Mileage Running 101: How I construct a mileage run – Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, I was asked recently about how I construct a mileage run, and although I provided a brief version back in January, I fully detail one of my methods in this two-part posting. Continuing from Part 1:

Now that I know the date range, days of week, and fare basis code, I want to know the routing rules for that $184 base fare from Los Angeles to Kansas City. Meaning, where and through which cities am I allowed to travel on that fare. Unfortunately, there isn’t a free method to get that information, but two popular services exist that are available to the general public. The service I use is ExpertFlyer, a web-based platform with a couple of subscription levels. To get fare information, the Premium Plan at $9.99/month is required, also available at a discounted rate of $99.99 for an annual membership. The other method is via the KVS Tool, although it isn’t Mac friendly and requires a Windows emulator should you sign up for one of its plans. The Diamond level is required to see routing rules ($75 annually, but add in the cost for an emulator if you’re running Mac OS X and don’t already have one).

I’ll skip the process within ExpertFlyer to view the routing rules for now making the assumption you might not have a subscription, or already know how to view them if you do. The same fare rules I found under booking details using the classic ITA Software Matrix Airfare Search can also be viewed in ExpertFlyer. Here are the results for that GAP14CS fare from Los Angeles (LAX) to Kansas City (MCI; MKC is shown in ExpertFlyer as city codes are used for routing rules in lieu of airport codes).


Reading line 1, this fare allows me to travel from LAX through Chicago, Cleveland, Denver or Houston to Kansas City. Line 2 is also a valid routing showing I can make two connections. For example, I can fly on this fare starting at LAX and make a connection in Denver (within the first set of slashed cities (‘/’), and make another one in Chicago (in the second set of slashed cities separated by a dash (‘-‘). Keep in mind only one airport within each “slashed city set” is allowed as a transit point.

Since the point of a mileage run is to maximize miles, and particularly elite qualifying miles to gain status, I’m looking for the routing that will give me the biggest mileage for the fare. In this case, using Line 2’s routing, I want to fly from LAX through Houston and Cleveland to get to Kansas City. Crazy way to get there for most everyone else except mileage runners, I know.

Awesome, I now know the best routing to generate the largest amount of miles, so I’m ready to return to the classic ITA Airfare Search and find some availability. Back using the month-long search feature, I plug in the following coding inside the FROM field: LAX::IAH CLE, and this in the TO field: MCI::CLE IAH. This strange looking code basically means I want to fly from LAX, connect at IAH and CLE to get to MCI, and back the same way. To become versed in this coding, check out the helpful section at ITA Route Language.

Sticking with September 1st as the start date, and 1-night as the length of stay, I press Go to reveal several dates appearing for $245 (a slight increase due to additional taxes (PFCs) by flying through additional airports).  I’m going to pick Tuesday, September 13th as my preferred departure and find a couple of options on Continental from which to choose.

Clicking into the first one, I find a full itinerary mapped out generating a fare of $245.20 all-in. Notice there are a couple of quick connections, and one more than 3 hours, but this is all part of a mileage runner’s life. When you calculate the mileage earned for each segment, it works out to a total of 6,330 for the roundtrip. Dividing the fare of $245.20 by 6,330 miles generates a CPM (cents per mile) of about 3.87. While I’ve had fantastic luck earlier in the year getting runs for less than 3 CPM, they’re harder to come by this time of year.

You can’t book flights directly with ITA Software (yet! Google now owns ITA, so we might see that capability in the future), so I print out the results and head over to Continental’s website set up the reservation. Here, I have to use the “Multiple Destinations” option when performing the Flight Search, which requires you to add each segment separately. Pretty easy since you have the ITA printout.

I was able to duplicate the exact flights & exact fare, so to complete the reservation I would simply enter my full traveler details, credit card information and purchase the ticket. Bam, I’m done.

While it can be a bit time consuming at first, it becomes second nature after doing it a few times. This method is definitely my favorite way to find the best mileage runs. Want to go global? Use the same methodology and select a region of the world in FareCompare other than North America. It’s that easy.

Want to learn more? One event is this weekend in NYC, although long sold out, called Frequent Traveler University. The other (where I will be in attendance) is at the Chicago Seminars 2011 at the end of October. I hope this tutorial has shed some light into what many find a mysterious (and crazy) hobby.

Happy travels!



  1. Thanks, Matthew… I had procrastinated in putting this out there since my brief one in January, so happy to have it available for all now.

  2. Thanks for describing this so clearly – known about individual elements of this for some time now, but have never been able to integrate it as a process – now I’m definetly tempted to buy a subscription to either KVS or Expertflyer 🙂

    BTW, isn’t Expertflyer with city codes a bit confusing? I’ve finally managed to memorize most airport codes, so this would render that knowledge kinda less useful, right?

    • @Luka: Thanks! In ExpertFlyer I always use airport codes, which it recognizes of course, but do occasionally use city codes if I’m airport-neutral, such as NYC for EWR, LGA or JFK.

  3. Great post on mileage runs and on fare booking rules!

    I tried to replicate a trip similar to the one described in this two part post (round trip: LAX to MCI but via DEN, depart on April 18, 1 night stay) and pulled up a fare of $246 through the ITA software. I then headed to United’s website with the itinerary in hand and punched in a multi-city trip and selected the exact same flights. Interestingly enough I got a fare of $483.20. Am I missing something here? It’d be great if you could clarify!

    • @Naive_newbie: Sometimes ITA will price itineraries out that can’t be matched on for whatever reason. I’ve had it happen before, but it was usually due to the fare expiring or some type of fare break. I’d recommend trying a third-party booking engine (Expedia, Priceline, etc.) to build the itin and if it prices out correctly there, then call United’s web support claiming you were able to build it on (Expedia, Priceline, etc.), but would rather ticket it directly with United.

  4. Very interesting read. I work for the airline myself and travel a lot… But not really for the miles. Just a quick question -> Wouldn’t LAX::SFO CLE be a better choice? It is 6380 Miles Round trip, whereas the iten you show is only 6330?

    • @K: Thanks! And you’re right… routing LAX-SFO-CLE-MCI would indeed accrue more miles than LAX-IAH-CLE-MCI. Good catch!

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