Pizza leftovers in refrigerator

This is the last of the pizza, I think — unless there are still more zip-top bags of it crammed into the back of the vegetable crisper. I have been eating pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since Thursday night, as a way of maintaining airline miles.

We may be living in the midst of the Great Recession right now, but there was a time when we used to enjoy a little occasional air travel. As a result, I currently have 44,956 redeemable United MileagePlus airline miles, and Amy has 44,696.

Okay, so we’re not not exactly Randy Peterson or anything, but we have this little mileage nest egg and we would like to hold onto it. However, as United began to remind us, June 30 marked the expiration date for our frequent flier miles.

What we had to do, per United’s FAQ, wasn’t very difficult:

Any activity on your account, whether you earn or redeem miles, keeps your mileage balance intact for the next 18 months. Purchase a ticket and fly on United, United Express or a Star Alliance airline; book and travel on a United Vacations package; make a purchase with your Mileage Plus Visa; earn miles with any of our Mileage Plus partners; or simply purchase miles directly from and add to your current balance. Redeeming airline miles for Award travel, merchandise, car rentals, hotel stays and more also counts as activity on your account.

To purchase Personal Miles® would cost us $67.25 for 1,000 miles each. I didn’t really want to invest $134.50 just now.

United has all sorts of Mileage Plus partners, but not all the options will ratchet up miles in just a few days. Grocery Miles, for instance, asks that you “Please allow 4-6 weeks for miles to appear in your Mileage Plus account.” Many of the retail partners have similar buffers.

I started my frantic work on this project on the afternoon of last Thursday, June 25.

Ultimately, I settled on returning to a program I had joined some years ago, United Mileage Plus Dining®. You register a credit card, buy a meal with that card at a participating restaurant, and your mileage rewards automatically accrue in short order.

It would be a better program if more restaurants participated in it. Last time around, I remember eating at some disappointing Mexican place in Milwaukee which used Velveeta cheese on their enchiladas. Pretty soon, we had exhausted all potential restaurant options and tired of the emails, so we filtered them out and forgot about Mileage Plus Dining.

Thursday, I opted back in, and the customer service representative who helped me reset my security question and update my mailing address over the phone could not have been nicer or more efficient. Wonderful support.

Next, we needed a restaurant. Our nearby options have not gotten much better. I started to think about having pancakes for dinner at any of several Perkins Restaurant & Bakery locations, but instead I settled on pizza.

Because we like to cook and are trying to eat healthy, we hardly ever eat pizza at all these days. Both of us spent most of our lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin — home to dozens and dozens of fairly unspectacular, family-run pizza parlors featuring pizzas loaded with cheese and calories and cholesterol.

Of these, one of the places we used to patronize also participates in the Mileage Plus Dining program: DeRango’s “The Pizza King” Restaurant.

A scheme began to hatch in my brain. The clock was ticking, and my pulse started to race a little.

First, I wanted to make sure DeRango’s was aware of their participation in Mileage Plus Dining — that my spending would be properly recorded and my miles promptly credited. I had visions of my guest check going into a shoebox marked “Mileage Plus” which would be taken to some dusty accountant’s office after the end of the year.

I phoned at 4:30, got immediately put on hold, and listened about forty times to a recording wishing me a hearty “Buon Natale!” and inviting me to have my Christmas party at DeRango’s. After finally hanging up, calling back, and explaining what had happened, I was put back on hold for a few more Buon Natales, and then suddenly disconnected.

It wasn’t the best sign of attention to administrative details.

Meanwhile, on Facebook and Twitter and the cable news networks, Michael Jackson had just dropped dead. Amy came home from work, we both gaped at the screens for a few minutes, then decided to go ahead with our plan anyway, because we were hungry.

Amy first phoned her order in to DeRango’s using our home landline and our last name. The guy on the other end asked if she knew she was calling Kenosha, since they don’t deliver to Racine. She said she knew; she would be picking it up. She ordered a large, “Frank’s Special House Pizza” because she likes that crust. She asked for cheese, sausage, and anchovies. I was not expecting her to say “anchovies,” but say it she did.

I waited about five minutes, then called from my cell phone, identifying myself only as “Mark.” I ordered a large cheese, sausage, tomatoes, and black olives on the “Old Fashion Italian Style” crust, which is also very good. Both of these crusts are heavier than a thin crust, but not as thick as a “Pan Pizza” or “Stuffed Pizza.”

Amy’s pie was about $19, mine about $20. For far less than $134.50, we would both keep our miles in good standing — plus have plenty of delicious pizza to boot.

Our orders would be ready in 30 minutes. It’s a 20-minute drive, so we watched 10 more minutes of Michael Jackson coverage before leaving.

On the way to Kenosha, flipping through both the Chicago and Milwaukee stations, I understood why radio is a dead medium. WBBM was running through its regular news schedule — baseball, traffic and weather together, business news — and WTMJ was broadcasting live from the opening day of Summerfest. Radio had no equivalent of Keith Olbermann repeatedly marking the current hour, minute, and second as if he were Walter Cronkite reporting the Kennedy assassination or the first man on the moon. I felt completely out of touch.

Parking in the DeRango’s lot, Amy and I went into a little act for the world, ignoring each other like a couple camouflaging an extramarital affair. We exited our vehicle through separate doors, and kept an anonymous distance inside DeRango’s at the pickup counter. Her pizza was ready to go, mine needed about two minutes more. We used different cards to pay, and no one noticed our similar surnames. She left alone with her pizza, waiting for me in the car.

I stopped on the way back to Racine for that quintessential pizza accompaniment: Beer.

So we went home and watched as much Michael Jackson coverage as we could stand, and had pizza and beer. Both pizzas were a truly enjoyable treat — really tasty, baked to golden brown perfection on crusts done just right.

On Friday, I had pizza for breakfast, followed by pizza for lunch. Then for dinner, I had some more pizza, plus beer. Amy, by then, was already shunning pizza, leaving even more for me — including her anchovy pizza, which took on a slightly off-putting character in microwaved leftover form.

In between eating pizza and drinking beer, I was checking our Mileage Plus Dining accounts every few minutes, but seeing no reflection of our pizza purchase. What I did spot was an unsettling notice at the bottom of my account summary: “Please allow 5-10 days for miles to post.” Gulp.

This, on top of the saturated fat intake, was probably not good for my blood pressure. At some point over the weekend, I discovered that I had gained six pounds, making me now heavier than Oprah at last check — despite a 20-mile bike ride early Saturday.

As of this glorious Monday morning, however, an enormous burden has been lifted from my air traveling shoulders. 55 miles have appeared in Amy’s Mileage Plus Dining account, and 58 have been added to mine. We are good to go for another 18 months — until just after Buon Natale 2010.

That should be right around the next time I get a serious craving for pizza.

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