Airline Mileage Runs: There Has to be a Better Way

Summary:At the end of every year, many business travelers face the inevitable: the dreaded Mileage Run.

At the end of every year, many business travelers face the inevitable: the dreaded Mileage Run.

When you're a business traveler, status is everything.

When you have medallion status as a regular business traveler, you get preferred check-in and baggage drop lines -- a huge advantage over being treated like a nobody -- as well as having a significantly increased chance for First Class upgrades. So keeping it and maintaining it is a huge priority. No business traveler wants to be reduced to an average schlub, it would be a fate worse than death.

Well, maybe not worse than death. But it would suck.

While I did do a significant amount of travel this last year, it was much less than the two years previous, where I actually achieved Platinum on Continental. Because of various corporate travel policy issues that I'd rather not discuss, I switched my preferred carrier to Delta, where they status matched me to Gold, and I was able to sustain Silver in 2009.

While Silver status sounds pretty crappy, I've discovered that on Delta it actually means something. Much of my travel has been on the East Coast this last year on heavy Delta routes, so even with Silver, I still got a lot of First Class upgrades.

Additionally, a number of the Delta airports I have been frequenting are extremely busy, such as Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, which have huge check-in lines for Schlub class during peak travel days and hours.

If you're Silver, you're immediately promoted to Human Being and can enjoy at least a one hour reduction in wait time to get to your gate. That one extra hour is significant, because it means I can spend it at the Crown Club and get tanked on free cocktails while I mess with the iPad on Wi-Fi, especially if I got the First Class upgrade.

So November is about half-done, and we've got only about six more weeks until the end of the year. As it turns out, I'm about 1000 miles short of maintaining my Silver status on Delta.

It's possible that I might do some additional travel in December -- perhaps one last business trip for the year, or my wife and I will probably go away during Christmas week, which would solve that problem. 1000 miles isn't so bad, it's one round trip back and forth to Florida or the Caribbean from any airport in the New York metro area.

But if I didn't have an upcoming business trip or a planned vacation, I'd have to do what many business travelers have to do at the end of the year in order to maintain status --- the dreaded Mileage Run.

What's a Mileage Run? It's when you buy a bunch of cheap airline tickets on your preferred carrier with long mileage legs in order to ensure your status on your desired preferred level. You get on a plane, you go to some place you don't really care about, hang out at the airport or the destination city for a few hours or the day, and then fly home.

There are entire bulletin boards dedicated to the subject of finding cheap Mileage Runs, such as the one on the popular business travel discussion site FlyerTalk. There you'll find cheap mileage runs from the moderate to the extreme, such as this 19,000 mile run from San Francisco to Dubai. Why, you can leave Saturday afternoon and be home Monday, for a cool $907.00!

If you're 3,000 to 5,000 miles short of a medallion tier level, a $500.00 or less investment in cheap tickets and blowing a few Saturdays "Up in the Air" is much more preferable to losing your Platinum or Gold medallion, or even Silver.

I've never had to do one of these. Thank God. But if I end up using Continental points for my vacation tickets in December, and I don't have another business trip this year, then I face the very real possibility of getting on a plane and flying to some awful cold destination during the winter if I want to keep my Silver status on Delta. Like Detroit. Or Cleveland. Or Buffalo.

Is it just me, or does this whole idea of having to "Maintain" status by flying to someplace you don't want to go sound awfully stupid? Shouldn't there a better way of handling this?

Like, can't I just buy my way into status for whatever miles I have left in the year? So if I'm 1000 miles short of my goal, shouldn't I just be able to just give Delta $250.00 and not show up at the airport? And we can both just pretend I boarded the plane to Detroit and I don't blow a whole Saturday doing it?

And it's not just the time. Or even the money. If I boarded a plane to Detroit in December, I'd be taking up a seat another customer might have needed, particularly if that flight ends up getting full and I'm not getting upgraded. Wouldn't it make sense and also good public relations for Delta and the other airlines if there was some holiday-themed "Buy a Ticket for the Underprivileged and Maintain Your Status" end-of-year drive for charity so we can all be happy?

Buy X number of miles -- at a price which is entirely reasonable -- and someone who needs to go visit their family 1000 miles away and can't afford to fly gets to go on a plane during the holidays. You get your status, you don't have to get on a stupid plane for no reason and blow your entire weekend, and the surplus seats get used by people who really need to use them.

Have you ever had to do the dreaded "Mileage Run?" or are facing the possibility of having to do a few at the end of the year? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Travel Tech, iPad, Tablets, Wi-Fi

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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