Airline cut backs are making frequent flier status more and more valuable. Maybe you are having trouble qualifying for elite status because of big cutbacks in business. Or maybe you just travel a lot on your own but just not quite enough to qualify. Your answer may be a mileage run which is a quick and easy way to accumulate points, miles or segments.
First, Let’s discuss how frequent flier status works
The benefits of higher frequent flier status can include advance boarding, better seat selection, upgrades, bonus miles, no baggage fees, etc. If you are planning a lot of trips, higher status may be well worth the trouble.
Most airline frequent flier programs have two or three elite status levels which you achieve by flying enough miles, enough segments, or accumulating enough qualifying points. Your status is based on whichever criteria you meet. For example, you can reach the first level based on segments and the second level based on overall miles. Of course each program is slightly different so be sure to read the details of your program.
The most common way to qualify is simply accumulate enough flown miles to reach your desired tier. Usually the only criteria is that you fly on a qualifying class of service which usually includes discounted fares but not free fare or tickets through consolidators. You are awarded base miles based on what you actually fly with a minimum amount per segment. You may earn bonus miles for these flights but bases miles are what counts towards qualification. The minimum miles varies quite a bit from airline to airline.
Another common way is by accumulating segments. The airlines added this method to accommodate those fliers who did a lot of short hops. Common examples would include Dallas – Houston, Los Angeles – San Francisco, New York – Boston, etc.
Finally there is the point method. If this is how you normally qualify then you probably aren’t going to have much interest in mileage runs. The way this works is that the airlines award a different amount of points for your trip based on the type of ticket you purchase. Normally this is a percentage applied to the mileage for the trip. For example, a deep discounted coach airfare might only be worth 50% but a business or first class ticket could be worth 150%. Using the point method you can usually qualify for the elite level with as little as two business class round trips to Europe.
Mileage runs, what are they?
A mileage run is simply taking a flight for no other reason than to earn miles usually to get a higher status. It rarely matters where you fly to because most are as simple as getting on an airplane flying somewhere and then turning around and flying right back. Usually you don’t even leave the secured area much less the airport.
Aside from the mileage benefits mileage runs can be a good way to get away. When your in the air you are away from email, cell phones, traffic, etc. If you are a photographer, they are also a great way to get to different places for a day.
Booking a mileage run
The key to an effective mileage run is finding the lowest airfare you can. The good news is that find the lowest fare is much easier when you don’t care where you go. Don’t forget, you are doing this just to get extra miles so be ready to go anywhere. Having a passport really helps as the best deals are usually found on international routes.
A good method to compare airfares is Price Per Mile (PPM) which you calculate by dividing the price by the number of base miles that you will earn. After watching fares you will eventually learn what is normal and what is low for your particular market. Generally you want to keep mileage run PPM in the one to two cent range.
Fare Compare has a great tool that lets you search the lowest airfare for a particular destination and you can even sort based on PPM. Check this and the airlines website as often as possible while your shopping for mileage runs. When you do spot a good fare, be sure to act quickly as the really cheap fares come and go quickly.
Choosing your route: Extra miles for free
Nonstop flights may be the best when you are flying to actually get somewhere but when you are flying for miles you are going to want to take the longest route you can get. When you are booking your ticket try different routes to see if you can get the same fare but with a longer route. For example I was once able to book a mileage run from Dallas to Seattle via New York for the same fare as nonstop flights. That resulted in an extra 4,308 base miles, 8,618 award miles with my elite level bonus.
You can also use this trick anytime the airline needs to rebook you due to a cancelation, flight delays, etc. Most agents are surprisingly open to suggestion when it comes to routing, especially in a bad weather situation when their lines are jammed.
Be very polite and let them know that you would be more than happy to fly well out of your way to get home, even suggest a few odd routings. I was once able to turn a Dallas – Chicago – Dallas mileage run into a Dallas – New York – Miami – Dallas mileage run which was an extra 2,150 base miles.
Flying your mileage run
Most people think of flying as a headache but that isn’t really the case when your on a mileage run. Most of the headache issues are due to things like checking your luggage, getting through security with your carry on items (especially liquids) and delays. But all of that is because you are trying to get somewhere. On a mileage run all your trying to do is fly.
Obviously you don’t need to check luggage. All you really need to carry on is something to keep you busy, maybe an overnight bag just in case. Don’t worry about delays much either. In many cases you’ll be riding on the same plan in both directions so if you are late to your destination, your next flight is going to be late too. If you do miss a connection well that is just a chance to change to a better routing so don’t sweat it.
On domestic routes you may get an odd look or two when the crew recognizes you from the last flight but most of them know exactly what you are doing. International flights are usually the same but you may get a little more scrutiny when clearing customs. Don’t try and come up with a cover story, just be honest and tell them what your doing. Most of them have seen it before. Keep in mind that the customs exemptions are for people who were outside of the country for 48 hours or more which usually isn’t the case for a mileage run so don’t load up at the gift shop thinking you can get the normal exemption.