Along the way, there was plenty of bragging about mileage runs — cheap flights taken only to accumulate enough miles to qualify for elite status.
Michael Rubiano, a Silicon Valley product manager did six such roundtrips to Chicago over eight days last month. He would catch a flight after work, sleep on the way to Chicago, immediately turn around and sleep on the flight home. Rubiano, 41, then showered in the San Francisco lounge, changed clothes and went to work only to repeat the trip eight hours later.
Each of his six tickets cost him less than $200 and, thanks to some bonus offers, earned him 11,076 miles on American to be used later for a dream vacation. All told, that gave him 66,456 miles and put him over the top in his annual quest to re-qualify for the airline's top elite status.
With that status he gets: another year of upgrades, free liquor, waived bag frees, the ability to skip security lines and double miles on all his flights. Compare that to the folks in the back who get ... well, there's a reason some in the industry refer to coach passengers as "self-loading freight."
"There were numerous folks on my flights doing the exact same thing," Rubiano said.
A free domestic coach ticket can be had for 25,000 miles. But that's not the goal. People in this group would rather shell out the $300 for the ticket and save for a big reward like flying first class to Asia for 125,000 miles, a ticket that normally sells for more than $10,000.
Once you start gaming the system, the miles rack up fast. Those on the MegaDo trip have a lifetime average of 1.6 million miles — earned through flying and credit cards — with American alone.
The man with the most: Michael Joyce, 61, from Forest Park, Ill. His lifetime total is more than 44.4 million. (The top AAdvantage member has 77.6 million miles but wasn't on this trip.) For eight years, Joyce, a former computer systems analyst, commuted between New York and Chicago. In 1994, he bought a lifetime unlimited-travel pass for $500,000 and now hops around the world for fun.
Less than a third of the miles he generates are actually flown. The rest come from various bonuses. Joyce donates miles to his church and gives flights to friends who can't afford vacations. He also bid 453,000 miles to secure a seat on the MegaDo.
(The MegaDo also raised more than $65,000 for charity, auctioning off items like a Qantas deck of cards, British Airways pajamas, model airplanes, fluorescent yellow rain suits worn by American's ground crew, two free tickets to Europe and 60,000 American miles.)
TEDDY BEARS, BUNK BEDS AND PLAYING TICKET AGENT
As with every good vacation, there was a chance to get souvenirs.
There was a stop at the Boeing store in Seattle — yes, there's really a Boeing gift shop. It's just south of downtown, steps away from the runway at Boeing Field. The group rushed in and stocked up on yellow 787 ties, aviator teddy bears, Boeing Christmas ornaments, garment belts fashioned out of airplane seatbelts and T-shirts saying: "If it's not Boeing, I'm not going."
But the real mementos were the photos. Most tourists snap shots in front of the pyramids, Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal. At Los Angeles International Airport, this group pressed up against a chain-link fence to take photos of a Cathay Pacific 777 nose to nose with a Qantas A380. There was something sexy about the way the two giant planes faced each other.
Once onboard, like kids set free on a playground, the passengers climbed into the cockpit, spread out in plush first class beds and crawled into the hidden bunk beds where crews nap during long trans-Pacific flights. Moments later, photos were on Facebook.
But what else would you expect from folks who, during a tour of an elite check-in area, were excited to play airline ticket agent?
"If I could strap wings to my back, I would," said Harry Livingston, 56, a former Navy flight surgeon, recreational pilot and emergency room doctor from New Rochelle, N.Y.