New York attorney Elliott Kroll earned a million miles and he never even gamed the system.
The business traveler has never done a "mile run," nor has he signed up for a rewards credit card that would earn him more points.
"Really, I'm just careful to maximize my miles and not lose opportunities to gain more," he told Business Insider.
"I've always tried to be sensitive and check airline codes so I fly the most direct route. But I think you have to balance earning airline miles with becoming obsessed to the point where it gets in the way of your lifestyle."
The only reason Kroll became a "million miler" in the first place was because of his on-the-go schedule. An insurance attorney based in New York for the past 35 years, Kroll frequently flies to Europe and occasionally Asia and the Middle East. But it was only five years ago when he decided to put all those international miles he'd clocked in to good use.
"I took a look at my American Airlines statement and said, 'Wow, I'm not that far away from being a million miler,'" he recalled. "So where it made sense I would take American and not any others. Relatively quickly the miles added up."
Though joining the club wasn't his "highest priority," Kroll still sought "reasonable fares with good routings and times," and tried to "max out whatever miles he could" at participating car rental services and hotels. Expedia and Hotels.com were useful for "getting an idea of the market," he said.
By 2008, all the hard work paid off and Kroll received a package announcing the news. Inside was a pin and a badge that granted him access to the world of elite status: a special hotline for reservations, 20 upgrades for domestic flights and unlimited free baggage check-ons. For someone who takes "20 trips in an average year," the latter saves Kroll $500 since check-on costs $25 per bag.
"The best part is I never have to worry about maintaining the status," he said, "and when I have to change flights, I have the advantage of the airline being more helpful and having that special phone line I can call."
And that's not all. He also receives better fares and hardly ever waits in line.
"It makes a big difference with the ease of check-in, not paying the baggage fees and having priority boarding," said Kroll. "It takes the hassle out of flying."
Still, even the elite flier admits the industry has gone down in some ways.
"[Before deregulation in 1978] it used to be a lot more luxurious, there were fewer seats, so there was plenty of legroom," he recalled. "Before you didn't pay to be a frequent flier, you were invited. And the service was wonderful. On PanAm, they used to carve roast beef on the plane."
Today, Kroll swears by his million miler status — he's slated to join Delta next, but refused to say how many more miles he has left to go — and signing up for the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program, which expedites security and other check-in procedures by putting fliers on a special list.
"Before the hurricane, I got through security lines in a heartbeat," he said. "You don't waste time waiting in stupid lines, it makes an enormous difference."
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