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Old Jan 19, 05, 6:24 am   #1
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How to Construct and Book a Mileage Run

This post started as a response in another thread where someone was asking some basic questions about mileage runs. I had attempted a short answer, but just kept typing.

It does not include all of the tricks, but should give you what you need to know to find and book your own MR. It is for the most part exactly what I do in setting up my own. BTW, I learned probably 90% of this on FT, so I am not "giving back" so much as "repackaging".

I will try to keep this up to date as various tools appear and disappear as well as adding additional information on things that I hadn't thought of. But no promises as I have been known to become distracted by shiny objects (like airplanes, or my job).

How to set up and book a mileage run:

Step 1: Determine your starting point: This should be simple - ask someone where you are. In all seriousness, it is a little more complicated than that.

In my case, I live about 10 miles from SFO. I am however pretty easily convinced to fly out of SJC, or OAK if it will save some cash or give me a lot of miles. On one occasion I flew out of SMF (Sacramento) to do a particularly useful MR (went to lunch in Memphis). Other times you might be in a different city on a business trip and might be able to save your company some money by staying over a Saturday night (of course Saturday night will either have you in a completely different city, or on a plane).

Step 2: Determine your destination: This generally falls into three categories: 1) Places you want to go (e.g. visit your brother in BOS). 2) Places you wouldn't mind going (perhaps you've wanted to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center), or 3) Places you will tolerate until the next flight out.

Step 3: Watch for fares. Two places to do this are this forum and the Travelocity Dreammaps Page. Is there a cheap fare near where you are or where you will be in the near future? Does it go a long way to someplace that there isn't a warrant for your arrest? Are these two places a good distance apart? Even better, do you recall someone mentioning on FT that really long routings are possible?

Alternatively, you can skip this step if you were planning some travel that isn't quite as flexible and you would be flying between these cities anyway (in this case it technically isn't a MR, but you may be able to heap on the miles by choosing a creative routing in the next few steps.

Step 4: Confirm the fare exists, and get details. Use Travelocity to find this fare (either by following through the link from Dream Maps or by going to the main page and selecting flexible schedule) and see if you can find some itinerary on it (even if it isn't one that will work for you). Now go to Expedia and try to get this itinerary for the same low price. Before purchasing you will be able to review the fare rules which will include the routing rules.

Step 5: Review the rules: Check for restrictions on days, times, flights, minimum stay etc. See what routings are allowed. See what fare bucket (basis code) that this fare uses.

Step 6: Solve the puzzle. You need to find a string of flights to your destination and back meeting all the requirements of the fare (including routing). Bear in mind that the allowable routings will include possible segments that don't really exist on the airline. Further you can not revisit an airport along the route. Different airlines have different rules, but I believe that most allow a maximum of four hours for a layover on a domestic itinerary (with an exception for missing the last flight to your next stop for the day in which case you can book the first flight out in the morning . . .I doubt I will ever take advantage of this exception). Additionally, all of the flights will need inventory in the appropriate fare bucket. This can be determined (sometimes) on the airline's website. Other tools such as ExpertFlyer (a pay service). can also be used. Finally, you will need to find an itinerary that works for your schedule.

Something else to consider is if your fare requires an overnight (often Saturday night), and you are trying to do this as cheaply as possible, you can often book a red-eye on the eastbound direction and satisfy this rule without needing to get a hotel (there are some occasional westbound flights that arrive a bit after midnight that will work as well). In my own case, I tend to do a lot of weekend red-eye MR's that require no vacation time from work, and get me back in around 24 hours.

Some additional useful tools for me at this point are my preferred airline's flight schedule (to find out exactly what segments actually exist and what time they happen) and Flying Fish (to calculate mileage). When considering miles, keep in mind whatever rules your airline has for accruing mileage. Some offer 50% or none for lower fares or codeshares on somebody else's metal. Also, most consider all segments to be a minimum of 500 miles no matter how short they are . . .so if you can go LAX-SNA-ORD instead of LAX-ORD you will get about 500 extra miles for an extra 30 minutes of flying.

Once you have a good idea of what you are looking for, you can make things a bit more efficient by using ITA to find a particular itinerary. ITA is great as it lets you limit by airline, fare code, as well as intermediate transit points to help you prune your search to what you are really looking for. Unfortunately you can not book on ITA. See some notes on ITA below in post #2 of this thread.

Step 7: Book the dang ticket. Good luck getting your 10 segment round trip booked. You might be able to get some websites to do it for you if you choose the multisegment option and leave out hub cities so that you don't have more segments than fields on the screen to put them (e.g instead of OAK-LAX-SNA-ORD-MHT-LGA-IAD-OAK, enter OAK-SNA-MHT-LGA-OAK). One problem you might still run into here, is that some websites (UA.com for example) refuse to allow you to book tight but legal connections (e.g. 44 minutes in IAD in a recent attempt by me).

So most likely it is time to deal with a person. You can go to your local travel agent where most likely they will think you are insane. Or you could call the reservation agent at the airline where you will hear things like "That isn't a valid routing." or "That isn't a valid connection time." If you know you are right (e.g. you were able to pull it up on ITA - although this is not always a guarantee), hold your ground and invite them to confirm with the rate desk. Most likely they will consider you insane. Or you can go to the airport and go through a similar experience in person (including the part about thinking you insane). In the end you get the last laugh as they doubt their own sanity when they see what it prices out at.

One thing to remember though: don't wait. Fares may be pulled quickly. In the case of outright errors, sometimes within minutes, but even with some intentional fares it may only be around for hours (I have heard/read some suspicions that this is how airlines will communicate with each other without violating anti-trust laws: Airline A offers a low fare in a market that is dominated by airline B. Airline B follows suit with a low fare in Airline A's market in retaliation. They both withdraw their fares in a couple of hours as they realize that this is costing them more money than it is worth. No one wins except the quick mileage runner who got the ticket booked in time).

Even if the fares aren't pulled, the inventory tends to dry up along the better routings as your fellow FT'ers are booking their own overnights in Manchester, NH. On the other hand if the fare stays around for a while you may want to revisit ITA as some inventory may have been released by the airline.

One last note: There is a huge amount of debate on whether a particular MR is worth it. Ultimately, this comes down to the individual. I am willing to spend a bit more to visit a city that I am interested in for a weekend then I am for a strict 27 hour tour of airports. Add to that how many redeemable miles vs. EQM's vs. upgrade currency vs. what you will use the miles/status for later on and it becomes almost entirely subjective.

However there is one common mistake I see people make: Looking for the best deal for the EQM's without considering what they will need by the end of the year. I recall a thread where someone needed (and I don't recall the exact numbers so I am making them up) 8K to make whatever tier they were shooting for by the end of the year. They were debating between two itineraries: one for $250 that would get them 9K, and a longer one that would get them 12K for $300. The longer itinerary had a better yield of EQM's . . .but the extra 3K were basically useless to them as the shorter one would earn the status they wanted - same as the longer one, but $50 and a few hours cheaper.

Sometimes this mistake is not as clear cut - especially at the beginning of the year. Think about what is realistic to acheive in the year. If you realize that the 100K tier is simply something that you will never earn in a year, but the 50K tier is, it doesn't make sense to try to earn a huge number of miles in the first part of the year only to have later necessary travel (i.e. travel you were going to do anyway) bring you to 75K by December. In such a case you will be able to look back and find 20K or so of MR's done during the year were essentially wastes of time and money.

On the other hand, sometimes a promotion, the ability to earn upgrade certs in a particular quarter, or even a really good MR opportunity (OAK-MHT on UA in early '05 comes to mind) will make it worthwhile to do some heavy travelling in the early part of the year).

Last edited by VPescado; Jan 11, 06 at 11:45 am
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Old Jan 19, 05, 6:25 am   #2
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Some notes on using ITA:

Using ITA can be as simple as putting in your from and to cities and letting it go, but there are some things that you can do to make it much more selective.

After the 'from' city you can place constraints on the outbound, and fter the 'to' city you can constrain the return.

For example if I were flying out of SFO and only wanted flights on UA, I would type:

SFO::UA+

You can use a different airline other than UA. The plus meant that you want one or more segments on UA. For a direct flight you could leave off the plus.

You can also demand a transfer in a specific city. For example if I was flying to the east coast from SFO and wanted to take a non-stop to LAX to begin my trip I would use:

SFO::UA LAX UA+

But wait, there's more! Suppose I really didn't wan't a codeshare on US. I could use the O: modifier which tells ITA that I want that airline's metal:

SFO::O:UA LAX O:UA+

Further, I can specify which fare buckets I am interested in. If I want to limit myself to L fares I can use the /F flag and BC parameter:

SFO::O:UA LAX O:UA+ /F BC=L

or if I was willing to accept L, S, or T:

SFO::O:UA LAX O:UA+ /F BC=L|BC=S|BC=T

Much of this is covered in the online help on ITA under the section on the language (although some of this is not).

Another useful trick I find for weekend MR's is that I'll be fine leaving Friday night (on a redeye) or Saturday morning. While allowing me to specify "This day or the next day" is one way of accomplishing this, simply changing "departing" to "arriving" and choosing Saturday
is a lot more efficient.

One additional note. Some people have noticed that ITA seems to have been "detuned" recently to not provide as good results. I have no idea if this is intentional or not (perhaps airlines and/or ITA's real customers are putting pressure on them), but I have seen some cases where ITA is not pulling back all of the possibilities it should, or where it decides that inventory is not available for a particular fare when it really is. Some suggestions I have for overcoming this detuning is to always tell it to search for a single passenger, and to try being very explicit with routings that you are interested in (e.g. spell out all the transfer cities that you want). BTW if anyone from ITA is reading this and the detuning is not intentional, feel free to contact me if you want some examples.

Yet another note on ITA: There is one unusual scenario that it will show something bookable that is not. It turns out that although a carrier may show inventory in some class on all segments of a multi-segment itinerary, they may withhold inventory when they are strung together (e.g. A-B-C-D-E might not have inventory available on segment D-E for itineraries beginning at A even though the inventory shows up as available on D-E otherwise). Unfortunately there really is no way for a non travel agent to find this out without calling the airline and asking lots of questions (it is highly unlikely that the agent you talk to will know what is going on, but asking the right questions you should be able to figure it out if you suspect that this is going on).

One last note: It seems that a lot of folks new to MR's are learning a bit about ITA and simply plugging in the to and from cities and increasing the number of segments until the perfect MR falls out. This tends not to be very productive as ITA will spend only a limited time on a search before returning the best results it could find. Try to be very precise with the info you give ITA. When chasing a particular fare, limit it to the fare bucket you need. When you find a grout routing between MIA and JFK that allows a connection in HNL (Ok, I can dream, can't I?) then make sure you put that in as an explicit connection point (e.g. MIA::AA+ HNL AA+).

Last edited by VPescado; Sep 18, 05 at 12:42 pm
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Old Jan 19, 05, 6:52 am   #3
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Nice overview, VPescado, hopefully it will benefit mileage runners!
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Old Jan 19, 05, 7:13 am   #4
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bhatnasx
Nice overview, VPescado, hopefully it will benefit mileage runners!
That was unbelievable. Well packaged, well said, concise and clear.
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Old Jan 19, 05, 8:41 am   #5
  
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Thanks, that was entertaining and useful.
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Old Jan 19, 05, 3:37 pm   #6
  
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Thanks, some great links provided.
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Old Jan 19, 05, 3:47 pm   #7
  
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Thank you for laying out the order in which you use the particular tools.
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Old Jan 19, 05, 3:49 pm   #8
  
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Another interesting tool

Excellent idea.

One of the tool I use within travelocity, after doing a first screening through dreams maps, is to choose the fare I like, but run it through the regular fligh option, but with the surrounding airport box checked, as it gives people some nice surprise, like a ALB-ORD-SNA for 150$ cheaper than ALB-ORD-LAX for the exact same date.
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Old Jan 19, 05, 4:08 pm   #9
  
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Sticky please?

Thanks VPescado! Good MR guide.

Can mod please sticky this? Won't want it to get buried.
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Old Jan 20, 05, 3:49 am   #10
  
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Both entertaining and packed with tips & links, great work!
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Old Jan 21, 05, 1:40 pm   #11
  
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Great info!!! Well done. Thanks for the effort in putting these tips in one place for easy access.

My MR process steps are a little different; allow me to share:

Step 1: Determine the dates you have free to travel. i.e Feb 12-13.
Step 2: Go to Dream Maps on travelocity and see which cities are on sale from your departure airport. I also check the Sunday Newspaper to see what cities are on sale from my home airport.
Step 3: Go to your preferred airline's website and see what the fares are for those cities on sale for your dates of travel. Just keep plugging in different cities until you find one that suits your budget.
Step 4: If you find two or three cities on sale, try adding them as connections that fit your schedule in an effort to add more segments/miles (using multi-city option) yet keeping the cost low.

There are several alternatives to this and I think we all have different MR priorities. Some of us fly from out-of-the way cities, some from Hubs so that fact may change the process. We can all learn from each other, that's for sure.
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Old Jan 21, 05, 3:01 pm   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tc fly girl
My MR process steps are a little different; allow me to share:
While I don't want to imply that the method I give above is the "right" way, I do see some issues in your alternative.

Based on the way fares are calculated, there is no reason that your step four will do any better than random insertion of connection stations. Almost always, the fact that there is a cheap fare to city ABC has no effect on how it will effect the price of a route to another city when used as a connection point. In fact you would be just as well off trying to substitute random cities in as connections. The only thing that really matters is that the connection city is in the published routing - which is why I go through so much hassle to discover the routing. Otherwise you are essentially working in the dark. If you know the routing you can also find an itinerary which will really rack up the miles via a series of connections that you would likely never have thought of (e.g. having segments that are taking you the "wrong" way).

Thank you (and the others above . . .I mean the other posters above) for the kind works though.
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Old Jan 22, 05, 5:09 pm   #13
  
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The link to ITA above is broken, what is it, and does anyone have a working link?
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Old Jan 22, 05, 6:12 pm   #14
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VPescado
While I don't want to imply that the method I give above is the "right" way, I do see some issues in your alternative.

Based on the way fares are calculated, there is no reason that your step four will do any better than random insertion of connection stations. Almost always, the fact that there is a cheap fare to city ABC has no effect on how it will effect the price of a route to another city when used as a connection point. In fact you would be just as well off trying to substitute random cities in as connections. The only thing that really matters is that the connection city is in the published routing - which is why I go through so much hassle to discover the routing. Otherwise you are essentially working in the dark. If you know the routing you can also find an itinerary which will really rack up the miles via a series of connections that you would likely never have thought of (e.g. having segments that are taking you the "wrong" way).

Thank you (and the others above . . .I mean the other posters above) for the kind works though.
I should have clarified; Since I only fly Northwest and leave in a remote connection city, when I find cities that are well priced from my home airport, let's say memphis, chicago, and atlanta. I attempt to add them as connections. Since I always have to connect via DTW or MSP, adding one of the sale cities, ALWAYS gives me better pricing than non-sale cities. Adding just ANY city won't result in good pricing.
Your process works best for a greater group of people, I'm sure. Just trying to add to the mix.
Thanks again for your efforts!

Last edited by tc fly girl; Jan 22, 05 at 6:20 pm
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Old Jan 22, 05, 6:55 pm   #15
  
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Originally Posted by bhunwicks
The link to ITA above is broken, what is it, and does anyone have a working link?
http://matrix.itasoftware.com/cvg/dispatch/prego/
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