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Travel Coach? Never! How to Find 'Mileage Runs' for Airline Perks

Darren Booth | CNBC

Time is running out to qualify for coveted elite frequent-flier status for 2013. And many travelers are making "mileage runs" this month to hit their mileage goals by year's end.

Airlines calculate elite status on the amount of miles flown during a calendar year. So fliers short a few hundred (or even thousand) miles often resort to taking trips for the sole purpose of racking up the needed miles for silver, gold or platinum-level benefits. (Read more: Status Check: Extreme Travelers Sit Through Taxing 'Mileage Runs')

I'm one of those fliers and got my mileage run out of the way earlier in the year to avoid potential flight cancellations and delays, often related to winter weather in December.

In September, I flew from Los Angeles to San Juan, Puerto Rico and back in the same day just to accrue the roughly 7,000 miles I needed to re-qualify for United's top-tier Premier 1K status. It requires 100,000 miles of total flying in a calendar year and the benefits I earn far outweigh the $320 I spent on the ticket (and my time for the day).

(Read more: How Flying, Just for the Miles, Can Pay Off)

Had I not flown those additional miles, I would be Premier Platinum in 2013, which in itself is still pretty good. But achieving the top-tier 1K status gives me the following perks not available at the Platinum level:

  • Twenty-five percent more bonus miles for each flight taken during 2013.
  • Higher priority for complimentary upgrades, wait lists and standby clearance.
  • Instant upgrades to first class on mid-priced coach tickets, when flying domestically.
  • Access to a dedicated call center line staffed by U.S.-based agents.
  • A $60 statement credit on my United MileagePlus Chase Visa credit card.
  • Six Global Premier Upgrades for use on international flights.

How to Find Mileage Runs

Many hard-core frequent-fliers also make a game out of mileage running by trying to find the lowest-priced ticket that earns the most miles. Members of the online frequent flier community Flyertalk.com post their finds in a dedicated mileage run forum.

Another website, TheFlightDeal.com, publishes low-cost tickets that earn lots of miles, even providing step-by-step instructions on how to search for availability and book tickets. An example today reveals you can earn 5,038 miles on United for $167 by flying round-trip from Philadelphia to San Diego.

Mileage runs and how to find them were discussed in detail at Frequent Traveler University earlier this month in Los Angeles. (Read more: Insider Tips on Getting the Most From Your Travel Dollars)

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