Cape Town Mileage Run – March 2012

Between February and April, I logged 39 segments covering nearly 76,000 miles and touched 5 continents. That was by far the most I’ve ever flown in such a short period. I’m slowly going back and documenting some of those travels. In this post, I’m going to cover a very quick mileage run I took to Cape Town, South Africa (just 3 months after our big trip to Africa).

A mileage run is a trip whose primary (sole some would argue) purpose is to earn miles. In most cases, it’s for the elite qualifying miles that help the flyer achieve a higher level of status within the airlines loyalty program. This is one of two I took during this time period.

Booking Details

This was a KLM fare that was bookable via Delta.com. My specific schedule cost about $850 however fares of up to $150 less were available but they didn’t meet the constraints I needed to work within. For what it’s worth, this Flyertalk thread covered the opportunity in detail. I owe a lot to the wonderful community over there.

Primary among those constrains was that the fare originated out of DC or NYC and so I needed to deal with positioning. I managed to find a way to route a work trip to Minneapolis such that I had an extended stopover in DC on the way home at very little additional cost. Within that stopover, I was able to take the trip to Cape Town.

As to the cost…well, that was covered almost entirely with vouchers from being bumped off other Delta flights so while the ticket value was $850, the actual out of pocket was much, much less.

The routing itself was very simple : Washington Dulles to Cape Town via Amsterdam totaling 19,730 flown miles. Many others included stopovers in Amsterdam, convoluted routes within the US, and connections through Johannesburg. My constraints didn’t allow it, unfortunately.

As a Delta Platinum or Diamond, you may book into Economy Comfort class even on KLM however all this really offers is seating at the front of the plane with some extra legroom and recline. The seat width is the same. Oh…and perhaps extra alcohol but I try to minimize that on big, fast trips like this. And flagging down the attendant is more difficult than in business or first.

In simple terms then, this mileage run had a cost per mile of $.043. That’s good but not outstanding. The motivator here was that Cape Town is a really, really great place to visit and despite having been there nearly a week just 3 months prior, I had no reservations about going back.

Additionally, as a Delta Diamond, I earn a 125% bonus on redeemable miles thus this itinerary yielded 225% * 19730 = 44,392 skymiles.  When those are deposited into my account, I value them at $.015 each so that amounts to a rebate of $665.89.

So basically, I turned a lot of Delta vouchers + a little cash into 44,392 Delta Skymiles on this trip…and I made a big step toward requalifying for high status with Delta… And got to see Cape Town.

Most people would look at all that time on a plane and shudder. I accept that but if you accept that I don’t mind, then it kind of makes sense doesn’t it?

I’ve dwelled too long on the booking details already. Let’s move on to this very fast trip.

The Trip

I played it safe by choosing the earliest MSP-IAD leg I could and arrived at the airport ready to work. In truth, I really wanted to take the fast trip over to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, having visited the museum on the national mall earlier in the year. That said, it was a workday so I couldn’t bring myself to make that side trip and thus I headed to the Air France lounge. The lounge was quite nice…most of the time I was the only one there and so it was easy to concentrate and get quite a bit done. It was my first trip to Dulles (IAD) so these mobile lounges struck me as pretty interesting and were fun to watch.

While sitting in the lounge though, I did book a Delta mileage run to Singapore which I’ll cover another time. I knew I was getting in pretty deep booking another long-haul MR while actively on one.

I tried to sweet talk myself into an operational upgrade since the flight was showing full but it didn’t work… I’d heard about a fair number (not a majority by far) of op-up’s for high status Delta flyers who’d done the trip before me and this looked like this segment was well suited to it. Oh well. Upgrades are nice but I try never to complain that I only get what I paid for.While we were boarding the KLM A330, an Air France A380 parked itself at the gate next to us. I wasn’t the only one that took a step back in awe. The plane absolutely filled the view through the windows of the concourse. I’d seen a few taxiing around from afar but never right in my face. Wow.

The flight to Amsterdam was pretty uneventful. Economy Comfort was an improvement but hardly something that blew my socks off. Ate my meal, drank a glass of wine, did my whole routine to set up for sleeping, and nodded off on the overnight flight. Deplaning in Amsterdam was quick (one nice thing about being toward the front of the plane) and I had just enough time to make it to a KLM Lounge and get a few snacks. I don’t recall the specifics but their snacks left a bit to be desired. Perhaps if I was Dutch. And the lounge was FULL. Atlanta Concourse B on Thursday at 5:30pm full.

Soon it was on to the 777 for my AMS-CPT leg. Asked again about an upgrade and was told “I’m sorry. It is not possible.”  Same routine over again. Eat, sleep (or try to), play with AVOD, Eat, read, land. On the way there, it was fun to fly over the Sahara.

On landing, I picked up my car at the Hertz station at the terminal. There were some extra fees, or taxes, or something in there that I recall being annoyed by and which I was pretty certain hadn’t been added on my last rental from the same station just 3 months prior, making it one of my more expensive 1 day rentals. Nonetheless, took the car and headed into Cape Town. Last time I’d been here, my wife was navigating and we got a little mixed up. This time, I’d pre-loaded GPS maps for Cape Town and proceeded on my own (had paper maps printed too, just in case). It went fine and I rolled into the Westin Cape Town, where we’d stayed a couple of nights previously. One nice thing is that parking is offered for free though parking in Cape Town seems inexpensive in general to me. Given how short my time was, making my life easy by staying at the same hotel was pretty appealing. The hotel seemed pretty nice and SPG Cash and Points was rate was 4000+US$60. I’d recently cancelled my Amex Platinum card but my SPG Gold status was still registered so I crossed my fingers. The offered a 500 SPG point option or, well, something else. I opted for the points. The room’s that we’ve had aren’t large but they seemed nicely finished and well maintained and that worked for me. It was pretty easy to fall asleep…

Checked out, left my bag there and walked a bit less than 2 miles up Long street, drawn to the well reviewed Eggs Benedict of Caffé Milano. On the way there, I crossed a movie shoot. I keep waiting to notice the shot in something I see as it seemed like quite the production. For what it’s worth, that happens a lot in New Orleans. I digress…

I’m a sucker for egg dishes for breakfast. This was good but missing something. I was expecting the flavor to be a bit stronger. I wish I could put my finger on it. I’m pretty sure they had Tabasco and that makes everything better. Anyway, a foodie I’m not. Perhaps that’s another reason why I can tolerate the food served on planes.

Continued my walk, back down to the Company Gardens which really are quite beautiful, visited the South African Jewish Museum, and the South African National Gallery. The latter point had an interesting exhibit titled “entitled Windows on War, displays a selection of Russian posters and lithographs, produced in the Soviet Union during world war two and given to the South African Library in 1954.” It was a nice visit but the museum struck me as small compared to many we’ve visited.

Following that, I had a quick lunch and chatted up a few locals then returned to the hotel and picked the car up for a quick drive over and around Camps Bay and up Signal Hill. Cape Town really is set in quite the spectacular location. There’s a lot more to do in Cape Town but I was mostly focused on seeing some things we’d not seen in the nearly 1 week we spent there in November 2011.

For what it’s worth, after writing this, Rory in South Africa found this post and I took a look at his blog. Check it out… the photography alone is worth it. You’ll be inspired. I’m looking forward to his trip to America. I’m way off topic now though…

Back to the airport… was able to use the Bidvest Premier Lounge though I’m not sure I was technically eligible.

I lucked out and got 3 economy comfort seats to myself which was almost enough room to stretch out on the overnight flight to Amsterdam on the 777. Another short connection and on to the A330 to DC and a couple separately booked connections and I was home. So, there you have it, a 3 day weekend trip to Cape Town is absolutely possible. I was a bit more leisurely on this trip than some other similarly fast trips. It was nice that I’d been there before and didn’t feel so compelled to pack everything in.

Next up: Fairbanks, Alaska!

About 10 days after returning from this trip, we continued onto the Fairbanks, AK weekend trip covered in this post with booking details here.

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