Mileage Runs – They’re Not Dead…You Just Need To View Them Differently

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Mileage runs are flights taken for no other purpose than to accrue miles. A true and pure mileage run won’t even include a hotel stay….you fly into an airport and fly back out again as soon as the cheapest ticket will allow you to. If you’re lucky that will be about an hour after you land.

For for those who don’t play the miles and points game there are few things that make less sense than mileage runs. Most “normal” people don’t understand why anyone would fly from Los Angeles to Boston and back again in a single day if they didn’t have to….but plenty have done that and much more.

Back in the old days (pre all the mergers and when things were good) airlines threw miles around like confetti and it was often possible to sign up for double, triple and even occasionally quadruple mileage bonuses with the various US airlines….and that made earning miles nice and easy.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 22.35.57A week of flying for me (some routes more than once) during an American Airlines double miles promotion

The miles I’m discussing here are “redeemable miles” (RDM) and can be used for award travel on either the domestic carriers or any one of their partner airlines.

Mileage runners would book super-cheap fares between various US cities (usually as far apart as possible) and then fly the flights just to earn the miles the airlines were handing out. The miles they earned (very cheaply) could then be put to good use by booking (expensive) premium cabin awards to all parts of the globe on airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines….halcyon days!

Unfortunately the gravy train has been coming to a grinding halt as airlines have been changing the way they award redeemable miles. Delta was the first of the legacy US carriers to introduce a revenue based system to work out how many miles they would award to their passengers and it didn’t take United very long to follow suit. Suddenly, how far you travelled didn’t mean very much, it was how much your ticket cost that decided how many miles you earned…the days of the mileage run looked numbered.

At some point in the second half of 2016 (they still can’t tell us when) American Airlines will be the third and last US legacy airline to change over to a revenue based system to calculate the redeemable miles passengers will earn. As far as the legacy US carriers are concerned how far you fly no longer has much correlation with how many redeemable miles you earn….and people have been using this fact to announce the death of the mileage run.

But I don’t see it like that. The situation just needs to be viewed from a different angle.

Yes, it’s definitely true to say that you can’t really earn any worthwhile amount of redeemable miles by embarking on mileage runs like we did in the old days….but what about elite qualifying miles?

The US airlines still award status based on the number of miles you fly so cheap fares between distant cities still have a big roll to play.

I’m currently an American Airlines flyer so I’m going to use them as an example.

As things stand, to earn American Airlines status you ned to hit the following milestones….

  • Gold Status – 25,000 elite qualifying miles
  • Platinum Status – 50,000 elite qualifying miles
  • Executive Platinum Status – 100,000 elite qualifying miles

…and American Airlines awards 1 elite qualifying mile (EQM) per mile flown in Economy Class (Coach).

This is where you can still play the game like it was played before…only this time ignoring the redeemable mile side of things and concentrating on the elite qualifying miles.

Back in February I did a mileage run between Los Angeles and Dallas on one of American’s shiny new 787-8 Dreamliners. I flew from LAX to Dallas Fort Worth and back again for the grand total of $74.60. Not only that but I got upgraded in both directions (thinks to my Executive Platinum status) so I had the pleasure of an intentional Business Class seat for both flights.

American-787-Backwards - 19American Airlines 787 Dreamliner Business Class seat

The whole trip was 2,470 miles in length so that’s how many miles American Airlines credited towards my elite status qualification for next year…and they cost me just 3.0 cents/mile.

That may not seem a lot of miles (because it isn’t if you look at it in isolation) but quite often people miss out on elite status by just a few thousand miles and one or two trips like these can prevent that from happening.

At the end of 2015 American Airlines even gave AAdvantage members the opportunity to buy back their status:

For example: Those just missing out on Executive Platinum Status could pay between $1,119 and $2,499 to get the status depending on how many miles short they had fallen:

  • 95,000 – 99,999 Boost for $1,199
  • 90,000 – 94,999 Boost for $1,799
  • 85,000 – 89,999 Boost for $2,499
    Similar deals were available for Gold and Platinum status.

If you work out how much American is charging for those EQM it comes out to a lot more than 3.0 cents/mile!

Good Fares

The good fares are still around and the one I quoted above isn’t just an anomaly.

Just this weekend The Flight Deal posted a great fare on American Airlines that would work very well for a mileage run:

Dallas – Las Vegas for $70 return – 2,103 EQM at 3.3 cents/mile

AirFareWatchDog joined in with this offer on United Airlines:

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 22.26.15

That’s 2,394 miles at just 4.1 cents/mile.

Bottom Line

Mileage runs aren’t dead….you just have to think of them as a vehicle with a different purpose.

While the days of using cheap fares on US carriers to earn thousands of miles that then fly you around the world in the lap of luxury are over…the cheap fares still have a big part to play.

My travels (and the travels of those who accompany me) are made considerably more comfortable and easy courtesy of my American Airlines status so I’m more than happy to thrown in a few mileage runs here and there to make sure I  attain the status level I want.

Admittedly what I’ve been discussing works best with American Airlines because Delta and United also have minimum spend requirements that most of their US-based passengers have to meet…but, for some, the spend requirement is easy…it’s the mileage requirement that’s the challenge. That’s where the mileage run comes in….and it’s still alive and well.