It seems to me that one of the most sought after answers for aspiring FF addicts is how to do a mileage run.  With my recent move to D.C., I am not racking up the miles like I usually did when living in Hawaii.  Therefore, I have to do some mileage runs if I intend to keep my United 1K and Alaska MVPG statuses (stati?).  Today, I am going to walk you through all the steps I took to book a mileage run this week.

The first step is to look for a good candidate run and then optimize it to maximize the miles.  I like to look on Flytertalk or Milepoint’s Mileage Run forums to see what others have found.  I was looking a few days ago and finding many interesting runs.  WAS-SNA, WAS-ONT, WAS-SJD (Cabo San Lucas), but what caught my eye was a comment from one person who asked if someone had taken advantage of the       $348 WAS-ANC fare.  Bingo!  I love ANC and have lots of friends there.  It also is a great mileage run since it involves two destinations far apart which I can later manipulate to make it even more.  The closer two cities are the harder this gets.  I always find it more interesting if I can make the mileage run a mini-vacation rather than 24 hrs. without leaving the plane or airport.

With that clue it was off to ITA to find when that fare sale was valid.  I started searching in 30 day increments, until I hit paydirt.  Searching through the months, I find that low fare starting mid-September and going to mid-October.  Hey, I get a four day weekend over the Columbus holiday, that would be a great time to go!

The fare is on United as expected.  Always useful to check as many times the competitors will lower their fares to match.  So if you see a sale on a United fare, but you mainly fly American, check and see if American is offering the same.  For this case United is perfect and I go to the United website for the next steps.  I plug in Thurs., 10 Oct returning Monday, 14 Oct for WAS-ANC.  The fares confirm at $333 since I am using my Veterans Advantage 5% discount.  The miles show as 4,070 each way for a total of 8,140.

Now when doing a mileage run, the golden standard is getting under 4 cents per EQM mile.  This is getting harder and harder to find with inflation and the rise in fuel, but go for that as a goal and decide for yourself if it is close enough to be worth your while.  In this case, $333/ 8,140 miles = 4.10 cpm; pretty good for a great mileage run.  Let’s see if we can do better.

If you took Geometry in high school, it was Euclidian geometry, which teaches that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.This rule goes out the window when you move on to spherical geometry which planes deal with when traveling the globe.  As you have probably noticed when seeing a flight path, the shortest route it is a curve.  This is actually shorter than the straight line path traced on a map.  If you plot this curve on the Great Circle Mapper, you can see the flight path the plane will follow and how the mileage distance is calculated.  If I can find a route that deviates from this path, I will increase the number of miles that I earn provided that I can keep the price the same.  So I switch the United flight reservation page to Multiple Destinations instead of Round Trip and start trying to add segents in between WAS and ANC.  One thing to remember when adding segments is that your chances of finding a similarly cheap fare are increased if you try cities where there is a hub for that airline as that typically means there are many flights for the airline to fill (high inventory = low price) and lots of possible connecting flights.  For United, that means trying EWR, DEN, SFO, LAX, and IAH.  Let’s start with EWR, so WAS-EWR-ANC.

OK, I got the same price for this itinerary and the miles look to be about the same.  Then you have to remember that the 199 mile segment will be bumped up to the minimum 500 miles awarded for any segment.  This then brings the total miles for the trip to 8,698 which translates to 3.83 cpm.  Hey, we are looking even better, but let’s see if we can improve that.  I try:

DEN – $430 and slightly less miles

SFO – $575. Forget that.

LAX – Really high fare

IAH – Bingo!  About the same fare, but a LOT more miles!

This shows a fare of $338 (again with the Vet Adv discount) and the mileage is up to 8,946.  This gives a cpm of 3.78!   That’s really great and tough to find these days –  I buy it.  Note that I did try to add even more segments on, but they either added cost or provided almost no extra miles.  For example, I priced DCA-IAH-DEN-ANC and it was only two miles more and added three hours to the flight time.   Not worth it.

So I hope that shows you the process that I go through.  You can apply it to any airline, just do your hunting and do not expect to bag a great deal every time.  I would be interested to hear of your successes if you will post them on my blog.  And for any of you who care to join me on a flight to Alaska, you have my itin – see you there!

Posted by glenn | 8 Comments

8 responses to “Anatomy of a Mileage Run”

  1. Nic says:

    You are going to get people excited with WAS-ANC for $34

  2. Joey says:

    Thank you for this info! I’ve never done a mileage run before but have always heard the term from reading FT and BoardingArea blogs (and thus wondered how it works.) I’ve never even used ITA before so will give that a try as well. So how long will you stay in ANC?

  3. Joey says:

    And i thought that fare was $34? Or $340?

  4. jorge says:

    Great article !!

  5. glenn says:

    Thanks for the notes. That is actually NOT a typo and appears correctly on the WordPress site that I type these on. It is a formating error that cut off that last digit when it displays on BA. I am going to a Borading area convention next week and hope thay can tell me how to get this program to work better. This is alos why the display seems all ragged and doesn’t line up compared to what I type. Sorry if I got anyone excited, but frankly $348 to ANC is still pretty good.

  6. gary says:

    I was wondering how one adds more mileage to the fare? Do you know the hubs for American Airlines? Thanks again.

    • glenn says:

      @ Gary – The hubs for American can be found by going to the “Where We Fly” tab under Plan Travel on They are indicated by the blue boxed cities. In short they are: Dallas, Miami, New York, Chicage, and Los Angeles. Of course with the coming merger, you will be able to include the USAir hubs of Phoenix, Charlotte, and Philly. Add mileage to your flight by trying to route your flight between teh two desired cities through one of these hubs. Often that will not add to the ticket price, but can add lots of miles due to the increased length,

  7. […] It is useful to examine what each level of status grants you on your airline and understand the benefits.  It may be worthwhile to find a reason to take a special trip just to gain enough miles for the next level if you are already close.  You can also make a logical argument in some cases for the cost of an extra flight.  For example, if you are 3000 miles short of the first elite level and know that you will get free bags on all your flights for the next year, you can rationalize spending a couple of hundred dollars on a flight to save a couple of hundred dollars in baggage fees in the future AND gain all the other benefits such as increased RDM and using the elite lines at check in. It is usually best to find a reason to take a vacation using a certain airline to get these miles, but some people actually will just fly to a far away location and return never having left the airport.  This is know as a mileage run.  I detail how to do this in a recent post. […]

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