Tuesday, October 5, 2010

But Why Fly?

I remember a "Mary Tyler Moore Show" rerun from when I was a child: Mary and her best friend Rhoda dared each other to do something fun and exciting that they would never have done otherwise. One of them (I think it was Rhoda) asked out a cute doctor. The other flew to Paris for the weekend. When I saw that show I thought "heck yeah, I'm going to do what Mary did someday!"

With those pictures in mind, and a United Airlines TWARE ticket in my pocket, I'm planning a short trip to Australia. I'll spend about six hours in airports and 27 hours in the air for four nights and five days in Sydney. Why not stay longer? Why bother to go at all? So much hassle and stress and jet lag for what? For FUN. For manifesting that image of Mary getting off the plane from Paris, laden with shopping bags, smiling that it was wonderful. For the rush of takeoff, for that comforting "floomph" of landing. For the stamp in my brand-new passport. For the pleasure of revisiting a city I've very much enjoyed in the past, and to get to know it a little more. For the frequent flier miles.

There's a hobbyist-cult of people who actually like riding on planes, and hold jet lag and airport hassles very secondary to the magic of going from home to some awesome place far away. We appreciate that a century after the Wright Brothers, powered flight is still an incredibly cool and sometimes beautiful achievement of human ingenuity and creativity. The best place find this kind of airplane nerd is on flyertalk.com. This discussion board is so stuffed with information that even in digital form it would incur excess baggage fees. A good way to dive in is to start with the section for your favorite airline's frequent flyer program. If you don't have a favorite, and reading a section at random doesn't start you thinking that you should go and choose one, then you're likely not a commercial passenger flight nerd.

Joining an airline's program, and sticking to flights within that carrier's alliance, will earn miles that get you benefits that make flying a lot easier. I picked United years ago. I accrue miles toward their Mileage Plus program if I fly on any Star Alliance partner, including US Air, Continental, Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines. If I fly 25,000 miles in a year (the equivalent of five cross country trips), I get free checked baggage, free access to the extra legroom in United's Economy Plus, and a shorter special security line at some airports. Fly more miles, and get more benefits like a dedicated call center with agents who specialize in helping frequent travelers, free upgrades to domestic first class, and the ability to book exit row seating with its acres of leg room. Even more miles, and you get adult beverage vouchers and free international upgrades.

Sometimes, if a flier is a bit short on fulfilling the minimum mileage requirement for their desired benefits level, they'll take a trip primarily to earn miles. This is known as a mileage run, and flyertalk.com has a section devoted to it. Finding a low enough fare that earns enough miles to make the trip worthwhile is a science and a game, and is also a significant part of why I jumped on that TWARE ticket in the first place.

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