Editor's Note: CNN's Richard Quest is a business travel specialist and the host of "Quest Means Business."
(CNN) -- It is not one of life's greatest questions, but it's one any frequent flier will ask themselves at some point -- how far am I prepared to go to earn extra miles?
It all began in 1981 when American Airlines started AAdvantage. The idea was simple: create a program designed to keep passengers loyal to one airline. The other major carriers, who had been plotting and planning schemes of their own, quickly followed.
And that, as they say, was that. In short order, every major airline had a frequent flier program, and an entire new industry was spawned. In the past 30 years it is estimated we have earned more than 10 trillion miles (although no one really knows).
As the mileage craze grew, so did the number of ways we could earn.
Obviously, hotels and car rentals joined in. Then the airlines started selling the frequent flier points in bulk to banks and credit cards companies, so you earned as you spent. Look at American Airlines' website and it lists financial services, banking, mortgages and dining as some of the non-flying ways you can take part in the program.
For those of us who are obsessed by the subject, there is seemingly no end to the ways we can accumulate more miles. Even bankruptcy doesn't get in the way. In the 1990s when there were a slew of airline failures, several insurance companies offered protection against airlines going out of business.
While this is all excellent for the purposes of getting a free trip, for the mileage aficionado it completely misses the point. The real lover of the frequent flier program is much more concerned with earning miles, in as many different ways as possible, for the least amount of money. In other words the true frequent flier is more interested in playing the game.
I first fell in love with playing the game in the 1990s when I was a few thousand miles short of reaching the platinum level on Continental Airlines. It was my fourth year as platinum flier, and if I reached it once more I would become platinum for life.
I had to take a trip before the end of the year to get over the limit. So I started searching around, trying to discover how to earn the most miles in the quickest time, for the least money. I soon realized I had stumbled into the twilight world of The Mileage Run, which is made up of frequent fliers who take flights for no other reason than to earn the miles either to reach elite status or just to earn more miles.
I made the infinite elite status by taking a few extra flights, and I was hooked.
I downloaded Flying Fish, a program that lets you work out your miles earned (including elite and fare bonuses) just to make sure I was getting maximum bang for the buck. And I even started to learn how to use ITA software to find the most complicated routings to earn the most miles.
Because a true player of the game won't waste a mile, we will route ourselves through different airports, making extra connections and stops if required, to boost the total. What else would explain my trip from London to Tokyo on the following routing LHR-ORD-SFO-NRT (London-Chicago-San Francisco-Tokyo)?
Am I alone? Far from it.
I tweeted recently asking how far you were prepared to go for extra miles. I wasn't surprised with the results.
One person tweeted they'd flown "BOS-SFO-SEA-NRT-BKK-TPE-SIN-KCH" (Boston-San Francisco-Seattle-Tokyo-Bangkok-Taipei-Singapore-Kuching, Malaysia) rather than "BOS-LAX-SIN-KCH" (Boston-Los Angeles-Singapore-Kuching).
Another reported they'd traveled SFO-LAX-SFO-HNL-GUM-MNL (San Francisco--Los Angeles--San Francisco--Honolulu-Agana, Guam-Manila, Philippines) rather than SFO-MNL (San Francisco-Manila).
Both these trips seem barking mad to normal people, but perfectly reasonable to the frequent flier fan. For those corporate suits worried about extra expenses, such roundabout routings can usually be booked for no more than the usual price -- sometimes less because they are not popular routes.
There was also a woman who pays the rent, the car payments and the groceries on her credit card to maximize the miles. The mantra is clear. Never spend or travel unless there's a mile to be earned.
Of course, much of the effort has more to do with keeping elite status than building up a bundle of miles. After all, most frequent fliers have more than enough miles for their individual travel needs. Instead, it is the horrible annual pilgrimage to reach gold or platinum status before the end of the year and keep the precious status that really counts.
Sometimes we can torture logic: once when I needed some qualifying miles, but didn't have time to take any extra flights, I wondered if I bought a ticket but didn't take the flight, would I still get the miles? After all, why would the airline care if I actually sit on the plane? They have my money, I should get my miles, I reasoned. They said no! It's a frequent flier scheme not a miles purchase scheme (which many now also have).
So how do you play the game properly? You jump in with both feet. Start somewhere like FlyerTalk -- a wonderful reservoir of knowledge on making the most of miles. Newbies are welcome. And you read every bit of information that ever comes from every program you have ever joined.
These days there are so many, and airline alliances have made it much easier to accumulate them quickly. But remember the devil is always in the detail. Get the idea?
There will be some readers who will wonder, why bother? Surely it's all a waste of time. Nonsense! There are few finer moments than when you realize that you have squeezed extra miles from a trip, a purchase or a meal. And those miles came about all because you learned how to play the game.