When I first got started mileage running, 3.5 cents per elite qualifying mile was considered an okay deal. 3.0 cents per elite qualifying miles was what I was aiming for. Those were the days of $200 roundtrip transcontinental tickets, where four segments were allowed in each direction, meaning you could fly from Tampa to Seattle via Washington, San Francisco, and Portland in each direction, for example.
So it was easy to have ridiculously high standards as to what constitutes a good mileage run. Nowadays we’re not seeing $200 transcons. Heck, I consider myself lucky when I see a $400 transcon. We’re not seeing $450-500 tickets to Europe or $700 tickets to Asia like we saw a few years ago. And therefore a 3.0-3.5 cent per elite qualifying mile mileage run seems entirely unheard of, aside from mistake fares.
But I’m going to argue mileage running still makes sense, but only if you look at the big picture. If you’re just after status it probably doesn’t make sense. If you’re just after redeemable miles it probably doesn’t make sense. But if you have a specific redemption goal in mind and value all the benefits, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that a ~6.0 cent per elite qualifying mile trip could be classified as a mileage run.
For example, if you’re an Executive Platinum member, let’s look at what you get for maintaining the status. First you get ~200,000 redeemable miles. You fly 100,000 miles, and then you get a 100% bonus on flown miles, so that’s 200,000 redeemable miles. I recently valued American miles at 1.8 cents each, so to me that’s $3,600 worth of value. You also get eight systemwide upgrades. Let’s conservatively value those at $300 each, which is substantially less than even just the mileage co-pay required to upgrade internationally, let alone the miles that would be needed. That’s another $2,400 in value.
Then there are unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades, an amazing phone line, priority check-in/security/boarding/standby, fee waivers, and much more. But let’s not even add a value to any of those things.
Between the miles and eight systemwide upgrades we’re already looking at $6,000 worth of “value” meaning you could do 100,000 miles of mileage running at six cents per mile and still “break even,” not even factoring in the other benefits you earn.
Now, all of this only makes sense assuming you actually enjoy flying and traveling. If you don’t and the opportunity cost of your time is $100/hour, of course it’s not going to make sense to mileage run. But at the end of the day I think we all enjoy traveling, and at six cents per mile it shouldn’t be tough to plan a lot of mini-vacations.
There are times where it can still be extraordinarily cheap to mileage run. For example, earlier in the year it was possible for those in California and Illinois to earn Executive Platinum (top tier) status with American for under $2,000.
But those opportunities are few and far between. Still, I don’t think it’s time for us to throw in the towel and call mileage running a dead sport just yet. It’s just dead for those looking just for miles or just for status.