What is a mileage run?

Stated simply, a mileage run is an airline trip taken solely to accrue more miles or points with a given airline. The destination is in this simplest definition is irrelevant, and often isn’t a destination at all, with the majority of mileage runners never leaving the secure area of the transiting airport(s). They will simply board a flight back to their origin and call it a day/trip.

For example, one of my favorite and quickest mileage runs from Los Angeles is to Washington Dulles airport on United Airlines. This market sees a lot of fare competition, mostly resulting from Virgin America’s presence, and you will frequently see fares in the $220-$280 range. I book United’s 777 flights on that route, and being a 1K, have always been upgraded to Business Class which features the international layout with enormous amounts of legroom and comfort. The flight usually leaves LAX around 8:00am, arriving at Dulles (IAD) at 3:30pm, and the return aircraft leaves around 5:30pm, arriving back home at about 8:00pm. In all, I accrue 4,576 elite qualifying miles (good towards elite status), and 9,152 double redeemable miles (good for awards and other redemption options).

So now, let’s look at the economics involved. The main metric used for the hard-core mileage runners out there is the cost-per-mile (cpm), displayed in cents-per-mile. Say my fare on the LAX-IAD-LAX run was $220 all-in, meaning the total that was charged to my credit card and includes all taxes and fees. You’d divide that by the amount of elite qualifying miles you earn, in this case 4,576 to get a result of 0.04807xx. This mileage run, then, would be given a value of 4.81cpm. Over time, it is then easy to see how any given fare and route will compare to others. If you’ve stopped reading by now, I totally understand, so I’ll leave this paragraph by saying that the best mileage runs currently have cpms around 3cpm.

There are a variety of subsets of mileage runners, too. Some actually stay overnight at a destination and earn elite points at their hotel program of choice, thereby combining their mileage run with a mattress run. Others actually use these trips to visit friends or family, and still think of them as mileage runs since they wouldn’t have taken the trip otherwise. For most, the goal is keep the costs down to a minimum. If you were an actuary, you’d probably want to include the value of your time, gas, airport parking, meals while on the run, etc.

Some of my friends and family think I am absolutely mental for going on these runs, but to me it is my favorite hobby, and I’ve actually been doing it for the past 22 years. I admit it is an obsession, addiction, whatever you want to call it, and for those of us that do it, it is a way of life. What do you think? Are we nuts or just really savvy travelers?

(P.S. One of my all-time favorites I found from this year came in at 2.44cpm!)

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