Another (less crazy) mileage run

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare is one of the best deals among all airline credit cards.
I will be doing my second mileage run for status on Alaska Airlines. Photo from Alaska Airlines.

It’s that time of year again where people take dumb, pointless flights to maintain airline elite status for another year. Or, what is commonly referred to as a mileage run.

And, while I’ve done that before, I actually am doing mileage run that I’m looking forward to this year.

Before I go into my mileage-run-turned-ski-trip to Utah, let’s talk about what a mileage run is and the miserable one I did a few years ago.

What’s the point of a mileage run?

A mileage run is a trip where the sole purpose is to earn frequent-flier miles, but where the cost of the flight is cheap enough to balance out the “cost” of the miles.

Typically, with elite status renewing at the beginning of each calendar year, travelers who are going to be just short will figure out a way to quickly (and cheaply) earn miles before the end of the year.

It isn’t as straightforward as it used to be, though.

Many airlines require travelers to travel a number of miles, but also spend an amount of money with the airline. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult for the non-business traveler to earn elite status.

For example, to earn Delta Silver Medallion, travelers must earn 45,000 MQMs and spend $6,000 MQDs during a calendar year. That means that travelers must fly 45,000 miles AND spend $6,000 with Delta on qualifying flight purchases.

That’s not easy to accomplish for an everyday person.

My status dilemma

I don’t travel enough or spend enough to earn airline elite status – with one exception. Alaska Airlines is one of the last remaining airlines where elite status doesn’t require a spending requirement.

For MVP status, the lowest tier, travelers just need to travel 20,000 miles in a calendar year.

I first earned status in 2017 due to a number of cross country flights on Alaska. My now-wife was living in Boston and my family lives in Atlanta. So, there were a number of 3,000-mile flights. I actually earned status without really even trying.

Alaska MVP status comes with many things like priority boarding, 50 percent mileage bonus on all flights and free checked bags. But, it also comes with unrestricted upgrades to Premium Class and First Class.

Because I’m usually traveling on flights for at least two hours (my home base of Seattle isn’t close to anything!), the potential to be upgraded is really important to me.

To take it a step further, the Seattle-Atlanta route isn’t a super business-traveler heavy route. I’ve been upgraded to first class on at least 75 percent of my flights since I’ve had status.

My 2017 mileage run

Ok, so in late 2017, a year after naturally and accidentally earning Alaska MVP status, I was going to be short. And it wasn’t close.

But after 11 months of constantly being upgraded on flights, I was determined to figure out a way to earn 5,000 miles quickly to keep status.

I spent hours looking for flight combinations that would both earn me enough miles and be financially reasonable. I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for status. However, I had decided if I could do it cheaply, I would go for it.

And then I found it. The itinerary was so absurd the online system at wouldn’t let me book it.

I was going to leave Seattle on a Friday night on a redeye to JFK in New York. I would have a short layover and then get on a Virgin America flight (which was a partner with Alaska Airlines, at this point, earning me qualifying miles) and fly right back to San Francisco. After spending time in an Air France-KLM Lounge thanks to Priority Pass I would board my final flight back to Seattle. Nineteen hours later, I would be home. and be home 19 hours later.

Here’s the best part: because it was early December, a notoriously slow time for travel pre-holidays, I got these three flights for $251. And, when all said and done, I earned 8,528 miles — 5,685 miles which counted toward elite status qualification.

One of the flight attendants on my second flight had clearly looked up my itinerary because she made a comment to me about my 90-minute layover in New York. The whole ordeal actually wasn’t that bad – I watched an entire season of a television show and a couple of movies.

It was a success, and I just missed out on one night of sleep. And, it paid off. My wife and I have been upgraded eight different flights in 2018!

My 2019 mileage run

Ok, fast forward to this year, and I’m in a similar situation, albeit I need far less to get status. In fact, I’ll need just 1,000 miles by the end of the year in order to keep my status.

Because it was a much smaller distance, my first goal was to find the cheapest flight of at least 500 miles with a quick turn. Knock it out in a few hours. I was open to taking a vacation day or at least a half-day, so I had flexibility as well.

Even though I could go roundtrip between Seattle and Salt Lake City on a mid-week flight for $150, I had a better idea.

I was doing this in December when ski season was going to be well underway in Utah. Turning this mileage run into a ski trip was the new plan! I splurged this year and got an Epic Pass – meaning I can effectively “ski for free’ at Park City.

I’ll post more on the details of my trip later this week, but here’s the quick breakdown.

  • Flight – Alaska Airlines: 153.60 + 5,000 miles (return leg in first class)
  • Hotel – Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, Park City: 84.52
  • Rental Car – Thrify: 38.85
  • Total: 276.97

Because I was planning my trip for later in December once snow was on the ground, flights were more expensive. I made the decision to use Alaska Air miles for the flight to Salt Lake City to save a little cash.

While I will not earn any miles toward elite status on that flight, I was able to find a first-class fare for less than $150. That first-class fare earns a 75% bonus on miles flown that will get me over the needed 1,000 miles. And I’ll get to fly home after a day of skiing in first class!

Final thoughts

Mileage runs are almost impossible to do anymore since most airlines require a minimum dollar spent to earn elite status. However, for everyday people, it can make sense as long as taking advantage of the elite benefits is possible.

Since I fly routes where I consistently get upgraded, spending a couple of hundred bucks makes it well worth it!

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