A United 1k Reveals How He Got to a Million Miles - United Hub
My United Journey

A United 1K reveals how he got to a million miles

By Justin Soffer

I remember looking through the window, over the vast darkness covering South America with the stars blinking above. It was 1997 and there wasn't a fancy route map showing our location, but I assumed we were flying over Colombia or northern Brazil.

I thought about the jungles below and the people straight out of my National Geographic magazines, living as they had for centuries. As the flight continued and we passed over cities, I pictured people in their homes cooking dinner, watching TV, having arguments in Spanish or Portuguese.

I was 17 and this was my first trip outside of North America — my first intercontinental flight. And my first long-distance flight alone. I spent months planning my summer study abroad program and almost as much time planning the flight to Buenos Aires because the mere thought of intercontinental air travel was so exciting to me. I was thrilled to find out that the cheapest itinerary actually involved flying a few hours north, from my home in Texas to Chicago where I boarded a United flight to Buenos Aires, which gave me even more time on my journey. I called the United reservation line multiple times — before SeatGuru — to get the opinion of as many agents as possible to ensure I had the absolute best window seat.

The flight exceeded my expectations, for the romanticism of departing one continent in the evening and waking up in another the next morning. And throughout my lifetime of flying that same feeling hasn't dulled, and not only for intercontinental or international flights. There's a magic of air travel and the best airlines seem to harness and accentuate that magic. Flying can become routine, and even the most hardened business travelers probably get "used to" far flung destinations and lay-flat seats. But for me, short or long, economy or first class, work or pleasure, the allure of flying — of being transported in a literal and figurative way — hasn't lost its magic.

Flying has changed for me over the years. As a single person living in New York, I was at Newark airport almost every week. When I met my wife, we spent years flying to far-off places like Stockholm for the weekend. Now with two kids (1 and 4 yrs old) our travel has evolved. We both travel on our own for work and we've also made a big effort to take our boys to destinations near and far, even if we don't travel as often.

Justin's son looks out the window on a United flight Justin's son looks out the window on a United flight

I've been a MileagePlus® member since grade school. What started as a reasonable way for their son to earn miles when traveling alongside his parents turned into a mild, yet healthy, obsession with frequent flyer miles. The minute I turned 18, I found the best credit card offer that came with the maximum number of miles and I remember submitting my college graduation certificate to United to get 10,000 bonus miles. I was on Flyertalk (the mile and point message board) before I was legally able to drink. And I've always equated my positive associations with air travel to the miles that come along with it (and vice versa). I may have even suggested a honeymoon destination to my wife based on United routes.

Over the years, I've learned to leverage airline partner earning opportunities as much as possible — especially since my work and personal travels have often taken me outside of the United route map. But I've been able to earn and use miles just the same via Star Alliance™ partners. It's good to check the partners at least once a year just to make sure you don't forget any of them.

Recently I've also been earning more miles outside of flying. I think the biggest underrated and probably under-utilized trick is MileagePlus Shopping. I can bore people to pieces when talking about it at dinner parties, but any time I buy anything online (which is pretty often with two kids and a labradoodle) I stop at United MileagePlus Shopping first. Every year I earn tens of thousands of miles there with very little effort.

For the past 5 or 6 years I've enjoyed the relaxed fare rules on one-way tickets. In the past it was often very expensive to buy one-way tickets and for a long time you could only redeem miles for roundtrip itineraries. It's not a "hack" per se, but I've recently booked a bunch of trips with one direction in miles and the other spending money. For example, we've often traveled to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. We leave well before the holiday (usually the Friday or Saturday before) and return on Sunday or Monday. When I've priced out the roundtrip fare it can be quite expensive because of our return on peak travel days. However, I've recently changed my focus to the one-way prices. When doing so I've often found that I can book one way via money at a normal price and then use miles for the other way when we are traveling on a peak day, because the flexible 25,000-mile ticket is often a better deal than spending $500+ (as I normally try to get at least $0.02 per mile of value for my miles, if not more).

I recently hit the million-mile mark with United so I've tried to focus on that milestone before thinking about the next one, but I have lots of wanderlust left inside me. My kids are also very seasoned travelers now and I think my wife and I have instilled in them the same excitement and awe of exploring the world as our own. I still prefer window seats and I still think about the world passing by below me the whole time I'm airborne. While my mileage count will continue to increase some things won't change.

Join MileagePlus to start earning miles from the world's most rewarding loyalty program℠ and share your story with #UnitedJourney.

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