Why I fly half way around the world for the weekend!

by Marc Cain     

The strange looks I get from friends about my weekend plans is enough to know that people don’t get the whole mileage run concept. Yes, I fly all the way to Hong Kong and back on a 3 day weekend, and yes I choose to go through DFW instead of the non-stop, and yes I actually look forward to it.

The best part was that it had only cost me about $9.  I had opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and earned 50K points. That combined with a little shopping had me at 60K points. If you then use those points on the Chase website they will give you a 20% bonus when purchasing the ticket. That mileage run earned me 17,826 EQMs and because I was AA Exec Platinum at the time, I earned 35,652 award miles. More than enough for a free ticket.

Sadly, the days of Mileage Runs for miles are almost gone.  American, the last major U.S. carrier to still award miles flown will switch to a revenue based model this June (2016).  As with most major U.S. carriers you will earn 5-11 miles per dollar spent on the ticket.

So are mileage runs dead?  If you are a frequent business traveler or even a pleasure traveler who makes more than 5 trips a year the elite status of the airlines can be a very coveted thing.  The sad face of my co-worker as he squeezes between his two plus sized seat mates, neither of whom are wearing deodorant, for that 14 hour flight to Hong Kong is interrupted by the smiling face of my flight attendant serving me champagne in my free upgraded business class seat.  (My favorite elite perk are the system wide upgrades)

Having been at the top of the elite status food chain off and on for more than 20 years, those elite programs have managed to keep me loyal to just two airlines for that whole time.  Let’s layout the benefits of the American Executive Platinum, (and yes they gutted their program this year, however if you have to fly for work some status perks are better than none):

  • Four (4) system wide upgrade certificates from economy to business or business to first. Downgraded from 8 last year.
  • Free access to the Admirals Club and One World first class lounges when traveling on an international ticket.
  • Access to main cabin extra seats
  • Same day confirmed flight changes.
  • Unlimited Complimentary auto-requested upgrades for domestic flights.
  • 100 hour upgrade window.
  • 3 free checked bags.
  • And last, and certainly least, 11 miles per dollar spent as compared to 5 for a basic flyer.

Currently I keep my  loyalty with American’s Advantage Program.  Not because they have better service or their gate agents and  flight attendants are less abusive, but because their system wide upgrades can be used with the lowest cost tickets and they do not have a revenue model attached to their program.  Oh yeah, and I love those international first class lounges (more on those later).  Both United’s Premier 1K and Delta’s Diamond status also offer sweet perks, all be it with more restrictions.

All this brings me back to why I would fly half way around the world just to keep my status for the next year.  As a frequent traveler being a priority to my airline makes the months a year I spend in an airport a lot more bearable.  When my coworker and I had our flight canceled do to weather, I was already rebooked by the time we landed.  He was on hold for 2 hours waiting to get a flight out the next day.

So is that worth 3 days and $9 for a ORD-DFW-HKG run.  It was to me, and this year it is to my coworker.  He has already spent $1450 to earn almost 51K EQMs (and over 100K award miles) to get his Platinum Executive Status,  and had some fun doing it!  One day in Beijing and the Great Wall of China ($518), an ORD-DFW-HKG one day run for some Duck Buns and a few too many martinis at the Upper House in Hong Kong ($109), the Golden Buddha and some cheap suits in Bangkok via ORD-DFW-HKG-BKK-NRT-FDW-ORD ($807).  Those quick trips and our regular business travel this year will have him at Executive Platinum by the end of June (good for the rest of this year and all of next year).

The deals are out there and with a little attention to detail you can maximize your routes to earn that status even quicker.  My favorite tools are FlightMil.es for calculating the miles on a route, Google Flights for finding great fares, and a number of deal sites for the daily emails.

I would love to hear about any cool mileage runs (or status runs) you’ve made and what your logic was on the routing.

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