What Makes a Mileage Run Worth it?

For those who may not know, mileage running is generally defined as the act of flying somewhere for the main purpose of accumulating miles and gaining miles toward airline elite status. While this certainly has its appeal – especially to those who enjoy aviation and flying! – I think there are some criterion one should establish before flying a cheap mileage run airfare only to realize it didn't get them anywhere at the end of the year. Here are some of my tips for making sure you're not wasting your dollars.

If you're doing a multi-day or overnight run, check hotel prices!

While book now, check later may be an appropriate strategy in some cases, I would say mileage runs are not one of those cases. While that $200 transcontinental flight from the West Coast to New York may be a great deal at ~4 cents per mile, you have to factor in secondary costs! One minute the CPM might be around 4, but suddenly your hotel booking is costing a conservative $180 and your subway fare another $20. Somehow, 8 CPM just isn't so good. You might be thinking "well, yeah, that's why you don't take an overnight mileage run to New York!". But it's not always that simple, though admittedly my favorite mileage runs are actually to the middle of the country. Before booking a mileage run, make sure to check out the hotel and transportation costs first! And obviously, I would suggest using points if possible. In fact, I try and wait for a mileage run to somewhere where I can stay for cheap. One example of this was the recent SEA-MCI decent mileage run. At ~5CPM, it wasn't great, but the fact that there was a Starwood property at only 2,000 points per night with a free airport shuttle sealed the deal. Unless you are close for status, I would recommend keeping your total airfare + hotel CPM for mileage runs at or below 6.

Make sure you don't waste your mileage run

This might seem simple, but elite status miles have a variable value. 24,999 miles towards a 25,000 tier status mean nothing until you get that last mile. While mileage running for the sake of mileage running can be tempting, it can be a losing proposition. If you end the year right stuck in the middle between elite statuses, this probably means you should have taken a couple less. The best thing to do is to plan your expected travel out early, and calculate out your expected area of status by years' end. While I understand this is easier said than done, it will at least give you a general idea of where you'll be at the end of the year. With that info, you can make informed decisions about taking mileage runs earlier or later in the year, or if you'll even need to take them at all to qualify for elite status!

Turn your Mileage Run into a personal vacation!

This may seem counter to what I was saying about saving money, but I think if done properly can be great way to relax. Instead of doing same-day or overnight stays with your mileage run, stay for a couple of days. See the sights of the city, or just relax at the hotel pool. I think mileage running can be a productive traveling session too – go explore the world around you. While time constraints may make this difficult many times, I try and do so a couple times a year. I always seem to come back refreshed when I return, and helps to counterbalance any bad effects of future same-day turns! That said, I only do this if I find a very cheap hotel rate or a cheap points rate.

I hope these tips help you on your way to a successful mileage run. Keep them in mind next time you see a low fare!