Monday, July 15, 2013

Can you explain flying just to get “miles”?

Can you explain the manner by which some people are able to fly just to get “miles”?
Thank you,

Thanks for asking. It comes down to a cost/benefit analysis where the cost in terms of money and time is less than the benefits of status and award miles.   Flying for miles is a great way to boost award mile balances and elite status miles.  In essence, the purpose of the flight is the miles accumulated, not the distention.  Often times, I don't even leave the airport on these trips. It is not an especially efficient use of time and can cost 3 to 7 cents per mile flown, but I feel it is worth while (some of my friends think I'm crazy).
US Airways Jets at CLT
I flew to Puerto Rico six times last year and never spent more than 90 minutes on the ground.  On four of the trips, I took the same airplane I arrived on and was back in the air less than an hour after landing.  I flew because I was able to go 8,500 miles for $300.  These flights boosted my mileage balance and got me from mid tier status to top tier.  Each trip did take up a day and a half of my weekend, but I felt it was worth it.  I've also had shorter trips, like going to San Antonio to see the Alamo and then home, if the price per mile is low enough, I'm in.

The maximum price per mile to pay depends on the person and situation.  The first consideration is if the trip is needed to reach a status goal.  Status is incredibly valuable when flying, so spending a few hundred dollars to reach the next tier is very worthwhile because of better upgrade chances, shorter lines, waved fees, and a more pleasant experience overall.  The next consideration is the value of the award miles earned.  Each Puerto Rico trip netted 17,000 award miles and those are worth about 2c each, my flight paid for itself with the award miles earned.  Not every trip works out that well, but it does help offset the expense (if you just need award miles, credit card sign up bonuses are a faster and cheaper solution).
ANA 777's at NRT
The key to being able to fly for miles is finding cheap fares; I use ITA Matrix to search for flights.  It's a great tool to let you quickly search a specific airline (or alliance) across multiple dates and destinations.  They even let you sort by price per mile.  I like taking month long looks at 0 night flights to the Eastern time zone on United.  I also get tips from like minded coworkers on good trips.  If you have the time to invest, a multi-city reservation can be great.  Denver, my home airport, rarely has cheap flights and isn't very far from anywhere.  But I can fly to the east coast, then west coast, then east coast, then home to yield more miles at a lower average cost. Go to where the cheap fares are, then go from there to the other coast.  Nesting a trip within a trip like this helps control costs and reduce total time in transit.  Also connections are cost effective ways (sometimes only $3 more) to boost the distance; Houston or Chicago is always out of the way.

Another theory is to fly as far away as you can, Singapore and Sydney are good bets, and make a small vacation out of it.  I doubt I would enjoy flying to Singapore to turn right around, but a day or two in town would be a fun way to stretch my legs.  One long trip could save a few weekends of domestic hops.  Again the goal is to acquire miles, the final destination is a secondary concern. 
Frankfurt Action
Flying just for miles is a strange concept for most people, but it's a logical and cost effective solution for flyers needing extra status or award miles in their account.  Jump on cheap fares when you find them, they rarely last. Keep your goals in mind and plan out how to reach you target.  50,001 miles gets you the same status as 68,750 miles.

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