What is a mileage run and how can it help you save money?

If you’ve been reading any variety of blogs, forums and other articles on this hobby, you’ve probably come across the term “mileage run.” But, what is a mileage run?

A mileage run is flying for no point other than to accumulate frequent flyer miles.

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The key to this is flying on a cheap enough fare where you’re able to accumulate a lot of miles for a very cheap price, often much cheaper than what you’d have to pay to buy them online. These miles are called redeemable miles – they are the frequent flyer miles in your account that you redeem for an award ticket. Elite qualifying miles (or the variant term based on the airline) are miles used to earn elite status.

Let’s take a look at a sample fare from Baltimore, MD to Burbank, CA.

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At $289 for a transcontinental flight, this is a really good deal. Actually, I’ve seen this fare lower by about $50, but for a random date in October, this is a very decent fare.

At 4,720 miles round-trip, this trip prices in at roughly 6 cents a mile, which, for a mileage run purpose is actually well-above the recommended threshold of 4 cents a mile. Is it worth it flying 4,720 miles for $289? No…but…

If you’re an elite, look at all the miles you’ll earn.

If you’re an elite member who earns a 100% mileage bonus, you’ll earn 9440 miles, a much better offer.

If you aspire for elite status, look at how close this will get you.

If you’re looking to get the next elite status tier, 4,720 miles will put you that much closer, and with most entry level elite status levels starting off at 25,000 miles, you may find it worth it to take several of these trips to benefit of what’s to be provided at the entry-level (frankly, most entry level tier benefits can be earned via credit card benefits). This is normally called a status run.

What strategies could I use to earn more miles?

Since this fare to Burbank is on American, try routing through another city. Going through Dallas would be a total round-trip of 4,896 miles.

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What’s a good deal?

Generally, as I said, any fare that gives you 4 cents per mile flown is a good deal. A JFK-LAX fare of $200 (yes, I’ve seen them this low…), would price in at at approximately 4 cents a mile (the trip length is 4,950 miles round-trip). At that point, you’re earning close to 5,000 miles for $200. If you’re an elite, that could be as high as 10,000 miles.

So, consider this…

Paying $200 gives you approximately 5,000 redeemable miles. You need 25,000 of those miles to redeem a one-way First Class saver ticket in the continental US. So, that’s $1000 for 25,000 miles.

A one-way JFK-LAX non-stop First Class ticket on American’s Flagship A321T is $1817. So, by flying cross-country 5 times for $200 each will save you roughly $800 had you purchased the ticket outright with cash. That’s an exaggerated example, since I don’t know anyone that would fly 5 times cross-country in coach just to fly one-way in First, but it shows you how much of a savings you can have here.

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The savings are even greater when you compare it to full fare First Class and Business Class fares for travel abroad – say to Europe, or Asia.

Want good mileage run deals? Visit this forum on FlyerTalk. You’ll see lots of examples of destinations and the fares between them, as well as the calculations of cents per mile (cpm):

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Mileage running in premium cabins

Often, there are cheap First Class or Business Class deals, where the difference to upgrade over Economy is not much. In that case, it’s worth upgrading because you’ll usually 1.5 times the miles, which will not only help with redeemable miles, but also elite qualifying miles, too.

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Is the mileage run dead?

Several travel bloggers will argue that the mileage run is dead, and that it’s no longer necessary to fly just to accumulate miles, thanks to large credit card sign-up bonuses, and other means of accumulating miles. I’d actually argue against that.

  • If you’re close to earning a worthwhile elite status tier, mileage running is worth it. This is status running.
  • If you’ve got to be somewhere anyways, you might as well earn the most miles for it anyway. Say you have to go from Boston to San Diego, and you must connect. Connecting in Dallas will earn you more miles than Chicago, so because you have to connect anyways, it makes sense to get more miles for it, if you’ve got the time.
  • There are lots of mistake fares – fares that are incorrectly published or released – that make mileage running worthwhile. Recently, there was a $400-ish round-trip business class fare from Washington DC to Beijing.
  • There are flying bonuses, so if you can take advantage of an earning bonus on a mileage run, do it.
  • If you don’t have enough miles for an award, but can complete it with the miles earned from a mileage run, you’ll save money. Purchased miles will cost you more, and miles earned from credit card spend often posts during the next billing cycle, so this is actually a faster way to accumulate miles.
  • Mileage runs can be fun, too! Do it with family and friends! 🙂

Have you ever flown on a mileage run?

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