End-of-year mileage runs are always a frustrating experience, when some travelers realize they haven’t flown enough to requalify for elite status. The mileage run is essentially a quick round-trip (sometimes with no overnight stay) solely for the purpose of earning miles. One or two extra flights can mean the difference in whether you get upgrades, fee waivers, and other perks for the coming year.
I hate mileage runs, and the end of the year is the worst time to do them. Holiday travel and an approaching deadline mean little time and expensive tickets. More and more airlines are offering customers the chance to buy up to status. These offers are usually targeted at those who already have the status and are at risk of losing it, or to customers who are already very close to earning it.
Brian recently shared an offer with me from Alaska Airlines to pay up for 10,000 elite qualifying miles at a cost of $1,400. (That’s 14 cents per elite qualifying mile.) This would be enough to earn MVP Gold status. Oddly enough he already earned his status recently, so the offer may have been based on older information. I qualified earlier this summer and have not received a similar offer.
This offer is for MVP Gold elite status. That’s Alaska’s middle tier and normally requires 40,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska and Horizon (or 50,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska, Horizon, and partner airlines). I think it’s the best mid-tier status with no service fees, four confirmed upgrade certificates, decent complimentary upgrade success, and no change fees on paid fares.
Is $1,400 a good price? I think it’s on the high end. Keep in mind that such offers are likely to be tailored to the individual recipient. People who are closer to earning status likely pay less than those who are several thousand miles away, and I don’t know how close Brian was when this offer was created. Be aware that these purchases are processed through Points.com and will not earn an airline category bonus with some credit cards.
I know that I would definitely pay $700. That’s about 7 cents per elite qualifying mile and close to limit of what most people would call a mileage run. (For perspective, The Flight Deal only lists trips that cost under 6 cents per mile. A true mileage run earns award miles in addition to elite qualifying miles, but it also requires you spend the weekend on an airplane.)
Each of my MVP Gold Guest upgrade certificates is worth about $100-200 to me, and I save about $100 two or three times a year when I change my flights. That’s why I put the limit at $700. You still might find it worth paying $1,400 depending on how often you use some of the other benefits. Complimentary upgrades could be a tipping factor, but the value of those will really depend on your own travel habits.
There’s also an option to redeem 140,000 Mileage Plan award miles instead of paying $1,400. I strongly recommend against this. Alaska Airlines has one of the most valuable award currencies. I peg them at around 1.7 to 2.0 cents each, which means 140,000 miles are worth as much as $2,800.
The third option is to refuse both offers and forego earning elite status this year. Remember I said there are lots of bad reasons to do mileage runs at the end of the year, but the beginning of the year is one of the best. There are cheaper flights without the holiday demand. Once earned, your new status can be enjoyed for the rest of the year and all of the following year, too. I suspect Brian could get half of the way toward MVP Gold very quickly with a four cross-country flights at $350 each.