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Mileage Running

Have you ever thought about getting on a plane to fly somewhere, except you never visit the somewhere. You stay in the destination airport and then get on another plane to return home. Who would do something like this, right? 🙂 Welcome to Mileage Running!

Mileage Running


If you are a runner and read the title Mileage Running, you probably thought that this was a post about running metrics or different distance methods or something. It actually has nothing to do with the physical aspect of running (though, I have had to run from plane to plane a couple of times while taking a mileage run). Mileage running, or mileage runs, is the act of flying for miles or points – not for a destination. Believe it or not, this is a very real thing. People do it every day and it is becoming more popular all the time. You may sit next to one of these people sometime as they are on their way to some city only to return shortly after arriving. The hard-core mileage runners rarely even leave the airport! That does not have to be, though. You will find many that will actually choose to spend a day or two in their destination city before returning home. But why would anyone do this?

Why Mileage Runs?

Elite Status

Airline elite status is something that many people work hard to earn or to upgrade. Elite status used to be mainly about the upgrades on domestic flights. Example: If you travel a lot for work, but not enough to hit a higher tier of elite status, you may find a mileage run or two is helpful to push you over that next tier to help you achieve more business class/first class upgrades when traveling for work. You are basically exchanging some money and time for a more enjoyable travel experience throughout the year. However, with the rise of elite customers due to things such as airline mergers, bonus elite mile promos, credit card spending incentives, etc. it is harder to score an upgrade to first class as a lower tier elite customer (depending, of course, on the fare class of your ticket and the routes you fly). For myself and many others, elite status is becoming more about keeping overall fees down (such as certain ticketing charges, baggage fees, seat selection fees, award fees, etc) and being able to reach customer service representatives quicker in times of airline delays than the upgrades. I have low/mid-tier elite status with airlines in each of the main three alliances (Oneworld Alliance, Skyteam Alliance, and Star Alliance). This enables me to at least get free bags when flying on any airline within those alliances. This helps me not to have to stay loyal to one airline but gives me the opportunity to shop by ticket price while still enjoying things such as elite check-in, priority boarding, waived baggage fees and an improved customer service experience.

My Story

I have done mileage runs to help me with my elite status. A couple of years ago, Delta was running a double MQM bonus from a few airports, one of which was Pittsburgh. Because I was in need of more miles for Diamond status, I flew from Pittsburgh to Sydney with two hours on the ground in Sydney before returning to Pittsburgh. As a result of the bonus, I received 42,000 MQMs for $500 (I had a $400 voucher to drop it from the total price of $900) out of pocket. This helped me obtain Diamond status which gave me free Delta Skyclub membership ($400), a 25% increase in award miles (allowed me to receive an additional 20,000 miles the next year), and TWO Choice Benefits – I chose 25,000 award miles and Gold Medallion status for my wife. Just those benefits total over $1,800 in value – this is not counting my upgrades I received or the award miles I received on the trip either.

Award Miles

Many people are willing to pay at least 1 cent per point for miles to be redeemed for an award ticket. The cost people are willing to pay goes up depending on the amount of miles you are in need of for an award ticket or if they are are wanting to redeem for a very expensive ticket (such as an international first class or business class ticket). When people are in need of additional award miles, it can be cheaper to pick up miles this way than purchasing them from the bank or airline (if they have the time).

My Story

A couple of years ago, there was a fantastic deal from Delta to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan as part of an effort to bring more tourists there after the tsunami and nuclear plant incident. For a little less than $400 out of pocket (the ticket was $500 and I had a voucher), I picked up a lot of redeemable (award) miles. At the same time as this cheap ticket was available, Delta also ran a double redeemable mile bonus on flights to Haneda Airport. With my elite bonus, I received 55,000 miles. This was a little less than 1 cent per mile. It also was just 5,000 miles less than what an award ticket to Europe costs. A ticket to Europe can be close to $1,000 so I was essentially paying $500 for a ticket to Japan AND Europe!

 Is Mileage Running Fun?

Mileage running can be a lot of fun! It is most fun for the the aviation buff, but it can still be fun for anyone to some degree. Granted, it is not that fun to fly around the country non-stop for a couple of days, but if you throw a day or two down in the city you are visiting, it helps a lot! Here are a couple of my recent runs and their purpose.

Trip # 1

I had some vouchers that were expiring at the end of February and needed to grab some extra elite miles. My plan had been to fly right down to San Juan, Puerto Rico and back in one day. As I was in the planning phase, my wife asked if she could go along. She normally does not like flying much, but she wanted to spend the day with me. So, instead of flying down and back in one day in coach, I pulled some other vouchers together and bought first class tickets for the both of us and decided to stay one night in a hotel. So, we flew down, went out to dinner, had a nice time walking around the city, and returned the next morning. In the process, I picked up over 30,000 miles (thank you, low hanging TV that I hit my head on and the flight attendant who felt so bad she gave me miles) and 5,000 elite miles. Was it a fun time? Yes!

Trip # 2

My family and I are going to Europe this summer and need to take a lot of luggage. The cost would have been very high so instead, I took more of my vouchers and finished off my Star Alliance Gold status instead. This gave me all of my extra luggage for free as well as elite check-in and boarding privileges (which is a big deal when traveling with younger children!). Here was the route I flew: – Rochester-Detroit-Las Vegas-Newark-San Juan-Philadelphia-Las Vegas-Houston-Washington DC-Rochester. I did all of this in 37 hours with no more than 3 hours on the ground at any one time. Was it a fun time? Absolutely not! But, it was time I was willing to sacrifice so that I could guarantee easier travel for our family.

Trip # 3

This was not a recent trip, but I thought I would throw this one in as well. I was working on my Delta status and had some time and needed the miles for award travel for my family, so I took my work to the air and flew from Pittsburgh-Atlanta-Seattle-Minneapolis-Pittsburgh-Detroit-Seattle-Atlanta-Pittsburgh in the space of 2 days. I had to spend one night over in Seattle and wasn’t going to get a hotel room for the few hours I was there, so I slept under a row of chairs in the terminal (by the way, very quiet in Terminal S there and easy access to internet and bathrooms!). Was this a fun time? Nope! Admittedley, it is nice to fly in first class and be able to focus on work while being served meals and drinks with no other interruptions, but I find domestic mileage runs to be the hardest on my body. My run from Pittsburgh-New York-Los Angeles-Sydney-Los Angeles-New York-Pittsburgh with no more than 2 hours on the ground at one time (and in coach) was a lot easier for me since you can actually settle in for 14 hours along the way.

Ideas for Mileage Running

Again, to the mileage running purist, you cannot spend a night in your destination city. But, you don’t have to play by those rules because there are really no rules when it comes to something like this! You get to do what you want to do with this. So, here are some ideas for mileage running that may help you try it out once or twice yourself.

Look for an extra city

My family and I were on a business trip to Missouri a few years ago. Our whole family had our tickets taken care of, yet the ticket cost was still higher than I wanted them to have to spend. So, I started looking around at ways that I could make it a little cheaper (I have the hardest of times paying what the first screen of anything says 🙂 ). In the process, I started trying out different cities to throw in the itinerary. One of the cities I tried was Portland, OR where my wife has family. I know it does not make sense, but we were able to go Rochester-Detroit-Kansas City/Nashville-Detroit-Portland-Detroit-Rochester (over the course of a couple of weeks) for less than Rochester-Kansas City! By using some strategy, we were able to visit Portland area, see the family, and save money all at the same time. So, check for different cities you can throw in your next trip!

Plan a vacation around a mileage run

If my wife had been able to go with me to Japan, that would have been the best mileage running vacation ever! We both would have picked up around 50,000 miles and gotten to enjoy looking around Tokyo for under $1,000. For the cost of $1,000, we could have had a vacation in a place we had never thought of – Tokyo – and also picked up enough miles to go anywhere in the US or the Caribbean for another vacation! So think broadly when you plan your next vacation! Don’t think of just places that you know of but look for where your money could take you cheaper and you pick up miles along the way. Like my recent trip to Dubai (and stops in many other countries!).

Drive first

It is rare for great deals to be out of my home airport of Rochester. If you are looking for deals just from your home, you may be missing on some of the great ones. Instead of restricting yourself, think a little more broadly. For instance, I can drive to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Syracuse, Erie, or Toronto all within 3 hours. You could drive to some other city, spend the night and enjoy a different city that you might think too close to visit for fun, and then take off on your mileage running trip.

Meet new friends

Many people today are involved in some aspect of social media. Use mileage runs as a way to remove the face from the ether and meet them in person!

Mind your business

If you have business trips that take you places and you will have a couple of days after for yourself, consider leaving from your city of business to go someplace to enjoy for a day or two before heading home. For instance, if you live on the East Coast and you in are Los Angeles/San Francisco for business and you are done on Thursday and do not need to be back at work in the East until Monday, you could hop out to some city in the Pacific. Imagine how much fun that could be!

Use mileage runs to explore a new city

I have been in many cities for mileage runs that I never thought I would visit. My mileage running does not leave me time to explore (I cannot stand being away from my family 🙂 ) otherwise I could have explored many great places. It can be a lot of run so broaden your travel horizons.

Let the airline pay

If you pick some city pairs that are normally full and you are flexible, you can pick up airline vouchers from volunteering to go on later flights. If I had flexibility on my last few trips, I would have picked up over $1,000 in travel vouchers.

So, what do you think? Does mileage running sound like something you want to try? Watch for a post very soon on Mileage Runs and Marathoning!


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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.