The Mileage Run Isn’t Dead, It’s Moved to Premium Economy

Jul 13, 2018

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Back in the old days (before 2014), travelers had it pretty good. It was possible to earn huge sums of miles and top-tier elite status for very little travel — and without spending an arm and leg. This was possible because you earned miles based off of how far you flew, what status you held and what cabin you flew in.

Then, in 2014, Delta introduced a revenue-based frequent flyer program. This meant you earned miles solely based off what you paid. Since then, almost every US-based airline followed its example, except for Alaska Airlines.

Around the same time, airlines made additional changes to their frequent flyer programs that reevaluated what each fare class earned. This caused flyers to earn half as many elite-qualifying miles and as little as 0 redeemable miles on certain fares. And to add insult to injury, carriers also created minimum spend requirements (aka qualifying dollars — EQDs, PQDs or MQMs) to earn elite status.

Due to all these negative changes, many people declared that mileage running was dead. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not dead; it’s just moved to the premium economy cabin. Earnings are just as lucrative as before, although you have to get creative to find the fares, and should expect to pay more in airfare for your mileage run.

via Giphy

To illustrate this point, TPG contributor Brian Biros compared the earnings from The Points Guy flying a very cheap economy fare on Delta from New York’s JFK Airport to Sweden’s Stockholm Airport (ARN).

Here’s what The Points Guy earned for these flights back in 2011, when both redeemable mileage and elite-qualifying mileage earnings were based on distance flown:

Routing Total Ticket Cost Base Fare Award Miles Earned (non-elite) Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs)
JFK-ARN-JFK $150 $70 7,840 7,840

Under the current system, the earnings from the same flight would be:

Routing Total Ticket Cost Base Fare Award Miles Earned (non-elite) Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs)
JFK-ARN-JFK $150 $70 350* 7,840*

*If booked with Delta flight numbers

The old system was great; you could earn a ton of redeemable miles, and in as little as three round-trips you could earn elite status, opening the door to free upgrades and more.

Under the modified current system, you would have to take 23 round-trips to earn a comparable amount of redeemable miles that you did just a year before. And due to the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) requirements, those flights would still leave you shy of elite status. This was pretty much the end for the mileage run in economy.

In order to fully understand how premium economy is still worth the mileage run, let’s take a look at what a fare earned prior to 2016 and what it would earn today, assuming the same ticket cost.

Let’s consider this premium economy deal on British Airways from Oslo (OSL) to Miami (MIA):

Year Total Ticket Cost Fare and Airline-Imposed Charges Award Miles Earned (non-elite) Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS)
Pre-2016 $888 $737 11,235 14,775 N/A 0
2018 $888 $737 9,600 14,025 1,920 3

Flights booked as British Airways flight numbers and credited to AAdvantage. OSL-LHR flights are booked into economy (K class) while LHR-MIA flights are in premium economy (T class).

As you can see, there’s a way for you to earn a similar amount of redeemable and elite-qualifying miles as in the past while maximizing your elite-qualifying dollar earnings.

So how can you maximize your redeemable miles and qualifying dollars? It all depends on how you book your ticket.

Above, you can see three different fares for the same exact flights. If you booked the most expensive option via American Airlines for $917, you would think you’d earn the most, but you’d actually earn the least amount of miles. You would earn 5x miles per dollar spent, and your EQDs would be equal to your base fare cost, pre-taxes and government fees.

If you book with Iberia, you would earn off of this chart, and via British Airways you would earn off of this chart. Using either one of those airlines you would maximize your earnings.

Almost every airline is still offering 100% redeemable miles for all partner-booked premium economy fares. But earning more miles isn’t solely dependent on which airline you book with; the most important thing is which airline the flight is marketed under.

Flight Numbers Total Ticket Cost Fare and Airline-Imposed Charges Award Miles Earned (non-elite) Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)
British Airways $888 $738 9,600 14,025 1,920
Iberia $887 $737 9,600 14,025 1,920
American Airlines $917 $767 3,835 14,775 767

Be careful when you’re booking your ticket. Let’s look at an example of why:

If you look at the details in the image above, you will see that Iberia markets all the flights if you book with Iberia and British Airways markets all the flights if you book with BA. Either one of those options earns the most return on your dollar but if you look at American Airlines, it only markets 2 of the 4 flights you can booked with AA.

The other two flights are marketed via Iberia, so if you were to book this fare with American Airlines you would actually earn the outbound flights at American Airlines rates and the return ones at Iberia’s rates from the chart above, giving you a slightly better return on your investment. Always pay attention to the little details because under a fare like this, it is possible to earn elite status after just two trips, meaning the mileage run is still very much alive.

This method works when crediting flights to American Airlines and to Delta Air Lines from partner-marketed flights. American Airlines partner earnings rates can be found here, and Delta’s can be found here.

Unfortunately for United travelers, you will not earn Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) when crediting from a partner-issued ticket, although you should still be able to earn Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs), Premier Qualifying Segments (PQS) and redeemable miles. The chart for United partner earnings can be found here.

Bottom Line

Premium economy is still a relatively new offering for many airlines, and they’re clearly still figuring out how to treat this cabin in terms of pricing and loyalty earnings. Airlines slashed earnings for economy class, partly because economy flyers aren’t as loyal and will happily take the cheapest available fare.

For now, airlines have determined that premium economy flyers are slightly more loyal — though I would imagine that eventually premium economy will be on the earnings chopping block. Until then I’ll look forward to seeing you on my next weekend trip to Madrid!

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