Sunday Reader Question: Worth Doing a Mileage Run?

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TPG reader Chris asks:

“I am currently sitting at roughly 42,000 American Airlines miles for the year and am trying to figure out if it is worth it to make a mileage run to hit Platinum status. I did sign up earlier this year for the promo with AA that offered bonus miles or 500 mile upgrades, which has been achieved. My question is, should I spend roughly $1000 for a mileage run to London to move from Gold to Platinum?”

Well, in case you didn’t read, AA just announced a double EQM promo from now until December 31, 2012 so your decision was just made a whole lot easier. You no longer need to go to Europe to get those 8,000 miles to achieve Platinum – depending on where you are based, a simple JFK-Los Angeles roundtrip flight will net you 9,000 EQMs!

I’d even consider trying to hit Executive Platinum, which is achieved at 100,000 EQM’s. It won’t be easy, but if you add on two quick trips to Asia, you’re looking at 26,980 for each JFK-Tokyo roundtrip. If you were going to spend $1,000 anyway to get Platinum, you may be able to spend $2,500 or so and get Executive Platinum, which comes with 8 systemwide upgrades that are upgradeable on any paid fare that earns AAdvantage miles!

Also remember that if you travel between November 16 and 26, you’ll get double AAdvantage miles as well – so that Tokyo trip will net you 26,890 AAdvantage miles, which I would value at around $485 (1.8 cents a piece). As an Executive Platinum you’ll get well over a year’s worth of unlimited, space available, domestic complimentary upgrades so your time and money investment level may pay off greatly based on how much travel you foresee in 2013. Just beware: top-tier status is addictive and you won’t want to give it up once achieved!

For anyone else considering whether a mileage run makes sense to achieve the next status level, I think you should consider the following to see whether its worth the time and money:

1) What exactly are the perks of the next elite status level? Generally the largest jump is from mid to top tier, but even if you are gunning for base elite status, the perks like free luggage and premium seating assignments can be lucrative. Is it worth $200 to save on fees and enjoy a better in-flight experience for the next 14 months? Only you can decide.
2) How much travel will you actually have next year? While that may be hard to predict, if you know you’ll be traveling less, it may not be worth it.
3) The value of your time. If you enjoy being on planes (or enjoy time away from your spouse/roommate), you may actually get additional value out of mileage running, but you should take into account the time away from home as part of the cost of achieving that next elite level.

If you want to search for mileage-run worthy fares check out the following:
1) The Flyertalk Mileage Run forum where people post cheap flights
2) Check out sites like The Flight Deal or Airfarewatchdog.com
3) Teach yourself how to search for cheap flights using the ITA Matrix software. It will let you search city pairs and if you select flexible dates, it will show a calendar of the cheapest flights (which you can filter by airline or alliance).

If you don’t have time to mileage run, you can always get last minute elite miles by getting a premium airline credit card. For example, the Delta Reserve card gives 10,000 MQMs with first purchase, so as long as you get approved and get the card and use it by the end of the year, you’ll be fine. The card does come with a $450 annual fee, but 10,000 MQM’s is worth more than that in my opinion, plus you get a bunch of other benefits like SkyClub access, better Medallion upgrade priority and yearly companion passes good for cheap first class fares.

For more information on how to get elite miles without flying, check out my post from last December and if you’re new to elite status, make sure to read through all posts in that series. Happy mileage running if you decide that’s the route (no pun intended) you want to go!

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