Here’s When You Should Still Mileage Run — Even Though Mileage Runs are Dead

Mileage running for the redeeming miles, the idea that you could fly cheap fares and redeem the miles for expensive tickets, never made much sense most of the time or for most people. By the time you factor in the value of time spent in airports and planes – your opportunity cost – you were rarely saving money.

On the other hand, sometimes the flying itself was the enjoyment. Fares were cheap, promotions generous, and you’d get to see someplace new. The ‘pure’ mileage run, the straight turnaround in an airport, never made sense to me except in the most extreme cases – cheap fare during United’s quintuple miles offer years ago, long before their multiple hatchets to the award chart was one.

Mileage running for status from zero never made much sense to me. The amazing wanaflyforless once made American’s Executive Platinum status in something like 17 days from the start of the year without a double elite qualifying miles promotion. And he did it cheap. Why did he climb that mountain? Because it was there, and he could.

But in general the only reason you need elite status is if you’re actually flying anyway. And if you earn it one year so that you can enjoy it the next.. during the substantial amount you have to fly.

So mileage running for status only ever made sense to me at the margin. You’re already flying, say, 85,000 miles and the treatment is materially better once you fly 100,000. So you take a few incremental trips, see some places along the way, and make sure next year’s travel is that much more comfortable.

On Friday I highlighted a New York Times piece on the death of the mileage run. It was anchored to the shift programs are making towards becoming more revenue-based.

  • If you’re being rewarded a fixed number of points per dollar spent, you can’t leverage cheap fares to earn enough points which are then redeemed for really expensive trips. That’s not completely true, unless the program also goes revenue-based on the redemption side. But it’s certainly much more true than before, and it was already pretty true due to high overall airfares.
  • You have to spend a minimum amount to earn status, making it tough to earn status on the super-cheap. Of course it’s already tough to earn status on the super cheap with high airfares, the bar for minimum spend towards status already quite low, and customers outside the US and who spend on co-band credit cards have seen some exemptions.

There’s not a demarcation between pre-revenue based at United and Delta and a new revenue-based world where mileage runs no longer make sense. They aren’t didn’t for most people most of the time, and that became increasingly true as average airfares have risen and mileage award charts have gotten more expensive (making the rewards — in terms of redemptions — for the runs relatively less valuable).

That doesn’t mean that it never at any time makes sense to get on a plane for the miles anymore.

  • American hasn’t gone revenue-based at this point.
  • You can still credit Delta flying to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
  • You can credit United flying to Singapore Airlines and other carriers that will reward you with full flown credit even on low fares.
  • You can still credit partner flights to MileagePlus and earn based on fare class ticketed rather than price paid.
  • There are still mistake fares out there, where you can rack up flown miles towards status cheap — and then get out of the minimum spend requirement via residence or credit card spend.
  • Those trips at the margin can put you over the top towards status, and if you’re still going to fly a lot next year this can make real sense.

But those are some pretty limited cases, at least or especially for those who place a non-zero value on the time spent up in the air.

Though some have disagreed with my take that the ‘era of mileage running is over’ (which is different than saying there are no mileage runs that could ever make sense), I think it’s really fair to say that 2014 is very different than 2004. The idea of the mileage run has gotten gradually less rewarding.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The fourth and fifth paragraphs do a nice job in explaining why I personally do a small number of mileage runs per year.

  2. “Status” on any airline is of such a low value that I don’t see how anyone could ever justify the time wasted. Just the opinion of someone who doesn’t care whether their shoulder is 2″ or 5″ from the next person’s shoulder. It’s a seat on a bus, plain & simple.

  3. Gary, you do a good job of summarizing some of the reasons for mileage runs but you certainly did not cover them all because the reasons for doing it are as varied as the number of people taking them. The problem with many travel bloggers is they give advice as if their point of view is the only valid or logical one. There are millions of ff and an equal number of variations in personal circumstances which you have not considered or chose to ignore. To me the best advice given to a large group of people always acknowledgers that.

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