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Join TPG Intern Kevin Song on his insane 72-hour mileage run marathon, including four Atlantic crossings, two transcons and a round-trip to Honolulu, all the while earning valuable American AAdvantage miles for his future travels.
I spent 72 hours sitting on planes and in airports a little while ago, for the sole purpose of earning miles. Now, the final tally from my mileage run is in. My harvest? 141,608 miles, and 37,614 elite qualifying points (EQPs).
To recap, over the weekend and with missing only a half-day of work, I took a grand total of eight flights, totaling 22,778 flight miles (also known as butt-in-seat miles). I booked this trip as two round-trips, to maximize a few promotions that American was offering over the summer.
My first itinerary was booked as a round-trip between New York-JFK and Dublin, and my second was a round-trip booked as Dublin-Honolulu, via Los Angeles. I booked the first itinerary through British Airways to take advantage of the ongoing AARP discount and extremely cheap fares originating from Dublin. Note that anyone can join AARP — you can join for $16 a year. Unfortunately, the direct outbound flight wasn’t available for the cheaper fare in business class, and I wasn’t too keen on transiting through London-Heathrow, so I resigned myself to economy on the outbound for just over $1,600.
For the second ticket, I wasn’t able to use the AARP discount, as it only applies to itineraries originating in the United States, so I booked directly through American. This allowed me to take advantage of the current promotion for double EQPs ongoing through the end of 2015. Additionally, American also has a premium cabin bonus for redeemable miles, offering up to 3,500 per leg. On top of all that is the now-expired lucrative premium-cabin transatlantic travel bonus. I already took one roundtrip earlier this summer, so this got me the second roundtrip and half of the third roundtrip bonuses.
I paid for the flight with my new Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard to help me meet the minimum spend to get 75,000 bonus miles, while earning double miles on the AA itinerary. I didn’t count the bonus itself, however, towards the 141,608 miles I earned, since I’d get that no matter where I spent the $7,500.
Finally, on all legs, I earned an additional 100% bonus for being an American Airlines Executive Platinum elite — one of my goals with this mileage run was to re-qualify for this status.
It’s important to note that even though I have two separate tickets, I would theoretically be protected in the event of a delay — oneworld’s and AA’s policy is to protect between oneworld-member airlines. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that, because even though there was a pretty significant delay on my outbound Dublin flight, the return was to be operated by the same aircraft, so it wasn’t possible to miss that connection.
Thanks to the US Preclearance facility in Dublin, my flight back to JFK landed as a domestic flight and I was able to catch my Los Angeles flight by mere seconds. If you’re booking a mileage run, though, that’s certainly something to consider. Be sure to leave enough time to make your connections, especially for international itineraries and even more so for destinations without a Preclearance facility.
So why did I do this? Such an itinerary certainly doesn’t make sense for everyone. In my case, I felt that what I earned would outweigh the cost.
Let’s take a look at my total earnings: Between the flight itself, my Executive Platinum bonus, class-of-service bonuses, the premium-cabin promotion, the transatlantic promotion and credit card spend, I earned 141,608 redeemable miles.
For mileage runners, the all-important number is cost-per-mile or cents-per-mile (CPM). For my flights, despite a large cash investment of $3,609, my CPM was only 2.55 cents, a great value for business-class comfort.
TPG values AAdvantage miles at 1.7 cents apiece, so according to his valuation, the miles I earned are worth a total of $2,407.
But that’s not all! I also earned 37,614 elite-qualifying points toward requalifying for my Executive Platinum status. It’s a bit harder to quantify this, as if you’ll hit the 100,000 EQP/EQM required for the top-tier status already, the incremental benefit is worth nothing. If you’ll use the valuable systemwide upgrades to their fullest benefit, it could even be worth more.
In my case, I did need those EQP to help me get to the magical 100,000 number, and I would definitely use the eight systemwide upgrades for great long-haul routes. TPG values American Executive Platinum status at $8,100, so since my run got me just about 38% of the way there, I’ll value the EQPs that I earned at $3,045.
So for a total expenditure of $3,609, I got around $5,452 of value from my mileage run. Worth it? Maybe not for everyone, but for me, it definitely was. It’s all about what you’ll do with those miles.
Miles are useless if you can’t redeem them! Thankfully, I already have a plan on how to put my newfound windfall of miles to use. Since my girlfriend is from Hong Kong, I plan on using the miles in the future to fly to Asia in first class, either on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific (that is, if Cathay Pacific doesn’t restrict first-class awards).
My 141,608 miles will get me a round-trip in first class (which costs 67,500 miles each way), or nearly three one-ways in business class (which costs 50,000 miles). Cathay Pacific first-class fares are pretty consistent: Right now, the nonstop from JFK to Hong Kong is pricing out at a whopping $28,383.
This is the flight that I’m planning on redeeming my miles for, provided that I can find availability. If I do, I’ll get an incredible value out of my mileage run, with some miles leftover to spare. Looking at this, my $3,609 mileage run seems especially worth it.
Other great uses of American AAdvantage miles include Japan Airlines first class and Etihad’s The Apartment first-class suite, which TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig recently flew.
Booking Your Own Mileage Run
A mileage run like this certainly isn’t for everyone. Anyone who wants to attempt such a feat should think carefully about the time involved in booking such an adventure.
Here’s some tips on booking your own mileage run:
- Do the math: Be sure to calculate the costs/benefits for your specific mileage run.
- Don’t be stuck leaving from one airport: Oftentimes, fare sales will pop up originating from other airports. Even with positioning flights, it could still be worth it. In particular, Toronto and Dublin often seem to have cheaper fares, and aren’t too expensive to get to, either.
- Read up on any visa requirements: I didn’t have any visas required, but they can be quite expensive and add significantly to the cost.
- Leave enough time for connections: I had to sprint across the airport to make an eight-minute connection after my Dublin-JFK flight was delayed.
- Get lounge access: If you already have elite status and are traveling internationally, this might already be taken care of for you. If not, cards like the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard will help you take a shower and refresh after a long flight.
- Keep an open mind: Be flexible about destinations, and if you can take some time off work, consider turning your mileage run into a vacation and spending a few days at your destination.
- Organize yourself: With so many moving parts, its easy to lose track of something, forget to book a positioning flight or even neglect to pick a good seat for yourself. Even the smallest things can make a big difference.
- Prepare yourself emotionally: Mileage running is stressful, no doubt. Going days without a proper bed is extremely taxing on the body, so be sure to get ready for it.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever booked a mileage run, or if you’re planning to do one soon!