Destinations Marathons The Basics

Choosing Races Based on Miles and Points

Miles and Points
Written by Charlie

For a runner, a lot of different things come into selecting a race: cost, location, convenience, training schedule, date, specific interest in a race, weather, etc. One of the things that I doubt happens much is choosing races based on miles and points.

Running races in locations other than your home area can be expensive. Hey, even running races in your hometown can be expensive (imagine running 4 10Ks, 4 5Ks, 2 half-marathons, and a full marathon in a year – average price for entry brings the annual total to almost $400)! But when you throw the cost of travel into the mix, the cost tends to rise quickly.

Why choose a race based on miles and points and how would someone do that?

Why Choose a Race Based on Miles and Points?

Miles and points are travel currency that saves you real money. Many people travel much more than they would otherwise because of miles and points. They are definitely a valuable resource!

However, there are so many programs and ways to leverage the miles and points out there that many people tend to concentrate on just a couple of programs to keep things simple. As a result, they become rich in one program’s currency while running on empty in the other program. For example, say you became very interested in the Delta Skymiles program and you have accrued enough Delta miles for a trip. Now you have your dream marathon destination in mind and you go to book it – only to find that Delta does not have very good availability to that location or the location is not well served (having to take multiple connections or taking 2 or 3 times as long as regular flights to arrive). In this scenario, all of your hard-earning has left you without your ticket to your dream marathon.

Or about with hotel points? Imagine your plan is to run a marathon in a large city that has very steep hotel costs. Your plan was to accrue a particular hotel currency (say like Hyatt) so that you would be able to get your nights for free (instead of paying several hundreds of dollars, which may have eliminated that race as an option). The time comes that you have your points and you go to book a hotel – and find that there is no award availability or that the closes Hyatt is over 100 miles away (something to check beforehand 🙂 ). Now you are in the position to have to pay several hundreds of dollars or forgo your marathon destination this time.

Instead, we take both of our supposed miles and points (Delta and Hyatt) and decide instead that we will let those miles and points choose our marathon instead of choosing one independent of availablity.

How to Choose a Race Based on Miles and Points

This can actually be a very interesting way to choose a race! Look at it as a way of adding to the adventure of the race.

Trip Example

For example, let’s take our examples from above and assume that you have accrued 25,000 Delta Skymiles and 36,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points. To continue with this example, let’s assume that you would use the NYC area airports as your point of departure. As one more data point to build our scenario, we will imagine that you looking to run a Spring/Summer marathon.

Step One – Assessing Assets

The best way to stop is to look at what your miles and points will get you.

  • Delta – 25,000 Skymiles is a round-trip ticket within the US and Canada at low availablity
  • Hyatt – 36,000 Gold Passport points will give you 7 nights at a Category 1, 4 nights at a Category 2, 3 nights at a Category 3, 2 nights at a Category 4 or 5, and 1 night at a Category 6

For our hotel nights, the plan is to stay for 3 nights so will rule out categories 4-6. With our miles, we know we are going to need something in the US. Now that we have an idea of the options before us, we can go a couple different ways from here – we can search for marathons and then compare them to our availability or we can go by our travel restraints and choose from the cities available to us with points. For this example, we will try that.

Step Two – Checking Categories

We will use the most restrictive of our points – the Hyatt points because of the number of hotels available to us – and search those hotels at the highest category that we have the points for. So we head over to the Hyatt category list for category 3s and see what cities hop out to us!

Miles and Points

A partial list of cities available in Category 3

There are a couple of different ways we can go from this point – my preferred way would be to look to see if there are any cities that I know have decent availability with our airline. In Delta’s case, availability can often be an issue so we would want to choose a city from this list that would have a decent chance of low availability.

At a first pass, there several different cities that jump out at me:

  • Denver
  • Minneapolis
  • Dallas
  • Phoenix
  • Washington DC (Hyatt Regency Crystal City)
  • Seattle
  • Louisville
  • Charlotte

Right away, we have a lot of options in front of us! In fact, there are some cities there that I had never really thought about running a marathon in before this little exercise, and that may be the same for you!

Step Three – Matching Marathons with Cities

Before we start searching availability with airline and hotel, we need to figure out which of our above cities have marathons in our specified window of time and so we know which dates to look for :). To search for the dates, you can either head over to MarathonGuide and look at their calendar (or map) for those races or just punch in the name of the city and “marathon” in Google to find the race. Using the MarathonGuide map will help to bring out marathons in cities that have more than one while Google may not (for example, searching “Denver Marathon” brings up the results for the Denver Marathon while there actually is another marathon in Denver called the Colfax Marathon as well).

Miles and Points

MarathonGuide map showing marathons in our timeframe

Using either method shows us the following about our chosen cities:

That is pretty amazing! Most of the cities we chose have marathons within our timeframe (and I only knew 2 of the dates before searching). In the case of Denver, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle, these are not even the marathons that these cities are typically known for! So searching using the MarathonGuide calendar can bring out some other races that you would not have thought of.

Step Four – Airline Availability

Next we continue on to see what availability Delta will show us. We know we want 3 nights at our destination and we know we are heading out from NYC, so we will search with those parameters in mind.

Miles and Points

Excellent award availability from NYC to Denver!

  • Denver – Colfax Marathon – May 18, 2014 – JFK is 32.5K but LGA is 25K (it is also a non-stop)!
  • Minneapolis – Minneapolis Marathon – June 1, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop on departure, 1 stop on return)
  • Dallas – Big D Texas Marathon – April 6, 2014 – JFK and LGA are at 60K
  • Phoenix – Phoenix Marathon – March 1, 2014 – JFK and LGA are at 40K
  • Washington DC – National Marathon – March 15, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop in both directions)
  • Seattle – Rock ‘n Roll Seattle Marathon – June 21, 2014 – JFK is 32.5K and LGA is 40K
  • Louisville – Kentucky Derby Marathon – April 19, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop in both directions)

Now we have our list narrowed down by airline availability! From here, we move on to the next step of checking hotel availability.

Step Five – Hotel Availability

Here is the list that has made it through our selections so far:

  • Denver – Colfax Marathon – May 18, 2014 – JFK is 32.5K but LGA is 25K (it is also a non-stop)Several Hyatt options available
  • Minneapolis – Minneapolis Marathon – June 1, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop on departure, 1 stop on return) Several Hyatt options available
  • Washington DC – National Marathon – March 15, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop in both directions) Several Hyatt options available
  • Louisville – Kentucky Derby Marathon – April 19, 2014 – JFK is 40K but LGA is 25K (non-stop in both directionsSeveral Hyatt options available

Next, we look at Hyatt availability for our hotels for the above races.

Miles and Points

Hyatt availability at two Denver hotels for the marathon

So we end up with all four marathons having great hotel availability within category 3 options for our cities. That is a good thing!

Step Six – Selecting the Marathon

After our entire selection process (which took me 20 minutes to do from start to finish), we are left with four fine options for our Spring/Summer marathon. The finalists are:

Now that we have reduced our selection of marathons, it is basically left up to personal preference. From our test case city of New York City, each of these options are available as non-stops (with Minneapolis requiring one stop on the return). To weed it down to the winner, you can use many different choices:

  • Which of the four cities have you wanted to visit?
  • Which marathon is in a state that you have not ran a marathon in before?
  • Would you prefer cooler weather or warmer weather? (DC will be cool while Minneapolis may be warmer)
  • Do you want some special events going on at the time (Louisville is in their Kentucky Derby Festival during the marathon)?

My personal preference of these choices would be the Kentucky Derby Marathon as it is a race that I have had on my list for a while and it is a highly spoken of marathon that I am quite familiar with. So, for me, the Kentucky Derby Marathon is the winner! 🙂


See how much fun this can be letting your miles and points choose your marathon? Obviously, it would be different based on your available miles and points and whether you are wanting to add more people to it or if you want an international marathon. In a future post, we will breakdown international marathons the same way. Now, go try it yourself – you may be surprised by the marathon selection and you may really enjoy your mystery marathon!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.