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If you’ve been following the vlog for a while, you’ll know that right before Kara and Nate left to travel full time, Nate went on the ultimate mileage run flying over 92,000 miles in just 15 days. While many think that Nate is crazy and do not understand why someone would put themselves through that, this in fact was a common practice of anyone into miles and points. Since then, airlines have changed their rewards earnings structures and consequently made it more difficult to justify mileage runs. That being said, they are still possible and can be just as lucrative as ever before. Before we dive into how you can book your own mileage run, I want to make sure everyone understands what they are and why people go on them.
A mileage run is a trip you go on — often with the most circuitous routing possible — solely to earn miles and/or airline elite status. The destination is irrelevant because you will most likely have a quick turnaround and spend very little time on the ground.
There are three reasons why someone would go on a mileage run:
1. Earn Redeemable Miles For Cheap
Although many airlines implemented new revenue-based earning structures making it tougher to earn miles redeemable towards free flights, there are still ways to earn those miles for cheap through mileage runs (more on that later). In Nate’s case, he left his mileage run about 300,000 American Airlines miles richer — which Kara and Nate value at about $4,500 worth of free flights.
2. Earn Elite Status
In addition to earning award miles, flying also yields miles and dollars which count towards qualifying for elite status. While every airline’s program has its own name for these miles and dollars — American Airlines calls them EQMs and EQDs, Delta calls them MQMs and MQDs, United calls them PQMs and PQDs — elite qualifying miles are always earned based on the distance you travel per year. By the end of Nate’s mileage run, he had earned Executive Platinum status with American Airlines which comes with perks such as upgrades, priority boarding and most notably, access to first class lounges when traveling internationally. Kara and Nate would not have had access to five out of their seven favorite airport lounges if it weren’t for Nate’s Executive Platinum status.
3. For the Fun of it
While sitting in an aluminum tube for hours with no destination may sound like a nightmare for some, mileage runs can actually be a lot of fun — especially if you’re sitting in a premium cabin with lie-flat seats and are spoiled with an abundance of food. Although Nate basically lived on planes between three continents for two weeks, his business class seats made for a very comfortable trip. If nothing else, you’ll have a great story to share!
As previously mentioned, many airlines have switched to revenue-based mileage accrual, meaning that you will earn award miles solely based on how much you spend. However, there are some loopholes...
1. Travel Portals
The first loophole is to book your flight through a travel portal such as Chase’s and Citi’s or as a part of a vacation package.
The reason we do this is because they typically code as bulk fares and earn both award miles and elite qualifying dollars based on distance. You can find the earning structures of bulk fares on airlines’ websites — American Airlines refers to them as Special Fares, Delta as Exception Fares and United as Specialty Tickets.
For instance, if we book a $138 one way economy ticket from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) directly through American Airlines without elite status, we would earn 580 award miles, 2,475 elite qualifying miles (EQMs) and 116 elite qualifying dollars (EQDs). On the other hand, if we booked the same flight as a special fare, we would earn 1,237 award miles, 2,475 EQMs and 247.50 EQDs.
That being said, simply booking a flight through one of the travel portals mentioned does not automatically mean that it will code as a bulk fare. You must always check the rules of the fare before booking. You do this by clicking “View Details,” then “View Rules and Policies,” and finally “See Airline Fare Rules.”
Once you’re there you do a quick search (using CTRL or Command F) for the word “wholesale.” If it’s there, you have successfully found yourself a bulk fare. In this case, by booking through the Chase travel portal, we would be earning over double the amount of award miles and over $100 EQDs than if we booked directly through the airline.
Alternatively, you can book your flight as you ordinarily would and just credit the miles to a partner airline. Besides the three U.S. legacy carriers, most partner airlines still have distance-based mileage accrual and any elite status earned with that airline would still be recognized throughout the airline’s alliance. When deciding where to credit your miles you should use a tool called Where to Credit. It’s free and easy to use — all you need to do is input the airline and booking class you are flying.
It then presents you with all your options. In our case, we would earn the most award miles by crediting our American Airlines “O” ticket to a partner such as Etihad or Finnair to earn 100% award miles per mile flown. That being said, crediting our flight to Etihad or Finnair wouldn’t automatically be the best option. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense if we don’t have any miles with the airlines yet and don't have a plan for earning more with them in the future.
While airlines have changed their rewards earnings structures, mileage runs are not completely dead and anyone can still go on them. In order to really make them worth it, you should be booking a mistake fare or other great deal. Nate goes into full detail on mistake fares in his Mistake Fare Manual, but you can also find good deals and inspiration by following the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk and Nate’s Flight Deal Notifications.
Did this article tempt you to go on a mileage run? Share your experiences below!