When I moved to Washington seven years ago, my flying and mileage-hoarding escalated. I was flying to Cleveland so much to see friends and family that I earned Silver Elite status, which offered me bonus miles and free domestic first-class upgrades when available. I became hooked on status after sitting “up front” for the first time on a return flight from Las Vegas. Tracking my elite status and miles flown became a daily habit as I tried to figure out exactly how many miles I needed to retain my status. I also began picking routes based less on the time of departure or arrival and more on first-class cabin size, avoiding Boeing 737-500s and looking for the 737-800s and 737-900s, which offered far more first-class seating, thus increasing my chances for an upgrade.
Continental’s elite fliers are rewarded with bonus miles along with the standard miles that all fliers receive. Last year I earned Gold status by flying just over 50,000 miles (elite status can also be earned based on the number of flights you take), but because of Continental credit cards and elite status bonuses, I banked almost 130,000 miles. The credit cards, which carry an annual fee of $95 each and have bonuses attached as well, got me about half those miles. The cost for a free round-trip domestic ticket? That starts at 20,000 miles; Europe can be had for 60,000. You can’t, however, earn miles or get an upgrade when traveling on a reward ticket. Often, when I redeem miles, I’ll use miles to “buy” my travel companion’s flight and then ask him or her to split the cost of my ticket so that I can still earn miles while redeeming them.