I’ll say this upfront: there’s no step-by-step method to find the best mileage run. It’s a complicated topic, and the fact that there are several airlines and an infinite number of route possibilities is evidence of that.
There are, however, a few places we can look and a few “tricks” we can use that can help lead us on the correct path to finding a great mileage run deal.
One of my favorite websites to start with is The Flight Deal. Their team is constantly on the lookout for airfare that meets one basic criterion: it must be less than 6 cents per mile flown. For example, a round trip flight of 5000 miles wouldn’t be considered a good deal unless it was $300 or less ($300/5000 = $.06/mile).
In my opinion, you want to start paying attention to the deals that are closer to $.035/mile, or 3.5 cents per mile.
In addition to The Flight Deal, the most obvious source to go to would be FlyerTalk. This thread is literally full of just mileage run deals.
The rub with each of these is that your local airport(s) may not be listed. If your city is listed for a good deal, you’re golden. Head over to ITA’s Airfare Search, plug in your locations and dates (be sure to click on “See calendar of lowest fares”), and you’ll be presented with a one-month calendar of the cheapest airfare. Note that on the calendar results page you can filter by airline.
If you’re looking for a literal mileage run where you get off at your destination and come straight home (as opposed to staying a night or two for sightseeing etc.), then plug in “0-1” in the “Length of Stay” field.
Also note that you cannot book your flights through ITA’s results – it merely shows you what’s available. You should be able to book your chosen flights directly from the airline’s website.
Note that these fares should stack with other promotions that might be available. For example, I recently booked a US Airways mileage run that The Flight Deal notes calculates at 4.8 cents per mile. There also happens to be a US Airways deal going on for double preferred qualifying miles through the end of the year, meaning I’m actually going to get 2.4 cents per mile on this mileage run. It’s not the best one ever, but it’s pretty darn good in my opinion.
Another good resource is Seth, The Wandering Aramean. He recently detailed how he booked his mileage run using ITA Airfare search, and also detailed a few advanced routing techniques with screen shots throughout. Scottrick also wrote an article on mileage running earlier this year.
If you know of any other methods for mileage running, please let me know!