’s trip was my last segment run ever.