That’s one hell of a terminal change

I’m in the process of hunting for a cheap way to get 2,080 miles on some combination of Star Alliance carriers before the end of the year, having fallen short of the magical requalification threshold by that much. (This is much worse than last year, where I was 84 miles shy, which required a one-way flight from Vancouver to fix.) It’s just enough miles that a quick trip to Alberta isn’t really feasable without some creative routings, and if I’m going to do something creative I might as well have some fun with it. Also, I’d like to keep the number of days on the road down as much as possible, which means doing a same-day turn if I can pull it off.

Also, we’re doing this in November or December. And I’ve had quite enough fun being stuck somewhere because of environmental problems this year, thank you very much. So: western and midwestern spots affected by snow are a bad idea. East coast spots affected by hurricaines and storms are also a bad idea. Practically speaking, for Star’s hub route structure across North America, this means: no Toronto, no Montreal, no Chicago, no Philadelphia, no Denver, no Newark (well, Newark should never be on that list anyway). This refusal to accept the major eastern hubs pretty much deletes the southeast as a potential mileage run destination. I’m not in the mood to do a trans-Pacific, and as I say, I only need 2,080 miles, so there isn’t much point in spending more time than absolutely necessary to accomplish my goal(s).

Considering the limitations, it pretty much comes down to Texas, Nevada, California, and Arizona. Enter the ITA Matrix. They have a new version of the tool (you can find it on the right), but I much prefer the older, less-slick interface. If you dig around a bit, you eventually discover the route query language, which — when combined with the month-long view — makes for one hell of a useful method of finding the right combination of cheap destinations when you don’t actually care where you end up.

I’ve learned a few interesting things using ITA this past week. One very interesting thing is that getting to San Diego from Victoria is unreasonably difficult, even if you’re willing to expand to non-Star Alliance carriers. Another is that, despite direct service from Vancouver to Houston (on Continental) and Dallas (on American), getting to Texas isn’t cheap. (Though having said that, if I needed to be in, say, East Texas and didn’t care about alliances or miles, I could fly through Seattle and go direct to Austin on AS. This… does not help me.)

A third thing is that you need to be very careful when agreeing to change terminals, because ITA has a very loose definition of what a terminal change means. It’s one thing to be willing to fly into, for instance, MCO and out of TPA — they’re theoretically in the same city (for varying definitions of the concept of “city”). It’s quite surprising, on the other hand, to look at a proposed itinerary and discover that your change of terminal involves going to a different state — fly into LAS, leave from LAX.

I bet if you weren’t really paying close attention, that might seem quite reasonable.

As for what I’m going to do? Probably YYJ-YVR-LAS and return, or something like that, on a same-day turn. If I can find it for cheap on the weekend (hah!), K. and I might make a quick trip out of it (I am still getting silly offers from the Wynn, and I’m told rooms in Las Vegas are wicked cheap right now) — just so this isn’t a pointless expenditure of money solely for the sake of flying around. But I’m also considering YYJ-YVR-SFO, with enough time in San Francisco to get down to the waterfront, have a Manhattan and the hangtown fry at Tadich, and back out to the airport again. That’s a good reason to get on a plane, right?