Hacking the "Catch Me If You Can" Challenge for an Upgrade

Last month, Gilbert Ott of God Save The Points announced his “Catch Me If You Can” challenge to much fanfare.

In full disclosure, Gilbert is a good friend of mine and he told me about this fantastic idea he had several days before he launched the challenge.

Do you mess with your friends when they do something cool? I certainly wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.

As a flying enthusiast, I thought about how I might be able to figure out where he would be going, on what airline, and what flight number. It seemed like a tall order.

Then, British Airways stepped up to partner with him and give away upgrades to the first 10 people who found him on two flights in one weekend. Fools!

At this point I was channeling Liam Neeson in Taken (maybe not quite as intense)... “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. I will pursue you. I will find you. And I will take the upgrade.”

Just like the movie!

He seemed to have forgotten what kind of person I am. If that horrible Liam Neeson spoof didn’t do it for you, let’s go with this… I made 45+ phone calls to book a 90% off first class promo award with Garuda Indonesia that departed from Amsterdam for Jakarta. No big deal, except that I live in Washington, DC. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do and Garuda first class was totally worth it.

So, back to the challenge. Gilbert had announced his partnership with British Airways and I knew this was my chance to hack the challenge.

Over the next couple of days, I followed (stalked?) Gilbert’s every move on Twitter and on God Save The Points to make sure I didn’t miss a clue. Knowing that he’s based in New York, I assumed at least one of the flights would be from JFK to London-Heathrow.

I tracked award space on British Airways and seat availability in business class (thanks, ExpertFlyer). I figured it would be a flight with a bunch of open business class seats as well as blocked off seats and narrowed it down to 3 flights thanks to some clues that were being dropped on Twitter.

Feeling pretty good about my guess, I confirmed that there were economy class award seats available. I now needed to make sure I had the required Avios to book the award. I only had about 2,500 Avios in my account, so I needed another 17,500 for the required 20,000 to get a ticket.

Amex transfer bonus promos are a great time to transfer Membership Rewards if you need an award flight.

Amex transfer bonus promos are a great time to transfer Membership Rewards if you need an award flight.

American Express was running a 40% transfer bonus promo, so I chose to transfer 12,500 Membership Rewards to get the remaining 17,500 Avios I needed (plus ~$150 in taxes/fees). After about an hour, my transfer processed (whew!) and I quickly booked my seat.

Next, I booked a cheap flight from Washington, DC (DCA) to New York City (JFK).

Does it feel like this is a little out of control at this point? Sure, it probably is. But, dammit, I had a friend to mess with!

If I got the flight wrong, I would be guaranteed a snug ride to Europe for 48 hours and a wasted chance to ambush a friend at the airport! I know, I know. There are worse things to be wrong about, but still.

The day of the flight arrived and Gilbert revealed what flight he’d be on that evening with a big hint on Twitter and it was the flight I picked!! Hope was still alive! Seriously, if you aren’t following him on Twitter, you’re going to be kicking yourself when you miss a chance for an upgrade.

Now, I just needed to get to JFK on time and find him before he boarded the flight. Piece of cake! I was flying Delta. They always brag about being on time. I had this thing locked up.

Wrong.

As I boarded the plane, I noticed the impending doom approaching the airport. Dark clouds and torrential rain were on the way. Oh, and I had to gate-check my carry-on (this will be important later).

As we taxied to the runway, I hoped and prayed we could sneak out before the storm hit.

No dice.

And so we waited… and waited… and waited a little more. After an hour waiting for the rain to subside, we finally got off the ground.

The little pink sign taunting me as I wait for my bag at JFK's Terminal 2.

We arrived at JFK at the very far end of the terminal where I anxiously waited for my gate-checked bag. What if there was an issue? What if my bags didn’t make it on the flight?! These are the thoughts that ran through my head as I watched people exit the jetway and move on with their lives.

Fortunately, my bag finally arrived. Now, all I had to do was walk the length of Terminal 2, take the AirTrain to Terminal 7, and get through security.

Enjoying the view of a few British Airways 747s while on the AirTrain.

I hustled through the terminal, took a breather on the AirTrain, arrived at the British Airways check-in area and saw that Gilbert had since moved on. Off to security, I went.

**Side note: How in the hell is British Airways not part of TSA PreCheck, yet?! Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and yet not British Airways which operates 10 flights out of JFK alone every single day!**

There’s nothing like hustling across an airport only to stand in a security sweating like a fool while you wait for 20-30 minutes to make your way through.

I noticed on Twitter that Gilbert had gone to the Concorde Room so I took off that way. I thought about trying to talk my way into the lounge but decided to search the terminal before taking this route.

I had this wonderfully elaborate plan of filming him as I ambushed him... only to find MYSELF surprised to see him come around the corner! He freaking took me by surprise! I was supposed to mess with HIM, not the other way around!

The British Airways rep with him at least seemed a little surprised to have me pop up out of nowhere. Small victory. He asked for my boarding pass and passport… I fumbled my phone and almost dropped it. Gilbert just looked amused that I actually went out of my way to do this.

Since he knew I was looking for him, I half-expected Gilbert to have devised a scheme to mess with me. Something like having the British Airways rep to say, “Oh, no. Your ticket isn’t eligible,” and so he could watch me sulk away feeling like a fool.

Or, what if I were too late and they had given away all the upgrades already?! Lucky for me, even with my delay, I made it in time!

But, that didn’t happen. I did make it in time. The rep from British Airways said “Great! Come with me to the gate,” where he reissued my ticket.

Celebrating my upgrade with a little champagne and a snack on the upper deck of this British Airways 747.

Watching my ticket be reissued was a thrill and I was looking forward to celebrating my 20,000 Avios business class ticket with some bubbly once on board. I laughed as I walked away thinking how this was completely ridiculous, yet so much fun.

You might be thinking I’ve lost my mind but think about what you can accomplish by using miles and points for award tickets. A last minute flight to London for 20,000 miles and roughly $150 in taxes and fees. Try booking a last minute cash ticket for less than that!

With that in mind, I’ll throw out my own mini-challenge. You can have my first class seat on any of my flights between Washington, DC and New York City for the rest of the year if you find me.

Oh, you want my international first class seat? Well, I’m happy to help you use your miles and points to do so but I’m keeping that seat!

Hint: If you want to find Gilbert in an airport and trade seats with him so you can sit in business or first class on an international flight, I hear he spends a lot of time in Tokyo.