It became commonplace in the past few year to declare the mileage run dead. And for the most part, the traditional mileage run has been dead for a long time. A combination of rising airfares and rising award prices meant that it no longer made sense to fly for the redeemable miles earned.
It didn’t used to be that way. Double, triple, and even quadruple miles offers abounded a dozen years ago. Airfares were low, $200 cross country roundtrips were common or even $500 roundtrips between the US and Southeast Asia (upgradable even).
I once cleared about 100,000 redeemable miles on a single roundtrip, and back then United’s business class awards between the US and Australia were 90,000 miles roundtrip. Sure, the opportunity cost of my time was lower back then. And there was no inflight internet. But I curled up with a good book.
Mileage runs became less about earning points for future travel, and more about elite status. You’d fly in order to be better treated when you fly. I never thought it made sense to do this from zero, but it if you were going to fly 90,000 miles a year and were going to fly at least that much in the following year it could make sense to fly that extra 10,000 miles to earn top tier status. It would make a big difference in comfort in the year to come.
Once upon a time airlines appreciated the mileage runner. At least United did.
Does United frown on “mileage runs”? Next week, I’m flying to Singapore and back in a couple of days just for the miles — and I’m flying on a really inexpensive ticket.
Ohhhh, good question…..
It’s allowed in the program. Have at it!!!!!!
Straight from the boss….. I guess that’s an endorsement to fly….
We appreciate loyal customers!!!!!
Two years later – in 2003 – United’s Sahadevan changed his tune.
He said that for too long flyers have gotten more value out of the airline than their revenue was worth.
US Airways found a way to let flyers earn their end of year status without actually taking up seats on the plane. They called it ‘Everything Counts’ and everything but credit card spend counted towards status at the end of one year.
United makes money selling bonus qualifying miles with each ticket. Of course you can buy the qualifying miles, cancel the ticket, and the qualifying miles still stay in your account (that part gets no refund). They increase the price of those qualifying miles as the end of the year approaches.
Though perhaps the greatest way ever to mileage run was with Lufthansa Private Jet.
With United and Delta revenue-based for mileage-earning, and imposing minimum spend requirements for elite status — and with American going revenue-based for earning later this year — it’s tough to mileage run the old fashioned way, either for redeemable miles or even for status. Airlines will sell you part of the way towards status, but it isn’t cheap.
There’s the occasional mistake fare that may be worthwhile for mileage running (you’ll usually have to credit the miles to a partner airline if it’s a US airline’s fare, because of revenue-based earning).
But now the way to mileage run for status may be domestic first class fares, which really turns mileage running on its head.
United quickly copied American. With United, discount first class earns double elite qualifying miles.
Instead of just offering expensive first class fares, what the airlines have gone to is taking discount coach fares and adding a fixed amount to them for first class.
$159 is less that the cost of the paid coach fare. So your second set (doubled) of elite qualifying miles comes at less than the cost of the first ticket.
It may be a much better deal to buy a ticket and buy it in first class, rather than buying two tickets and flying more, spending more time, to earn the incremental miles needed for elite status.
Of course when there’s a great international business class deal that’s even better.
But the way status and bonuses now work, mileage runs can be more efficient in premium cabins than in coach. But they still only really make sense at the margin, topping off a small number of miles to boost you over the next status hurdle that you’re close to, and if you’re going to fly at least as much in the coming year.