Before there was the wine chick, there was the travel chick. Looking back over the last 19 years, I now see a pattern of evolution: from college professor, to travel manager, to a wine business professional, to all three at the same time, the latter of which propelled me to Napa. The sum would not be the same without all of the facets of me coming together. I will always be Travel (Traveling) Wine Chick, with travel coming first. It’s a part of my soul and one of my continuing passions.
A long-distance relationship during 1997-2012 is what forced me to learn about travel, especially air travel, and to love it. Early on, I learned that if you consolidate your air travel on one or two airlines and you fly frequently, you will earn what is called elite status, which gives you lots of perks, especially avoiding some of the airlines’ nickel and diming (free checked bags, free premium economy seats) and occasional upgrades to first class.
Since 1997, I have held elite status on one or two airlines, mostly because of the aforementioned relationship which has since ended. As airlines began to merge, my loyalties changed. My primary carriers were US Airways, then Delta. Over the course of the years, I held status at one time or another on US Airways, Delta, Continental, Northwest, and United, as I tried different carriers and alliances. Status on a few were achieved by status matches, where one airline will match the status of another to entice you to fly their airline. When my teaching job and relationship ended in 2012, then I worked from home in 2013, and finally I moved to Napa in 2014, I no longer had as much time and money to travel, so it was much more difficult to retain status. However, I managed to travel enough to maintain status on Delta during 2013-2015. As 2015 came to an end, I decided I would request a status match to United, which made sense, because I usually fly from San Francisco, one of their hubs. United granted me trial status, but I had to earn it to be able to keep it for a year, which meant flying 12,500 miles in 90 days. I had never attempted to do such a thing. My air travel has always had a destination, not flying for the sake of flying. In spite of the limitations of time and money, I decided to go for it.
I already had one trip booked on United for December, but it was only 1356 miles, a round trip to Seattle to spend the weekend with a friend. My holiday trip was already booked on Delta, so my only option to complete the challenge was to squeeze in three trips in January. I booked three 24-hour trips: SFO-PHX-SFO and SFO-BOS-SFO twice. I booked three nights of hotels, two free and one paid. The first weekend to PHX was a breeze, with all flights on time. I was upgraded to first class both ways, so I traveled comfortably. The next weekend would be the hardest of them all because of Winter Storm Jonas. My flights to BOS were likely to be canceled. However, I called United and they worked with me to change my ticket to fly somewhere else to avoid the inclement weather. The result was SFO-IAH-MIA-IAH-SFO with only around three or four hours of sleep at a hotel before returning. The saving grace of that trip was that all of the flights were fantastic and on time and I was upgraded on two of the four. Otherwise, I would not wish that kind of schedule on my worst enemy. The final weekend, BOS was a go. The outbound flight was outstanding. I was upgraded to first class and the food and onboard service were as if I were flying internationally, not domestically. We were served a multi-course lunch (salad, main course, sorbet, and a cookie), complete with hot towels for freshening up and warm nuts with pre-dinner drinks. On the return, I arrived early to the airport as I usually do, and thank goodness, because a United gate agent was directing those of us early birds to get on the 7:35 a.m. departure. As it turned out, my original 9:10 a.m. fight ended up departing BOS six hours late due to a mechanical delay. I made the right decision to follow the gate agent’s insistence that I get on the earlier flight. Kudos to United for being so proactive.
Now I am at home writing this and so glad this month is over. All in all, I flew 11,908 miles this month. My routing and total flying can be found at this link. Combine that with the 1356 miles earned in December, I surpassed the challenge with a total of 13,264 miles. Also of note is United seems to be turning itself around. I flew eight flights in January, two in December, and two in October, and all were great. Out of 10 upgrade eligible flights, I was upgraded on six. The amenities and onboard services in both classes of service, first and coach, were better than expected. Until January 31, 2017, I will continue to enjoy elite status on United.
My frequent flyer friends will read this and appreciate, maybe even applaud my efforts. The rest of you will think I am batsh** crazy and I am. In retrospect, I am happy I achieved my goal, but I basically put my life on hold for a month to do it. Traveling alone and for long distances isn’t for the weary. It demands that you be strong and comfortable being alone for many hours at a time. It also requires that you are OK with feeling exhausted. I survived, but I’m looking forward to being home in Napa as the wine chick, until a trip with a destination calls my name.