Weekend in Sydney: Confessions of a mileage run junkie

Written by admin on June 15, 2009 – 5:30 pm -

Who goes to Sydney, Australia for only two days? I did. And there were specific reasons.

First, it was a mileage run. Since United Airlines has been holding a double your miles incentive program to entice people to fly (and that means qualifying miles that count towards one’s premium status) which ended today (June 15th, 2009) a trip to Sydney from Washington would add nearly 40,000 miles to my United account.  Some people access their bank statements on line. Others check their airline miles. Then there are those who do both.  I fall into the latter category.

More people than you think do mileage runs. A flight attendant told me she’d had a passenger who’d flown from San Francisco to Sydney and returned the day she arrived. That’s a bit extreme.

But, the man sitting next to me explained that being a 1K member of Star Alliance, enabled him to book the least expensive ticket (and since United was running a promotion, it cost approximately $800 round-trip) and use a system-wide upgrade. As a result, he was flying business class.

Second, it was an endurance trial. As a woman of a certain age, I wanted to test my stamina and how I would cope with jet lag. Would I arrive “down under” and spend my two-and-something days there in the hotel room? Not on your life, even though the 100-room The Blue Sydney was a more than tempting place to veg out.

So many business fliers and road warriors fly from one city or country to another and never give it a second thought. In the past when I’ve had to be lucid upon deplaning, I’d find myself nodding off during the presentation. But then, I was flying coach.

Third, I wanted to experience United Airline’s business class. I’d never flown on the new 180° flat bed seat with individual 15” monitors and plugs and enough room to work on my computer and even be able to look at some reference materials without dumping them on my neighbor or in the aisle. Most seats in coach don’t have plugs so people who want to work are out of luck when the battery goes dead.

From San Francisco to Sydney, I flew on the upper deck and sat downstairs on the return portion of that run. If I have the choice again, I’ll opt for the upper deck since it’s quieter and there’s not as much commotion. One caveat about the new seats: as wonderful as they are, there’s not a lot of overhead storage for suitcases and there’s no storage on the floor. And the person sitting next to the window needs to be agile enough to climb over his or her neighbor if the seat is configured into the bed position.

Fourth, I wanted to see how much I could see in two days of non-stop sightseeing. Thanks to some dear friends, I compressed a week’s worth of seeing into two fabulous days  — which I’ll write about sooner than later.

And lastly, as I have been on the road so much recently and have crossed a total of 18 time zones in the past month, I wanted to see whether or not a person could actually live in no (or all) time zones without losing their sanity. The resounding conclusion is yes – but they may need to resort to medicinal aid.

I’ve discovered, after spending so much time in the air that as soon as I hear the plane’s engine revving up, my body now goes into a sleep mode no matter the hour. After popping a pill, I use my own pillow, blanket, wear men’s cashmere socks, put on my noise canceling earphones and padded eyeshades, and slip into a cocoon. It’s essential to get as much sleep as possible, even if there’s a movie that’s been on your wish list forever or a book you’ve been dying to read. It’s not that you can’t do those things. But make sleeping your priority.

Other hints: Even if you have a drink or two of alcohol (and many people say it can be your ruination on planes), drink a lot of water. No matter in which section of the plane you’re flying, either request a big bottle of water or bring an empty plastic one through security screening and fill it when you’re in the safe zone from the nearest water fountain.

When you board the plane, set your watch on local time and hope your body takes the hint.

Other frequent flying things I’ve learned: Having to change planes and make connections can be the straw that breaks the camel’s (or your) back. Being a member of an airline club makes life easier so you can relax. Plus, if there are delays, you’re somewhat covered and less frezzled when you board the next flight. This is the time when buying a “day pass” to a club can be an excellent investment.

Another revelation: I must have the look of a terrorist or the customs officials at the Sydney airport are as strict as they come. I was stopped twice for a passport check before I was exiting with my luggage.

I thought I was all clear but was ushered into a line where a very polite young woman unpacked my suitcase, my carry-on plus my purse. Contrasted with some TSA officials I’ve encountered, she repacked everything with total precision. I never could figure out what she was hoping to find. I literally had nothing (not even nuts which are verboten) that could qualify as contraband.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, I made a fast run to the gym and worked out as quickly and hard as I could. The shower did wonders and off I went for 12 hours of touring.

No, I was not upgraded to business class on the U.S. portions of the flight. It would have been a nice bonus — but I managed to sleep anyway and went to bed at midnight after returning to DC.

It’s a bizarre feeling to have crossed so many time zones, the equator, lost and gained a day and still be alive to write about the adventure. And after two days in one place, I’m preparing to board another plane.

If I don’t make 1K this year, I’ll be one very unhappy person.  Come to think of it though, because of this past promotion, there will probably be so many 1K members that we’ll all be sitting in the back of the plane since there are so few upgradeable seats when flying domestically. The airlines are using smaller planes and cutting the number of flights.

I’ll never be a Global Services Star Alliance member since those are people who don’t buy discounted tickets or use miles to upgrade. It’s rumored they need to spend $50,000 on tickets per year to qualify.

People are welcome to post their tips as how to best deal with living in the skies as well as their jet lag secrets. And please confess whether or not any of you are doing mileage runs. Obtaining your preferred carrier’s top status comes with all types of perks. At least, let’s hope it does.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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