A mileage run (or MR if you are hip to the lingo) is when you book a flight just for the loyalty points you earn with the airline (or hotel for that matter). Usually this is done when you find an extremely low fare on an airline you like to earn status with.
Living in Seattle, my airline of choice is Alaska. I have been MVP for the past few years, but this year I am aiming for MVP Gold. The benefits of MVP Gold are extensive; most important to me are upgrades to first class and ability to change a flight with no penalty. You must earn 40,000 “elite qualifying miles” (or EQMs), which usually means actual miles flown. Miles you earn through using your Alaska Airlines Visa Card, for example, do not count towards elite status.
Sometimes a mileage run can become quite intricate, like Twitter user @laptoptravel that recently did a GEG-SEA-HNL-LIH-HNL-LAX-PDX-SLC-GEG mileage run (those are airport codes if you weren’t aware… basically this person went all over the western US and Hawaii to get miles.
For my first mileage run, I found a roundtrip flight from Seattle to Baltimore for $160. It was listed during their flash sale along with a 5% off coupon from their Alaska Insider weekly deals email.
This roundtrip flight would net me 4,670 EQMs plus 2,336 bonus miles (non EQMs) due to my status as MVP. Plus I used my Alaska Airlines Visa Card and received 480 bonus miles (3 miles per $1 spent with Alaska). This one trip got me 1/4 of the way to MVP for next year, or 1/8 of the way to MVP Gold. Plus, it netted me a total of almost 7,500 miles… more than enough for a free flight on certain discounted routes (for example, earlier this fall I flew to San Jose, CA for 5,000 miles each way).
Calculated out that is about 2.1 cents per mile. 3.4 cents per EQM. According to Scott at Travel Codex, if you pay less than 4 cents per mile for a mileage run, it is worth it.
The flight left SEA at 8:00am landed in BWI at 4:00pm local time. The same plane turned around and took off from BWI at 5:00pm and landed back in SEA at 8:00pm. 12 hours invested but no need to get a hotel. There were added costs of about $45 (parking at the airport for the day, meals, and drinks on the plane of course!). But on a given Saturday in Seattle, I would probably have spent at least this on a meal out or two. All in, the day cost me 12 hours and $200. Was it worth it?
The flights themselves were actually quite comfortable. Neither were full; both flights I had an empty seat next to me. While I didn’t get upgraded to first class; I was in an exit row on the way out and row 6 on the way back. Since I was not really going anywhere, the only things I packed were what would make the flight more comfortable. Ear plugs, iPad, headphones, eye mask, Purell, hand lotion (it gets dry), blanket and neck pillow. The best purchase I have ever made for flying is an inflatable lumbar pillow.
Watching a couple movies, playing Trivia Crack on my iPhone over Gogo Inflight Internet, talking to neighbors; the flights went fast. Unusually fast. I think the difference was that normal flights you are either thinking about where you are going (details of vacation, your work presentation) or stressing about returning home (all the laundry you are going to need to do). I was able to completely relax on the flights.
Would I do a mileage run again? If I found a deal like this, I would. It was a fun experience and now I’m one step closer to both MVP Gold and a free flight!
Note: I do not receive any payment from Alaska Air, Visa, or Gogo for this post. Everything here is my own opinion and not an endorsement of any sort.