Airlines

What is a Mileage Run and When Does One Make Sense?

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News of my crazy 36 hours in flight recently had my friends asking me what a mileage run was and why did I do it.

A mileage run is taking a flight or series of flights to earn airline miles. Similarly, a mattress run is staying at hotels specifically to earn stays/points. Usually these flights or hotel stays are because they’re cheap, though not always.

There’s two types of mileage runs — runs to accumulate miles for award travel and runs to keep/achieve elite status. Which one you’re doing defines what kinds of fares you’re looking for and what price points make sense.

Many mileage runners never leave the airport during their run, heroically fitting as many miles and stops possible into a short period of time.

My mileage runs are usually for elite qualifying miles which translate into elite status on an airline. And I probably differ from many people who do mileage runs, in that I usually only pick places I want to visit. It’s rare that I’ll do something like Jeanne and I just did where we won’t leave the airport. I usually look for cheap fares to places far away that I want to go to and spend at least a night there. Since I’m on the east coast, it’s usually Seattle, California, or Hawaii that I look for really good prices of <$500.

So when does it make sense to do mileage run?

So whether mileage runs are worth it is probably based on the person. What is your goal for your miles? Where/how do you want to use them?

For miles: If you’re doing it just for award miles, then you definitely don’t want to spend more on the flight than it would cost to buy the miles you’d earn directly from the airline. American Airlines starts at $.045 a mile (once you factor in the $30 per transaction processing fee) and can be as cheap as $.021 if you’re buying 40,000. United and US Airways are both start $.038 a mile for the minimum purchase. You wouldn’t want to spend more that $160 for a mileage run that would net you 4,500 miles.

For status: It depends on how much you value a particular status on an airline and what it will cost both financially and in time commitment to make the runs. If your normal travel plans get you close to earning status, taking a few extra flights to get to that next level is probably worth it. Some airlines, like US Airways, allow you to buy status outright, so you want to take that into consideration as well.

Where can you find mileage run opportunities?

While the days for things like $33 biz class fares to Cyprus in business class are mostly over, cheap flights and routing opportunities aren’t. Both Milepoint and Flyertalk have helpful forums where people share the good fares they’ve found. That’s where Jeanne and I learned of the opportunity to fly from Charlotte to Phoenix via Newark and Honolulu for $200.

I also use airfarewatchdog.com and matrix.itasoftware.com to help me stay aware of good fares from my home airport.

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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

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