The Ultimate Airline Mileage Run

By Robert Mark on September 12th, 2022

It’s been slightly more than a year since I’ve flown on an airliner. I certainly didn’t miss airline travel in the middle of the pandemic, but this summer’s cancellation and delay insanity created an avoidance mindset that’s pale by comparison. If my daughter didn’t live 2,000 miles away, I’d still be avoiding the airlines now that they’ve added unreliability to their bag of tricks. But I digress …

Then Brian Coleman and his buddy Micah Engber approached me with this story … one about essentially trying to fly the longest airline trips possible … and on United Airlines (my favorite airline, not) no less. I had to read the story. Brian, it seems, wants to earn United’s Lifetime Premier 1K status. The airline geeks who attempt this sort of whacky flying call this a mileage run. Brian defined a mileage run as, “A trip taken for the sole purpose of earning frequent flyer miles or points to maintain or bump the traveler up to the next status level. The trip can head anywhere in the world. The destination simply doesn’t matter.  In a mileage run, only the acquisition of miles for status is important.”

And why would anyone plant their butt in an airline seat for hours on end … for fun? Read on.

Rob

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The Ultimate Mileage Run

My Journey to United Premier 1K Status: Is It Worth Flying More Than 3 Million Miles?

By Brian T. Coleman along with Micah Engber

As of this moment, I’m 211,847 miles short of having flown 3 million miles with United Airlines. Having spent so much time on United aircraft, I asked myself the ultimate question … would I be willing to fly those final miles just to achieve Lifetime Premier 1K status? I of course say yes. But would you be willing to fly 3 million actual butt-in-seat, miles for the same status?  Am I the only crazy one here (my friends think I am!)

Brian Coleman awaits his next flight at LAX

Premier 1K status translates into lifetime benefits that include pre-boarding, free checked bags, complimentary domestic upgrades, no change fees – ever, 320 Plus Points, and a few other jewels.

To me though, achieving 1K status is about much more than just perks. I believe in the importance of goals and this has been one of mine since I reached the 2 million mile mark. I also believe the additional lifetime benefits over the life of the Platinum status I currently hold are worth the risks and costs.

About the Money

Lifetime 1K status will cost me approximately $20,000 to fly these 300,000 miles. Excluding periodic sales that I will take advantage of, the two most cost-effective routes for me are Los Angeles to Singapore (SIN – approx. 17,740 miles), and Los Angeles to Johannesburg (JNB – approx 20,870 miles). These routes have the lowest cost per mile.

Route Roundtrip Cost Total Miles Cost / Mile
LAX – SFO – SIN (thru San Francisco) $800 17,740 4.50 cents per mile
LAX – EWR – JNB (thru Newark) $1,200 20,870 5.75 cents per mile

Here’s the arithmetic. The average roundtrip flight should yield me 19,305 miles ((20,870 + 17,740) / 2 = 19,305 average miles). That means I must fly 16 roundtrips. If the average roundtrip economy ticket costs $1,000 (($800 + $1200) / 2 = $1,000),  I will spend $16,000 on 16 United tickets. I estimated airport parking, hotels, and miscellaneous expenses will add another $4,000, for a total of $20,000 total for the project.

About the Rewards

In my view of the frequent flyer game, the most important benefit of lifetime 1K status is the United Plus Points that can be used for domestic and international upgrades.

                 United’s Polaris Business Class

For example, when I buy International Premium Plus tickets, I can upgrade 10 segments to Polaris Business Class. That works out to five round-trip tickets every year. I can also upgrade eight International Economy segments to Polaris Business Class … for the rest of my life. That’s four round-trip tickets every year.

On average, an International Premium Plus ticket costs about $1,500. An international business class ticket runs more than $3,500, making each upgrade worth at least $2,000. If I fly four round trips a year, that makes these upgrades worth at least $8,000 ($2,000 upgrade value * 4 trips = $8,000 value). Therefore, my payback will be 2.5 years ($20,000 expense / $8,000 value = 2.5 years).

Happily Journaling

Since the benefits are worth the expenses, to me, I also decided to document my adventures and share what I’ve learned by creating a podcast I called, “The Journey Is The Reward.” On this podcast, my friend, occasional contributor, and Airplane Geeks co-host, my Main(e) Man Micah Engber (he lives in Maine BTW), discusses my experiences on these mileage-run flights. We also share aviation industry tips and tricks, explore hotel frequent guest programs, answer questions from listeners, and generally kibitz about travel, aviation, and anything else that comes to mind during the show. It’s great fun. Now I just hope United doesn’t change the program.

I hope you’ll be inspired to think about your frequent flyer status and how you can use it to your advantage like gaining the various elite status levels and the benefits that come with. Follow along on the journey, as Micah and I document the world’s largest “mileage run” at The Journey Is The Reward Podcast.

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