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My Mileage Run Decision

by on December 9, 2010 · 11 comments

in Delta, How To Guides, Mileage Runs

It’s that time of the year- elite status obsessed flyers begin to panic about qualifying for 2011 elite status. Since the elite qualifying year is January 1- December 31, some flyers pack in some serious flying in December to hit the next elite status level (usually at the 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, 100,000 and 125,000 mile levels).  You can also qualify for segments, which benefits short-haul flyers, but that has never been my cup of tea.

When I log into my Delta account I see:
Earned: 117, 066
To Next Milestone: 7,934

Delta is the only domestic airline that does elite qualifying rollover, which means that any miles you earn after an elite level will rollover to the next qualifying year. So if I stopped flying right now, I’d stay at Platinum status (75,000 miles) and rollover 42,066. While this sounded appealing originally, I decided that getting Diamond status had enough perks to warrant the end of year mileage run. Delta has a Choice Benefits program, so when you hit Platinum you get one choice (which I chose a $200 Delta voucher). When you hit Diamond, you get to choose two enhanced benefits, such as gifting Gold Medallion status to a friend, 25,000 Skymiles, $200 gift card, 6 System Wide Upgrades and 6 SkyClub passes. The great thing about qualifying for Diamond the first time, is that you get to choose 4 of these options, which is really generous in my opinion. In addition to these benefits you also get top priority for Medallion upgrades, free SkyClub access and enhanced customer service to name a few key benefits.

So, I decided to book a mileage run. I checked the Flyertalk mileage run deals board, which turned up a bunch of options. Many people also use the Fare Compare tool to check prices between popular cities. Once I realized I wanted to go to Europe for a quick weekend (Saturday night stay) I then ran to Delta.com and started doing flexible weekend searches for JFK- European destinations. and Ireland came up the cheapest by far coming in at under $500 round trip. JFK-DUB-JFK only yields 6,358 miles. (To check out how many miles a route yields, I use the Great Circle Mapper tool), so I knew I had to get creative.  To put me over the top and then some, I decided to take advantage of the double MQM promo running out of Pittsburgh. So here is my run:
One way ticket $60 LaGuardia-Detroit-Pittsburgh, which is 1,000 miles x 2 = 2,000 MQMs (elite miles)
Then I bought a $496 Pittsburgh-Atlanta-JFK-Dublin-JFK. The first leg PIT-ATL-JFK-DUB 4,465 miles and I *may* qualify for the Double MQM promo, though technically it states that you need to fly a round trip (though in my experience, these bonuses post after one way flights, as per past 1 ways I flew to Pittsburgh from JFK).
Then Dublin-JFK the next day, giving me 26 hours in Dublin, 3,179 miles.

So at a very minimum, I’m going to get 9,644miles and if the double MQM promo works like I hope, then I could get up to 14,109, which would give me a decent start to next year’s qualification.  The way most people judge a good mileage run is by how many cents per mile you spend, which for me will be anywhere from 5.8 CPM if the double MQM promo doesn’t work as planned (not very good) or 3.9 CPM, which is decent. I’m actually spending a night in Dublin and just got a room at the Four Seasons for $112 due to this amazing promo, so its a mini-vacation. I also used the $200 voucher Delta gave me for qualifying for Platinum and some leftover vouchers form the year, so my actual cost outlay was only $150.  I’m actually going to enjoy this trip, so CPM isn’t so important to me (plus I will get $400 in vouchers and two other Choice Benefits for making Diamond).

Mileage running is not my expertise, but there is a site Elite Helper which will help you plan your year-end run.  For a rundown of elite airline benefits, check out:
Alaska
American
Continental
Delta
United

US Airways

For a funny take on mileage running, check out this video.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • FredEx

    If Delta offers either a $200 voucher or 20,000 miles, that suggests they value miles at 1 cent per mile when giving them away.

    So how is going on a mileage run that costs 3.9 cents per mile considered decent when Delta gives miles away at 1 cent per mile? Is an MQM really worth 4 times more than a regular Skymile? It’s the psychology of elite status. A good analysis would be to add up how much it cost you to reach Diamond and divide by the 125,000 MQMs to see what you spent per MQM.

    You can buy regular Skymiles at a rate of 2.8 cents per mile on Delta’s website, up to 60,000 miles…althought that doesnt help you qualify for elite status.

  • The Points Guy

    I don’t care what Delta values a Skymile at- its all about how I value it. I’d buy Skymiles at 1 cent a piece all day long. Where do they sell them at that price? They don’t.

    A mileage run that gets me Diamond status and unlimited first class domestic upgrades for 14 months and 125% bonus on all flights, is worth it in my opinion.

    Diamond also gets me free Skyclub- did you factor that into your calculations?

  • Fred Arazan

    How you value a Skymile is good for you- but it may not be useful for other people. Everyone values things differently. So spending 3.9 cents per mile might be decent to you -but expensive to me, and cheap to another person. The only way to be objective is to look at the value relative to some baseline, such as the “cost” or value to Delta. We know Delta sells miles for 2.8 cents per mile. They are not selling them to lose money. So the cost is less than 2.8 cents. For Platinums, they will offer you $200 or 20,000 miles. For Diamond, it’s $200 or 25,000 miles. That would drop the cost below 1 cent per mile, to 0.8 cpm.

    If you are going to say that people judge a good mileage run by how much is spent per mile, then that has to be the criteria. Diamond status, upgrades, skyclub, etc are all other benefits that weigh into your decision but you can’t put a numerical value on them as easily as cents per mile. For instance, you are already getting the Skyclub benefit from your Platinum AmEx card, so you can’t count that as a benefit again.

    Cents per mile is useful because it takes into account changes in fares (soon to be rising based on oil prices) and changes in mileage redemption levels. As it becomes easier to earn miles, the value of the mile is diluted unless Delta raises the redemption threshholds. Which they have been slowly doing. Skyclub (Crown Room) membership used to be free when reaching Platinum. Now you have to reach Diamond (fly approx 30% more miles). I have Skyclub access through my Delta Reserve AmEx. Frankly, you get better lounge access from AmEx than from being a SkyClub member. In Mexico City, being a Sky Club member or holding a Delta Reserve card will not get you into the Aeromexico lounge. Even after pointing out my boarding card which identified me as Sky Team Elite Plus, Aeromexico still refused my admission in direct violation of Delta’s policy.
    So I walked down the hallway to the American Express Centurion Club, flashed my Delta Reserve Amex, and got in to a much nicer lounge with no hassle.

  • The Points Guy

    Fred- I never said that CPM was useless. I simply said that judging the “value received” based on how Delta values miles is ridiculous because there are a host of other benefits received from doing mileage runs than simply Skymiles.

    “They are not selling them to lose money. So the cost is less than 2.8 cents.”

    Just because the cost to Delta is 2.8 cents or less, that does NOT mean I can’t get more value than that. If I routinely pay $5k for my summer business class ticket to Europe, spending $2,800 to buy 100,000 SkyMiles is a huge bargain.

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  • Ian Rankin

    Status is such a perverse incentive.

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  • Markpierce

    I have two first class tickets to Mexico City in December! Can I enter their club room….”Crown Room”?

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