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Mileage Runs: A Beginner’s Guide

Lufthansa Plane Wing in Snow at Munich Airport.

Do you love to travel but always find yourself struggling to earn enough miles for free flights? Or do you struggle to earn or renew your airline elite status? Do you wish there was a way to maximize your flying experience while also saving money? Do you wish you had a travel bank of airline miles for last-minute necessary flights that are too expensive close to departure? Look no further than mileage runs, the ultimate travel hack for frequent flyers and flyers looking to fly Forward of the Wing.

In this beginner’s guide, we will take a deep dive into everything you need to know about mileage runs and how they can change your travel game forever. From finding cheap flight deals to maximizing elite status benefits, we’ll cover it all. 

Get ready to learn insider tips and tricks for planning the perfect mileage run and taking advantage of layovers and destination opportunities. By the end of this article, you’ll be a pro at turning your passion for travel into an opportunity for adventure and savings.

What is a Mileage Run?

A Mileage Run is a series of flights you take in relatively quick succession with the goal of accumulating Status Credits, Loyalty Points, Tier Points or whatever your chosen airline frequent flyer program calls them, quickly.

The aim is to accumulate enough credits to make your aspirational frequent flyer status attainable, especially in years where you might not be flying as much, but still want to earn or retain your frequent flyer elite status.

To do this, planning out carefully, a frequent flyer books a trip of sweet spot flights that maximise your status credit earning potential, at the lowest cost, in short succession. This can be an itinerary consisting of one-way, return or multi-stop flights, or a combination, with your chosen airline and their airline alliance partners.

Why Should You Consider Mileage Runs?

If you are a frequent traveler, then mileage runs can be a great way to save money and gain rewards simultaneously. By taking advantage of mileage runs, you can earn airline miles and elite status bonuses, qualifying elite miles, status points or tier points (the name is dependent on your airline mileage program) much faster than just flying occasionally. I will link to my other articles at the bottom of the page with more specific program mileage run options and information about how a selection of the airline programs work, so please check these out for more personalized advice tailored to you.

Mileage runs are particularly useful for people who are looking to get more out of their travel experience by maximizing the value of their flights through free benefits and perks such as lounge access, increased baggage allowance, free upgrades on certain airlines, priority boarding, fast-track security and much more. Mileage runs are flights you take back-to-back or in quick succession with the purpose of accruing elite status bonuses, qualifying elite miles, status points or tier points to gain elite frequent flyer status or renewing your frequent flyer status for another year. This means you’ll be able to use these frequent flyer benefits for your everyday flights such as leisure holidays or business travel. These come with the added benefit of accruing airline miles, which can be used for everything from free upgrades, free flights (including last-minute flights if there is availability) and even online shopping with some airlines.

British Airways Airplane at London City Airport.
British Airways is part of the oneworld Alliance.

Why are Mileage Runs Important to Renewing your Airline Elite Status?

For top-tier airline statuses such as oneworld Emerald, Star Alliance Gold or SkyTeam Elite Plus, mileage runs are a crucial strategy for frequent flyers looking to renew their airline elite status but may not take enough leisure flights or business travel to ordinarily reach these airline status levels. Top-tier elite status at this level comes with a host of perks, including priority boarding, free checked bags, free seat selection, free flight upgrades, first-class lounge access (where available) and other exclusive benefits.

Gaining Top-tier Frequent Flyer Elite Status

To gain top-tier status and these privileges normally, a frequent flyer needs to meet strict requirements within a given year dependent on the airline program. These could include tier points (such as British Airways), status points (such as Air New Zealand) or elite qualifying miles (Alaska Airlines). United Airlines frequent flyer members earn PQF and PQP (Premier Qualifying Flights and Premier Qualifying Points thresholds) and American Airlines AAdvantage members earn Loyalty Points.

Mileage Runs aren’t just for Top-tier Frequent Flyer Elite Status

If you fit into this category of not flying enough to justify reaching these strict thresholds but still want to earn or renew your airline status, then mileage runs can help. For most people not looking to gain top-tier status but still wanting perks such as lounge access, increased baggage allowance and priority boarding, mileage runs can also be used to earn or renew status at the next level down such as oneworld Sapphire status. Note that oneworld has three tier levels: oneworld Ruby, oneword Sapphire and oneworld Emerald, whereas Star Alliance and Skyteam only have two elite levels.

By booking flights to specific destinations or taking advantage of cheap fares and layovers, you can quickly rack up the mileage you need to maintain your elite status without spending a fortune. Plus, engaging in mileage runs can be an exciting adventure as you explore new cities and cultures while earning benefits that will enrich your future travels.

Using Mileage Runs to Gain Top-Tier Airline Elite Status

If you’re looking to get the most out of your airline loyalty program, then using mileage runs can be a great way to gain top-tier airline elite status. Airlines offer different levels of elite status based on how many miles, flights or tier/status credits you earn within a certain time period, usually a calendar year. The higher your status, the more perks and benefits you’ll receive while travelling.

Mileage runs are particularly useful for those who are just shy of reaching the next level of elite status. By strategically planning flights that will earn you the necessary miles, you can quickly move up in the ranks and enjoy all the perks that come with it. These may include free upgrades to first class, priority boarding and baggage handling, access to exclusive lounges, and much more.

Malaysia Airlines' Regional Golden Lounge at Kuala Lumpur Airport.
Malaysia Airlines’ Regional Golden Lounge at Kuala Lumpur Airport is a great perk for frequent flyers who hold oneworld Sapphire status or above.

Finding Cheap Flight Deals for Mileage Runs

One of the key components of a successful mileage run is finding cheap flight deals. While it may seem counterintuitive to book multiple flights in successive order to save money, savvy travelers know that airline ticket prices can fluctuate greatly depending on the time of year, day of the week, and even time of day. To get started on finding cheap flight deals for your mileage run, there are a few key things you should keep in mind.

Be Flexible

First and foremost, flexibility is key. If you have the ability to be flexible with your travel dates and times, you’ll be able to take advantage of flash sales and last-minute deals that can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Additionally, be sure to use online tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner to compare prices across different airlines and routes. Finally, consider signing up for a variety of airline loyalty programs or credit cards that offer exclusive discounts or bonuses for frequent flyers. Cards such as the American Express Platinum card offer an annual airline credit and bonus Membership Rewards points on airline purchases.

Sweet Spot Flights

Look at the specific airline program you wish to gain status from as there will be earning sweet spots to take advantage of, in order to maximise earning for the lowest cost and time commitment.

My biggest tip when booking a mileage run is after planning out a route of cheap consecutive flights that work from your origin and arrive back at the origin, try booking through your airline as a multistop or series of multistop or return flights. For some airlines, multistops give you additional flexibility in dates or cheaper flights overall. In my experience of using multistop mileage runs, I have been able to upgrade to business class or first class for less than individual one-way or return fares on some airlines, so it is worth taking your time to research and plan out a variety of itineraries and testing booking methods to maximise value.

Book Premium Cabins

Another secret to note is airlines reward their premium passengers (Premium Economy, Business Class and First Class) with proportionally more elite status bonuses, qualifying elite miles, status points or tier points. They want to reward their premium passengers. So, focus on booking flights in these cabin classes.

Maximizing Elite Status Benefits

Maximizing elite status benefits is crucial for getting the most out of your mileage runs and elite status. With elite status, you can often enjoy perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, lounge access, and even upgrades to first or business class. However, it’s not enough to simply achieve elite status; you need to know how to make the most of it.

Check out my guides below on different airline programs to find out what elite status benefits you currently are eligible for, and what the next tier level would offer you.

Tips and Tricks for Planning Your Mileage Run

Planning a mileage run can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the game. However, with some strategic planning and smart tricks, you can optimize your experience and reap the rewards.

Off-Peak Travel

Firstly, it’s essential to be flexible with dates when planning your mileage run. This allows you to take advantage of the best deals available and maximize your benefits. Consider alternate airports, destinations or travel dates as they may offer more affordable options or better flight connections. Another tip is to do your mileage run in the off-season, that is outside of peak summer travel and holiday periods. This is when you will find cheap flights and more open flight availability.

Anywhere Flight Search

Another tip is to use websites and tools that specialize in finding cheap flights. Sites like Google Flights and Skyscanner allow you to search for flights based on price, date range and destination – making it easier to find the most economical options for your mileage run. You can also do an “Anywhere” search to find the best flight deals for your specific dates.

Cheap Flight Deal Notifications

Additionally, sign up for email alerts or email notifications from Google Flights, or the airlines themselves. You’ll receive notifications about flash sales or special promotions that can save you money on your trip. I like to also set up email alerts for price tracking for certain key routes through Google Flights. This will allow you to know when these routes are on sale with your preferred airline and for what dates.


Sometimes, connecting flights with extended layovers can work out significantly cheaper, and give you time to (briefly) explore the city. You could also look at extending this into a stopover with a multi-stop flight, after seeing what the difference in price is. When planning layovers or stopovers on flights, make sure that you have a built-in time buffer in case of any delays.

Also, several airlines offer layover programs in selected destinations, allowing you to explore multiple cities on one trip without any extra cost attached! Airlines such as Malaysia Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways offer these stopover options, and these can be a good way to explore a new city, rest and recharge before your onward journey. If your mileage run consists of several flights in short succession, breaking up the journey with a free stopover can allow you a proper night’s sleep. Check airlines in the airline alliance of your frequent flyer program to see what destinations are available to you, and what criteria you must meet to qualify for a free stopover.

Route Planning your Mileage Runs

Plan your route out as a series of one-way flights, then try utilising return flight options, then try with a multi-stop. Usually multi-stops work cheapest, but a series of back-to-back return flights may work best on certain routes (such as a trans-Atlantic itinerary). Maximising the number of flight segments in a multi-stop booking often offers a significant discount for certain airlines, so it is well-worth checking if this applies your your airline of choice.

View of Mountain Alp Range from an aircraft.
Travelling in the off-season can help you save tons on your mileage run.

Taking Advantage of Layovers and Destination Opportunities

One of the most significant advantages of mileage runs is the opportunity to visit destinations you may not have considered before. When planning your mileage run, look for layovers and extended connections in various cities you’ve always wanted to explore. With careful consideration and research, you can use these layovers as mini-vacations within your trip whilst still focused on earning your elite status bonuses, qualifying elite miles, status points or tier points.

Many airlines offer stopover programs that allow travelers to stay in a connecting city for a few days, often at no extra cost. Take advantage of these programs and explore places like Doha, Hong Kong, Dubai or Kuala Lumpur while on your way to your final destination. You’ll be surprised how affordable it can be to add an additional city or two to your travel itinerary if you have time flexibility. Some airlines even offer free or discounted hotel accommodation or city tours, so it is well worth considering.

Budgeting and Financial Considerations for Mileage Runs

Like any travel endeavour, mileage runs require a budget. However, it’s important to note that the cost of a mileage run doesn’t just come from the flight itself. You also need to consider expenses such as transportation to and from the airport, meals during layovers or at your destination, accommodation and any potential fees associated with changing flights or booking last minute.

Mileage runs can get expensive so its best to price out and consider a few different route options, their airline mile earning potential and elite status bonuses/qualifying elite mile/status point/tier point earn, and seeing if the proposed route will allow you to hit your targeted elite status threshold before booking. As mentioned above, doing the same route in the off-season may allow you to still achieve your airline elite status but with less cost.

In my opinion, the middle airline elite status tier option or lowest tier that offers lounge access (such as British Airways Silver), is the sweet spot in terms of value. It is best you weigh up the pros and cons of top-tier status, and whether it is worth it to you before embarking on a mileage run.

Conclusion: How Mileage Runs Can Change Your Travel Game Forever

In conclusion, mileage runs can be a game-changer for frequent flyers looking to maximize their travel benefits whilst taking fewer everyday leisure and business flights each year or falling just short of airline status tier thresholds.

Having the same airport benefits as flying Business Class when you fly Economy can be a huge time advantage and improve your travel experience significantly, especially if you fly often.

By taking advantage of cheap flight deals and strategically planning layovers and destination opportunities, you can step closer to earning or renewing your frequent flyer status. With proper planning and budgeting, mileage runs can not only save you money on future flights, and provide last-minute travel flexibility through airline miles, but also enhance your overall travel experience.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next mileage run adventure today! Planning a mileage run may take some time and effort, but the rewards can be well worth it for frequent flyers who want to level up their travel game and save money in the long run.