What is a “Mileage Run”, and When Should You Consider Taking One?

Brian Cohen on his way to boarding his flight from Atlanta to Chicago recently. Image courtesy of NBC News.

If you watched the piece which was aired on The TODAY Show this morning and wondered what is a mileage run, it is the process of flying as a passenger on flights specifically for the purpose of earning elite status for the following year, accruing enough frequent flier loyalty program miles to redeem for a coveted award trip — or perhaps both.

If you are wondering why anyone would even consider going on a mileage run, it is because the rewards can be worth — and even outweigh — the effort. Earning elite status usually means upgrades are easier to obtain and can occur more often, earning bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles, complimentary access to airport lounges, priority boarding and luggage handling, access to special offers exclusive to elite members only, and other benefits. A little time and effort now can pay off in terms of comfort and special treatment later — at least all year long during the next year, to be more precise — as well as in additional frequent flier loyalty program miles to be used for award tickets.

The last three months of the year is usually the time when FlyerTalk members embark on mileage runs in the event that they are close enough to earn elite status for the following year — although there are many who are insane enough to endure enough mileage runs to go to a level of elite status requiring the flying of tens of thousands of miles as a passenger on commercial aircraft. This is the time of year where FlyerTalk members ask for advice on the least-expensive way to earn elite status for next year by traveling, such as in this discussion in the Delta SkyMiles forum on FlyerTalk, which usually gets resurrected every year towards the end of the year.

If you are like me and actually dare to step out of the airport at a destination, then it is not considered a “pure” mileage run, as I prefer to visit destinations along the way — especially when I have never visited them before. I have a number of crazy itineraries under my belt — where I have actually been called “insane” by fellow FlyerTalk members as well as family and friends — but I rationalize my madness by explaining that I usually endure those crazy itineraries within a week or two rather than over the course of several weeks or months. After all, I do not want to spend all of my down time in the air, as I do value my time at home. A week or two of insane travel out of the year is a nice compromise to maintain my elite status while enjoying time at home — especially when the weather is ideal for me to spend my time outside.

As much as I enjoy traveling, it can get weary and tiresome after a while — especially when unexpected developments occur, such as flight cancellations or irregular operations due to weather or mechanical issues. It is easier to be flexible and adapt to such circumstances when traveling on my own time and not on business or trips to see family, where unpredictable inconveniences can cause an unwanted domino effect if someone is picking me up at an airport or if I have an important meeting which I must attend and cannot be changed or postponed.

What is the threshold of whether a mileage run is worth taking? Accepted general convention is typically three cents per frequent flier loyalty program mile or less — although for me, it is usually three cents per frequent flier loyalty program status mile or less to be earned towards elite status. Of course, the only right answer is what you believe the value would be to you, as it depends what type of flights are important to you. Some FlyerTalk members would pay more per frequent flier loyalty program mile for seats in the business class cabin. It may also depend on the airline — or just how coveted is the next level of elite status. For me, it also depends on the destination.

Of course, do not consider taking on a mileage run if you do not intend to travel at any time within the near — or foreseeable — future. Having elite status is worthless if you cannot take advantage of it.

Please click here for additional information on mileage runs — and please click here for offers currently available and updated daily on itineraries that are considered worthy enough for mileage runs.

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