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Mileage Run Flights Strategy
After previously covering strategies for building Delta Air Lines mileage runs, I figured I’d provide a rundown on strategies for each of the four alliance airlines for finding mileage run flights. This would have been the “Big 3”, but we have to toss in Alaska now that they are part of Oneworld. This won’t go as in depth as I do in the Delta Mileage Run Guide, but it’ll provide the basics of the requirements for each airline and the best ways to reach elite status.
What is a Mileage Run?
A mileage run is a trip booked simply for the sake of earning miles, or elite qualifying segments or dollars (spend) to help you earn elite status with an airline (or in some cases to earn a ton of miles cheaply). Often this means flying on a quick turnaround itinerary but you can also build a mileage run around a trip or fare deal, which is an excellent strategy if you’re flexible on timing and on places you want to visit.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Runs
How Do You Get Alaska MVP
Alaska Airlines is one of the easiest airlines to mileage run in at least one big way: the lack of spending requirement for any of their elite tiers. There are ways to waive the spend requirement or earn extra qualifying dollars with the other airlines, but Alaska beats them all by only requiring miles or segments.
- MVP – 20,000 miles or 30 segments (minimum 2 Alaska segments)
- MVP Gold – 40,000 miles of 60 segments (minimum 4 Alaska segments)
- MVP Gold 75K – 75,000 miles or 90 segments (minimum 6 Alaska segments)
- MVP Gold 100K (end of Jan 22)- 100,000 Miles or 140 segments (min 24 AK segments)
Alaska Airlines used to have different requirements for qualifying on strictly their flights versus qualifying using partner flights. However, this has been dropped since they joined the Oneworld alliance. If you have Oneworld flights with international airlines (or any of Alaska’s handful of other partners) and aren’t sure where to credit them, Alaska might be a great option if you live on the U.S. West Coast.
Best strategies for Alaska Airlines mileage run flights:
- Qualifying directly on Alaska flights is often the best option, as even basic economy earns 100% miles flown as elite qualifying miles.
- As Alaska doesn’t have a spend requirement for elite status, the name of the game is going the farthest for the cheapest on their own flights.
- I’d target coast-to-coast deals on Alaska Airlines (e.g. JFK-SFO on sale)
- Look for premium economy or business class deals with partner airlines because you can find significant elite mile bonuses. Most premium economy earns 100% miles flown as elite qualifying miles.
Long-haul premium economy on British Airways and Iberia are often a sweet spot from major U.S. gateways. A round-trip from New York-JFK to Barcelona, Spain in premium economy can often be found for less than $900. I’m currently seeing fares for $875. This earns 100% miles flown, which means you earn ~7,600 redeemable miles and also ~7,600 elite qualifying miles. If you can find excellent British Airways deals, remember that you can often upgrade to business class using British Airways Avios.
Mileage running Alaska Airlines can be done quite cheaply. If you already fly them just a little bit, a couple trips could put you at the first elite tier. Hitting MVP Gold 75K is the best, though, as you enjoy 50,000 bonus redeemable miles, which are worth a ton.
Also Read: Earn Alaska MVP Status with One Trip
American Airlines Mileage Runs
How to get elite status on American Airlines
Mileage running on American Airlines has a similar strategy as Alaska Airlines, although you will be facing a spend requirement. American requires both elite qualifying dollars (EQDs) and either elite qualifying miles (EQMs) or elite qualifying segments (EQSs) for each of their status tiers.
Aside from flying, the only way you can earn EQDs is through a co-branded AAdvantage card. The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver Card allows you to earn 3,000 EQDs after spending $50,000 on the card in a calendar year. This is a lot of spend for the EQDs offered. Not sure it’s a strategy I’d pursue, unless you have a ridiculous amount of spend each year to split among your cards.
Elite requirements are reduced for 2021. You can also waive the EQD requirement entirely by spending $30,000 on a co-branded AAdvantage credit card, but this benefit only applies for this year.
Best strategies for American Airlines mileage run flights:
- If you’re short EQDs, you’ll want to target cheap premium economy or business class deals. British Airways premium economy is often worth looking at.
- Flying cheap (but not basic economy) American Airlines flights will usually be the best strategy for EQMs, as you earn 100% flown miles.
In general, you’ll want to be careful about booking cheap tickets with partner airlines. With many Oneworld partners, the cheapest fare classes earn 0.5 EQMs per mile flown and a minuscule percentage of EQDs.
Premium economy is often a sweet spot. For example, a ticket from San Francisco to Lisbon via London in British Airways premium economy (on the long-haul legs) will earn ~18,000 EQMs and ~2,340 EQDs. Not bad for a ticket that is currently going for ~$1,100. Enjoy a European vacation in the fall for a reasonable price and also hit your next status tier.
Final note: beware some Iberia tickets. Flights operated by LEVEL (IB2600 – IB2699) will not earn AAdvantage EQMs, EQDs, or redeemable miles.
Delta Air Lines Mileage Runs
If you want the full guide for how to mileage run on Delta Air Lines, check out my more in-depth Delta Mileage Run post. I’m going to just recap here. In short, Delta has both a spend requirement and a mileage flown or segments flown requirement for all of their four Medallion tiers. You can get around the spend requirement for Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion by spending on their co-branded Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve American Express cards. For Diamond, the spend requirement is much higher ($250,000), making it not worth it.
The secret sauce for Delta Air Lines mileage runs is in their Core Global Partners, especially if you need MQDs. The Core Global Partners credit 100% flown miles as MQMs. What you want are premium economy tickets (30% flown miles as MQDs) or business class (40% flown miles as MQDs), plus 150% flown miles as MQMs. Cheap premium economy or business class tickets are the sweet spot.
Best strategies for Delta Air Lines mileage run flights:
- Look for cheap long-haul flights on Delta or Core Global Partners for high MQMs (all earn 100% flown miles as MQMs). Good partners to look at include Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic.
- Spend $25,000 on the Delta Platinum/Reserve for the MQD waiver for Silver through Platinum status.
- For MQDs, look for premium economy or business class deals on Delta Core Global Partners where you can get 3-4x MQDs per $1 spent. Some good options to explore are Virgin Atlantic premium economy and Aeromexico business class.
It isn’t really worth mileage running for Delta Air Lines elite status if you aren’t going for Platinum or Diamond, especially if you hold a Delta co-branded credit card.
United Airlines Mileage Runs
With their Premium Qualifying Points (PQP) system and odd method for awarding these for partner flights, figuring out how to efficiently mileage run United Airlines might be the most difficult of the alliance airlines. You can qualify for United elite status with either just PQP or PQP and premier qualifying flights (PQFs). Miles are gone entirely. I’m surprised United hasn’t ditched the term “miles” from their redeemable miles.
Guide: MileagePlus United Excursionist Perk
What you need to qualify for United Premier status in 2022:
- Silver – 8 PQF and 3,000 PQP or 3,500 PQP
- Gold – 8 PQF and 6,000 PQP or 7,000 PQP
- Platinum – 8 PQF and 9,000 PQP or 10,000 PQP
- 1K – 8 PQF and 13,500 PQP or 15,000 PQP
If you’re thinking 15,000 PQP is a lot, it is. However, you can (oddly) still earn United status faster flying partner flights. This has been a common strategy with mileage run flights for the other airlines, but it holds even more true with United. But United basically requires you to know calculus to determine how many PQP you can earn from partner flights, so there is that wrinkle as well.
Calculating Premier Qualifying Points for Star Alliance airlines as well as Air Dolomiti, Azul, Eurowings, Edelweiss, and Olympic:
- Preferred partner PQP: Award miles divided by 5
- MileagePlus partner PQP: Award miles divided by 6
For calculating the award miles earned, you’ll have to visit the partner page on United’s website and calculate it based on the fare class. Process: find flight option, determine fare class, determine flight mileage using MileCalc, determine award mileage credit rate with United and apply to mileage, divide by either 5 or 6 depending on the partner. There. You finally have the PQP you’ll earn. Now I need a glass of wine.
Related: Easily Calculate How Many Miles You’ll Earn for a Flight
You’ll need to be aware of the PQP caps. United enacted the following last year:
- First or business (preferred partner) – 1,500 PQP
- First or business (non-preferred partner) – 1,000 PQP
- Economy or premium economy (preferred partner) – 750 PQP
- Economy or premium economy (non-preferred partner) – 500 PQP
This is applied per segment. Connecting flight can still give you a healthy number of PQP, but this killed some of the best strategies.
Best strategies for United Airlines mileage run flights:
- Fly cheap premium economy tickets! Many of these earn 100% flown miles as award miles, which means that preferred partners will earn 20% flown miles as PQP.
- Cheap business class is an option, but usually not worth the cost premium.
- Very cheap economy tickets on preferred partners can be worth investigating. Unfortunately, some preferred partners only earn 25% miles flown as award miles, which affects PQPs.
- Cheap Air Canada tickets are a good option, as these earn a minimum of 50% miles flown for the cheapest international flights.
You can also earn PQP through United co-branded credit card spend at a rate of 500 PQP per $12,000 in spend, with varying caps per year depending on your card. I think this is lot of spend for not many PQP.
I love having airline elite status. Sure, it isn’t worth mileage running if you’re not traveling much, but it is often worth it if you are going to fall just short of another tier. Then you can both plan a little vacation and enjoy locking in your benefits for another year. Hopefully this has helped you learn a few ways to find good mileage run flights with your airline of choice.
Mike Saint says
Is there some trick to finding best routes to use American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades? I have 7 that are expiring in July and it’s been impossible to use these. Even during COVID I was only able to use 1 of them from DFW to CDG. Every other flight already was totally full. I’m curious if there is an easy to use award search where I can see routes that I will easily be able to redeem these AA Systemwide upgrades.
Thanks in advance.
Have you ever used Expert Flyer? You can set alerts for the type of upgrade you’re looking for (A) or (C) and and then call AA to see if you can use a SWU- it’s not guaranteed in that case but at least it’s more likely.
Is it worth it to chase the United platinum status with 3 months left in the year. I’ve met all requirements except for the additional 3k PQP points. I live in San Francisco and travel for pleasure. I have to be honest, I’ve not been paying much attention to my PQPs when I buy my flights.