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"I Go to School by Plane," Says Student Who Flies to L.A. to Save on Rent in the Bay Area

This engineering graduate student takes their love of transportation to the extreme.

Taking the bus or driving to school is common for many looking to save on housing while attending university programs. One student took commuting to a whole new level, however, when they decided to fly to school, between Los Angeles and Berkeley, for a period of 10 months, to avoid Bay area rent.

"I had this crazy idea of living in LA and commuting to school by plane just to avoid expensive rent around campus (and bay area in general)," Reddit user greateranglia explained in a post on the r/berkeley subreddit. 

The Reddit user was accepted into a one-year engineering masters program, fittingly, in Transportation Engineering at University of California, Berkeley. After some meticulous planning, they realized it would be cheaper to keep their rent-free status in Los Angeles and fly back and forth with help from discounted flights, frequent flier miles, and credit card points.

Rent in the Berkeley area averages around $3,358 per month for a 696-square-foot apartment, according to RentCafe. Greateranglia stated that "student housing can cost a $1600 minimum per month for a single (excluding utilities)" and would require a year-long contract, despite the program only running from August to May.

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"Based on preliminary estimation, I could save at least $12k in total if I commute to school by plane," the engineer detailed in a post on FlyerTalk. The student kept tabs in Google spreadsheets on the bookings, timings, and other information relevant to their mission. 

At the end of the two semesters, they spent only $5,592.66 on the unconventional commute method. Expenses included flights, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) public transportation tickets, in-flight WiFi, airport parking, and gas money. 

The graduate student only had to attend class on campus three times a week, for the most part, with a few weeks requiring five visits. They commuted from five Los Angeles and three Bay Area airports depending on their schedule and availability. 

Some of their itineraries look brutal, with days beginning as early as 3:30 am so they could catch the first flight of the day. 

"LAX-SFO is one of the busiest corridors in the U.S., with 100+ daily nonstop flights across multiple airlines… For my 10am class, I would usually wake up 340am and take the 6am LAX-SFO Alaska flight… For the 8am class, I would always wake up 330am and take the 530am LAX-OAK Southwest flight," the post details.

If group work sessions or socializing was involved, greateranglia would fly back as late as 10:30 pm. Usually, they were able to take advantage of flights that got them home by 9:30 pm.

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"The door-to-door commute time between my home in LA and my classroom in Berkeley is 4-5hrs EACH WAY," greateranglia added. "So yeah, I spent a lot of time on my commute."

The enterprising student was able to save even more costs by taking advantage of free meals and drinks, as well as fast WiFi, from airport lounges using their lounge passes. Their posts on FlyerTalk share monthly roundups with images and details about their experience, outlining how they dealt with flight cancelations, class changes, and other unexpected bumps in the road.

Despite it all, the engineering student managed to make it through their program without missing any classes. Greateranglia even applied for a Guinness world record based on the longest distance of school commute within an academic year, but the application was ultimately denied due to the committee deeming it "more like a personal achievement and doesn't encourage competition." 

The student relayed that they "fell in love with transportation since I was young" on FlyerTalk. However, at the end of their Reddit post, they noted, "I wouldn't recommend anyone to attempt this."

Katka Lapelosova
Kat is a born and raised New Yorker exploring the world as she writes, eats, and everything in between. Read more
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