Do End-Of-Year “Status Runs” Make Sense? [2018]

In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Please check out my advertiser policy for further details about our partners, including American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citi, and thanks for your support!

Every year around this time, frequent travelers around the world scramble to make last-second pushes to secure elite status before time runs out. While this used to be incredibly commonplace, annual program changes have made this practice of “status running” increasingly more challenging, and less rewarding.

So, in keeping tradition alive, I thought it would be worth taking a step back to examine the perks of “status running” – and whether it still makes sense given the state of existing programs.

What even is a “status run?”

I was first introduced to the concept, if not the term, some 20 years ago. My family was having a quiet December night in, and my aunt – the original frequent flyer in our family – was out of town.

This time, she wasn’t on a business trip to a convention or a girls’ weekend in Florida. Rather, she was getting on a plane from Hartford to Vegas. To get off of the plane, turn around, and get back on another plane.

Why? Because she was trying to preserve her elite status on a preferred airline, and she needed to fly a certain number of miles before the end of the calendar year in order to get there. By taking this last flight, her higher-tier status would get her additional airline perks, like higher upgrade priority and more frequent flyer miles to bankroll our family trips.

What, this isn’t a typical day trip for everyone?

In other words, flying to Vegas and back in a day made more sense for her than not flying to Vegas and back in a day.

The family had a good chuckle at this behavior that could otherwise have someone committed, but I was secretly intrigued.

Why it may not make sense any more

Twenty years ago – or even five years ago, for that matter – it wasn’t uncommon for frequent flyers to eschew all forms of perceivable sanity and get on these “flights to nowhere” in order to maintain some level of elite perks. Cheap round-trip fares were common, elite flyers were fewer and further between, and for many of us, a couple hundred extra dollars out-of-pocket in exchange for unlimited upgrades and lounge access was a no-brainer.

But over the past five years, domestic U.S.-based airlines have moved away from distance-based loyalty programs to ones that reward individuals who spend more. Each of the “big three” airlines (American, United, and Delta) have implemented some sort of “minimum spend” requirement. As a matter of fact, both American and United have raised these requirements in recent weeks.

Conversely, airlines have hacked away at top-tier elite benefits in recent years, cutting mileage earnings for many types of tickets and limiting other perks, like upgrade certificates and companion lounge access.

While life can still be pretty great as a top-tier elite, the value proposition has arguably gone down, and airlines have conversely made earning elite status more difficult.

In other words, it just may not be worth it any more.

So keeping all that in mind, below are a couple of scenarios where I implore you not to take a status run:

If you are going for low-level status 

Most airlines offer some version of cubic zirconia status for flying somewhere in the range of 20,000-25,000 miles a year. Typically this comes with priority-ish boarding, a free checked bag, and upgrade probability that typically resembles the odds of the recent Powerball.

Here’s the thing: most airline co-branded credit cards offer perks that resemble – if not exceed – bottom-level status. We’ll get into some options in a bit, but for now it’s important to note that you can likely replicate many of these perks with a much lower out-of-pocket annual spend.

It’s also worth noting that everyone and their emotional support animal has some level of airline status these days. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a “Premium” boarding queue on a Delta flight (read: top tier Diamond Medallions and first class only) that looked like this:

And just the other day, I looked at an upgrade list that was forty two people long. On a Tuesday night flight from Detroit to Hartford.

All that to say that if you’re new to the game and expecting them to roll out the red carpet for you for flying 25,000 miles a year, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed.

The only time when this might make sense is if you are within a couple thousand (or hundred) miles of that baseline status, and you’ve already met your minimum spend requirement.

Still – and this is speaking as someone who has “status run” for bottom-tier United Silver – this generally isn’t a great use of your time or money.

If you need to spend a certain amount in order to get there 

Back when elite status was credited solely on miles flown, the goal was to find the cheapest fare for the longest distance possible. But over the past five years, airlines have implemented various spend requirements for each level of status, making it that much more challenging to earn elite status on miles flown alone.

For example, Delta requires you to spend $15,000 in a calendar year on flights in order to maintain top-tier Diamond Medallion status (in addition to the miles flown), and American and United are following suit next year with similar requirements. And no, the taxes and fees don’t count toward that spend requirement.

So if you’re several thousand dollars short on spend, it’s probably not a great idea to drop that kind of money just to get to the next level of elite status.

If you are more than 10,000 miles short 

Again, if you’re having to fly the equivalent of two roundtrip transcontinental flights just to maintain a higher level of status, there’s probably a decent amount of cash outlay that needs to happen in order to get there. To say nothing of the lost productivity (and lost sanity!) that will probably have to happen.

I imagine there’s some outlier scenario where this could make sense, but as a general rule, this isn’t something that I would recommend based on the incremental increase in benefits.

Additionally, if your loyalty lies with Delta, any Elite Qualifying Miles above the threshold will automatically be rolled over to the following year, so those miles won’t be “wasted” so to speak. Just one more factor to keep in mind.

If you anticipate that your travel patterns will decrease in 2019 

Even if you’re close, if you know that your travel is likely to go down in 2019, it just might not be worth putting in the time.

It might feel good to see that number roll in, but if you’re not going to take advantage and get the full value next year, you might be happier keeping the money in your bank account and spending the time at home.

When should you do a status run?

Look, we all value airline status differently, and if you’re gunning for a specific perk – like upgrade certificates for upcoming international economy flights, or lounge access – it might make sense for you. Or if you frequently fly through an area that is highly prone to weather delays, that elite phone line just might be worth those extra eight hours on a flight.

Just be sure to keep the following in mind:

Make sure you are covering your spend requirements 

The last thing you want to do is hit your distance-based requirement but fall short on minimum spend. United and Delta both offer spend waivers (up to their 75,000 mile Platinum status) if you spend $25,000 or more in a calendar year on a credit card, which may help.

That’s absolutely a hefty amount to spend on an airline co-branded credit card, but may be worth it if you are flying upward of 75,000 miles a year on discounted economy fares that don’t quite meet the spend requirements.

Cheap business class fares 

If you’re looking to hit spend and mileage requirements, this is probably the best bang-for-your-buck and allows you to maintain a relative level of comfort. Most business class fares – even deeply discounted ones – come with a higher mileage earning rate than many economy fares.

It’s also worth noting that American and Delta let you earn Elite/Medallion Qualifying Dollars on partner airlines based on a percentage of miles flown. This requires more than a little bit of math to figure out, but basically it means that if you are booking a 5,000 mile flight on a partner airline, and you are earning EQDs (American) or MQDs (Delta) at a rate of 25% of the distance flown, you are essentially earning 1,250 EQDs/MQDs. Regardless of how much you spent on the flight.

You can read more about American’s partner earnings here and Delta’s partners here. In essence, AA lets you earn EQDs for up to 30% of miles flown in full-fare first class, and 25% for discounted business class. To their credit, Delta lets you earn MQDs at up to 60% of miles flown in full-fare partner first class, and 40% in discounted business class.

In other words, this could be the quickest back-door way to spend requirements, assuming you find the right flight.

Oh, and United does let you earn Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQDs) on their partners, sort of, but they are much more opaque about their rules.

Make it worth your time

Like many of you, I live in a world where adult responsibilities have taken over, and pure status running for the sake of flying just isn’t a thing any more. But if I can figure out a way to squeeze in an extra business meeting or a weekend away, and that extra flight puts me over the top to the next level, then it becomes a much easier pill to swallow.

For example, last year I had some Marriott free night certificates that were about to expire, and needed to re-up my diving before an end-of-year trip to Malaysia. A quick weekend getaway to Miami (with a layover in Detroit, because obviously you fly north to go south) was enough to top me off for Delta’s Diamond Medallion status while eliminating diving jitters and providing a fun weekend away.

Status runs don’t have to suck

Obviously your mileage will vary, but if you’re looking for an excuse to top off those last few hundred (or thousand) miles, at least make it worth your time!

Some alternatives

Co-branded credit cards

This is probably the easiest way to “cheat” your way to some of the perks of elite status. Most major airlines offer some sort of mid-range credit card that offers a free checked bag, priority boarding and various other perks.

Airline credit cards

For example, the United℠ Explorer Card offers two United Club passes each calendar year and costs $95 annually, while the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card includes an annual $121 companion fare, for the price of $75 a year.

One of Houston’s United Clubs

If you’re looking for a more premium experience without having to circumnavigate the globe multiple times, it’s worth considering one of the higher-end airline credit cards. The United MileagePlus Club Card, the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card, and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® all come with lounge access, for an annual fee of $450 apiece.

Buying up

Depending on your flying history, it’s not uncommon for airlines offer the option to “buy up” to the next level of status. Many of these offers are targeted, based on flying patterns, and I’m sure we will have more to say on this in the coming days as the offers start to roll in.

But for now I’ll say this – as a general rule, these deals range from not great to for the love of God please don’t.

Oftentimes, these promotions tend to cost more than the airfare for a status run, and are an easy way for airlines to grab some last-minute revenue before the end of the year. But if you’re just a few thousand (or hundred!) miles short, this may be an easy way to bolster your status – without having to question your sanity.

Free agency 

If you’re primarily a leisure traveler and purchase your own airfare, it’s generally not worth gunning for elite status at this point. Being airline-monogamous often means having to spend more – or connecting in weird places – to get to the exact same destination. All else equal, if you’re only traveling a handful of times a year, it may be worth going for the cheapest (or most direct) option and using the extra dough to pay for the occasional first class upgrade.

And with credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and American Express® Gold Card offering such a great return on spend these days, it’s likely that most of your “earned” miles will come from credit card spend, rather than flying.

By focusing your attention on earning flexible currencies, you may be more likely to find award space in this:

Rather than “status running” in hopes of a complimentary upgrade to this:

Okay, it’s not quite quid-pro-quo, but if you’re saving money by not status running, it sure is easier to justify annual credit card fees that maximize points-earning opportunities.

Bottom line

Of course, your mileage will vary, and I’m not suggesting that weekly business travelers suddenly go rogue and drop airline loyalty altogether.

But I am suggesting that if you are finding yourself on the elite status hamster wheel, that you at least stop and think before buying that last-minute ticket to nowhere on December 30th.

Has anyone ever done a crazy end-of-year status run? What do you make of it at this point?

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. Great post. I would also add that it used to make a lot of sense during the “mileage only” days because the period between Thanksgiving-Christmas is a really dead period for travel, so fares are generally very low during this period. Now with EQD’s, etc., booking a cheap fare often doesn’t do you any good.

    I already had kids by the time I got into the game, and rarely travel for work. So status runs have never been a thing to consider. My work in the game is done to afford family travel.

  2. I think this is obviously totally dependent on each person and their flying patterns. If you organically fly enough to achieve status then trying to get the next status up if its within reach can make sense.

    I just booked an Alaska Air flight and ended up paying $140 for extra leg room seats for 2 people on 2 legs. If I book that flight on AA then as an EXP I’m not paying for extra leg room. Multiply those seat fees and bag fees for those without airline credit cards and those fees will likely equal more than a status/mileage run to help bump status.

  3. I just booked a flight. Needed 4K miles to get to the next tier. Transcon at the end of December to see friends for a night and back.

  4. I just did a JFK-EZE run on Aeromexico to keep my Delta status. Even had a good steak in Argentina. The SkyMiles I got didn’t come close to covering airfare, but provided a meaningful offset of what I paid. Plus I got to try out the AM 787s. Add that to the fact that I can keep my Delta Diamond status for 2019 (competing with you for upgrades out of BDL) and I think it was worth it. If my upgrade status starts approaching zero in 2019, I reserve the right to change my mind.

  5. This is exactly the question I’m thinking about with right now. I’m generally a travel free agent, but happened to book heavily on Oneworld this year. I’ve met the spending threshold for American Platinum status, but am about 4,000 miles shy. I could do a single-day transcon roundtrip for ~$275, but I can’t decide whether it’s worth it.

    In 2019, I expect at least two transatlantic roundtrips, one already booked on BA/IB and one that will likely be either AA/BA or UA. Right now the rest of my anticipated travel will be domestic, where AA may or may not make sense depending on how things shake out.

    I’ve got Priority Pass, so Oneworld Sapphire lounge access isn’t crucial. The Gold status I’ve already locked in gives me the free bag and theoretically better access to help in irrops, so no real benefit there. The biggest benefit I see is the access to Main Cabin Extra at time of booking for Platinum, versus if available at check-in for Gold.

    I lean against that benefit being worth $275 and a day of my life, but I may regret that decision if I end up traveling more than I expected on AA next year and can’t get into Main Cabin Extra at check-in.

  6. not end of the year, but I’m flying SFO => SIN => EWR in premium economy, with a 19 hour layover in Singapore, for $1050 to hit *A Gold again with Asiana. I hit it with cheap United Economy fares credited to SQ Krisflyer back when all earnings were 100%, I missed lounge access too much when I lost it!

  7. Am I missing something or doesn’t AA allow EQD earning up to 60% for Finnair 1st (F bucket) and 40% for Finnair Business (J,D and C buckets)?

  8. My issue this year is my business was so evenly spread across UA/DL/AA that I ended up with 18-22K miles on each of them, whereas if I was entirely on one airlines, I would have much higher status.

    With thatsaid, I just booked a status run on Delta to re-qualify as a lowly Silver medallion ….Philadelphia to Los Angeles via Detroit for $334 RT. I used the $200 airline fee credit from my Amex Platinum, so my true out-of-pocket cost was $134.

    Worth it for me as I frequently clear upgrades on small routes I fly often on CRJ with minimal elite demand. Even when I don’t, the occasional upgrade to Comfort + or selecting a good preferred seat (ex: 36A on MD-90s) makes it worth it to me. Next year, my travel is picking up immensely and I’m going to try to fly exclusively with Delta (as much as I can justify…difficult when a nonstop direct is less expensive) and I’m expecting to be in the Platinum or Diamond range, so I feel going into 2019 with some status is better than none, at least for my first few months of the year. And hey, some sunshine when it’s snowing here….if only for a weekend…not a bad thing.

  9. No. The answer to this question is always no.

    If you make status by “natural” flying: great. Otherwise don’t waste your money.

  10. If you’re close to gold status on Alaska it’s worth a mileage run to get free changes and cancellations for 2019. Great for speculative award bookings.

  11. I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I live in a small town in Arkansas. I literally don’t have anything better to do than chase status.

    If you’re in my shoes, absolutely book that status run!

  12. Sorta – this year my wife and I are doing a weekend trip from SFO to TPE to visit some friends and to earn the last ~10K to retain our 1K status. We were fortunate to bag two cheap biz r/t tickets on EVA for ~800USD each. Although we are US nationals, we use our residence in Singapore as our primary address on our UA MP accounts since we spend a significant time there anyways. Therefore, we are not required to meet the PQD, but only need the adequate PQM to retain status. We will be matching our 1K this year for about 3300 USD in spend on United, with most of the PQM earnings coming from LH and SQ. We qualified for DMD earlier this year through business travel (again MQD are waived). My wife is also a PPS Solitaire Club member, which affords many of the same benefits to spouses.

  13. When status with Delta was nothing more than miles flow the mileage runs were very important; but today not so much so. I flew from Tulsa to St. Louis (via Atlanta) each Saturday for two months to earn status and miles. When all was said and done Delta was paying me to fly.

  14. Premium economy runs can still be effective as well.

    I did a status challenge for my wife , the next year for me and now will go without it now for the next several years.

  15. Hi Steph – great post and I found it intriguing and appreciated it.

    Constructive feedback: you may want to expand the article to include the airlines that don’t have a minimum spend – like AS. Like Rico noted above, there are still several value options that make a status-run worth it in that program. I’ll be doing one of those this weekend to cover the thousand or so miles I’m short for what remains a valuable status for mileage earning and change fee waivers, not for pining to be #27 of 45 on the UG list…

  16. In addition to @Kelly’s comment, I would like to add that many of us don’t need a minimum spend due to having foreign addresses.

  17. I am on a mileage run from GSP to ANC as we speak. I am flying up today, spending the night, and flying home in the morning. I was 6000 miles short of Diamond and had already met the spend requirements, so it was a no-brainer for me. (Add that I have enough vacation days to cover the rest of the year and have 8 RUCs that I can burn at any time.)

    The GUCs, my insane upgrade percentage, and the Diamond line make it more than worth it to me. (Plus, I get to have dinner in downtown Anchorage tonight.)

    Of course, as stated, this is a YMMV situation.

  18. I am on a mileage run from GSP to ANC as we speak. I am flying up today, spending the night, and flying home in the morning. I was 6000 miles short of Diamond and had already met the spend requirements, so it was a no-brainer for me. (Add that I have enough vacation days to cover the rest of the year and have 8 RUCs that I can burn at any time.)

    The GUCs, my insane upgrade percentage, and the Diamond line make it more than worth it to me. (Plus, I get to have dinner in downtown Anchorage tonight.)

    Of course, as stated, this is a YMMV situation.

  19. The hardest part is predicting what you might travel in the next year to see if it is worth a run. I did a status run last year to keep my United Gold (my secondary program). I anticipated some work travel to Germany and thought the Senator lounge access would be worth it. Turns out I only did a couple domestic trips on UA in 2018 – not even enough to get Silver for 2019. Oh well, at least the weekend run was fun….

    I’m a tier ahead in EQM but barely re-qualified by EQD, so I’ll take my AA PPro for 2019 and not bother with a run. When you routinely are #7 on the upgrade list because of all the elites, status seems less worth it.

  20. What has been very frustrating this year is that the United mileage calculator has been completely wrong for months in calculating my PQMs and PQDs for current and future flights. Also I have found that PQDs that show at booking is completely different than what is on the receipt. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to manually calculate and recalculate otherwise my mileage run would have been for nothing.

  21. I did a $250 MR to get UA 1K. I had already hit the minimum spend and was only short 4800 miles. Did SAN – ORD – FLL – IAH – SAN in one day and that took care of it. Totally worth it for me

  22. Making a DFW-TPE run this weekend to get to AA EXP again this year – $750 ticket for 16K EQMs (I’ve got the EQDs) – I needed 12K, but this was the best value (quick stop in HKG)

    Stupid – probably – but the effective cost of the ticket is less than $400 when you factor in AA award miles w/ bonus and amex points – and the value of EXP to me (over PPRO) is certainly worth well more than that, as I travel internationally several times a year and the company only pays for coach.

  23. > If you’re close to gold status on Alaska it’s worth a mileage run to get free changes and cancellations for 2019. Great for speculative award bookings.

    I did a transcon same-day turn last Saturday for $190 all in, to renew Alaska MVPG. I almost canceled it though, since the new Saver fare restrictions on what used to be the regular economy fares will require us all to book up to more expensive tickets to get the upgrades, seat selection and no-fee changes that make Gold useful. I went ahead, and there were 4 of us mileage running out of 12 in F on my back to back transcon flights, but I am still grumpy about Saver.

  24. Well… many of us have said that mileage runs (or now status runs) might be a bit ridiculous, but that certainly changes when the previous year’s privileges (other than what CCd’s can bring), especially some superb lounges, suddenly disappear and almost seem to be lost forever! It feels, in so many respects, like going to the end of the line, unable to gain what you had before. The challenge is for those of us travel around 250K miles per year spread across the thre alliances, to be able to somehow hold onto AA-EXP, *G, and in my case AF-G-or-P. I could only land two of the three last year; and losing SkyPriority (except on J-fares), plus access to any of their proprietary non-payable lounges all over the world, was stinky!! But with a pair of recent suggestions from a couple of our fine OMAAT brethren, I’m doing a MIA-ATL-BOG RT in F run in the next weeks (only $713 in F!), which will bring me back some SkyTeam peace on earth… and some of the comforts along the way. Soooo… it’s still worth it when you’re at the cusp!

  25. I like the Aeroflot Bonus program because it is absurdly easy to obtain status. It’s like the old days. They only have a mileage requirement-no minimum spend. I literally obtain Skyteam Elite+ status after only two round-trips from VVO-JFK in Comfort Class. That’s around $2000-$2500 out of pocket. This year I am approaching Aeroflot Platinum status, and after a round-trip flight to Miami from Vladivostok next week, I’ll be only a tick over 1000 miles short of the 125,000 mile requirement. I’ve been Gold for several years, so I definitely plan to take a short flight before the New Year just to see what Aeroflot Platinum is like.

  26. Not all airline status calendars run from Jan-Dec. Many are based on when you joined the loyalty programme, and that date or nearabouts is when your “anniversary” is. For example, mine’s in May. A VERY important date in my calendar and a very depressing one on the day after it resets to zero!

  27. By the way… does anyone have an answer to @Jim.F’s question about AAdv EQD earnings for Finnair flights; and in fact also even more specifically for flights on Finnair ticket stock flown on AA metal? I’ve recently read elsewhere about people who believe that they received no EQD credit at all! So hopefully somebody (Ben – are you in the neighborhood?) might know on this one. Thanks!

  28. @DCAview – I’m in the same boat as you. Based on my experience as AA gold this year I don’t think you’ll have a major problem consistently getting Main Cabin Extra swats at checkin. Once upgrades start clearing there are usually at least a few open extra seats especially if you keep proactively monitoring the seating chart.

    @ejg239 not sure when you’re trip is but it’s cold and rainy in LA today. Don’t hold your breath for beach weather in December.

  29. Re: “If you’re primarily a leisure traveler and purchase your own airfare, it’s generally not worth gunning for elite status at this point.”

    So I’m Delta Diamond and mostly leisure. The mostly leisure top tier types are exactly the ones looking for any excuse to make that totally spurious trip to Tokyo next weekend so they re-qualify. #Me.

  30. I reached elite status the past three years by August by following a few practices:

    1. Pay for tickets in the first part of the year and avoid using miles.
    2.. Buy tickets well ahead and at sale prices and in business or premium economy.
    3. Track your mileage as you plan your year.
    4. Don’t be afraid to do two trips in one. I flew from Australia to Japan and back on trip that started in LAX, so I also flew back to LAX and on to SEA. In Premium Economy on Qantas and JAL, I earned over 25k EQM for about $3500. I will do something similar in 2019.
    5. Don’t be afraid to come home from one long trip and go on another. Korean Air tickets got lower in late 2016 during the trading of insults between Rocket Man and Dotard. I came home from Australia and Asia and flew back to Korea and Japan two weeks later.

    Sooner or later you have to spend miles. The past two years I have done eight week trips starting in early to mid-October, paid for with miles. Since 2013, I have done five overseas trips a year, done for 20 to 24 weeks. I am retired and like being gone.

  31. I did a MR on a saturday afernoon LGA-MIA-LGA on AA for $235. That trip will allow me to requalify as AA EXP once again. As far as I am concerned, the MR was worth it as I value the 4 SWU’s and the ‘no-fee’ change on AA awards.

  32. I have never done a status run before, but may do it this time. Just taking into account my natural business travel, I’ll be at 29/30 segments and 11,250/12,000 points short of requalifying for Mosaic status on JetBlue. Mosaic isn’t as rewarding as other status, as there are no upgrades to be had and no lounges, but it’s still better to have versus not have the status. A quick $200 round trip to LGA will only cost me a half-day and will be totally worth it in preserving the status for next year.

  33. I’m in this interesting position of being *very* close on Delta MQMs (presuming my Reserve card hit $60K spend) and MQDs (just a couple thousand away) to reach Diamond. So for the past few flights, I’ve been buying Y First Class tickets… and by my calculations, it’s pushing my Reserve spend to $60K, my MQMs on top of the 30K from Reserve to 150K, and MQDs to $15K. Nice to be in the golden triangle. 🙂

  34. Thank you for understanding, being intrigued and not having me committed. I love that we have this to share.
    -Frequent Flyer Aunt-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *