With just four hours on the ground while flying Economy for 25 hours between the US and NZ a Colorado traveller is getting closer to his ultimate goal with United Airlines.
Denver man Carl Brothers has a day job helping run a barber shop and hair salon business. His other one is as a ‘‘professional traveller.’'
In his favoured Economy, he flew a historic United Airlines 13 hours to Christchurch from San Francisco (SFO) yesterday for just 4h40m on the ground. He then got on the same plane for the return flight, all in pursuit of the ultimate prize: Four million air miles and a lifetime of benefits for him and his chosen partner.
‘’I’m a professional traveller,’’ he told the Herald during his brief stopover where he wasn’t able to get out of the airport. ‘’I’m on this 4 million mile run.’’
Brothers, and about a dozen other travel enthusiasts were aboard the flight, the first linking the United States and the South Island with scheduled services. At 11,100km each way it was a good way to build miles quickly.
For mileage runs, he only buys Economy seats
‘‘I get upgraded to Premium Economy and Business occasionally, but my flying mindset is set for Economy. I have refused upgrades to Premium Economy because sometimes I can get a whole row in Economy to myself, and I call that ‘ghetto first class’,’’ he said.
He’s more than halfway to 4 million, with a little over 2 million ‘‘BIS’' (butt in seat) miles (3.2 million km). They’re earned on the flight distance of eligible United-operated flights.
In the past year alone, the 40-year-old has racked up 1 million miles.
He’s at 2.4 million lifetime miles flown on United, is targeting July next year for 3 million miles, and the first half of 2025 for the 4 million.
The cost usually determines his routes.
He uses cost per mile as one of his selection metrics. Typically, it is US4 cents (NZ6.5c) a mile, so for a 25,000-mile journey Denver-New York-San Francisco-Singapore-New York-Denver, he’s willing to pay US$1000.
With enough planning and searching, he has found London to Australia round trips for US$850.
‘‘Timing is also essential. I spend as much time as possible in-flight and as little time in airports as possible. A typical Singapore run takes me 65 hours door-to-door, and I spend 50 hours flying as a passenger. I leave at 6am on Monday and am home by Wednesday before midnight.’'
The mileage chasers target inaugural flights for their historic value and the party atmosphere on board.
Just before boarding the flight in San Francisco he and other hardcore mileage and inaugural riders heard about another new route.
‘’During one of the parties today, they did announce that they’re going to be flying San Francisco to Barcelona sometime in May. So a few of us on the plane got on the internet and bought tickets for that.’'
United’s Million Miler programme - how it works
United says the Million Miler programme grants lifetime premier status to all qualifying members, even if they fly less in the future. For 1 million flown miles passengers are awarded Premier Gold, 2 million miles are Premier Platinum,3 million gains Premier 1K and 4 million earns United Global Services.
Airline loyalty specialist site UpgradedPoints has analysed the lifetime benefits of United’s Million Mile scheme.
For the first three tiers a spouse or significant other gets equal premier status, the travellers get preferred seating, complimentary domestic upgrades, instant upgrades on some classes of fares, mileage bonuses, priority check-in, security, boarding, baggage, priority standby, waived fees on same-day changes, international lounge access and Star Alliance gold benefits.
For the upper three tiers (Platinum Premier, 1K, and Global Services) there are complimentary regional upgrades, waived fees for award tickets, redeposit, and close-in fees, better award availability and discounted United Club membership. For the upper two tiers there’s a dedicated phone line and global upgrades.
UpgradedPoints gives United’s Million Miler programme the big tick.
‘‘No other airline Million Miler programme offers the ability to earn top-level lifetime status or gift that same status to a spouse or significant other.’'
Brothers said the top tier has a very appealing feature.
‘‘If you fly 4 million miles on them, they’ll afford you their highest status, which is an invite-only status. When you’re connecting to a city, they’ll fetch you from your seat on the airplane, bring you to a car on the tarmac and then drive you to the next flight.’'
The flight from San Francisco yesterday was aboard a Boeing 787-9 series Dreamliner, some passengers were issued souvenir sweaters and all those entering the arrivals hall were given toy kiwi.
Brothers said the flight was special.
‘‘Everyone was quite excited, the energy was different but at some point everybody was running on fumes,’' he said.
Cabin crew and pilots were hand-picked, executives and travel content creators including Outdoorsygals funder Lindsay Stevens were on board.
Among the executives were United’s senior vice president of global network planning and alliances Patrick Quayle and managing director of MileagePlus Michael Covey.
Brothers said it was an opportunity to rub shoulders with executives and ask them about what their plans are.
‘‘They’re quite professional and they’re tight-lipped but they do share bits and pieces of information here and there.’'
United is operating a summer service three times a week into Christchurch from San Francisco. It has said it will consider stepping this up if there is sufficient demand.
Brothers said he would love to return to Aotearoa for a proper stay after such a brief stopover at the weekend.
‘‘I promised my husband that I would not see any of Christchurch or New Zealand because we both know that New Zealand is such a beautiful and magical country that we want to experience it together properly.’'
Frequent flyer tips
Take naps, avoid alcohol, and drink lots of water, says Brothers.
Bring your own food if possible.
For security checkpoints, wear comfortable pants that don’t need belts.
Wear shoes you can slip on and don’t need to be laced up.
Shoes with Velcro work, but you must bend to put those shoes on.
Use the TimeShifter app to help your body reach the correct time zone.
Grant Bradley has been working at the Herald since 1993. He is the Business Herald’s deputy editor and covers aviation and tourism