My first mileage run ever: US coast to coast on NWA (Part I)

Having been a miles addict for 4 years now and a plane freak for a lot more years, there was a big gap in my airline experiences: I had yet to make a mileage run (MR). For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a MR is a flight (or a combination thereof) made for the sole purpose of… earning miles. It is important to note that, even if one of the reasons for which one might do a MR might be the pleasure of flying, the aim of a MR is to maximise the miles earned in one’s frequent flyer programme, so as to both earn elite status and collect as many possible miles for award tickets. For it to make sense in terms of economics, the ticket fare should have a good ratio between its cost and the miles flown ― generally, less than 5 cents/mile. There is obviously a lot more to it, but that’s it in a nutshell.

I had been browsing for some time to find a MR that would simultaneously coincide with one of my stays in the US (because doing a MR in Europe is generally a bad deal) and one in which I could be upgraded to domestic first class. As I am only an elite member of Flying Blue (FB) ― the frequent flyer programme of Air France / KLM ―, that narrows my options to… Northwest Airlines (NW), as they are the only US airline to offer complimentary upgrades to FB elite pax in domestic flights.

My first shot was flight to Seattle via Minneapolis (MSP) and Detroit, but in the end I waited too long to make a decision and the fare was gone. Closer to the end of 2008, a new fare to San Diego (SAN) appeared in the system, via MSP. I didn’t hesitate this time and bought immediately. This is the story of these four flights.

NW1601
LGA (KLGA) – MSP (KMSP)

Airbus A320-212 N354NW (msn 801, first flight on 04/03/1998)
ETD: 06h15
ETA: 08h25
Route: COATE J36 DKK J36 FNT J106 GRB EAU8

Seat: 01D

January 7 2009

This was going to be my first flight in many aspects: my first MR, my first flight in a premium cabin in a US domestic flight, my first flight on NWA, my first flight through MSP and my first flight to SAN. Lots of first times for just one trip.

The whole thing started with buying my ticket. The fare wasn’t available on nwa.com anymore and therefore I decided to buy it somewhere else. In these cases, I generally opt for orbitz.com, but when I need to use a non-US credit card, I go for travelocity.com ― which was the case. This was painless.
I then logged on to nwa.com with my booking number to add my FB number (so that I would be eligible for the upgrades), but I couldn’t do it due to a system error. After trying it a couple of times with no sucess, I called nwa. The agent was very nice, confirmed my FB Platinum status and informed me that I would be upgraded if there was availability five days before the day of departure.
On January 2nd, I was indeed automatically upgraded to domestic first class for three of my four booked flights; MSP-SAN was missing. I checked the seat map (which, however, never is an accurate source) online and there were only three empty seats. I had already accepted the idea that I would be flying coach for this segment when, in the following day, I was upgraded. Woohoo!

I checked-in online the day before the departure. There was no need to be one of the first to do it because I had chosen my seats on nwa.com.
Upon arrival to LGA to collect my boarding passes, the check-in counters were a mess and the agents were really indifferent. For one to have an idea, the elite queue for check-in lead to… an empty counter with no self check-in machine. As I was in no hurry, I decided to wait for an agent instead of joining the long general queue. The agent eventually appeared, but with a suspicious look in her face and not a smile: I am almost sure she was about to ask me if I knew that was the first class counter (I look younger than I am) when she saw my FB Gold card (I hadn’t received the Platinum yet). It didn’t change her attitude, though. I told her I wanted to collect my boarding passes. She nodded and gave me the ones for LGA-MSP and MSP-SAN only. As I was tired of her and didn’t want to get in bad mood, I thanked her and left. Later I would get my boarding passes for the other flights from a self-check-in machine located in the boarding area.

At the security checkpoint, there were two lines: one for general boarding and another one for first class pax. It didn’t take long (surely less than at EWR) and soon thereafter I was in the waiting area.

I only had to wait 10 mins for the boarding time. Instead of seating down, I wandered through the terminal and tried to check the aircrafts parked at the gates; I tried to check the registration of the aircraft I would be soon flying in, but there was no view from the terminal to any of NW’s birds, just to some of DL’s:

Boarding started 30 mins before ETD, and was according to cabin and status.

Inside the aircraft, there was no music on (which I deem as a positive aspect in a 6AM flight). The FAs were at the door chatting amongst them and barely looking at or greeting the pax (and we are talking about first class and elite pax!).
After that, one of the FAs, who was standing in the front galley, started asking the first class pax if they wanted their coats hung (yes, from the galley… and at this time there were no pax boarding). The pax then had to get up, walk to the doors, give them the coats and tell them the respective seats. There was no pre-departure drink offer for first class pax.

Domestic first class was fully packed, but the loadfactor in Y was around 70%.

After the closure of the doors, the captain welcomed the pax and gave some information about the flight: 2h24 of flight time and the route would be Buffalo, north of Lake Erie, Detroit, and then across Lake Michigan until the twin cities of Minneapolis / St. Paul. The captain added that before departure, however, the aircraft needed to be de-iced, which would be done in the taxiway.

At 06h05 doors were closed and shortly after we pushed back to the de-icing position in the taxiway. After that we taxied to runway 13 and took off at 06h40.

The first 30 mins of flight were quite bumpy and there were many turns.

Once we reached cruise altitude, breakfast was served, with the option of “cereals or eggs”. As I can’t drink milk and don’t particularly like cereals, I went for the eggs. However, when the FA asked, she didn’t specify which type of eggs; as I really didn’t have an option, I didn’t ask myself either. I was positively surprised when I saw it was a tomato omelette with sausage and hash browns, and a fresh fruit plate. The FA also asked if I would like a bagel, but I declined (I truly detest bagels; for me, they’re just bad quality bread). I had orange juice to drink. Later on, coffee and tea were offered.

I slept for most of the flight after breakfast and only woke up at TOD (at 07h50 CST).

Once we started our descent, it was already noticeable how white was Minnesota.

No more than 20 mins. later (at 08h10 CST) we landed on runway 30L.

The taxi to concourse G was quite short and therefore we got to our gate ahead of schedule and deboarded quite quickly. After this flight, this particular aircraft (and its crew) were heading to PVR (Puerto Vallarta).

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 6
Check-in [1,5]: 5
Lounge [0,5]: ―
Boarding [0,5]: 4
Seat [2,5]: 9
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 8
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 4
Food [2]: 8
Beverages [0,5]: 7
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 10
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 6,00 (inflight overall impression: 6,32)

* * *

NW189
MSP (KMSP) – SAN (KSAN)

Airbus A320-212 N362NW (msn 911, first flight on 27/10/1998)
ETD: 09h10
ETA: 10h58

Route: SCHEP2 ONL LBF LEERI HBU J128 TBC J236 EED BARET4
Seat: 01A

January 7 2009

It was fairly easy and quick to transfer in MSP, in which I was for the first time. I didn’t take more than 10 mins. The gates were all in the G concourse (G1 to G11), according to what the flight status was showing the day before departure. From my quick tour around that specific concourse, MSP appeared to be a pleasant and functional airport.

Once I got to gate G11, our aircraft was already there, having arrived from Grand Rapids (GRR).

The waiting area was truly packed. Before getting there, however, I was already sure it was going to be a full flight, not only because my upgrade had taken longer to clear, but also because I had checked availability on KVS and it showed mostly zeroes.

I got to the gate at 08h30 and tons of people were waiting for seat assignments. I had thought of volunteering for a bump (as this was the only of my four flights which seemed to be full), but in the end I didn’t. It would be inconvenient for me because I would have no way of getting back to NY the same day (and yes, I had checked all the options, including flights with other airlines from SAN to the east coast) and I had work to do.

Preboarding started 30 mins before departure with pax with children or with reduced mobility. Then it was the turn of first class and elite pax. Already inside the aircraft, a male and a female FAs were greeting the pax. I was immediately offered a drink. I went for water, which was served in a plastic glass.

Upon their request, I then handed them my coat for it to be hung. I noticed that during general boarding, one of the FAs asked people to hold at the door of the aircraft to avoid creating a huge confusion and a mess in the aisle of the aircraft (which is what usually happens). She would clear a couple of pax each time and this way the boarding procedure seemed to be much more organised. I could understand right away that any similarity between this and the previous flight in terms of crew efficiency or politeness was a mere coincidence.

Before the closure of the doors, the captain welcomed the pax and gave some information regarding the flight: cruise altitude would be at 32.000 ft, the route would be over the Rocky Mountains and the flight time would be of 3h24.

At 09h15 doors were closed, we did a short push-back and short thereafter the aircraft was de-iced in that position. 15 mins later we started our short taxi to runway 30L. Along the way, I could spot some other aircrafts being de-iced at remote positions.

As we approached the hold short point for runway 30L, another NW’s A320 landed.

After lining up, we eventually took-off at 09h40 from runway 30L.

As we were climbing, I made myself comfortable. Legroom was generous for my height, as there was a portion of the wall that was cut to give more space for the feet. Still, I guess taller pax would still find it somewhat restrict and would prefer a regular seat, instead of a bulkhead one. The seat was comfortable enough, although I found the reclining somewhat restricted for what I expected.

25 mins after take-off, service started with a drink offer. I chose orange juice. 15 mins later, my second full breakfast of the day (!) was served. This time, the FA specified that the options were cereals or cheese omelette. Again, I went for the eggs (which also came with hash browns and sausages). It was good, but the tomato omelette of the previous flight was actually tastier. The FA also asked me if I wanted a croissant or a brioche (with a funny French accent) and I chose the former (which was much better than a stiff bagel!). The breakfast tray also came with a yoghurt and a plate of fresh fruit, jam and butter. The FA finally asked me if I wanted anything else to drink and 10 mins later came with coffee and tea.

The service was truly very good. To be entirely fair, there was only one problem: one of the strawberries of the fruit plate was rotten. Anyway, I was surely stuffed after two full breakfasts and ready for a short nap!!

Throughout the flight, everytime I looked through the window I would a see completely different landscape. After all, we were coming from snowy Minnesota, passing through the Rocky Montains, the Grand Canyon, the Death Valley and then sunny South California. This is one of those flights in which the lack of the air show was a true pity.

55 mins prior to ETA, some nuts and pretzels were offered from a basket, as well another round of drinks. I asked for some water (which was offered every 20/30 mins, at least to C pax).

I then decided it was time I got up for a short walk to the front and the back of the plane to stretch my legs. Although the overall ambiance was nice, the fact is that the interiors looked a bit tired and a bit late 80’s (the tray tables, the cloth of the seats, its colour ― which, by the way, have nothing to do with the present or former livery of NWA…).

The loadfactor, both in Y and in C, was 100%.

At 10h25 PST, we reached our TOD and started our descent. As we approached SAN, we overflew the city centre (as the airport is located therein) and had some fantastic views.

At 10h50 PST, again ahead of schedule, we landed on runway 27.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 6
Check-in [1,5]: 5
Lounge [0,5]: ―
Boarding [0,5]: 9
Seat [2,5]: 9
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 8
IFE [1,5]: 1
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 9
Food [2]: 9
Beverages [0,5]: 7
Freebies [0,5]: 0
Disembarkation [0,5]: 10
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 7,29 (inflight overall impression: 7,89)

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~ by Tiago on March 8, 2009.

4 Responses to “My first mileage run ever: US coast to coast on NWA (Part I)”

  1. Espetacular

    C4to

  2. Obrigado!! 😉

  3. nice report

  4. Obrigado, Fátima!

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