West coast mileage runners: need your advice

I’ve now lived on the west coast for over nine months, though since moving here I haven’t done a single “pure” mileage run. As I’ve written about quite a bit lately, I’m behind on requalifying for elite status this  year, so I’m working on booking several mileage runs for the coming month.

When I lived on the east coast I had a certain mileage run “routine” I was used to. I’d typically fly out to the west coast in the morning, hop around the coast a bit, and at night take the redeye back to the east coast. It was brutal, but I was used to it after doing dozens on end.

As I look at potential mileage run flight schedules on the west coast I’m trying to figure out which type of schedule is less painful.

It seems there are two general types of domestic mileage runs. Some leave before the crack of dawn and get back at around midnight the same day. On one hand it seems nice to be able to not miss a night at home and not have to take a redeye. At the same time I’m usually a night owl, and if I take a flight leaving at 5:45AM I’d have to leave home by 4AM or so, and would have to get up at 3:30AM. I usually go to bed at 1-2AM, so if I’m lucky I’d get two hours of sleep.


The other type of mileage run is basically the reverse of what I used to do when I lived on the east coast. It involves taking a redeye to the east coast, which doesn’t seem horrible, but then you have the long daytime journey back home where you’re probably far too tired for your own good.


So for frequent mileage runners based on the west coast, is one of the above types of mileage runs easier than the other? Would be curious to hear how you guys feel.

Filed Under: Advice, Mileage Runs
  1. I am doing several PDX-SFO-BOS-SFO-PDX and PDX-EWR-BOS-SFO-PDX trips in September and October. The fares were $245 to $288 and mileage of 6200-6500 miles. I am gone for anywhere from 23-26 hours leaving at 5 p.m. or around 10 p.m. I am certainly not the smartest mileage runner out there, but this routing has worked for me for the past two years. I would rather go to SIN but the cost is WAY too high. Not sure how I can manage to spend net $10K next year to requalify for 1K unless I fly 240,000 miles. Doesn’t sound like too much fun to me.

  2. To replicate your East to West mileage run, head for Asia. For example, leave Seattle on Saturday at Noon to Tokyo, arriving Sunday at 2:00 PM. Leave Tokyo at 5:00 PM Sunday, arriving back in Seattle at 10:00 am Sunday. 10,000 miles in 22 hours on 2 comfortable nonstop flights for just over $1,000.

  3. Hi Ben – I’m based in SFO and for my upcoming AA MRs, I fly out on the redeye to MIA, ORD, or DFW and come back at night.

  4. Have you considered your East Coast strategy, but heading for Hawaii (which has been domestic since 1959)

  5. I’ve done a bunch of SEA-ORD-AUS runs and they are imo preferable to the midcon redeye option. I have a similar sleep schedule as you and just tend to sleep maybe 2-3 hours before heading to the aiport, then also for the first SEA-ORD flight. If I don’t get that 2-3 hours in a real bed I am totally nonfunctional, so the redeyes don’t work for me.

  6. I’ve done about 100k miles of mileage running so far this year based out of San Diego, have done both styles, and I’d say if you’re a night owl, the red-eye-and-returns may be better. The nice thing about those is that even if you’re not tired enough to sleep on the red-eye, you’ll definitely be tired enough to sleep on the return. There’s also usually some time you can spend in the East Coast city that way; it was rather nice flying to Philadelphia a bunch of times on ZFV runs and hanging out at a cafe then getting a great cheesesteak before my return. My favorite were the BWI runs because BWi is a great place to grab a few hours of sleep upon arrival (many vacant gates and chairs without armrests). I also just seem to have found more creative routings from SAN with those juicy 500-mile mins (SAN-LAX, EWR-BWI/BOS) for red-eye-and-returns.

    On the other hand, the leave-early runs are a little less taxing overall on your body, but you’ll probably get no time outside of the airport on the east coast, and waking up early is something I really hate. In San Diego a side benefit of this is that it fits within 24hrs so I could park at a lot very close to T2 for cheap and wake up shortly before boarding time to still catch my flight (SAN is extremely close to downtown). With SEA I suspect you live a healthy drive away, which would make those early runs even more brutal.

    I’m actually in Seattle until tomorrow afternoon when I fly SEA-EWR at 4PM. If you happen to be around, would be glad to chat more about west coast runs!

  7. Some thoughts… I was thinking that you have probably have millions of points and miles that you don’t really need to earn more miles. Most of the time you travel first or business class on award tickets. I know there are upgrade perks and low fees for being AA EXP, but why not go big on Barclay Arrival and manufacture spend and use that extra money to compensate for change fees, etc. I think that manufacturing spend > mileage running. Also, when you are traveling, you eat out all the time and spend lots of money. Plus I think in terms of opportunity costs… all that time spent flying you could use to spend with family, friends, or manufacture spend :). That’s why I don’t personally mileage run..

  8. I’m with BrewerSEA. Option 1. Midcon redeyes in F seats are marginally less torture than redeyes in Y seats, but they are still horrible.

  9. I would do the SEA-ORD-AUS myself. I like to leave on the first flight of the day as there are often less delays and problems.

    You do realize that AA is merging with US Air? Not sure if the AA status is going to be as valuable next year.

  10. Another thing to consider here is the marginal value of your time at various points throughout the day – it’s probably not equal. My time is worth the least at night, and so I’d rather be flying during that period of time, so I can save other time to be doing work online / remain plugged in and available to coworkers. Red-eye-and-returns just seem more conducive to work than blowing all daylight hours on a potentially wifi-less plane.

  11. They just announced $200ish fare SEA-EWR that’s a no-brainer. Also $298 SEA-BOS I believe — add the 10 percent coupon and you are under 5cmp.

    My favorite redeye is definitely BOS. LAX-BOS via JFK is 5800eqm and you almost always get upgraded. (LAX-BOS direct is hard to upgrade because of the 757). I like the 9:30p departure that gets me into Logan at 5:45a. I then take the free bus to south street station — walk 5 blocks to Flour for the best bakery and coffee and hang for a bit. Then I rent a bike for two bits and end up having lobster for lunch and riding around the city. Take the $2 bus back to Logan and catch the 4 or 7p back to LAX. Perfect day.

  12. Echoing a couple of the above, I do LAX-KOA which lets me get there late morning, play on the beach and have a nice dinner, then take the 10pm straight back arriving 5am. SEA should have similar. I also keep an eye on LAX/SFO-NRT and LAX/SFO-HKG which get some great deals (even in biz) at the last minute, particularly Cathay for 1W and UA for *A. Cathay seems nuts sometimes – my wife and I are doing a SFO-HKG-KTM-HGK-LAX in biz for $1550 rt pp at the end of this month! WTF?! I keep checking to make sure it’s still reserved. Booked it through Dragonair.com as two o/w, far cheaper than exact same flights on Cathay.com.

  13. Why don’t you do a one night stay on the east coast? Take a noonish flight to the EC, spend the night, and then take a 5-6pm flight back. Combine MRs with MatRuns.

  14. I just don’t get this MR philosophy….

    You spend hours of your free time enduring lack of sleep, parking fee, bad treatment from TSA and mean FA, crying babies, stress, bad weather and missed connections.

    And on top of that you have to pay a good amount cash to fly coach, that unless the upgrade clears. For what? so that later on you can enjoy a few trips in first class. It makes no sense to me. I guess I enjoy my city and free time much more and the longest trip I take when I am not on vacation is to CVS, Staples or 7 eleven.

    Maybe it is that I have a full time job and only get 4 weeks of vacation a year. And living in Miami Beach is itself a vacation to me.

    To each his own, I respect that, but personally I agree 100% with Romsdeals.

  15. Like David O said, being LAX based I head to Asia in the fall, via the east coast, to rack up a lot of miles in one trip. LAX-EWR-HKG was a good one.

  16. @Jorge Some of us are just masochists! Mile masochists! 🙂 I personally find brutal mileage runs *invigorating* in a perverse sort of way. I’d love to fly to Singapore for lunch someday, if only I could find a good SIN fare.

  17. So you’re contemplating between:
    -Effectively not sleeping during the night, and falling asleep on the crack of dawn mid-con, probably with a nap on the second flight.
    -Maybe falling asleep on the redeye, or the flight afterwards. (With another likely nap on one of the following flights).

    In either case you’re getting poor quality sleep on a domestic recliner a couple of hours at a time. The only question is whether you’d want to spend the night at home or on the plane, and how far your trip goes (e.g. AUS vs. IAD). Personally choosing from both options, second is far preferable. If you really care about good rest, take the mid-day/afternoon flight to the east coast, earn some hotel nights/stays, and return the following morning.

    I’m also on those SEA-DFW-IAD flights, but I’m spending the weekend in DC.

  18. As a PDX based flyer, every single MR I’ve done has been a red-eye to the East Coast returning the next evening/night. I prefer this because being at the airport for a 5:30 or 6:00am flight means I pretty much won’t get any sleep anyway and would rather catch whatever sleep I can get on my various flights. In addition, when I head out on a red-eye, I can get back by the evening and still have part of that night to do normal things (make dinner, see friends, etc.).

  19. I begin with redeyes if at all possible. The day running sucks.

    I also choose San Juan if possible for maximum miles and possibly some SFO/LAX-JFK transcon flights. Your cost per EQM may not be the absolute lowest, but if you can do one less trip, it is probably worth the cumulative few hundred extra bucks you’ll spend.

  20. Does anybody have any advice on figuring out which tickets on codeshare airlines actually accrue miles? I almost bought a ticket on China Airlines SFO-TPE for a really cheap mileage run, so that I could get some EQM’s on DL just to find out that that particular fare doesn’t accrue any miles on DL! What a waste of a MR that would have been! Is there an easy way to figure this out or does it take a lot of work and research like I had to do?

  21. Doesn’t it really depend on what’s available?

    If it’s purely an MR, I tend to prefer the 6am departure and late return – I can sleep better in my bed, nap some on the plane, and otherwise read and do work

    But sometimes same-day-turns just don’t work, schedule-wise. And if the price is good enough, you have to start with a red-eye.

    Best MR is to go somewhere you have some reason to go and spend a night or two.

  22. In my opinion, it is always easier flying West… you gain three hours… take the overnight to DC then return early AM to the West coast… you will have all day to recover… BTW, I booked two LAX-BDL mr’s that leave LAX around midnight, arrive BDL around 8am and my return to LAX is at 9am.

  23. Well, I vote for the Austin routing because we like the traffic coming through AUS. The problem is that your connection is too short to get out and explore Austin. The temperature today is 105 F. (40.5 C.) with high humidity, no breeze, and no clouds. More important than the temperature is the Heat Index (not used much in Scandinavia) is ~ 110 F. (~ 43 C.) Just lovely. Thank God for Margaritas and air conditioning!

  24. The mid-con redeyes are the worst… SEA is not too bad compared to ex-LAX/LAS/SFO, but they are abysmal. Usually on a transcon red-eye, I would wake up due to the sun rising and lighting up the cabin somewhat or I would feel the plane has begun its descend. Whilst on mid-con redeyes, I usually wake up when the FAs light up the cabin to the max and start telling every one to put their seat up, collecting all of the trash, etc.

    Take the 545am flight for your body’s sake.

  25. What golfingboy said – I actually like to spend my productive day in flight and then sleep on the way back – I tend to go crazy before a red-eye and am in no way prepared for the level of fatigue I feel at +24 hours.

  26. I’ve done the flight to HNL from PDX with a connection. Get in mid morning, hang out on the beach and then take the red eye back.

  27. @ David O — While there are certainly merits to that, that’s 10 cents per mile and there would be no wifi. And it would be cool if I could practically go into Tokyo, but given how far Narita is from the city, it just doesn’t seem that practical. I like domestic mileage runs because of the wifi and ability to stay connected.

    If I were to go the Asia route I’d probably do Beijing or Shanghai since it allows backtracking through Chicago and is more miles.

  28. @ Helena — I have, though the reason I avoid Hawaii is due to the lack of wifi. The biggest benefit of domestic mileage runs is the ability to work while mileage running, and that’s lost when flying to Hawaii unfortunately.

  29. @ romsdeals — All great points, and something I’m seriously taking into account when it comes to reaching the elite rewards thresholds. That being said, still seems worthwhile to at least requalify for Executive Platinum this year given that I’m 60% of the way there and I’ll get all kinds of valuable perks, including eight systemwide upgrades.

    The good thing is that if I mileage run domestically with wifi there’s not all that much of an opportunity cost to the time since I can still work.

  30. @ Greg — Good point, though I suspect elite status benefits won’t change much till the following elite year. So I do still think there’s value in requalifying for status this year, as it may be the last “good” year.

  31. @ Ben Hughes — Another excellent point to consider. In my case as long as I have wifi during business hours I’m good to go, so probably doesn’t vary as much for me as it varies for you.

    Sorry I’ll miss you in Seattle this time. Give me a shout the next time around!

  32. @ Michael — Amazing SEA-EWR fare! Too bad it’s an AA codeshare on AS, which means I can’t upgrade through either my AA or AS status. 🙁

  33. @ Julian — I plan on doing that for some of the runs, but with the volume of miles I have to rack up I don’t think it’s practical to do it for all of them.

    And while I would’ve loved to do this more in the past, when you add up how much time it takes to wait for the hotel shuttle in both directions, reclear security, arrive at the airport early for the return, etc., it really does add up.

  34. @ James — It’s often not that easy to figure out, but if you go to the website of the airline with which you want to accrue miles, it should list which partner fare classes and flight numbers accrue miles. Hope that helps!

  35. General response: As someone who works a nominally 9-5 job and commutes by public transportation, redeyes out have a high convenience factor since I can go directly to the airport from work and don’t have to worry as much about getting back in after the light rail stops running at night.

    @#35 – I thought you could upgrade on AS-operated AA-coded flights per your AS status?

  36. @ Matt — Whoops, I was confused. It’s not allowed the other way around (AS-coded AA-operated flights). Still, guessing the chances of an upgrade clearing between SEA and EWR are slim to none as an MVP Gold, so probably not worth it. 🙁

  37. I’m probably the wrong person to ask as I will only do it if I’m desperate and there is a DEQM promotion.

    I came close to doing it last year. The LAX-MIA 777 is how I was going to do it. You can’t do LAX-MIA-LAX in one day but you can do MIA-LAX-MIA in one day on a 777. So Day 1, get to LAX in time for the afternoon 777. Day 2 MIA-LAX-MIA on the 777s. Day 3 MIA-LAX and then Seatle. Not sure of SEA-MIA prices with that routing, but LAX-MIA RT is about $340 for late september.

    If you wanted to torture yourself, you could take the red-eye SEA-MIA and get there in time for the MIA-SEA-MIA RT. But since you can work whereever, why not just take your time instead of doing it all in as short a time as possible. A good time to use all those low category hotel redemptions like Marriot cat 1-5 or Hyatt 1-4. The MIA Marriott and Courtyard are decent.

  38. im SFO based and fly 8X a year for biz but usually need 2 MR to keep AA Ex Plat. i have 2 planned this month
    sfo/dfw/mia/sju, i night in puerto rico, 88 bucks
    sfo/lax/hartford conn (x miles),redeye,tuen in 2 hours
    appx total for both 20,000

  39. Oops, in post 42, I meant to say take the SEA-MIA redeye to get to MIA in time for MIA-LAX-MIA 777 RT.

  40. Why not take 2 days and do the SEA-PDX-ORD-LAX mr on AS? You’d have to stay overnight at LAX (mattress run?) but you could fly during normal hours – leaving at 8:00 & 9:20 am and arriving 7:15 & 9:18 pm.

  41. @ Steve A — That mileage run is EXTREMELY tempting. Only issue is that best I can tell Chicago to Los Angeles can only be booked as an Alaska coded flight operated by American, and there’s no way to upgrade that. So I’d rather pay a bit more and have a good shot at an upgrade on a 4.5 hour flight.

  42. I generally prefer the all-day version, but not if the flight leaves before 6 AM. The red-eye, two-day version is appealing only if I can get back home in time for dinner.

  43. Re: Greg”s concern about possible devaluation with AA/US merger, exec plat upgrades are issued once 100,000 threshold is reached. Already have mine good through Feb 2015. Can’t imagine the they would take away.

  44. AA operated SEA-EWR is just 240, unlike AS-operated SEA-EWR. And of course you can use Disney coupons.

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