For those that fly often, there is not a sense of envy with the gate agent allows First Class and elite frequent flyers to board the plane first. No, there is only lust for such benefits that are often so close yet so far away at this time of year.
See, frequent flyer status is earned annually. For United, you’ll need at least 50,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) by December 31st to maintain Premier Executive status. It may be one up from cattle class, but when you do long hauls to Europe or red-eyes from the West Coast, those emergency row seats or First Class upgrades make the flights oh so much better.
Which brings us to mileage runs – the act of flying just to maintain elite frequent flyer status. It may sound crazy, but there is a whole airline subculture focused on just such acts of desperation. And this year, at 39,200 EQMs, I’m hell-bent on earning 10,801 more by December 31, 2008.
Wanna learn how I’m doing it at no cost to me? Then keep reading…
First, you’ll need some good tools and pre-planning. Start with focusing all your flights on one airline throughout the year. For the Washington area airports (WAS), we have United out of IAD, Southwest from BWI, and US Airways from DCA.
Personally, I feel that only United has an elite status worth flying for, but others say Southwest’s free flights come quickly, even if they only fly one class of aircraft. US Airways is a sad shell of its glory days, and I avoid it along with Delta at all costs.
Next, start reading Flyer Talk forums the single best resource for frequent flyers. They have forums on ever airline program and specific forums just for mileage runs. Just do everyone a favor and read for a month before posting, so you don’t sound the fool.
Then, learn about Kayak and how to do multi-city flights on it and Orbitz. Kayak is a flight aggregator can often find deals that are hidden on other airlines, while Orbitz can often buy those tickets when airline sites cannot seem to find your goal itinerary.
Now you are ready to start thinking about mileage runs. When you do, remember that the longest distance between two points has exactly one connection. That means a IAD-SFO flight should really be IAD-SEA-SFO or a BWI-MCO flight really should be a BWI-DEN-MCO route. It may seem a little awkward at first, but you’ll often find that not only are the flights cheaper when you go out of your way, you’ll also reach the next elite status level with less flying.
Great United WAS mileage runs are the ~250$ round trips to SEA and PDX that do not require a Saturday night stay. In fact, you can fly in and out the same day, and if you go through DEN, you can pick up ~5,000 EQMs for each round trip.
So back to me and my 10,801 miles I’m earning for free. In early November, I’ll be flying BWI-DEN-PDX, spending a Saturday night there on a Portland Brew Tour, before continuing on to San Francisco for work. I’ll fly a SFO-SEA-IAD red-eye return, with both flights gladly paid for by work – this route is cheaper than IAD-SFO-IAD direct flights.
That’s the first trick to learn – often mileage runs can be cheaper than direct flights, which help in selling these odd routes to the boss.
I’ve also signed up for the United Platinum Chase credit card, which gives me 5,000 EQMs for the first year and up to 5,000 EQM’s for flights I buy with it on United.com. This is the second trick to learn, on the rare occasion, you can earn EQMs through special deals that don’t require actually flying. Although, infrequent, they do exist for those that look for them.
Next year, when you are standing in line at IAD and I waltz past you to pre-board, remember, you too can be elite. It just takes a mileage run or two.