Confessions of an Elite Status Junkie: Part Two

[This is my second post in a series dedicated to revealing the thoughts, behaviors and actions of an elite status junkie – namely, me. You can read my first installment by clicking here.]

The Quest, the Challenge, the Addiction Begins

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that in the past week I’ve tweeted some random remembrances from my early travels, including images of my first frequent flier cards.

a group of credit cards

My frequent flier card collection

My acknowledged addiction with frequent flier programs began when my dad signed me up for United’s Mileage Plus scheme in 1988, before I was due to fly from Chicago to Boston to visit my brother for a weekend. [And not to worry, Dad, my addiction isn’t your fault. I would have joined the programs myself eventually. ;-)]

a close up of a receipt

First United Airlines flight

As soon as those first miles posted, I started dreaming about where I could go for “free.†Australia had always been top-of-mind, so I set a goal to rack up enough miles for a first class trip (100,000 miles back then). And so, while I was still in high school, I began mileage running unbeknownst to my parents to build my account.

I couldn’t do full scale runs being gone all day (or more) as they’re known by today’s standards, but I flew dozens and dozens of simple Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-Kansas City or Chicago-Saginaw roundtrips, being away for a matter of 5-6 hours at most. All were about $39-$49 for a roundtrip, and I could easily sneak out for an afternoon or day off from high school to complete them.

Those short-haul flights didn’t rack up much, but with each posting of 500 miles I became more addicted and more enthralled in the hunt for an award. And then, in 1989, I was a Premier for the first time.

a card with a name tag

My first United elite card

It was on. Upgrades to first class were quite easy in those days, and I found myself in the pointy end of the plane on virtually every flight. I began realizing the importance of miles (and bonus miles) and plotted new, longer itineraries that would yield even better accrual rates.

While in college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University studying aeronautical science and airline management, my flying increased exponentially. I traveled home to Chicago frequently, took side trips around the country, and I finally got a passport and flew internationally for the first time in 1991 from Chicago to Paris. Shall we consider my haircut in the following image a mullet? 😉

a man with a white shirt

My first passport

It was that first fateful journey overseas which solidified my elite status “junkie†phase, and it would last for years and years and years.

What would you do if your reserved nonstop on United from Chicago to Paris got cancelled and you were rebooked to fly on Pan Am, forfeiting those valuable “butt in seat†elite miles and upgrade chances?

Read more in the next installment, “DYKWIA Begins With a Double Upgrade from Coach to First Class.â€

– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.


Confessions of an Elite Status Junkie: Part One

Buh-Bye Upgrade Phobia: Rediscovering the Joy of Coach Travel

Using Premier Accelerator as a Fast Track to United Elite Status

Pondering United Premier Platinum Over Gold for 2014

Rumor: Did American Airlines Leak Its New Elite Status Requirements



  1. Oh wow, the Pan Am Worldpass card. that was my first frequent flyer card. Was that back in 1988 or 89?

  2. OMG! You started on UA I on BA making frivolous flights while still at school. Calling my Mom when I was 17 that I was in DUB and got the return schedules mixed up was priceless!!! She still doesn’t understand it 20 years later. Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Wow…mileage running as a teen without your parents knowing! I actually thought of doing this when i was younger but never had the kahuna’s to actually do it. Were there any close calls? What would have happened If you got stuck somewhere?

  4. @David: Priceless, indeed… hope your mom understood! 😉
    @SANman: Yes, there was one close call, actually. My parents thought I was at work on one of my excursions when my flight back to ORD got horribly delayed due to weather. I ended up calling home from the “airfone” and said I had to work late! 😉

  5. Hmmm, we must’ve been gullible Ps! You are now officially GROUNDED (23-25 years late)! ;p. (we couldn’t help but leave a comment). 🙂

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