The FAQ's of Mileage Running

Who Are These Mileage Runners, Anyway and What do They Want? This is the first in a series of articles on mileage runners: we’ll look at who they are and why they do what they do. Want to become a mileage runner? Read the FAQ’s of Mileage Running below; then enter our mileage run contest.

The FAQ’s of Mileage Running

For these questions and answers, I’ve turned to my old friend Karen Morrison of North Carolina – a veteran mileage runner, who shared some of her insight and expertise with us.

Q: What is a mileage run?

A: “A mileage run is a trip, a flight you take, just to earn miles,” says Karen. “I do them to keep my status with my favorite airline, United.” Karen is a member of “1K” which is the highest or most “elite” level of United’s Mileage Plus club. Members must fly 100,000 miles each year to get all the perks. Most airlines have clubs with similar elite status levels. Elite members are typically business travelers who are always “on the road”; since many leisure travelers find it difficult to amass 100,000 miles in a year, they are often the ones making mileage runs at the end of the year to build up miles.

Q: Why do mileage runners do this?

A: “That’s an easy one,” says Karen. She does it for the perks – the little (and big) things that make flying more comfortable and often luxurious. And the luxury level increases as you move up the tiers of miles membership. Here are some of her favorite perks: Free first class: “United gives 1K’s six system-wide upgrades to first class, plus as a 1K member, I am usually upgraded, meaning I pay for coach, but fly first class.” Dedicated phone line for 1K members: “When I call United, I typically get through to a “real person” quickly – no long waits on hold – and that person is almost always in a U.S.-based call center (I’m convinced United gives better training to their U.S. agents). No bag fees: “I get three bags for free if I want to check any.” First to board: “Being in the first boarding group means you have a better chance at finding space for your carry-on if that’s how you like to travel.” Plus, no waiting in line to board. Miscellaneous perks: “I don’t pay to book with a phone agent and I can book an award ticket and cancel it without paying a ‘redeposit’ fee.”

Q: Does it matter where you go on a mileage run flight?

A: Not to Karen or most mileage runners. I once described mileage runs as “flights to nowhere” because it’s all about the miles – runners literally don’t care where they go as long as they rack up that precious distance to keep their elite status. Example: Karen once got a really cheap deal to Singapore; she flew there solely for the purpose of amassing a few thousand miles, spent a couple of hours in the airport, then turned around and flew home. She didn’t want to spend money on a hotel room; again, this trip was all about the miles.

Q: Isn’t mileage running a wildly expensive hobby?

A: It’s not cheap, but mileage runners typically won’t “fly for miles” unless they find a super deal. Many calculate the price-per-mile (PPM) of a flight before booking.

Q: How can I calculate price-per-mile?

A: Easy – the new FareCompare Where-to-Go Getaway Map has a handy PPM calculator built right in – so mileage runners or any fliers can find the most cost-effective flights.

Q: What are more pro’s and con’s to mileage running?

A: “By flying more you give yourself more opportunity to get bumped, which means you get to collect more vouchers for future travel,” says Karen, and just the other day she collected a $400 voucher as a “bumpee”. The biggest downside it, this can be an expensive hobby. Plus, if you aren’t crazy about flying, it is not for you. Says Karen, “I like to fly, otherwise it would be just awful.” In other words, mileage running requires some of the following: Plenty of spare time for non-essential flights, money to pay for extra flights and stamina.

Q: What are some examples of a mileage run itinerary?

A: Karen just returned from a whole series of trips. “I flew Asheville-Chicago-San Francisco and back on Saturday, then Monday did it again, and on Tuesday flew San Francisco to Washington (I had about an hour in Washington) then back again, and today I…” Well, you get the idea. This is not a hobby for the faint-hearted! But to Karen, and many other mileage runners like her – it’s worth it.

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Published: November 1, 2010