TODAY   |  November 30, 2012

‘Mileage addicts’ fly to boost frequent-flyer miles

For some air travelers, the journey, not the destination, is the only objective. “Mileage addicts” fly to far-flung places on the opposite side of world for the sole purpose of earning the maximum number of frequent flier miles or frequent traveler upgrades. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>>> back at 7:44 were. it's the weather or costly delays and cancellations, a lot of people would do just about anything to avoid flying and that's not the case for so-called mile runners who can't wait to get to the next flight. nbc's janet shamlian is in houston to explain.

>> reporter: crazy, right? who would spend more time in the airport than they absolutely had to? this is extreme travel, and right now it's the most critical tame of year for people who do this, because they are trying desperately to beat that end of the year deadline. a wild sky high endurance race , with fierce warriors criss-crossing the globe.

>> i went to beijing for a day.

>> reporter: their mission miles, lots and lots of them.

>> once you get started it's kind of like a bug.

>> reporter: it's called a mileage run, trips where the journey, not the destination is the sobel objective. mile masochist, some might consider crazy. after all, why would you spend more time in an airport or airplane than you possibly had to? is this sport for you?

>> it's a game.

>> reporter: gaming the system, by finding cheap fares with lock routes to accrue airline status levels, perks and most importantly frequent flyer miles for future freebies.

>> to know me is to fly with me.

>> reporter: think up in the air.

>> the miles are the goal.

>> reporter: brian cohen seeks out extreme itineraries.

>> i went from atlanta to pittsburgh , to watertown, new york, to pittsburgh and denver and santa ana and pittsburgh and back to san francisco and back to atlanta for less than $75.

>> reporter: too good to be true.

>> and this man is on board for three days in the air.

>> in my quest to make travel free and more comfortable it's important to get those upgrades and important to have that status.

>> reporter: to get it, howie found a ticket he says anyone can buy. it will take him on six flights, halfway around the world , for a total fare of $665. a bargain considering. we had him take a camera along for the wild ride.

>> my first flight is from d.c. to atlanta .

>> reporter: okay, simple enough.

>> at the gate 20 minutes early.

>> now it's on to new york.

>> about four and a half hours in.

>> reporter: right off to istanbul, a ten-hour trip.

>> my upgrade cleared, and i'll hopefully get a good night's sleep.

>> reporter: half a day in turkey and howie is back on a flight to paris.

>> think i'm running on a little bit of adrenaline right now.

>> reporter: no time for the eiffel tower , only an hour before leaving for salt lake city , another 12 hours in the air.

>> 54 1/2 hours in.

>> reporter: we caught up with him in utah where there was one flight to go, salt lake to baltimore. in all howie traveled a mind-blowing 14,000 miles and with elite bonuses he's earned 30,000 plus, enough to propel him to delta's diamond level in 2013 and he'll eventually to use those miles to travel for free.

>> there are hundreds of thousands of people that do this.

>> reporter: howie blogs about his travel tricks and says the online forum on is a treasure trove for extreme frequent flyers who constantly monitor new fares for low cost long hauls.

>> we're trying to beat the system. been to 65 different countries using these techniques.

>> reporter: the frugal travel guy hosts seminars on how to travel on the cheap, like the atlanta to honolulu trip he took with wife kate for $152 round trip .

>> he loves the game. he loves the chase.

>> reporter: and chasing miles is like a drug for these folks, with inevitable side effects .

>> i'm exhausted.

>> reporter: but fatigue is a small price to pay, says howy.

>> it is a thrill. every time i get on a flight it's a new experience, and it's kind of amazing.

>> reporter: how do you find fares like this? bottom line, invest a lot of time, search the travel blogs and if you find a deal you have to buy it immediately because they are go within minute and then have you to take the sgligt have