The last great mileage run

Mileage running is a dead sport.  People used to purchase flights and fly the longest, cheapest routes they could find just to earn miles and status.  Today, for most people in the United States, mileage running no longer makes sense.

If your goal is to earn miles, you can do much better by signing up for a few credit cards, shopping through online portals, or maximizing credit card category bonuses.

If your goal is elite status, you can run up spend on credit cards rather than paying for flights (see, for example, “How to manufacture Delta elite status”).  You should also think about why you want elite status.  Lounge access, free checked bags, priority boarding, and priority screening can all be had with the right credit cards in-hand.  How about free upgrades?  If you earn enough miles you can book first class using miles from the get-go and not even worry about whether or not your upgrade will clear.

Both Delta and United added nails to the coffin when they added spend requirements to their elite status levels.  Then, they fully laid mileage running to rest when they announced that, as of January 1 2015 with Delta and March 1 2015 with United, miles earned from flying would be calculated from the price of the ticket rather than from the distance flown.  No longer will cheap long distance flights earn enough miles to be worth the price to fly just for the mileage run.

There are exceptions, of course.  Both American Airlines and Alaska Airlines continue to award both elite status and redeemable miles based on miles flown.  So, mileage running can still be reasonable with airlines like these, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are better and easier ways to earn miles and benefits.

One last great opportunity

The merger of American Airlines with US Airways has led to a limited time opportunity in which mileage running just might make sense for some.  The two airlines recently announced plans to merge their frequent flyer programs in the second quarter of next year.  Essentially, they will be moving all US Airways members into the AAdvantage program with only minor modifications to that program.

While US Airways elites are unlikely to welcome the increased competition for upgrades that will come with the merger, their top tier Chairman’s Preferred members get a really good deal.  Those who qualify for 2015 Chairman’s Preferred status will get the usual two system-wide upgrades granted by that program as well as eight system wide upgrades when their status gets transferred to top tier AA Executive Platinum status in the second quarter of next year.  Ten system wide upgrades might help justify mileage running to top tier status with AA next year since one could buy cheap long distance economy airfare and upgrade to comfortable business class.

 

So, that’s great for serious US Airways flyers, but what about the rest of us?  US Airways offers a Preferred Status Trial.  As long as you don’t currently have any elite status with US Airways, you can buy into the Trial as follows:

  • Try Silver status: $200
  • Try Gold status: $400
  • Try Platinum status: $600

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Whichever above option you pick will give you the corresponding status for 90 days.  Then, during those 90 days, you can earn elite status (which will last through February 29th 2016) by flying as follows:

  • Silver: Fly 7,500 miles or 10 segments
  • Gold: Fly 15,000 miles or 20 segments
  • Platinum: Fly 22,500 miles or 30 segments
  • Chairman’s: Fly 30,000 miles or 40 segments

Regardless of which trial you buy into, you can earn top tier Chairman’s status by flying 30,000 miles in 90 days on flights operated by US Airways, US Airways Express, American Airlines and American Eagle.

One Mile at a Time suggested this path here: Use US Airways Challenge To Earn Executive Platinum Status!  And, he answered common questions about it here: Answers To Your Questions About The US Airways Preferred Trial

Analyzing the 30K mileage run

One can find mileage run opportunities by reading through the Mileage Run forum on FlyerTalk, subscribing to The Flight Deal, and learning how to use ITA Matrix, especially with the option to show (and sort by) price per mile.  Hint: go to this URL: matrix.itasoftware.com/?showPricePerMile=true.

Mileage Run Cost

I spent a few minutes on Friday looking at US Airways and AA options and quickly found a few good looking long distance flights that cost about 4.1 cents per mile.  These days, I think that’s pretty typical for a mileage run.  For this analysis, though, let’s assume that tickets cost an average of 5 cents per mile after accounting for the cost of flights, airport parking, etc.

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At 5 cents per mile, it will cost $.05 x 30,000 = $1,500 (and a lot of painful butt-in-seat time) to earn top tier Chairman’s Preferred status.  That’s in addition to the cost of enrolling in the Trial (between $200 and $600).  So, total costs are as follows:

  • Silver status trial: $1,700
  • Gold status trial: $1,900
  • Platinum status trial: $2,100

Mileage Run Benefits

The benefits of this 30K mileage run would include all of the perks of elite status  during the challenge, and from the time you complete the challenge through February 29th 2016, plus all of redeemable miles earned from the mileage run.

Perks: Standard perks of US Airways top tier Chairman’s Preferred status can be found here.  Once the programs merge, status will become AA Executive Platinum. Current perks of Executive Platinum status can be found here.  Rather than going into great detail about these great perks, lets simply look at the system-wide upgrades for now.  If we conservatively estimate the value of the certificates at $200 each, then the 10 certificates alone are worth $2,000.  One could argue that this 30K mileage run is worth it for those certificates alone.

Miles: The number of miles earned from flying 30,000 miles will depend upon which Trial you bought into.  Silver members earn 25% extra miles, Gold members earn 50% more miles, and Platinum members earn 75% more miles.  So, redeemable miles earned on 30K miles flown should be as follows:

  • Silver status trial: 37,500
  • Gold status trial: 45,000
  • Platinum status trial: 52,500

None of those options result in an amazing number of miles (you can easily earn as many or more with a single signup bonus), but they’re much better than nothing!  If you value AA miles at about 1.5 cents each, then even those with the Silver trial will earn $562.50 worth of miles.

You will also, of course, earn miles when paying for the mileage run airfare.  At a minimum you will hopefully pay with a card that offers 2 miles per dollar (around 3000 miles), but there are options that are even better than that.

General thoughts

It appears that the benefits earned from this opportunity can easily outweigh the cost (assuming you don’t mind spending around $2000 for those benefits!).  If you’re in a situation where you’re likely to fly 30,000 miles anyway, it is probably worth it to do this trial and fly AA and/or US Airways even the flights are more expensive or less convenient.  And, if you’re likely to fly AA and/or US Airways a lot next year, you’ll receive far more benefits from top tier status than someone who is unlikely to fly those airlines often.

Some things to consider before deciding:

  • Do you have ~$2000 of discretionary money to spend?
  • How painful will it be to sit in planes for days on end?  Are you willing to put in that time?
  • How valuable to you are the perks you would earn?  Are you sure you would use those upgrade certificates?  Will you fly AA and/or US Airways enough to get benefits from top tier status?

Considering it myself

In general, seeking AA or US Airways status makes absolutely no sense for me.  I currently have high level (Platinum) Deta elite status and have found it easy re-up that status through credit card spend alone.  More importantly, I live near the Detroit airport which happens to be a Delta hub and has relatively few AA or US Airways flights.  So, why in the world would I even consider this?

Citi Prestige Card

I signed up for the Citi Prestige card in September with the hopes of earning $200 in airline fee reimbursements prior to October 19th, plus $250 on or after October 19th, and another $250 next year.  You can read the latest status of this quest here: My progress towards Citi Prestige 30K and $700.  Thanks to specific features of this card, the 30K US Airways mileage run looks more attractive than it would otherwise…

Points worth 1.6 cents each

I have a huge stash of Citi ThankYou points.  Those points can be transferred to various airline programs or used to purchase airfare at a value of 1.33 cents per points.  When using points for flights on US Airways or AA, though, the points become worth 1.6 cents each.  This presents a couple of opportunities:

Use points to pay for mileage run: Suppose I were to use Thank You points to pay for the 30K mileage run.  In that case, the estimated $1500 in airfare would cost only 93,750 Thank You points.  Considering I would earn up to 52,500 miles for those flights, that’s pretty good!  It would be like transferring miles to AA / US Airways (which is currently not a direct option with Thank You points) and paying out just the difference for the mileage run: 41,250 points.  BUT: To use points for flights, I will be at the mercy of the ThankYou booking engine and/or phone travel agents.  Sometimes the best mileage runs are complicated affairs that are not easily booked via just any booking engine.  Luckily, there is an option to book “multiple destinations” so many mileage runs should be bookable with points:

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Points become more valuable: Regardless of whether or not I use ThankYou points to pay for the mileage runs, one result of obtaining high level status is that it will make my ThankYou points more valuable to me.  Currently, when flying economy and all else is near-equal, I always prefer to fly Delta.  With my status and upgrade certificates, the experience is usually much better than alternatives.  So, as things stand now, I’m unlikely to make use of ThankYou points towards flights on AA or US Airways unless I have status.  If I go for this trial and earn top tier status, flying US Airways (and later AA) will become much more appealing.  I expect that once I have status, I’ll be much more likely to use my ThankYou points for US Airways and AA flights where the points are most valuable.

Earn more points

If I buy mileage run tickets outright (rather than paying with ThankYou points), I can earn more miles from the purchase through creative use of the Prestige card.  The Prestige card offers 3 points per dollar with airlines, hotels, and travel agencies.  Since online travel agencies are often available through portals, I should be able to average at least 5 points/miles per dollar.

Two for the price of one (sort of)

One of the reasons I signed up for the Prestige card when I did was to get access to the global companion pass benefit while it was still available (new applicants now will not get this benefit).  I have until the anniversary of my application date to use the companion pass.  One option for its use is to find someone in my area who also wants to mileage run on AA / US Airways.  We could split the cost of a long distance international flight with the companion pass.  While this sounds great in theory, in practice it might not work out as well.  When using the companion pass, the second passenger still has to pay all fees and taxes.  Sometimes those fees are close to the full price of the ticket.

Schedule flexibility

Unlike most people, I can do my job (blogging) anywhere: airplanes, airport lounges, hotels, etc. are all fair game.  And, if the best mileage run opportunities are mid-week, that’s OK.  In fact, I would far prefer it since I could then continue to spend weekends at home with my family.

Decision time

It seems likely to me that US Airways will stop offering the Preferred Status Trial soon.  My best guess is that it will last until the end of this year, but it could just as likely end by the end of November.  So, I think that anyone considering this Trial should plan to decide (and signup) before this month is over.

Currently, I’m still undecided.  I certainly don’t need to do this.  And, the thought of flying 30,000 miles to nowhere is especially unappealing.  On the other hand, I like challenges.  And, I like the idea of earning elite status perks and upgrade certificates with US Airways and then AA.  Plus, since I blog about miles and status I could argue that doing this would be a good investment in my business.  The more familiar I am with the major airline programs, the better.  I’m leaning towards doing it.

What do you think?  Do you think I should I go for it?  What about you, are you considering the last great mileage run?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

  1. […] Background: Currently, there’s a one time opportunity to get top tier AAdvantage elite status (Executive Platinum) by enrolling in and completing the US Airways Preferred Status Trial.  For fun, I decided to go for it and I know that many readers did too.  Follow along through this series of posts, or on Twitter search for hashtag #30Ktonowhere.  For additional background, please see: The last great mileage run. […]

  2. […] Background: Until recently, there was a one time opportunity to get top tier American Airlines AAdvantage elite status (Executive Platinum) by enrolling in and completing the US Airways Preferred Status Trial.  For fun, I decided to go for it and I know that many readers did too.  All we had to do was fly 30,000 miles on US Airways or American Airlines flights in 90 days.  Follow along through this series of posts, or on Twitter search for hashtag #30Ktonowhere.  For additional background, please see:The last great mileage run.  […]

Comments

  1. Great layout and analysis! One option (for those not in the US or those wanting a little extra fun) could be HKG-GRU with a couple of creative stops. You can do a single day in GRU and head on back. That gets all 30,000 miles done at once and costs $1,180. That is something I am considering myself now. Shame my Brazil visa ends this week. 🙁

  2. That was a great thought-experiment! It sounds very do-able and valuable. If only I had (a lot) more free time to join you on that run and then use those perks to their fullest!

  3. This sounds like a really fun idea, but it wouldn’t fit into my life. Unless I could do all of my mileage runs between 8 and 2:30. I even live at an AA hub. I’ll have to hope that this isn’t the last great mileage run. Either way, there are bound to be other crazy schemes I can get in on when my kids are old enough to walk home from school on their own, should I run into any delays. 🙂

  4. Is travel in coach THAT bad, and is domestic first class THAT good, that makes all of this worth it?

    I think that is the critical question people need to ask themselves.

  5. Thanks for the comprehensive analysis!

    I am signed up for the Platinum challenge, and going for Chairman’s. My questions & struggle is with which sort of mileage run and locations to fly? I would be flying out of BOS/NYC/WAS.

    I have traditionally been a segment flyer. There has been a BOS to BUF fare for 4 segments for about $138, and maybe additional segment runs will come up.

    What about transcons?

    My concern about a long intl run is having to do it in coach. But I am open to the idea of doing it with miles if that will save time, possibly.

    Do people think it would be less painful to fly 4 segments a day for say 7 to 9 days over a 90 day period? Or, say a trip to HKG or SIN, I’m not sure even how long that would take?

    So again just looking for the least painful way to do this. And if I had to spend a little bit more to make it less painful that would be ok.

  6. I’m just learning about this mileage running thing and I’m super fascinated! Thanks for the summary, lots of good info here to think about and compare. Looking forward to more insights. Cheers!

  7. I wouldn’t do it, but since you likely have tax benefits that lower your cost (since you are claiming it for your blog), it certainly could be worthwhile.

  8. I know a number of people who have booked MRs from NAmerica to Asia in January and February to bulk up their RDMs (and fast track status renewal) ahead of the major mileage accumulation changes at UA/MP. And as you point out, AA has not gone revenue-based so there’s another year of OW MRs for AAdvntage elites to both requalify and bulk up on RDMs. So wouldn’t write off the MR all that quickly…and since PQMs are still based on actual mileage flown on MP, there’ll still be plenty of reasons to consider such flights. RDMs are just one of several rationales for MRs.

  9. Mileage running isn’t dead — you should have seen all the MRs on Alaska’s SEA-DTW runs. I was going to CLE but admittantly went via DTW for the 2x MVP qualifying miles, but lots of these people were doing multiple trips to hit MVP Gold and 75K.

    • Well, I did point out Alaska as one of the exceptions. Plus, it wouldn’t have sounded as punchy to say “mileage running is less rewarding than it used to be… for some airline…” 🙂

      • haha indeed — although I can’t think of a better way to get status on Alaska other than MRing during all the recent promos. No way to get it via CC spend!

        I did take advantage of the Dividend Miles Trial Preferred… bought in at silver and made gold. Had enough miles that I could have hit Platinum with a relatively easy MR, but Chairman’s Preferred would have been a stretch. Fortunatley, Gold appears to have been the right level to aim for since it (and DM Platnium) are both getting merged in with AAdvantage Platinum Elite.

  10. FYI: The changes to United as far as earning miles based on $$ actually starts on March 1st, and not January 1st as you indicated.

  11. This idea has got my focus for the past few days. I’ve had exactly the same though process as you. Same circumstances apply to me also.. have the Prestige and a boatload of TYP. Plus I’m based in NYC so this would be super advantageous for me.

    I’d say with the Prestige discount and the miles you earn, it practically pays for itself. The SWU are just gravy. It’s really a no brainer and I’m signed up and my first MR is to PHX this weekend 🙂 Horrible CPM really but it’s 4k less I have to take care of.

    Couple of questions.. do the SWU upgrade to econ premium or business? Do they work on any fare bucket, specifically tix bought with TYP? With the 2 we get from USAir, would that be 2 for 2014 and 2 for 2015 if we complete the challenge in 2014?

    Good luck with it.

    • I don’t have first hand experience with the SWUs, but I believe that the AA ones work with any fare bucket and upgrade you to business from coach. I’m not sure about the US Airways ones.

  12. Maybe a basic question, but if I buy into any level of status in the US Air challenge would this status have any benefits at all for flights on AA metal besides earning EQM’s? I live in a AA hub city so US flight are less plentiful.

    Would I be better off focusing my time and money MRing until the end of the year on AA flights to hit their Gold stauts?

  13. So to clarify, does that mean you must complete the challenge by December of 2014 in order to reap the benefits of the merger?

    Or, do you still receive the 10 system-wide upgrades so long as you complete the challenge before the actual merger occurs (in the second quarter of 2015)?

    To reference:

    “Those who qualify for 2015 Chairman’s Preferred status will get the usual two system-wide upgrades granted by that program as well as eight system wide upgrades when their status gets transferred to top tier AA Executive Platinum status in the second quarter of next year.”

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