The mileage run thought process

It has been over a month now since I’ve stepped on a plane for no other reason than to accumulate airline miles. I’ve been traveling quite a bit in the past month, (London, San Fran, etc.), but all with something to do on the other end. And oddly enough, I haven’t even thought about booking a mileage run.

Economics aside (and mileage running can make economic sense if done correctly and you actually enjoy flying), I just haven’t been tempted to mileage run lately. It used to be that I needed to fly at least once a week, almost just like an addict. But I think I might just be a bit more rational now, which made me consider what really pushes me to mileage run.

Mileage runs are a blast. They really are. They’re relaxing, they’re a way to get disconnected, and ultimately they’re “profitable.” But, if you’re like me and do hardcore, eight segment, 36 hour, 8,000 mile domestic mileage runs, only half the journey is fun. Typically I’ll start out on a flight out of Tampa at 6AM on a Saturday morning. Can someone remind me why the hell I’d actually want to get up (as opposed to go to bed) at 3:30AM on a Saturday morning?

But from there it’s fun. I see my “friends” at TPA, I get to catch up with pilot/flight attendant commuters that I’ve gotten to know from flying out of TPA so often, and typically I’ll even run into a few flight attendants working the flights that I know. I really do enjoy flying, even if it’s just domestically. The first four segments are great. Criss-crossing the country slowly but surely is a great way to let a Saturday fly by (no pun intended), in my book.

Then it gets less fun. You got up at 3:30AM on the east coast and now it’s 8PM on the west coast, or 11PM where I started. You hop on that intra-California flight, and everything is still ok. You’re tired but start asking yourself “why did I choose to do this when I could be at home?” But everything is still ok. Then comes the redeye. At this point it’s 11PM on the west coast, or 2AM on the east coast, so you’ve been up for nearly 24 hours. This is the point where I really start dreaming about my bed at home and seriously ask myself why I’m so insane. I do about 50 redeyes a year, but even so, I ask myself that question every single time I hop on a domestic redeye.

Then there’s flying down the coast after a redeye, where you can’t help but drift in and out of sleep. It’s kind of painful, probably worse than the redeye. And then you get home, all tired, groggy, and cranky. Of course after a good night of sleep it was all worth it, especially when the miles post.

I guess my point is that mileage runs aren’t all fun, even for us flying geeks. While I’m still “addicted” to flying, I find myself less and less enthusiastic about pure mileage runs involving redeyes. But I’ll continue to do them because they make sense.

Is my thought process similar to the other mileage runners out there, or do some of you actually enjoy it start-to-finish? And that’s for those doing domestic, non-PS, 6+ segment, sleep depriving mileage runs involving redeyes (or others as well, I guess).

Filed Under: Mileage Runs
  1. I’ve done status runs. I’ve done mileage runs during super promos like the United “Early Bird Bonus” of quintuple miles about 6 years ago. And I’ve turned mistake fares into mileage runs. And I’ve done extra trips where I’ve created a purpose on the other end, where miles were a big motivator.

    But the true every day mileage run? The economics just don’t work for me, because I *don’t* enjoy non-stop domestic hops and redeyes, so it’s a tax rather than a benefit/enjoyment. And once you view the trip as a cost rather than something you ‘get’ to do then you need to factor in the value of your time in the economic calculation and it’s really really hard to justify IMHO.

  2. @Lucky: I get the feeling of dread and ask myself why I do this every time the alarm goes off at 4am.

    MRs can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a PITA.

  3. You say your MRs are profitable, but have you looked at the opportunity cost? What else could you have done during the time you were waiting for the aircraft to board, while standing in line at security, while you were groggy from lack of sleep?

    Like Gary, I’ll do a few flights here or there to achieve a status goal, but I have never just done a RT without doing something interesting at the destination. Earlier this year I did 12 hrs in DC (RT from SFO), but I “sold” that to myself as a photography outing to try out my new DSLR before a longer vacation trip (and what city has as many sights so closely packed together). In December I’ll do a one-day stay in TPA to hit 125k EQM and get the extra two SWU, but that’s going to be a “scouting trip” for a longer Florida trip I plan for next year. And I’ve gone to FRA for a short weekend to visit friends when airfares were very low.

  4. If I were doing MRs the hard way ex-TPA, I’d probably see things the way you do!

    My rules are to stick to non-redeye, p.s. or 3-class metal as much as possible, even it it means a little extra $$$ or a few less EQMs. My runs aren’t as “lucrative” as yours, but they’re certainly not as grueling. : )

  5. Funny you posted this as I’m doing my first “true” MR tomorrow. JFK-MIA-MCO-DFW-SJC, then the next day SJC-LAX-JFK. Sleeping on a buddy’s couch at Stanford tomorrow night.

    @Gary, I’m with you on more MRing during promos. I’m an AA guy, so PLT+NY Double Miles+DBLEQ is my motivator this time around.

  6. @ Oliver — It’s only profitable if you actually enjoy the experience. Obviously it’s not profitable if you factor in the opportunity cost, but then again it’s a hobby. Other people might enjoy boating, fishing, collecting Pokemon, etc., so this is just my hobby. I think I’m one of the few that actually enjoys the whole experience, beyond flying. After all, who wouldn’t consider the TSA to be quality entertainment? 😉

    And on a more macro level, the airline/hotel/travel industry is kind of my obsession, so the hobby of mileage running keeps me ever so slightly closer to it….

  7. Due to the fact that I hold down a 9-5 job and am “grounded” four months out of the year when I am on -call, I really have to maximize my weekend flights. To that end, 8 segment runs don’t give me as many miles in 2 days as doing 2 back to back transcons. I don’t mind the flights, but spending the night in JFK’s “arrivals hall” after T7 closes SUX. there are only about 5 chairs so you end up tryig to sleep in a metal phone booth. And there are rodents running around.

    For non-p.s. runs I find it VERY hard to sleep in domestic F seats, and even worse in E+. I won’t even talk about E-.

    So my patterns are changing. I will make sure to get a nights sleep at a hyatt place or summerfield suites in between flights, and I will NOT do back to back transcons anymore. If there is some kind of promo then this all goes temporarily out the window. During september next year I get double RDM through the elite choice award I chose this year. I plan to use two of my vacation weeks and all my weekends and squeeze in as many miles as possible – maybe 150,000 – 200,000 BIS during that month. It will be gruelling but worth it. The rest of the year will just be working on my platinum status with CO and hopefully a DEQM promo will be available to make that easier.

    I still enjoy all of this though – even the gruelling parts. It’s like a challenge. Some people climb mountains and encounter tough parts during the climb, but when they get to the top it’s all worth it. Many people might say climbing a mountain is pointless in the same way others see flying for fun as pointless. Its my hobby, and I really do enjoy the experience. I like watching the country roll by out the window, listening to channel 9, people watching in the airports, visiting a friend for a meal that’s 3,000 miles away, and “working” the promos. I often enjoy good service on the flights, and sometimes I enjoy how comically bad the service is.

    Yes, Lucky it does get gruelling sometimes, but gruelling a little bit is part of the fun.

  8. Lucky, you should consider using your SWU’s for yourself and doing international 3-6 day trips, as you can still get a lot of miles. For example, a TPA-HKG or TPA-BKK, or TPA-SIN trip would net circa 20K miles or even more depending upon how creative you get with the routing.

  9. My home airport YXU never has any good MR deals, so i always have to drive either to DTW or BUF to MR. That add around $65 to any MR i do, so to make my MRs “profitable” i have to do at least 2 trans-cons at a time for domestic MRs, but i defiantly still enjoy it every time i step on a plane.

    Another thing, why don’t you like to do international MRs, all my recent MRs have been international, and i think they’re usually a lot more fun. And with UA’s little YQ thing, they’re usually very profitable.

  10. Hilarious, and spot-on with your observations, Lucky!

    I just booked a six-segment, IAD-SAN-LAX-SBA-SFO-ORD-DCA MR w/ a $200 off e-cert. Looking forward to seeing some new west coast airports!

  11. To me, the trick to MRs is having self-imposed limits and also goals at the destination, no matter how small or short-lived.

    By limits, I mean BALANCING the quest for miles with practical planning. This means no red-eyes (which I abhor, and simply won’t fly anymore, even for business). Very few immediate turns. Creative routing yes, insane sqeeze-every-possible mile gyratons, no. I’d rather leave “some” miles on the table and smell the MR roses, rather than trample the flowers in an mad quest for numbers.

    As for small goals, I mean, enjoy SOMETHING at the other end, before turning around and heading home. Even an quick overnight to a place like Vegas can be very enjoyable. Hit a new restaurant in L.A., see an exhibit in NYC, do Comic-Con in San Diego for two hours. You get the idea. Something that allows you to be a part of the fabric and pulse o the destination city, if only for a few short hours.

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