American Airlines pioneerd the frequent flier program. Could they have ever known people would just fly for miles? Photo by David Parker Brown.

American Airlines pioneerd the frequent flier program. Could they have ever known people would just fly for miles? Photo by David Parker Brown.

This is a multi-part (or multi-leg) series on mileage runs. Future parts will be posted soon.

Everyday people are up in the sky, flying to and from their destination inside a metal tube.  But why?  For some it is business, for others they are off on vacation to a faraway destination. It could also be either a fun or reluctant trip to visit their family.  But there are another group of people who are out there flying: the mileage runners. These are the folks who are not flying to get to a destination, they are flying to earn miles via an airline’s rewards system to get status and those benefits to come with it.

Airline rewards programs are nothing new. American Airlines was the second airline to offer a frequent flyer scheme, behind Texas International Airways.  AAdvantage was born in 1981,  giving an incentive back to those who flew often with the airline.  It was a pretty basic program back then, compared to now.

These days the frequent flier schemes offer more rewards and in some cases can be hugely profitable for the airline.  Some programs offer bigger rewards than others; the extreme likely being able to use Virgin Atlantic miles (2,000,000 to be exact) to enter a drawing to travel to space on Virgin Galactic.

Earning these miles can come from a number of ways not just by flying; credit cards and staying at certain hotel chains can help. As the balance builds so does the desire to earn more – it becomes almost an addiction

Why Fly the Red Route when you could fly the Green?

Why Fly the Red Route when you could fly the Green?

How do you earn the big points? Well, the fun way is to fly!  It is quicker to rack up points than you might think.  If your program awards you one point per mile and you fly a 1000 miles, then that is 1000 points right?

But what if that flight was cheaper via another city, which added 500 miles to your trip?  Most passengers might avoid that option, but that’s a 50% bonus.  What if you could make that one way flight from Seattle to San Juan (in Puerto Rico) go via Salt Lake, Minneapolis, New York and Atlanta, all for the same price? Does that make you crazy? No it makes you a mileage runner.

Although someone out there surely started the trend, there is now a community of people now who mileage run for a number of reasons.  Sites like Flyertalk or Milepoint contain a wealth of knowledge as users share the best tips, tricks and ways of just getting through your flights.

The best thing that these sites offer for the mileage runner are the sections dedicated to finding the best mileage runs.  Be it a multi-leg flight from the west coast to Japan, via Hawaii, Guam and Hong Kong or from San Francisco to New Zealand, via Dubai and Melbourne.

Be aware that each airline program is different and have rules that you need to follow.  Some of these runs might set you back $500-600, but nett you, with bonuses, 20,000 to 30,000 points by the time you’re finished.  If you have vouchers from delays or bumps, then this can bring that price down even more.  There are even some bloggers who give great guides on actually booking these complicated mileage runs.

Cathay Pacific First Class "Suite" - Photo: Ben Schlappig

Cathay Pacific First Class “Suite” – Photo: Ben Schlappig

You are probably thinking to yourself, ’œwhy would I put myself through all of that — this can’t be worth it.’  Look at this way.  You put yourself through all of this hassle of researching the bargain basement fares, spend more time taking the long way to your destination, but be sure to keep targeting one airline.  It doesn’t take long for you and your traveling companion to earn 140,000 points each with an airline , which is not all that hard if you fly for a living (or churn a few credit cards, but that’s another story).  Sure you could use it for a few first class trips to Vegas or a number of coach tickets somewhere, but why not drop it in one hit on something aspirational.

Most airlines allow you to redeem your 140,000 points for flights with some of its partners.  There are quite a few options with that many miles. Like a nice trip to the West Coast of the USA to Africa… via Hong Kong.  That may sound like torture, sure.  But even the non AvGeeks among us would want to fly with the seat seen above on Cathay Pacific.

For 140,000 points you can fly round trip from San Francisco to Johannesburg with Cathay Pacific.  That’s four flights, 14 hours each, with a stopover allowed in each direction.  That is about $40,000 worth of first class flights — maybe that hassle does not look that bad anymore.

So, why mileage run?  It is not just about earning points. It is about what you can do with those points.  Next time you’re flying your way somewhere, think to yourself. Could I be earning my points a little bit better?

This series will continue with additional insights on mileage running — stay tuned.

This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Mal is an Australian native who has been a huge fan of airlines and aviation and currently works in airport-related operations. Email:
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Are you planning to renew your AA Exex Plat in 2014?

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