I enjoy reading, but it’s not often that I get to read a book that is so tied in to one of my own pursuits. After all, there is no book about trying to visit every county in the United States.
Though I suppose there are (lots of) books about trying to visit every COUNTRY — my favorite remains Around the World in 50 years by Albert Podell, which I found completely hilarious.
So when Randy Petersen (founder of Flyertalk, InsideFlyer and Boarding Area) sent me a copy of the new book Mileage Maniac, I knew I had to read it.
Mileage Maniac – who is Steve Belkin?
Mileage Maniac is by Steve Belkin, one of the original miles and points people. I first started getting into miles and points back in 2013, which seems like a long time ago, but the roots of travel hacking go back long before that. I had heard the name Steve Belkin before but didn’t really fully understand his place in the history of miles and points. It all started in November 1988 when he convinced 23 of his friends to all fly roundtrip flights over Thanksgiving under the name “Steve Belkin” in order to take advantage of a United Airlines triple miles promotion. This was of course before 9/11 and before the airlines or anyone was really strict about checking the names on tickets. After all the miles cleared, he was a mileage millionaire overnight.
Baht Run – it’s all fun and games until the DEA asks what you’re doing
Another of Belkin’s crazy schemes is nicknamed the Baht Run. This was a story that I had heard before but the details were fascinating. To take advantage of an Air Canada / Aeroplan offer to get Aeroplan Super Elite status, he hired 20 Thai nationals (10 disabled masseuses and 10 members of a rural village in northern Thailand). He paid them five times the average wage (which was still only a couple of dollars) to fly 200 flights back and forth on Thai Airways. The plan was working great (though not with some hilarious complications) when he got a call from the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Apparently this had tripped some alarms, as the area where these flights were taking place was known as the Golden Triangle, a hotbed for global opium smuggling.
Mileage Maniac book review
The entire book is full of stories like these – I read the entire book in one sitting because it was that entertaining. Some of the stories I had heard of before (like the Baht Run), but it was still amazing and entertaining to read a first-hand account. Belkin is a great storyteller and also weaves in his adventures with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, being detained as a Jewish man flying in the Middle East and a fake $39,000 trip to Cameroon sold on eBay.
Other travel books I recommend
Besides this book (and Around the World in 50 Years, which I already mentioned), here are a few of my other favorite travel and travel-adjacent books:
- The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison
- The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau
- The Other Side of Heaven by John Groberg
- Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (yep, the Jeopardy champion)
- To The Ends Of The Earth: The Selected Travels Of Paul Theroux by Paul Theroux
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
- The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
Where to buy Mileage Maniac
Mileage Maniac is available at many bookstores. You can get Mileage Maniac in paperback or Kindle from Amazon (affiliate link) – currently it’s less than $10 for either the paperback or Kindle version. If you’re into miles and points (and since you’re reading this blog, you probably are!), you will not be disappointed by the book.
If you’ve read Mileage Maniac, what did you think? What is your favorite miles and points story — either from the book or from your own experiences?
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