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How Flying, Just for the Miles, Can Pay Off

In about a week, I embark on a trip I take once or twice a year. The destination is irrelevant as it's simply to rack up enough miles to re-qualify for top-tier frequent flierelite status.

Darren Booth | CNBC

It's called a "mileage run," and for about $320 I'll accrue 7,718 miles. That will put me over the top of the 100,000 miles required for United Airlines' top-tier Premier 1K status for 2013. United's parent is United Continental Holdings' .

I'm flying from Los Angeles, through Washington Dulles International Airport, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. And I turn right around and leave one hour later, arriving back in Los Angeles less than 24 hours after I left.

Crazy? Maybe. But I'm not alone.

Hundreds of frequent fliers take these types of trips annually to ensure they surpass the threshold needed for status. The benefits of mileage runs for status far outweigh the cost in time and money.

With all of my regular travel already planned and on the books for 2012, I calculated that I'll be short about 7,000 miles from achieving the top level in United's program for the 2013 program year. If I passed on the trip, I'd be a Premier Platinum, which in itself is pretty good. But achieving United's top status will get 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, waitlists 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.

Now that last one is the most valuable benefit worth thousands of dollars. For example, my recent roundtrip on United to Australia was upgraded in both directions using Global Premier Upgrades. The difference in the coach ticket I bought and the fare for business class was more than $3,900 roundtrip. If I didn't have Premier 1K status and this benefit, I would have had to fly coach, or use miles and pay a large co-pay for the same upgrade.

The $320 I will spend to achieve Premier 1K status again is a drop in the bucket compared to the value of the additional benefits. I could make a vacation out of such a trip, and many do. But the general goal of a mileage run is to achieve the minimum miles needed at the lowest possible cost.

Mileage runs and other hard-core frequent flier tactics and strategies will be discussed in detail at the upcoming Frequent Traveler University in November in Los Angeles. While some people think this might be crazy, others are thankful we take such steps. My uncle is one of them and enjoyed an upgrade to Ireland earlier this year courtesy of my status.


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