Air travelers with an abundance of reward miles still enjoy upgrades, lounge access and free flights, but some savvy flyers also score tickets to NFL games, backstage concert passes and can even try their hand at flying a passenger jet or cut in line at dozens of tourist attractions.
When passenger Dan Hopper stepped aboard the first class cabin of a United Airlines aircraft in June, he was enjoying the trip of a life time, but the plane was never scheduled to depart. Hopper and dozens of other MileagePlus members redeemed as many as 420,000 miles to tour the airline’s final remaining retired Boeing 747 jumbo jet before it was dismantled permanently.
The small group of frequent flyers were not only able to take time to appreciate the end of an era soon to be relegated to the annals of aviation history, but were also treated to a 7-course dinner on the tarmac of a makeshift Boeing 747 boneyard. The air miles spent on this one-of-a-kind experience could have covered the cost of a tropical vacation or transatlantic airfare for any number of passengers, but a growing number of frequent flyers are enticed by special VIP access rather than free travel.
“I’ve been infatuated with the 747 ever since I was a little kid,” Hopper told reporters. “I think it’s great, because this is something incredibly unique. Flying to Rome, it can be done. This, not so much. I think it’s worth it.”
The “Dinner with the Queen of the Skies” package was among United’s most unique experiences that are available only to MileagePlus members (the auction certainly drew some of the highest bids ever), but for frequent flyers looking for an exclusive experience not available to the general public, there is a slew of other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities on offer.
Passengers nostalgic for the golden age of flight can bid on equipment salvaged from the airline’s retired 747 fleet. Windows, seats and even a cockpit altimeter are available to bid on. While tickets to Frozen on Broadway are hard to come by for New Yorkers and tourists alike, MilePlus members can get a pair of tickets and a chance to meet cast members for 45,000 miles.
Especially optimistic football fanatics can exchange 50,000 miles to travel with the Cleveland Browns to an away game in New Orleans. Diehard Browns fans who happen to be MilePlus members have a chance to ride on the team charter plane and even stay at the same hotel as their hometown NFL heroes.
Passengers with elite status at United can also bid on packages that allow flyers to take the controls of a passenger jet. No, MilePlus member aren’t allowed to actually fly the airline’s jets, but they can do the next best thing with packages that allow frequent flyers to use the real flight simulator at the airline’s training center.
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines passengers can eventually redeem miles earned while flying commercial to reserve a Delta private jet. Of course, an hour-long trip will cost SkyMiles members upward of a million miles. For a much more reasonable 6,000 SkyMiles, members can be ushered past the crowds to the top of the Empire State Building. Frequent Delta Airlines flyers are also eligible to earn VIP treatment at The House that Ruth Built. Four luxury suite passes to a Yankees home game start at just 75,000 miles.