Are Mileage Runs Even Worth it Anymore?

With airlines constantly changing their earning structure and miles becoming easier to accumulate via non-flying means, it seems that mileage runs might be dead. That’s not necessarily the case, as it can vary a lot depending on the airline and the type of ticket you’re purchasing. 

What Exactly is a Mileage Run?

A mileage run refers to a trip taken primarily to accumulate airline miles or achieve elite status in a frequent flyer program. The goal is to fly a specific route or multiple segments to earn miles, which can be redeemed for free flights and upgrades. 

The most successful mileage runs either involve “turns” where your plane reaches its destination and turns right back around, or long flights with cheap airfare, designed to get the most mileage credit for the least amount of money spend. 

A turn would be Seattle to Raleigh to Seattle, where the same plane that took you there is the same plane flying you home. A long flight option would be a cheap business class ticket from Seattle to Johannesburg via London.

a tv in a plane

Should You Consider Mileage Running?

If you’re trying to get to the next tier in an elite airline program, and a few extra miles can get you there, then absolutely. I think a lot of people are sold on the dream of first class upgrades and posh comfy seats with meals and liquor, but in reality mileage running is a CHORE. You’re taking a full day in many cases, sitting inside of a metal tube just to earn points and miles. As with most things in this hobby, have an end goal in mind instead of just jumping on the first flight deal you see.

Which Airlines Have Easy Mileage Runs?

Without a doubt, the easiest and most convenient mileage running airline in the United States is Alaska Airlines. Alaska still rewards their members with a minimum of one mile earned for each mile flown. This means that if you found a cheap $99 cross country ticket, you’re going to earn the same amount of miles as someone who paid a few hundred dollars for their ticket.

If you’re looking at earning mileage outside of the U.S., make sure that you understand the intricacies of each program as they tend to be more complicated. British Airways is a favorite among those in the hobby as with very short haul business class flights, you can earn a lot of Tier Points, the currency of British Airways’ elite status.

Which Airlines Have Killed Mileage Runs?

I’ll probably get some heat with this one, and I’m sure the comments section is going to be filled with people telling me that you can still do mileage runs on these airlines, but the big three U.S. airlines have made it pretty tough to get good value out of mileage running. American, United, and Delta have all gone money based, meaning that you’re gonna have to fork over cash to get your elite status. American gives you a base level of loyalty points for each dollar spent on flights while United uses a convoluted mesh of points and segments and flights. 

Delta now uses MQDs, or Medallion Qualifying Dollars, to track their elite status. Since it’s based on the amount of your ticket, the distance you’re flying doesn’t really matter. You can take a mileage run on one of Delta’s partners and earn MQDs based on the distance flown, so there’s still some value in that.

a seat on a plane

What Alternatives Exist?

The answer to this one is twofold, as there are a couple of really good reasons for doing mileage runs.

If you’re in it for the miles…

There is a constantly growing list of ways to earn miles and points in today’s hobby that if your end game is just to earn a bunch of miles, you don’t have to even fly anymore. I recently earned top tier American Airlines Executive Platinum status and I’ve barely set foot onto an American Airlines plane.

Credit card sign up bonuses are bigger than ever, with many cards now offering 50, 60, and even 100,000 points for signing up and completing a welcome bonus. Shopping portals, where you start your shopping trip by visiting the airline’s website first, now offer between 1x and 10x points for making normal purchases. Our favorite by far is Rakuten, where you can earn valuable American Express Membership Rewards points with your purchases. 

If you’re in it for the status…

Airline status is pretty nifty, as it comes with free bags, free seat selections, and most importantly for many, free upgrades to first class. Many perks, such a free bags, priority check in, priority boarding and more, now come with holding the airline’s credit card. No need to worry about spending your way to Delta Silver status if you can get free bags simply by paying $150 a year and getting a credit card. 

First class upgrades are getting harder to come by anyway, as the wait lists for upgrades can now stretch dozens of people deep. Airlines have figured out the proper way to price tickets now to sell them before take off, so your chances of snagging that coveted slot up front is getting more and more scarce.

a seat in a plane

British Airways First Class

A Great Mileage Run Example

In October of last year, Ben and I flew on a combination of British Airways and Alaska Airlines and netted just under 125,000 redeemable miles and over 54,000 qualifying miles. Here’s how:

We found a ticket from Vancouver to Johannesburg, South Africa in First Class on British Airways at a steal of a price. Since Alaska awards bonuses depending on the type of ticket you buy and the distance flown, the longer flights would give us more miles. Check out the EQM, elite qualifying miles, and redeemable miles earned for each leg of the flight.

  • •SEA-YVR (Positioning)
  • •YVR-SEA (J, 200%) 1,000 EQM, 2,375 Redeemable
  • •SEA-LHR (A, 250%) 11,950 EQM 27,606 Redeemable
  • •LHR-JNB (A, 250%) 14,075 EQM 32,315 Redeemable
  • •JNB-LHR (A, 250%) 14,075 EQM 32,315 Redeemable
  • •LHR-SEA (A, 250%) 11,950 EQM 27,606 Redeemable
  • •SEA-YVR (J, 200%) 1,000 EQM, 2,375 Redeemable
This meant that for our vacation to South Africa we earned 54,050 qualifying miles and 124,592 redeemable miles. Now that’s a mileage run.

So, Should I Even Bother?

In short, if you’re flying on an airline like Alaska that still earns based on the distance flown, then a mileage run can make sense. If you’re loyal to American, United, or Delta, then double check that it still makes sense considering the price you’re going to have to pay. Mileage runs aren’t dead, but they might be on life support.

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. For many US airlines, there is no longer mileage runs but rather dollar runs. This is because points are awarded by many US airlines by dollars, not by miles anymore. For example, JFK-SFO is no longer 2586 miles but 5 to 11 points (miles) per dollar spent.

    That said, I am wary of dollar runs anymore unless there is a short term use anticipated. Do you really want to spend $1000 to get 5,000 miles or 11,000 miles? I do not. In the past, maybe you could spend $300 to get 5172 miles (JFK-SFO-JFK)

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  2. “We found a ticket from Vancouver to Johannesburg, South Africa in First Class on British Airways at a steal of a price.”

    Why didn’t you share the price with your readers?

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    • It was for $4200 each, and we used Amex MR and Chase UR to offset the cost to $0! A great price for first class.

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  3. Glad you guys are still alive and posting. Welcome back.

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    • Much obliged :). We exist!

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  4. Mileage runs for easy lounge-access granting status still makes sense for some, but mileage runs for earning spendable miles? The latter is now rarely the case because mileage earning from inexpensive fares has become far poorer than it used to be and the miles have been devalued when it comes to trying to redeem them.

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