How Irma Messed Up My Mileage Runs, What I Did About It & Why It’s Not That Important

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Photo courtesy of NASA.

Mileage Running with Hurricane Irma

Awhile back American Airlines briefly released some amazing sub-$400 First Class fares between select Delta hubs and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. During the sale I managed to book five itineraries including back to back to back flights from SEA-PAP which were supposed to begin tomorrow.

Before I go any further I want to say a few things. I am not writing this post in any way to complain. Again, I am NOT COMPLAINING. There are people whose lives are truly affected by Hurricane Irma (and people still recovering from Hurricane Harvey) and in relation any issues I have in life at this moment are trivial. With that said, I think this story has a few worthwhile takeaways so I figured I would share.

The Itinerary

My mileage run itineraries were as follows:

  • Sep 8 – Fly Seattle to LAX and then take a redeye to Miami
  • Sep 9 – Fly Miami to Port-au-Prince to Miami and then arrive in Seattle late at night.
  • Sep 10 – Fly Seattle to Miami
  • Sep 11 – Fly to PAP and then back to Seattle
  • Sep 12 – Fly Seattle to Miami
  • Sep 13 – Fly to PAP and then back to Seattle

Looks exhausting doesn’t it? Well, truth be told I had considered dropping the 3rd mileage run and only doing the first two, but of course things have changed.

Hurricane Irma Cancellations

As Hurricane Irma began solidifying its path towards Florida, my flights began getting cancelled on Wednesday. The first cancellation was my LAX-MIA flight on mileage run #1, but eventually American Airlines would also cancel MIA-PAP, PAP-MIA and MIA-SEA on the same itinerary. It was completely blown up.

By today mileage run #2 was mostly cancelled as well. My flights down to Miami on Sunday were cancelled as was my flight to PAP. The return flights on Monday were still in tact, but given the current storm path it is likely that Miami International Airport may not reopen on Monday either.

Nested Itinerary

To add a bit of stress to the situation, I nested my positioning flight to Seattle with an upcoming Hainan Airlines flight to Shanghai. Since Alaska Airlines allows a free stopover on awards (and I didn’t need to use it in China) I decided to book LAS-SEA for 9/8 to nest for my mileage runs and then SEA-PVG a week later. A great plan in most scenarios.

Of course since my Alaska LAS-SEA-PVG itinerary has nothing to do with Hurricane Irma, there are no cancellation waivers. Thankfully I am an MVP Gold 75K which means I can change flights without a fee. Unfortunately there is no saver award availability until the 12th. 

Finding A Solution

After consulting with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines I ended up with the following options:

Option 1

Fly from SEA-JFK on Alaska Airlines 9/8 and then JFK-PAP on 9/9. I would then only be able to fly back from PAP on 9/11 due to all other flights being sold out or cancelled. This meant mileage run #2 would be cancelled, but I could get mileage run #1 completed. Of course it would mean spending two nights in PAP after Haiti just got hit with a hurricane.

Option 2

Cancel mileage run #1 and fly an altered version of mileage run #2 on 9/10. I would have to pay for a new LAS-SEA ticket since the fare classes aren’t available to change my current award flight. The other major problem with this is that mileage run #2 is FAR from guaranteed given the storm’s path. Most likely flights will get cancelled and I could get stuck.

Option 3

Cancel mileage runs #1 & #2 and switch my Alaska flight to 9/12. Plan to fly mileage run #3 on 9/12 depending on the outcome of the storm. Worst case mileage run #3 gets cancelled and I end up spending two days in Seattle.

My Elite Plans

I need at least two of these mileage runs in order to qualify for Alaska’s MVP Gold status for 2018. Unfortunately it looks like Irma has put a foil in my plan. If I fly only one of the mileage runs, I will be about 13K EQMs short of what I need and I’m not sure I’ll have the time to get them. 

Additionally, I was counting on the miles I was going to earn from the flights for an upcoming Emirates First Class redemption I want to make. While I am hoping I can secure the miles other ways, this does put a little wrench in my plan.

Which I Chose

So which option did I choose? If you guessed option 3 then you are correct. Why?

  • Option 3 helps to avoid chaos and keeps me out of stressful situations such as getting stuck somewhere.
  • Option 3 means I won’t be taking up an airline seat on critical days where someone else might need to fly.
  • Option 3 means I’ll get to spend more time at home with my family before the China trip.

Original Routing Credit & Playing the Game

Some of you are no doubt screaming at your screen right now with the ways you would have handled this situation. Some might have tried to get American Airlines to rebook the flights for a much later date. I tried that but was denied. They would waive any change fees, but I would have to pay the fare difference. Perhaps I could have pushed harder, but everyone there is working hard to rebook people and I didn’t feel it was the best move.

I could have also flown to Seattle on my original Alaska flight tomorrow and tried to get the agents to re-book me at the airport with the hopes that I could fly one segment and then get sent back to Seattle with original routing credit. This was perhaps a plausible plan, however it seemed like a huge hassle and one that could leave me stuck in Seattle for 5 days when I could be home with my family.

Lessons Learned

As I sit here I am comfortable with my decision to stay even though it dents my plans for Alaska status and miles. Here are some other takeaways:

Have backup plans with nested itineraries or positioning flights, especially when tickets are separate. In this case my Alaska ticket is separate from my American Airlines Haiti ticket and thus I wouldn’t have been able to change for free without my status since Las Vegas and Seattle are nowhere near the storm.

The economics of mileage runs are borderline suspect anyway, so subjecting myself to potential hazards and stressful situations isn’t worth it. I admit that flying on an airplane and turning around probably isn’t the best use of time, but hey I love elite status and this is sort of my hobby so I justify it. When you add in the potential of getting stuck in a bad situation, the value of the trip is diminished significantly.

Pick and choose your battles. By not flying mileage runs #1 & #2 I will miss out on about 50,000 Alaska miles. Those are really valuable, but I was paying $800 plus days of my time for them. There are plenty of times I will do my best to maneuver the system to make things work and maximize everything, but sometimes you have to know when to back off.

Conclusion

I have been incredibly lucky over the years to never have flights cancelled due to weather. This situation has taught me a few lessons and reminded me that the decisions we make when it comes to miles/points/travel are often trivial compared to what is happening in the “real world”.

I have many friends in Florida who are in the path of the storm and I wish them all the best. My hopes are that the storm will somehow move and that the damage won’t be severe. Stay safe everyone.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Omg I had the same PAP fare scheduled for today! I was supposed to do SEA LAX MIA PAP JFK DFW SEA..

    I took the SEA LAX leg and in LAX they changed my routing LAX JFK LAX SEA.. what is notable about this is , both JFK legs are on the 3 cabin A321. Long story short I am about to take off in my flat bed business class to LAX for 6 hours. Pretty incredible considering it was all originally in crappy domestic first class seats

    Also AA is refunding about $80 in taxes and fees now the itinerary is not international and no longer paying the ridiculous Haiti airport fees! .. bringing the fare down to about $300

    I guess I hit the jackpot

    • Congratulations. I didn’t do it in person since I didn’t want to risk flying to Seattle only to have them cancel the ticket. I’m glad it worked out for you and if I was local to Seattle I definitely would have gone to the airport and tried to do it that way.

  2. Oh and the funny part, LAX JFK LAX was back to back. I guess the agent was new .. totally ok with it tho.

    Did you try to change your ticket in person or over the phone? I originally tried changing over Twitter but they wouldn’t budge

  3. The other lesson, that you didn’t learn, is to never book flights to the Caribbean Aug 15-Sept 15, where it is mathematically hurricane season ever year.

    • You got me there, although I have done fairly well with Caribbean visits during Hurricane season. Those types of trips have always been booked for cheap at the last minute though since prices can be good during Hurricane Season.

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