NOTE: This post is the first of two. This post covers mileage running and how I booked an extreme mileage run. Part two is the results of the mileage run and it can be found here.
Whether you are a points and miles newbie or an experienced veteran, there may come a time when you need to take a mileage run. In this post, I will cover:
- Why you may need to make a mileage run.
- Are mileage runs “dead”?
- How do I decide on what makes “cents” for a mileage run?
- My mileage run toolbox.
What Is A Mileage Run?
The first thing about mileage running is why does one do a mileage run. The purpose of doing a mileage run is to qualify or requalify for frequent flier elite status with your airline. Frequent flier programs generally have four or five tiers and you must qualify each year to attain or retain elite tier status. Qualifying miles are known as Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM). With Alaska Airlines, there are five tiers starting with general membership. There are four elite member tiers
Remember that tier levels require you to qualify or requalify each year. If you are short of achieving the elite status that you desire, you may be a candidate for a mileage run.
Elite qualifying miles are earned on the base miles flown. With Alaska Airlines, you can not earn less than one mile of EQM credit for every mile flown. You can earn more than one EQM per mile flown when flying on tickets purchased on a higher fare code. Some airlines can award less than one EQM for every mile flown depending on fare code. Alaska Airlines awards a minimum of 500 EQMs on its shortest flights. The flight distance from Portland to Seattle is just 129 air miles but earns at least the 500-mile minimum. Alaska Airlines has no minimum spending requirements for elite status where other airlines do. You need to check with your airline for elite status requirements.
What Is Extreme Mileage Running?
Extreme mileage running is exactly what the name implies. There have been people who have flown from JFK to SEA to HNL and turned around and flown home without leaving the airport. This itinerary would earn at least 10,160 elite qualifying miles. This type of extreme mileage running is rough because you are flying for 12 hours with one break and crossing five time zones.
The mileage run that I am flying to Fairbanks Alaska in September from Portland Oregon will earn 8,040 elite qualifying miles. The actual distance covered is 7,186 miles but with minimum mileage segments, I will pick up an extra 854 miles. It covers five legs with the longest flights having a duration of 3 hours and 45 minutes and only one time zone is crossed.
What Is Elite Status Worth?
Elite status does come with some great benefits that have value levels for each tier. Each year, thepointsguy.com establishes a retail value for each airline’s elite status. For Alaska Airlines, thepointsguy.com has calculated tier valuations as:
- MVP Gold 100K – $9,110
- MVP Gold 75K – $7,335
- MVP Gold – $3,095
- MVP – $765
How Do I Know that I Need A Mileage Run?
As a recreational flyer, I can plan trips in advance. I maintain a spreadsheet that tracks my progress for requalifying as an MVP Gold 100K member. Looking at my progress, I can see that I am going to be short. A mileage run will indeed fix my problem. Here is my “progress” spreadsheet:
The flights in yellow were booked using Alaska Airlines Visa companion vouchers. With 5,000 EQMs waiting to post from a canceled trip in January and the mileage run to Fairbanks, AK in September, I will be able to attain MVP Gold 100K status.
Here’s The Problem
When most people realize that they need a mileage run, it is late in the year in November and December. This is not the time to figure out that you are going to be short. Mileage runs at the end of the year have these problems:
- You are trying to book a cheap flight during prime holiday periods,
- Your options are limited,
- The best flights will be fully booked and
- Winter weather could throw delays and/or cancellations into your mileage run plans.
If you can plan ahead, you will be ahead of the other mileage runners and you will get a better deal.
How I Calculate A Mileage Run
In order for a mileage run to be successful, I need to maximize EQMs earned and minimize the dollars spent. I am looking at booking a mileage run, I am willing to pay:
- Five cents per mile for economy/premium economy and
- Ten cents per mile for first class.
Any ticket that exceeds these parameters would not make sense.
My Mileage Run Toolbox
For my mileage run to Fairbanks in August, I am using several tools to assist me for this extreme mileage run. These tools include:
- Using the “multicity” search option,
- Using the Alaska Airlines Visa credit card companion voucher and
- Using my Alaska Airlines Gold guest upgrade certificates,
- Knowing the airline’s rules for booking, companion vouchers and upgrades.
When you use the companion voucher, both passengers receive the full base mile EQMs. Taking a friend on a mileage run can cut your cost nearly in half.
When you use an Alaska Airlines Gold Guest Upgrade certificate, it is valid for all legs in one direction as long as no layover exceeds three hours. When you do a search for MVP Gold guest upgrade space, you will see a blue box with a white F if there is space.
I used the multicity search to force the booking engine to search through LAX. Here is the search that I used:
I used several sets of travel dates to find the lowest cost tickets. I ran this search to give me a full day in Fairbanks before returning back to Portland. I booked the routings that gave me the best schedule and confirmed bookings into first class:
In this search, there are ten legs, five in each direction. Of the ten legs, nine legs have first class and eight legs have confirmed first class upgrade space. This booking will earn 8,040 elite qualifying miles.
Keep in mind that if the search engine shows you a legal routing, you can book it. Technically, I don’t have the minimum connection time from the San Francisco/Los Angeles and Los Angeles/Seattle legs at just 30 minutes but the search engine let me book it anyway. To understand what minimum connections are and how they can affect you, my post can be found here. This connection will take place at LAX terminal 6 and I will be carry-on. I can make it to any gate at terminal 6 in about five minutes.
What It Cost
I was able to book this mileage run for two people for a cost of $1,178.72 for all ten legs using the companion voucher and gold guest upgrade certificates. This breaks down to:
- $589.36 per person and
- 7.3 cents per elite qualifying mile earned.
Even though 7.3 CPM exceeds my parameters for an economy mileage run, I am in confirmed first class for eight legs and on the waiting list for the Fairbanks to Seattle leg.
In addition to the 8,040 EQMs earned, I will also receive an additional 12,060 bonus miles that I can use to book award flights.
Sometimes you just need a “turn and burn” flight to attain or retain elite status. I don’t recommend chasing elite status just for attaining elite status. I do encourage you to look beyond if you need a mileage run by using the multicity search and searching various dates to find the best price. The perfect mileage run will earn maximum elite qualifying miles for the least amount of money.