I happen to be one of those people that travel on Sunday quite often for a Monday-Friday assignment. Sometimes the assignments are shorter, but the norm is the 4 or 5 day stint. I'll drive to as many locations as possible, but hopping on an airplane has been happening more and more for me. For years, I always took the view of direct flights when possible. Also, I like to arrive at my final destination in daylight.
My "relationship" with Marriott has turned me into a point junkie. I spend a few minutes searching for the biggest return for my buck when making Marriott reservations. If a hotel, 10 miles further, is offering a couple thousand points bonus, I'll book it and drive the extra miles. I've cut back on my favorite Residence Inn stays (5 points) in favor of FFI and SHS (10 points). Now, I earn lots of points, maintain the PP status and feel I've achieved a nice yin and yang for me and the Marriott.
My ability to max out on airline status is not quite there. I fly just enough to scrape the first level (ie Silver w/ USAir, Gold w/ American). In March of 2012, I checked in for my flight to find that I had lost my status with USAir. As Homer Simpson once said, Doh!!! I had lost sight of my status. I took my eye off the ball. That did not feel good. No more hopping on an earlier flight for free..no more first check bag free....no more decent seats on the plane. Well, I was determined to regain that status!
So, here's the question. Have you ever used connecting flights to help you attain status for an airline? I found myself doing a few PHL to DCA to BOS type of flights to get the extra "leg" in my goal for 30. In the end, I had my status back. It cost me an extra hour or two on a Sunday, but at the time, I felt it was worth it. Now I fear I'm getting addicted, similar to Marriott points, I'm now looking at an extra leg or two to help me achieve the higher status and perks. Have I gone over the edge? Am I alone out here in the points/miles syndrome?
I tell myself that I always fly connecting flights, mainly for the ability to get off the plane and stretch my legs after a couple hours. The doubling of segments, added miles, and visits to the Club have nothing to do with it. The fact that I've taken three legs when there was a nonstop available is sheer coincidence. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
My air travel in 2012 came to 160,000 miles or so, and 170 or so segments on United. Had I been able to get nonstops to most of my destinations, the segment count would be closer to 100, and the mileage more like 120,000. That's just a guess, but given the number of trips and where they were, I'd venture that at least 60-70% of my destinations require a connection anyway (lotta smaller towns).
More to the point of your question though, in 2011 I did a 9,000-mile run (PHX-LAX-EWR-SJU-EWR-LAX-PHX) over Christmas day, just to get over the 100,000 mile mark for the year (my slowest on record). 20 hours in the air and another 19 on the ground (and the $800 in airfare) just to cross a threshold. So no, you're not even close to the edge, much less over it.
I use to buy cheap Travelocity packages when they used my airline and a marriott for a couple of hundred dollars. Usually it was a 1 night stay, and I did to get miles for both. One of my Jan flites out of DTW on NWA, just about everyone sitting around me was doing the same thing. Many of them, were getting off at the destination, which for this trip was Frankfurt, and getting right back on to fly back. It was the equivalent of buying status in January to use for the rest of the year. Considering we use to charge for 'butt' time in consulting, or the consultants airline time, I couldn't help but wonder about my lost time. But flying over, eating at a favorite restaurant, visiting a site I missed on a previous trip, and suddenly the flite time didn't seem a waste.
I think its a very standard practice. In Dec its the folks trying to book the milest before the year ends (though some vendors it was the end of Feb), and during the 1st quarter trying to earn the status if they didn't make it the previous year.
In flying, for holiday and vacation, I frequently would try to schedule one of the legs of my flights on a holiday like Christmas or 4th of July. The planes were usually near empty and the fares were significantly lower than the days before or after. The last couple of years, I have noticed that the difference has disappeared.
Now I know why!!!
I try to do the same, to fly on the holiday for the lower prices and less crowding.
Prices are still lower, but not as much, but flites have definately gotten crowded. I think everyone is also trying to save money as well, since the highest price tickets have become astronomical. For my EWR-DTW flite, it was ~$1K for a 1 way ticket the weekend before xmas, and the days after. Flying on Christmas, initially was a couple hundred dollars, and last minute tickets were about half the cost of flying on the weekend or subsequent days.
If my travel last year was 100% nonstops (actually impossible), I'd have something like 86 segments; as it is, I did have a few nonstops, but also some three-leg trips (two connections between departure & destination). It all ended up at 171 segments, more or less. The mileage for the year was at least 20-25% more by connecting, since there's always the "elbow" of the hub, and many of the flights were only 150-300 miles—but are credited with 500. It adds up nicely.
Fascinating questions, painedplatinum - and some random reactions:
Once upon a time the European national airlines used to run Business Class extra day specials. Cross the pond on their national airline and then connect to another flight and they would give you a hotel for free for a day. Example, fly to Paris on KLM via Amsterdam and KLM would lay you over for a day and pay for a room at the Sonesta. Great way to get some free tourism.