It’s that time of the year again. The time of year when the road warrior travelers (like me!) start double checking their loyalty points balances to gauge where they will land for the year. Depending on how close one is to the next loyalty level many of us seasoned travelers will do a “mileage run” to make sure we get over the threshold and earn or maintain status for the next year.
In this article, we explain what a mileage run is, why you should care about mileage runs, or some tips on how to get the most out of mileage runs.
What’s a Mileage Run?
By definition, a mileage run is a trip, typically near the end of the calendar year, made solely to earn miles, points or some other reward for the sole purpose of achieving a particular rung on the loyalty program ladder.
With the mileage run, you would not ordinarily be making the trip, but perhaps you are a few miles short of the Gold status on your airline or A-List on Southwest and you book an unplanned flight to get you over the hump. And you are likely paying for it!
The extra, unplanned trip gets you over the hump and too the next level allowing to keep your rewards status for another year. Or perhaps you are oh so close to a level you’ve never hit before and one more flight would do the trick! Mileage run it, baby!
Note: there is an alternative take on mileage runs where travelers (usually leisure travelers) will intentionally book a lengthy, circuitous trip designed to obtain status). The difference here is that the traveler is less interested in maintaining status and more interested in GETTING IT with a cleverly designed trip to gain it as fast as you can.
Why should I care about about Mileage Runs?
If you’ve been reading any of my other articles on travel hacks and travel tips you know how I always advocate to stay with a single airline, hotel and rental car company whenever you can. This travel hack allows you to consolidate your loyalty points onto as few platforms as possible and thus accumulate quicker.
For example, if you are traveling on United one week, then Southwest another week, then Spirit (God forbid…lol!) you will never earn enough miles to get beyond the bottom rungs of the loyalty programs on all of those airlines.
That said, some companies have stricter rules about booking travel and force you to take the cheapest flights, often bumping your around to different airlines each trip. Others are far more lax and as long as your trip was not unreasonably higher priced than other cheaper flights offered they are cool with you sticking with one airline (or hotel).
With rental car companies they are usually FAR less flexible and that’s for insurance reasons, usually.
And some years you simply don’t travel as much. I’ve had down years before where the trips just didn’t line up (which is actually great, btw…because I get more time at home w/ the family).
If you’ve earned that hard fought airline status you hate to watch it disappear the following year by coming up short by a couple of segments or a few thousand miles.
Or maybe you’ve never had this much travel in a year before and you can almost taste the Diamond status…but you are not sure if you should go for it. Go for it! It will be worth it.
Mileage run that thing, man!
For example, getting to the A-List level w/ Southwest Airlines means no more scrambling to check in exactly 24 hours before your flight. You can check in whenever you want and you still get an A boarding pass.
And that means you will likely get a better seat choice (no middle seat!) and room to stow your bag
How to get the most out of a Mileage Run
With a mileage run you are likely paying for the trip out of your pocket so you need to be smart about this. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your mileage run:
- Figure out exactly where you stand with your current status / account balance and re-familiarize yourself with your rewards program.
- Calculate your gap – determine exactly what you need (is it segments, miles, dollars paid?)
- See if you can come up with a legitimate business reason to travel – I often will use the end of the year to meet with customers on deals we may be working. I like to ask my sales teams which deals might benefit from some “executive presence” and see if I can help. Make sure it is real though. Don’t invent something, violate your company policy and get fired — all for Diamond Medallion on Delta (although, honestly that might be worth it…haha).
- If you can’t come up with a legit reason, then start looking for some flights that will close your gap and are reasonably priced. This can be tricky because you don’t want to spend too many of your own personal hard earned shekels. And if possible see if you can get something out of the trip. Maybe it’s a visit to Cedar Falls to visit an Uncle you’ve not seen in a while. Or maybe you and the missus (or mister) can finally get to Taos.
- Once you find something suitable, book it! And if you are smart, you book it with a points earning credit card (double whammy!) and earn a few extra points or cash back. Protip: book it direct w/ the company. It’s likely you can earn some other reward by doing this. Check your program for details, but book it direct and skip sites like Orbitz and Travelocity.
It’s that simple.
I’ve heard of folks booking a round trip ticket to a place like Singapore where they never leave the airport and simply turn around and catch the next flight back. Talk about a mileage run…sheesh. That seems a bit extreme to me, but hey, if it works, go for it.
I always try to, at least, get to a destination I’ve never seen before and spend at least a day there to really maximize my personal value out of the mileage run.
But – do what you gotta do! Getting over that next level is almost always worth it.
Do mileage runs apply to hotels?
Sure! Why not. If you are a few nights short of the next Hilton Honors level (or Marriott, etc), book your local Hampton Inn and take your spouse with you for a staycation! Let the kids swim in the pool! After all kids love hotels!
PS…speaking of hotels, you might like this article I wrote with 31 Amazing Hotel Hacks Travel Pros Use all the Time
or this article on the Hilton Honors rewards program.
How about rental car mileage runs?
Sure, mileage runs can apply to rental cars as well. Although, rental car rewards are typically less than thrilling and have to do with maybe a better car (nice, but not as huge as boarding early on a Delta flight) or earning more free car rentals.
So yeah, if you are close to the next level, rent car from your local rental car company, and take a drive up the coast.
Final Thoughts on Mileage Runs
So, now you know what a mileage run is, how to use them, and how to get the most out them. Get started now – check your balance and see what it will take you to get to the next level!
Thanks for reading and please join the conversation – we’d love to hear about the craziest mileage run you’ve ever done!
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