Are Mileage Runs Still Useful with Revenue Requirements?

Sep 23, 2014

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Last week, the New York Times published an article by Josh Barro called “The Fadeout of the Mileage Run“, in which he explains the premise of mileage runs, how airlines are cracking down on them by adding revenue requirements to earn elite status, and how loyalty programs are changing.

Mileage runs may no longer be worthwhile anymore. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

It used to be quite common for frequent fliers to make mileage runs, which are trips taken solely to earn frequent flier miles. The destination of such trips is unimportant, and the more flights and out-of-the-way connections, the better, since the extra distance means more miles to be earned. Per the NY Times article, “Mileage runners aim to buy tickets with the lowest cost per mile and extract as many points as possible from them; this is not high-margin behavior the airlines should want to encourage.

The article also mentions, “The core logic behind mileage runs is that airline points have a relatively fixed value, but the cost to accrue them can vary widely, so a low fare for a long trip can reap outsize rewards.” This generally means that mileage runs would be more lucrative on long-haul flights across the country rather than short-hops.

Airlines have become aware of this disparity and have started to implement new rules that would make mileage running harder. For instance Delta and United have both added revenue requirements to earning elite status, meaning that aside from flying the requisite number of miles, you have to also spend a certain amount of money with the airline each year or you won’t qualify.

However, there are still times when mileage runs make sense. When airlines offer bonus mileage promotions, such as Delta’s Double Medallion Qualifying Miles to/from Seattle, booking a cheap flight could earn you a disproportionate number of miles. Sometimes you can do a partial mileage run, where you get a cheap flight but actually want to go to the destination as well. This is what I did with my dad when we went to Istanbul on Delta for $576 roundtrip from New York. I was able to turn this mileage run into a great father/son trip.

Mileage runs are usually in coach so don't expect to be spreading out on these flights.
Mileage runs are usually in coach so don’t expect to be spreading out on these flights.

If you want to search for fares worth of a mileage, try the following:

  • The Flyertalk Mileage Run forum where member routinely post cheap flights.
  • Sites like The Flight Deal or devoted to finding discounted airfare.
  • Teach yourself how to search for cheap flights using the ITA Matrix software. You can search by 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).
  • Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with current deals.

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, with the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express you can earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and an additional 15,000 MQMs when you hit $60,000 in spending. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers 10,000 MQMs for $25,000 in spend, and another 10,000 MQMs for $50,000 in spending, again in a calendar year. On American Airlines, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard gives you 10,000 elite qualifying miles after $40,000 in purchases each calendar year. The US Airways MasterCard offers 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after cardmembers hit $25,000 in spending each year, but this benefit will be ending in 2015 as the card becomes an American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard.

What was your best mileage run? Where did you go and what did you have to show for it? Please share your stories in the comments below.

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