The last great mileage run

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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.

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