Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

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Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

Today, we have a guest post from one of my friends, John from JohnTheWanderer.  He is an avid fan of American Airlines and uses mileage runs to Asia to maintain his American Airlines Executive Platinum status.  With all of the rules changes that airlines are implementing to maintain status, combined with the reduction in value earned from low-cost and mistake fares, you have to wonder “are mileage runs totally dead?”

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Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

This article covers what a mileage run is, why one would go on a mileage run, and what is the present state of mileage runs.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?
Oh, the places you can go.

Who is John the Wanderer?

John is the lead contributor on the John the Wanderer Blog and is a travel enthusiast.

Ever since he was a child, he loved anything to do with travel. As a child, he would get travel brochures and would plan elaborate trips for my family. John researched the destination and pick the right place to stay and what to do there. His parents would be amazed at all the work that went into making their vacations amazing.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

Fast forward to today, John still loves planning trips and hopping on an airplane and being whisked off to a new city. While he no longer need brochures to plan a trip, he still searches online, uses miles and points to have incredible travel experience and he connect with other travelers to try to make the most of trips.

What is a mileage run?

A mileage run traditionally meant taking a trip with the sole purpose of earning miles in a frequent flier program. It could be anything from a 500 mile trip to one around the world.

Travelers would book these trips when the fare was low and would spend time up in the air earning valuable miles so that they could redeem those miles on a future trip.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?
Get ready to spend some time in a seat like this. We’re going on an adventure.

Oftentimes, people would do them to keep elite status while at the same time earning a ton of miles along the way.

For example, if your work has you traveling around 50,000 miles per year, and the airline your company books you on has a 75,000 miles per-year threshold for Platinum Elite Status, you might consider doing a mileage run for the 25,000 additional miles needed to reach the Platinum status.

Why would you do this you might ask? The answer is simple. Airlines award a lot of perks to customers that fly with them frequently by providing complimentary upgrades, reduced fees, additional support and many other benefits. By moving from the Gold level at 50,000 miles to the Platinum level, you could benefit from all your travel for the year.

How does a mileage run work?

You might ask how mileage run works? Until recently airlines awarded 1 mile per every mile flown. Plus, if you have elite status you could earn as much as 3-4x the miles. These miles could be redeemed for future travel.

Let’s say you found a cheap fare from New York to Singapore, which is approximately a 21,000-mile journey.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

If you had elite status on the airline, you would earn between 42,000-63,000 miles for the one trip.

Those miles could be used for a business class trip in the future or pooled with your other miles to redeem for an even more luxurious experience.

In addition, that trip would earn you 21,000 elite qualifying miles.

In the previous example of flying 50,000 miles for business, by adding this you would be at 71,000, leaving you just 4,000 elite qualifying miles short of the higher status.

Perhaps one or two other personal trips would likely get to the 75,000 and you could enjoy the elite status for your next year of travel. This is where a quick mileage run would push you over the edge to the next level of loyalty status so you could earn more perks on future flights.

Current State of Mileage Runs

Over the past two years, airlines have changed their frequent flier programs to revenue based models, which means that you earn miles based on the amount of money you spend rather than the number of miles you fly.

For example, a recent deal showed that a cheap New York to Singapore trip was available for around $500. Due to the rules changes, this flight would now earn you about 4,000 miles instead of the 42,000+ previously.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?
Who’s ready to earn some miles?

This is a huge decrease in miles and it makes earning redeemable miles outside of credit card spend significantly harder.

This devaluation made most travelers think twice about doing mileage runs as the amount of effort, time and money put into nets you with so few miles it doesn’t make sense anymore.

This essentially killed the mileage run as we know it.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

The decrease in earnings from 42,000 to about 4,000 miles is significant, such that it pretty much ended mileage runs…. But there is a caveat to this.

If you recall earlier in the article, I explained that many travelers would do mileage runs to earn or maintain elite status in an airline.

Going back to the example of a business traveler where work schedules you on about 50,000 elite qualifying miles per-year.

That traveler might still want the benefits that are part of being at a higher elite tier.  For example, 75,000 miles on Alaska Airlines, which is one of the world best frequent flier programs because of all their partners, earns you Alaska Airlines MVP Gold.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?
Who wouldn’t want complimentary champagne on every flight?

Someone at the 75,000 tier, gets free upgrades on Alaska Airlines, and some amazing redemption options such as 70,000 miles for First Class on Cathay Pacific from the US to Asia where you could sip Krug and eat lobster and caviar at 30,000 feet.

And there are more practical benefits, such as being able to cancel reservations without a change fee, complimentary in-flight entertainment, and priority for upgrades, standy, and waitlists.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

If you were that person, it might make sense to do an elite qualifying mile mileage run.

Most airlines still award 1 elite qualifying mile for every mile flown for travel on their own flights or codeshares.  So that individual could still take the New York to Singapore trip and earn 75,000 elite qualifying miles.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

Note: In the case of Alaska Air, they do not offer international flights outside of US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Flights on partners only earn a percentage of elite qualifying miles unless they are booked via the Alaska Air codeshare flight. As with any airline program, there are pros and cons.

Other Useful Mileage Runs

Other cases where a mileage run might still be useful:

  • In order to meet frequent flier match/challenge requirements such as the Delta Challenge which requires 18,500 MQM’s on Delta in a three month period, which either immediately grants Platinum Status or grants it at the end of the challenge.
  • When airlines put promotions on specific flight routes, those flights can earn bonus miles or points and cheap fares are available.

Earning Platinum Status on Delta

I recently went on a mileage run for the sole purpose of earning Platinum Status on Delta.

The trip was booked on Delta flying from New York to Detroit to Tokyo to Singapore and back. The trip earned about 21,000 elite qualifying miles and met the status challenge.

The flights were booked strategically, because if you do the match after July 1, you get Platinum status for the remainder of the year, as well as an additional full year. So, I’ll have the benefits of Delta Platinum status for about 18 months.

Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?

To me, the mileage run to Singapore was worth the benefits of being more comfortable while traveling over the next year and a half.

By the way, if you read the tips here on Bald Thoughts, you don’t even have to spend any out of pocket cash on a mileage run either if you use points from the Citi Prestige Card, Barclaycard, Capital One Venture card or US Bank Altitude. Yes, that is right, when you use these points to purchase your flight, you’ll still earn miles and status!

The Bald Thoughts

While airlines will change their frequent flier programs, there can still be value in a strategic mileage runs when it is based on elite qualifying miles. Taking mileage runs for the sole purpose of redeemable miles may be dead, the Mileage Run itself is not completely dead!

What do you think? Are Mileage Runs Totally Dead?


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9 COMMENTS

  1. For Status on American Airlines, it actually pays to fly One World partner airlines to get the most bang for your buck (EQD) and get the status.

    Good point about using those Bank Portals (Chase UR site and Citi TY site) to finance your flights for top airline status

  2. Mileage runs are very much alive for Alaska elites. The secret is using the incredibly useful companion tickets. For example, my wife and I are going BWI-SAN-HNL and back at a total price of $832 while earning 9794 EQM and 19,588 RDM each. My wife actually earns a bit more as a MVP Gold75K. Most people value AS miles at 2 cents each meaning we earned $783 worth of miles and had a vacation in HNL!

    • Glenn, thanks for the great suggestion on Alaska. The Companion Pass is very valuable. I’ve taken my son and wife the past two years to Costa Rica and Ixtapa, respectively, the past two years using that.

    • I really love the Alaska program. It has the best partners. Have you been able to get a reasonably priced international mileage run on them though? Most of the cheap fares operated by partners only earn 25% or so. Domestically or two Hawaii that’s a no brainier. I know you frequently can get some awesome deals on Alaska to Hawaii.

  3. I’m going to book a mileage run in December to maximize my SWU’s with AA EXP. Current planned travel falls at 147,000 EQM, so one mileage run on a cheap <$100 ticket gets me 2 more SWU's which are worth way more than that IMO.

  4. Mileage runs are still an option for those who are willing to fly Frontier, which has a frequent flier program that gives points based on miles flown. An airport near home started flights in October, and I flew in the inaugural flight from San Jose to Denver. However, having elite status in Frontier is not going to appeal to people who have had elite status on other airlines and expect lounge access, free checked bags, seat upgrades (and first class meals and amenities). Everyone, regardless of status or seat location, pays for a snack or soda/tea/coffee and checked bags. And, the points expire relatively quickly. Since the airfare tends to be inexpensive when there are one day and two day sales, I plan to use them again and do a mileage run so long as there is somewhere I would like to go. Even in the old days, the few mileage runs I did take were to places I would like to go and usually included a two night stay and some exploration. Even then, there was enough stress (long morning security lines leading to running through the terminal and being the last person on the plane before the door closed) or miscalculation on my part (short 500 miles!) to make the mileage run an ordeal.

    • You are right, I generally don’t look at sale fares by any of the discount airlines such as Frontier. I do know they have some pretty good deals though. I booked one for a friend but I noticed they always try to get you to pay an extra $79 or so to save money on flights for a year. Do you take part in that program?

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