Frequent Flyer Events Get Mainstream Attention

Filmmaker Gabriel Leigh has a CNNgo piece on the frequent flyer experiences that the community puts together — Frequent Traveler University and the MegaDO trips.

A few months ago I found myself headed to a Sheraton hotel in East Rutherford, New Jersey, one of the more anonymous towns in the United States.

The purpose of my trip: Frequent Traveler University, a two-day series of seminars on getting the most out of miles and points.

…At these events, you tend to get a rapid-fire guided tour of the extremes people go to for miles.

The language might sound unfamiliar to the non-enthusiast, peppered as it is with phrases unique to the flyer world.

A “mileage run,” for example, is a flight taken for the sole purpose of accumulating miles or attaining elite status.

Most of the time, there’s no destination — you just pack in as many flights as you can (at the lowest possible fare) until you end up back at home.

And what is “elite status” exactly?

He tells the story of one of the exploits of my award booking partner as well:

A number of years ago, Cleveland-based Steve Belkin realized that he could hire people to fly for him, taking control of their frequent flyer accounts in return for a wage and free tickets on a given route.

Once, when an US$8 airfare between two cities in northern Thailand popped up, he crunched the numbers and found he could earn millions of miles on the route for very little money.

Belkin hired a team of out-of-work Thai rice farmers and paid them more than the Thai minimum wage just to be on a plane all day long, back and forth between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, for six weeks straight.

Then, a few weeks in, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took notice. They’d decided that Belkin must be the “stupidest drug-runner they’d ever seen,” and he was called in to explain his actions.

The incredulous agents were eventually convinced as to his true motives, and one of them even asked if he could get in on the deal.

And the MegaDO flights are just such a darned good time!

The past few years have seen the rise of the so-called “mega-do,” which involves working with one of the major airline alliances to put a couple of hundred enthusiasts on a plane together, with events on the ground as well.

When the first oneworld alliance mega-do was announced for January of this year, I couldn’t resist joining.

For US$899, I purchased a seat on a chartered American Airlines (AA) 757 that would take me and around 180 other hard-core frequent flyers from Dallas to Seattle, then to Los Angeles.

There were tours of AA’s operations center and Boeing’s factory in Seattle, and a oneworld party on the ramp at the Los Angeles airport for which Cathay Pacific and Qantas towed over a wide-body each for us to gawk at and tour.

Onboard, passengers were exuberant. The aisles were packed. Pillows flew around the cabin. It was as if Carnival had come to the skies above the United States.

..Even though the flight attendants had to fight through crowds to serve food and drinks, they were smiling as well.

“Isn’t this annoying, having to deal with all of us?” I asked one flight attendant.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had working a flight.”

A week and a half ago I shared details of the next Frequent Traveler University which will be held at the Sheraton LAX November 30-December 2. It will sell out but tickets are still available.

The November Star MegaDO sold out in about 5 minutes, but we expect another Oneworld MegaDO early in 2013. I’ll keep y’all apprised!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @flo – the article mentions Flyertalk but the events are actually put together by the organizers of Milepoint, not Flyertalk. And discussion of the events mentioned in the article does not even take place on Flyertalk. I didn’t want to call the article out over that, so I left it alone, it otherwise does a nice job highlighting some great events put together for frequent flyers. But there ya go!

  2. Gary,

    Is there a fully documented story on Steve’s efforts with the Thai rice farmers? I’ve heard people mention it over the years, but I never heard about the DEA thing. I’m real curious if Steve ever wrote about that in any sort of detail. How’d the DEA even catch wind of his exploits?

  3. @Dan I think Steve told the whole story or the better part of it in Gabriel’s 20-some minute documentary. The DEA caught wind because he had the same people flying back and forth like 5 roundtrips a day out of the opium capital of the world. Ummm… why would the same ‘courier’ be heading out of Chiang Rai 5 times a day???

  4. Leigh and CNNgo are hardly ‘mainstream’? Ben covering it in USA today or Scott in WSJs paper edition, yes, CNNgo: no 🙂

  5. @oliver2002 .. ok, well Ben’s USA Today piece on oneworld megado was cool. And the AP story that was in about 60 papers on that event was too! And Scott McCartney most recently wrote about Star MegaDO 3, I expect more good stories from future events for sure!

  6. I am writing the Dept of the Interior to officially replace Mt Rushmore with the faces of Gary, Ben, Steve, and George Washington.

  7. Glad to hear I’m not considered mainstream, hah. By the way, the omission of Milepoint in the text was an oversight and has now been corrected.

  8. I kicked in a few bucks for Gabriels Kickstarter movie project. The Footage online looks very good. I will be at the LA FTU. Maybe Ill get a few ideas. My favorite speaker is Gary. Gary and Seth are pretty funny together.

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