What’s A Status Run, And Should You Book One?

We’re welcoming a lot of new readers from around the globe this week here at One Mile at a Time. To celebrate, we’re featuring a lot of content that covers the basics of what you need to know to get started in this hobby as well as a few articles that provide some historical perspective about how the game as evolved over time. 


Yesterday I talked about how mileage runs were once the cornerstone of the miles-and-points game. Crazy people such as Ben would book these quick turnaround trips in which they would zig-zag their way across the country — and then immediately back — using the most circuitous routing possible solely to earn frequent flyer miles. A top-tier elite mileage runner such could earn as many as 16,000 award miles from a single trip.

As I explained yesterday, though, as frequent flyer programs have moved over to a revenue-based system (so you’re awarded miles based on the price of the ticket rather than the distance flown), “traditional” mileage runs as we know them are more or less dead.

And yet you still might see people frantically booking trips on their airlines of choice, especially in the fourth quarter of the year, simply to fly the airline back and forth — it looks like a mileage run, quacks like a mileage run…

But it’s a status run.

As it turns out, it can still make sense to book a trip just to pad your frequent flyer account. You just aren’t doing it for the award miles.

Status Runs Are The New Mileage Runs (Sort of)

The primary purpose of our dear, departed (for the most part) mileage run was to earn award miles. But it was never the only objective.

As we discussed previously, top-tier elite status with an airline — United 1K, American Executive Platinum, or Delta Diamond Medallion — would maximize the number of miles you could yield from a mileage run.

Since elite status is gained based on flying a certain number of miles in a calendar year (in the case of the uppermost tier, generally around 100,000 to 125,000 miles), the secondary purpose of mileage runs was to earn, or more commonly, maintain, elite status such that you could continue to mileage run in the future at maximum efficiency. (I realize that sounds like circular logic, and in some ways it was — hey, nobody ever said this was a completely sane hobby.)

Well, as much as mileage running may be dead as we know it, the pursuit of higher and higher elite status is very much alive. Roughly speaking, those same trips that were once flown for the sole purpose of earning award miles are as viable as ever for earning elite status.

My United Premier 1K credentials
My United Premier 1K credentials

The key difference, however, is that status runs typically only make sense at the margin. If you’re close to the next status level, it may make economic sense to do a status run to cross the threshold. But if at the end of the year you realize that the status run did not actually bump you to the next level — perhaps you still missed it, or maybe you would have attained it anyway — then it was utterly pointless and a complete waste of your time and money. There is a small disclaimer here for Delta fliers now that status miles rollover, but Nick will get into that in a future post.

[It is worth noting that both United and Delta have also imposed revenue requirements on elite status qualification. That means that you now have to meet both a miles requirement and a spend requirement, which can range from $3,000 for low-level status to $12,000 at the top-tier. For the purpose of this post, I’m making the assumption that you’ve already met the spend requirement through your regular flying, or that you are exempt from it (for reasons that are beyond the scope of this discussion.) But you should definitely keep it in mind when considering whether to do a status run.]

A Status Run Case Study

This is a real world honest-to-goodness story of my college roommate Dan and the status conundrum he faced last year. Dan is an IT manager for a big bank and flies a good amount around the world for work. He flies American because he lives in Dallas, a major hub.

Last fall Dan projected his flying for the remained of the year and discovered that he was likely to end up with 95,000 status qualifying miles on American. This would be far more than is required for Platinum status (50,000) but just a bit short of Executive Platinum (100,000). Essentially, he had to decide if the bump from Platinum to Executive Platinum was worth flying those last 5,000 miles.

Each year American Executive Platinums receive eight systemwide upgrades, each of which can be used to upgrade any paid fare. That means that you can buy economy, apply an upgrade, and then fly business. Or you can buy business and fly first. Dan estimated the value of these upgrades at $300 each, and therefore concluded that making Executive Platinum would be worth at least $2,400 to him, not counting any other benefits.

Tiffany's American Airlines Executive Platinum credentials
Tiffany’s American Airlines Executive Platinum credentials

Dan’s 95,000 status mile projection for the year happened to include a two-week business trip to Singapore in December. Likely as a result of their tragic crashes earlier in the year, Malaysia Airlines (a oneworld carrier, and therefore a mileage-earning partner of American) was running some great fares for business class travel between Singapore and Seoul during that time. Dan was able to find a business class ticket for $1,000 that would earn him the 5,000 miles he needed to reach Executive Platinum.

Flying from Singapore to Seoul would earn Dan 5,734 miles, enough to make Executive Platinum
A status run from Singapore to Seoul would be enough for Dan to make Executive Platinum on American

Since Dan valued the benefits of Executive Platinum ($2,400) at more than the cost to obtain them ($1,000), he booked his first-ever status run. Although he probably could have found a cheaper trip to obtain them, he chose this option because it could be flown during his weekend off in Singapore and therefore wouldn’t require any additional time away from his family. As icing on the cake, the fare was in business class, so he wouldn’t be fatigued at work the following week.

In Dan’s case, a status run made a lot of sense.

Do Status Runs Make Sense For Infrequent Travelers?

It depends. First of all, if you don’t travel at all, then a status run will absolutely not make sense. The real value of a status run is what it does for you at the margin.

It’s kind of like in football — you might give the ball to the fullback if you’re on the two yard line with the end zone right in front of you. But handing him the ball on 3rd and 25 probably isn’t going to do much. You need to be close to the next elite level based on your regular travel such that a status run can push you over the last bit.

Nick's Gold Medallion credentials on Delta (he's now Platinum...)
Nick’s Gold Medallion credentials on Delta (he’s now Platinum…)

Imagine that work takes you from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. once a quarter. That is roughly a 5,000 mile trip, so work travel alone will generate 20,000 miles each year.

Then let’s say you make one trip each year to Michigan to visit family, and that trip is 4,000 miles. Now you have 24,000 miles of trips you need to take each year. If you put all of those on one airline, say United, you’d end up 1,000 miles short of Silver status, the lowest elite level in United MileagePlus.

Thus it becomes a question of whether or not to do a status run to pick up those 1,000 miles.

For someone based in San Francisco, a quick, and possibly cheap, trip down to Las Vegas could earn those 1,000 miles. (Potential gains or losses from gambling are outside the scope of this analysis.) Such a trip might cost $200 and could quickly be completed over a weekend.

At that point it’s a question of whether the benefits of Silver status are worth $200. And frankly, they probably aren’t.

Most of the benefits of Silver status on United — or low-level status on any airline — can be replicated by simply getting the airline’s co-branded credit card. The annual fees are generally about $100 and a credit card application doesn’t involve any time to actually fly down to Vegas and back. On the other hand, if you place some value on a quick weekend getaway to a fun destination, then maybe a status run is in your future.

The key is that you always want to evaluate the benefits that you would get from the elite status versus the cost of obtaining that status.

Bottom Line

Mileage running as we know it is more or less dead, but there still may be reasons to fly otherwise unnecessary trips.

For those who already do a good amount of travel and would otherwise finish just short of the next elite status level, booking a status run may be economically worthwhile. The key is to make sure that you’re valuing the benefits that the higher level of status would convey at more than the cost of the trip. Generally, status runs are most valuable to those who are within sight of top-tier status anyway and just need a little kick to get them over the threshold. Folks like Dan, for example.

Speaking of Dan, he texted me just this morning to tell me that he projects to finish 2015 with 99,996 status miles on American, literally four miles short of requalifying for another year of Executive Platinum.

That certainly puts new meaning to the phrase “One Mile at a Time.”

Comments

  1. I do status runs to maintain my AA platinum status. However I have never done a “true” mileage/status run in that I fly out, don’t leave the airport and come right back. I always try to turn these into at least a short weekend away. From the west coast, I try to find cheap fares to new cities (Raleigh), cities I haven’t been to in a long time (Atlanta) or cities I enjoy/have friends in (DC). I figure there is always something to do and given that my husband is usually willing to come along – I have fun.

    Platinum status (which may seem paltry to some) affords me 100% bonus and pretty much my choice of coach seats (i.e. bulkhead or exit) so its worth it to me. I get about 15K per year from work flying, try to take 1 big trip (this year was Ireland) and then fill in the rest with cheap transcons.

  2. Betty — Absolutely. I too prefer “mini-vacation” runs or “weekend getaway” runs. Great way to see new places.

  3. Ben, what is the point of these beginner posts? I expected one or two but it seems to be the main focus. Do you want to become the next TPG? I’m starting to skip your blog because you are alienating your more loyal reader.

  4. @Tyler: Well all these bloggers aspire to be like TPG or Lucky Ben. That way, they make more $ from credit card signups and affiliated programs. They can’t please everyone but themselves. Kinda like Delta, alienating their most loyal flyers but money talks, or blogs. #RealityCheck

  5. Travis: If this post is intended for beginners, then the analysis is incomplete, since you fail to mention elite status revenue spend requirements that would obviously influence whether a status run makes sense or not.

  6. I may need a status run this year. Only at 29k PQM / 35 PQS / $8k PQD so far, so a long way to go to get back to UA Platinum. Not looking forward to the prospect of dropping to even UA Gold, for which I’d lose 8 E+ companions, boarding group 1, award change/redeposit fee waivers, 2 RPUs, etc.

  7. These posts are near impossible to write because the answer is always “it depends on YOU”. There’s no “master spreadsheet” or formula that can tell you if it makes sense to do a mileage run (I’ve never heard it called a status run; on FT we still call them MRs). There are way too many variables in the formula that I use to define a MRs value.

  8. Daniel M: Yep, that’s right, and a valid point for Delta and United flyers. (The primary example was Dan on American, however.)

    Guess my thinking is that if you’re already doing “real” trips to get close to an elite threshold, then you are probably meeting the revenue requirement anyway. At least that’s true for those in the middle of the country, though maybe that’s not always the case.

    And since I agree that this is worth considering, I inserted it into the post. Thanks.

  9. The point about evaluating whether you need status is a great one, especially in the context of various challenges which offer shortcuts to obtaining status.

    Back when US Airways status challenge was still available and it’d been possible to get Chairman’s Preferred (which would’ve converted into EXP), I almost jumped on it because there was a cheap fare to Europe which would’ve met the requirements in 3-4 trips for under $2500. But I don’t travel for work so all of my trips are vacations/mini-vacations (mostly, using miles). Given my limited time off work, I realized I’d probably not been able to use EXP benefits to their full potential and, especially, wouldn’t been able to re-qualify next year — there are mistake fares & great deals but if your schedule is fairly rigid, it’s hard to take advantage of them.

  10. @Travis,

    This weekend I am flying the B737, SVG-IAH return, only to maintain my SK-Diamond status.
    The ticket was priced at USD 1250 only, and instead of flying my buttoms off domestic (low accrual), I now spend 24 hours in an average- business class, and will earn my 25 000 miles needed for the Diamond.
    I still need 3 more domestic flights, but they will come easily in August when I return to work !
    Great report / comment….

  11. Really starting to get annoying… are all new readers for the first time on the Internet? Simple Google search could easily produce all this beginners infos in seconds. Oh yes, then OMAAT would not get extra $$$$ from all affiliated links… Seems that old loyal readers would have to start looking for new favourite travel blog.

  12. I found odd from Dan’s story. If he only short in 5k miles. He could purchase boost for 1.2k same price as Malaysia Airlines discount business price. Also he bought discount business tickets that should be 100% miles .if round trip should be 2867×2=5734(don’t count class service bonus miles and platinum status) also he main stsy in Dallas he still need yo fly back there or go to Seoul those miles need to count in ….how’s that possible only 99,996miles

  13. @ Petter — I live in Houston and just did SVG-IAH flight as part of an Aeroplan award (AMS-CPH-SVG-IAH for 45000 miles). Was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the flight and the seat. Slept more on that 9-hour flight than on a 14-hour UA IAH-NRT J (really don’t like that seat even though it’s lie-flat). Just remember to bring some entertainment & headphones with you to pass the time before they hand out iPads & Sony noise-cancelling headphones and also after they collect them (about an hour before the end of the flight).

  14. Seems a little bit silly for some posters here to claim OMAAT has been forever destroyed just because they are running a few introductory articles at the moment.

    Due to Ben’s multiple media appearances around the world at the moment, OMAAT is having an large influx of first time readers, so the OMAAT team are doing a special series to help these people get settled in. That is what is called for, quite reasonably in my view.

    It is, however, just a temporary shifting of gears from the more typical fare at OMAAT to cope with response to all the media coverage and new public interest. I’m sure that once the media moves mostly on (as they always do) and the tide of new readers falls back to the normal influx, that regular services will resume. No need to Henny Penny, the sky isn’t falling in. If you don’t want to review how to “suck eggs” just skip those articles, nobody is forcing you to read, and it’s only been a couple of days to date (so no need to get strung out).

  15. @Lucky @Tiffany @Nick @Travis (and for general info)

    For a “status” run of a different sort (lol) how about the chance (you might up sharing, but often it’s yours alone) of flying a super luxury Cessna CJ4 CitationJet between Dusseldorf and Luxemburg (or vice versa) for 180 euros? You might even have one of pilot’s come and serve you drinks lol.

    What regularly scheduled public airline is this you ask? Hahn Air. Comes with premium lounge access both ends, and onboard catering. The service is a quirk due to air operator certificate requirements specific to Hahn Air’s other activities.

    One of the OMAAT team should go do a flight review 🙂

  16. @ Kieran – that’s an awesome tidbit! But how do you get it to price for €180? I checked ITA through end of schedule and it shows €279 DUS-LUX one-way and €533 roundtrip.

  17. @Ivan Y

    It’s a fare promoted on AirEvents (180 or 340 euros return), which is cheaper than the published rate in return for giving up “must go” status (so no EU 261/2004 compensation), but I believe it is sometimes offered as a normal fare during sales as well. I’ve not flown it myself (but will certainly avail myself of it if in Germany or Brussels in future), and have just become aware of it’s existence. At either price, I’d still give it ago just for the novelty (don’t have any friends with executive jets alas lol), but if the OMAAT guys can fly it first and give us one of their reviews on it, that can certainly be a nice bonus to whet my interest until my next opportunity to Europe arrives and I can try it out myself.

  18. Noah — If you live outside of the US, United doesn’t require you to meet EQD thresholds. I live in Germany and fly to the US frequently as part of my job.

  19. Noah:

    As Frank said, you are exempt from the spend requirement if you have an address on file that is outside the US.

    And you are also exempt if you spend at least $25,000 / year on the co-branded credit card. (That doesn’t include 1K on United.)

  20. Since it’s fun to pick on Travis’ technical accuracy…

    Because Dan’s mileage run was on MH, he had a layover in KUL each way; it wasn’t a nonstop flight between SIN and ICN as pictured. He did fly business (Z) for all segments. The layover in KUL was memorable for him because there was only supposed to be an hour before arriving and departing, but the the KUL-ICN flight was delayed several hours until around 2-something AM. Dan took a nap in one of the MH Golden Lounges. When he woke up, he wandered over to the flight board to see that KUL-ICN had departed about 15 minutes ago!!! After a sinking feeling in his stomach, a few deep breaths, and some quick “Okay, where am I going to sleep tonight since the newbie just blew his first mileage run?” scenarios, Dan decided to go back to the board to stare at it some more in disbelief. When he did, he saw that it was actually a KE flight that had departed and his MH flight was still delayed.

    Before we criticize Dan too much for not being able to read an airline departures board, it was malfunctioning (flickering on and off with lots of distortion), in multiple languages with multiple code shares…and Dan had just woken up at around 1AM to read it. Nevertheless, that was the scariest part of the trip.

    Due to the delayed flight into ICN, the quick turnaround was REALLY quick: basically made it back to main terminal, immigration, check-in, immigration, out to the remote terminal, and back on a plane. Nobody in immigration questioned what I was doing and the MH agent who figured out what was going on when issuing my ticket just smiled, apologized for the delayed incoming flight and asked me to enjoy my next flight. “Thank you for flying Malaysia Airlines!”

    For being a useless trip, it was actually one of my more memorable for how silly it was.

    As for the economics, there were a few other considerations. Since I was spending ~24 hours on planes and in airports, I decided to checkout of my expensive Singapore hotel for one night, saving $200-$300 while my bags were under the care of the hotel’s porters rather than in an unoccupied room. (Granted, this saved my company money, not me, but my boss appreciated it.) Also, Travis thinks its silly, but those Executive Platinum luggage tags definitely played into the calculus! 😉

    Now to figure out what I’ll do to get those last four EQPs. Dan’s leaning towards making his DFW-LHR RT into DFW-FRA-LHR even though FRA means flying in a 767 in old business class with no chance of upgrade vs the 777-300ER in biz to LHR, with a chance of an SWU clearing him to first. Nice problems to have…

  21. @Dan

    All part of the joys of flying a multi-sector itinerary, no? Lol. Best for those who don’t mind some risk taking – and for those dare devils, you have flying multi-sector intineraries across split tickets (white knuckle indeed! – especially if going outside OneWorld).

    I like MH, but given recent practices at MH to cancel or amend flight timings at short notice depending on load (as they try to save every penny), I’m nowhere near brave enough to book timing dependant flights with them (although I guess booking at the last minute, having checked loads on ExpertFlyer first, you can improve the risk exposure).

    Glad your trip did work out though without major disaster, and now is a war story to regale with a laugh.

    Like you, I will accept trade-offs in product and convenience to stay an elite (Platinum) status with my more troublesome Qantas program (even though I don’t like it all that much). I refuse to pay over the top (when Qantas is already an over-priced carrier) to do so, so that means maximising status credit earn. Of course, it’d be much easier in the long run to shift over to AAdvantage for OneWorld elite status, but the thought of grinding through the grades again (rather than requalifing) is off-putting (if it wasn’t for Qantas’ hook-up with Emirates on reciprocal status, I’d probably have done it though).

    The things we do to keep the “shiny” card!

  22. I’m really a complete beginner. Although others may feel differently, I felt this post was very worthwhile and interesting. Your examples really helped me understand status runs, so thank you. Please keep doing what your doing. It’s a real inspiration.

  23. I’ve now wasted nearly an hour looking all over the Internet for an answer and cannot find it. So, I KNOW that someone at this blog will be able to tell me/us: Since I am (stupidly, stupidly) about to try for my first-ever status run this year, I am trying to find a tool to show me trips based on distance. I know about webFly’s mileage calculator, but it needs two cities. I want to say “starting from x and needing 1908 miles, where can I fly?” Surely there is a tool that will do this somewhere! Any tips? I am sure I am not the only person looking for this. Thanks!

  24. MBH —

    Actually, I don’t know of a tool that does exactly what you describe. The reason is this — even though you need just 1908 miles, you don’t really care whether the trip is 1908 or 4000 miles. You just need to cross the threshold. So you want the cheapest trip that gets you at least 1908 miles.

    I would suggest playing with the map on Google flights. It’s not exactly that, but it is a map of various fares from your city.

  25. UA Silver is worth more than $200! I think Scott valued it at around $1000. It includes several benefits the CC doesn’t: TSA, blue seats, and the occasional upgrade. I fly 25k domestic (out of pocket, mind you) just for fun.

  26. American Airlines lifetime status question. I don’t fly for business. But, I’ve used mileage credit cards for a long time. I’ve got 870000 million miler points with American. I’m thinking that I should try to get to 1 million in the next few years by doing a mileage run a few times a year and/or actually paying for some flights. I don’t have elite status. I’m looking for guidance as to whether this is worth doing. Also: If I book a fare on American can I use points to upgrade if I have no status level? Is there any other way to add to million miler status other than flying? What might be my best strategy? Any suggestions or guidance would be helpful. thanks!

  27. @ Paul Davis — Well, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s worth going out of your way to earn million miler status with AA.

    You do get “lifetime” Gold status, which would give you some additional benefits, but if you’re not flying all that often they may or may not be of much value to you.

    You can purchase 500-mile “stickers” to use for upgrades on AA-operated flights, but keep in mind upgrades will clear based on your elite status level.

    So really, it depends on your overall strategy. I typically pay for domestic economy flights, and redeem miles for international premium cabins, for example, but you’ll want to consider everything Travis wrote above and decide what makes sense for you.

  28. I agreed with Travis, it has become a status game. Downunder (Australia and New Zealand) people use air points for status runs where they can recoup some airpoints and get the status credits. Being a lounge member does not give some travelling privileges on airlines such as Qantas. You need at least Gold/Ruby to get to chose your seat for free and Platinum/Emerald to bet access to the front seats and the First Class lounges, including Emirates and BA. Check-in at the First Class counter is also a benefit.

  29. Hi,

    I have platinum status with AAmerican through 2017 and I got a status match offer from United through January 2017. I can pick a status match for 90 days and all I need to do is fly them once in 90 days and I’ll have the status plus 10,000 points through January 2017. I primarily fly American for work but would it make sense to do a quick trip (found a flight in and out of Detroit) for $130 to have the status? I should say that my company isn’t tied to American – if a flight is cheaper on United than I would book that.

  30. I fly about 50K – 60 K miles per year for work. 90% on AA. My current status is Platinum with Elite Qualifying Points: 84,229 of 100,000 (YTD). The system wide upgrades at Executive Platinum would be a big benefit to me since I fly to Asia 2-3 times per year and central Europe 1-2 times per year. What would be the most cost effective way to get the 16K Elite Qualifying points with only 2.5 weeks left in the year?

  31. I’m at 945,000 miles on United, retired and no longer fly for work but we do take three or four trips per year. I’m thinking of doing a mileage run to get the Million Mile Premier Gold status for my wife and I. At best it looks like I will pay .07 to .08 cents per mile to get there.

    Your thoughts?

  32. Hi. I just received AA Exec PLT status (after only 5 months…). I’m wondering of they still give out the luggage tags? I know this was written a year ago, but its the most recent post showing the luggage tags.

  33. @Travis I would be interested to hear your thoughts on segment runs. I fly for work and live near a small airport, so all my status comes from segments. Today I am attempting my first segment run (6 segments) and it has been pretty painful with Delta schedule screw-ups

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