No more mileage runs? That’s bad news for everyone

It may be too early to write the obituary for frequent-flier mileage runs — those legendary year-end flights that offer a shortcut to an airline’s coveted “elite” status — but it’s easy to see the end from here.

With Delta Air Lines and United Airlines tightening their loyalty program rules in 2014 to require more spending in order to get singled out for special treatment, many of these frivolous round trips could vanish after this winter.

“With the new revenue requirements in place, mileage running will rarely make economic sense, except in cases where a traveler is just a few miles and dollars short of an elite threshold,” says Tim Winship, publisher of

I’ll miss the mileage runners when they disappear, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of them in the short term as they try ever more desperately to game the system.

Runners are the last true believers, chasing a dream that airlines can offer first-rate service at a reasonable price. Many also naively think they’re the airlines’ best friends, driven by a conviction that the “free” miles they’ve earned are the ultimate gauge of their loyalty, and that the allegiance will be repaid by a grateful airline.

But mostly, I’ll miss mileage runners for what they did: bring out the best even in airlines known for despising their customers.

Girish Ganesan, a partner for a Santa Fe, N.M., investment management firm, is skipping the mileage run this year. The numbers just didn’t add up, even though his preferred carrier offered to double his miles and grant him gold status if he takes a flight to nowhere.

Ganesan did a little research and learned that his carrier was cutting service to his closest international airport, Los Angeles.

“I checked some of the times I might want to use an award ticket, and there was one preferred date for which there was a wait list — the rest were not available,” he says. “The value of the miles is practically zero for me. I would rather go at the best time for me and not worry about this offer.”

In the future, something tells me the only passengers you’ll find in first class are the high rollers who pay top dollar for their walk-up fares, and the loyalty-program fans who spend a ridiculous amount of time learning all the ins and outs of a program to stay a step ahead of the masses.

But it isn’t only the herd of elites that’s being culled next year.

The number of passengers who think their loyalty will be returned with loyalty is dwindling, too, as a new reality sets in. Starting Jan. 1, you’ll have to either spend $12,500 annually with Delta and fly 125,000 miles or spend $25,000 on a co-branded credit card. United’s new requirements are similar, except that you can’t spend your way to a top-tier elite level on a card. Winship estimates that between 10% and 20% fewer travelers will qualify for elite status.

They’re passengers such as Dave Vanderhoof, who recently retired after earning elite status on United every year for the last decade. He fondly remembers the days of end-of-year runs that resulted in liberal upgrades for the next 12 months. For him, the run was a token of his fealty to the airline, which was reciprocated with VIP treatment. But after he retired and United revised its loyalty program, “service went into the toilet,” and Vanderhoof split with his preferred airline.

He no longer believes being loyal to an airline will automatically make it loyal to him. Now, he looks for a simpler proposition: a carrier that offers good service with no strings attached.

“I’ve switched to Virgin America,” he says. “Boy, what a difference in quality and service. And I really don’t care about earning rewards.”

As an unapologetic critic of loyalty programs, I’m pleased that Vanderhoof and others have seen the light, but I also fear a darker future.

With fewer mileage runners out there — with fewer elites, probably — airlines will try to groom an ever smaller group of “special” customers. The result? More exclusive and spectacular first-class sections featuring lie-flat seats, even on domestic routes (JetBlue, I’m lookin’ at you) and more fawning service for a select few. But in the back of the plane, look for less legroom, more maddening junk fees and flight attendants with a “you get what you pay for” attitude.

To some of us, mileage runners may have looked foolish and wasteful.

But we’ll miss them when they’ve departed. I already do.

Were mileage runners good for air travel?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    Didn’t this column run a few days ago?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think Saturday’s column is usually a repeat. Don’t worry. The points asserted won’t be any truer the second time around. It will be the same mix a “facts” and religious anti-frequent flier dogma.

  • TonyA_says

    Did you see the UAMP Partner Award Chart effective Feb 2014?
    You might want to think of going to Europe again if you still have miles? :)

  • Christopher Elliott

    Only someone who feels his mileage program is a religion would feel that way. I’m just standing up for the average traveler.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Yes, it first appeared on USA Today. I’m allowed to republish it on my site after a few days.

  • Alan Gore

    The big change seems to be that the “partner miles” you can transfer from credit cards to a variety of airlines are now deprecated in favor of miles accrued actually flying the airline. I used to use my Amex points to do upgrades on vacation flights; today I’m spending them on camera lenses and computer peripherals.

  • Nigel Appleby

    I use loyalty programs from retailers or service providers, which I would use anyway and the card doesn’t cost me anything apart from some information in the public domain. I have a Supermarket card, which gets me reduced price on items periodically and a gas card which gets me savings on gas when I’ve saved enough points, both of these cards were free. I also have a no charge credit card which gets me cash refunds for all spending. However it has a high interst rates for unpaid balances, so I pay that one off every month. I will admit to having another card with a low interest rate if I have to carry a balance for a month or 2 for a large purchase.
    So these loyalty programs work for me. I don’t have an airline card because I don’t fly on any one airline enough.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Fascinating comments.

    It’s interesting how some readers with limited comprehension skills try to portray me as a hater of loyalty programs and elite-level travelers.

    Truth is, I like loyalty programs (the ones that really reward consumers, as opposed to being a one-way street) and I adore elite-level customers, because they are experienced consumers … the kind of people we can all learn from.

    Alas, some misguided commenters apparently can’t tell the difference between criticizing a loyalty program and criticizing them.

    I know it’s hard. I’ll try to help. That’s why I’m here!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Nah. Its religious dogma because of the various sincerely held beliefs which lack of any numerical or statistical analysis.

    Not that they’re is anything wrong with religious dogma. I’ve been a going to church for 30+ years. I can recognize it when I see it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Alas, some misguided commenters apparently can’t tell the difference between criticizing a loyalty program and criticizing them.

    I would think that stating that the some of your readers have, “limited comprehension skills” may account for such conclusions.

    Nah, you don’t hate elite-level travelers. Perhaps indulging in hyperbole and snark. The comments here and on generally show more of mutual eye rolling than anything else.

    There was one LinkedIn commenter who was very rude and intemperate, making broad generalization. I must confess, I scolded her as she was way out of bounds.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Sorry, Carver, I don’t really read Flyertalk, Boarding Area or any of the other apologist blogs on air travel or miles. I especially avoid them when they have anything to say about the advocacy work we do on this site. So I’ll just have to take your word for it.

  • Christopher Elliott

    In what dictionary is “religious dogma” defined as a lack of numbers? And by the way, if you want to see numbers, you might want to see my “in” box which is filled with complaints about broken promises made by loyalty programs. It’s eye-opening.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The comments are roughly the same as you find here. A mix of “I agree”, “I disagree”, and “you’ve lost your mind”.

  • Trudi

    I have been a loyal customer of Southwest Airlines for several years; I have their credit card which has paid for itself several times over. However, the company recenly advised that they will increase their points costs from 60 to 90 points per dollar for flights. That did me in. The card cost $79 a year, but it won’t pay for itself now. So, I’m canceling the credit card. I will still be a customer of Southwest because I have had good service from them. I will retain their loyalty program, but probably never use it.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Merriam Webster online dictionary, definition 1(c)

    As far as numbers go, drawing conclusions from your inbox is what’s known as a “hasty generalization”. Its a form of logical fallacy. As a consumer advocate, your inbox probably doesn’t have a representative sampling of the satisfied customers. I’ve know your work for 10 years. In that time, I’ve never written to you unbidden saying: I love Starwood. I wrote when I was being jerked around by Hilton.

    For example, most people in prison are criminals. A jaded prison guard may soon conclude that most people are criminals. Its because his sample size is not representative of the population at large.

    We see the same thing in travel. A couple frequent fliers in suits act like entitled jerks (probably not an act), and wham!, we conclude that this is normative behavior.

  • Kasiar001

    I will never understand the logic of spending on something inferior or unnecessary just to get miles. I am a leisure traveler who never got into the zip code of an elite level but I enjoy getting a free flight every couple of years from my credit card miles or the occasional seat in the front of the plane. I guess with the changes coming in 2014, even those few benefits will be gone.
    Wish Virgin would fly more routes.

  • Dcochran3

    I have done the mileage run once or twice to get 1K status on United. It still affords me the global system upgrades that I use well as I’m over six feet and like the lie-down comfort on long international flights. Even though I try to get the lowest fare, I get complementary upgrades about 80% of the time domestically and to South America several times a year.
    I am a two million miler so my wife is granted the same status; when we use miles to get our family and friends tickets they are often upgraded too. Just the cost of the drinks and food served in the premium cabins makes it worth while for me. I think each person has to measure the benefits vs. the cost.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I can only speak for myself.

    I’m a big guy, so maintaining elite frequent flier status meant this big guy generally traveled in the front of the plane. When I was a rabid travelers, the upgrade required no further cash outlay. Made my life infinitely easier.

    Though based near San Francisco, I regularly see clients in Southern California. I generally stay at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles 99% of the time, I am upgraded to a suite with a separate bedroom. That way I can see clients in the suite without the expense of renting a conference room or maintaining an office.

    The real secret of loyalty programs is that the miles are the icing on the cake. I agree with Chris that if miles or points are all you’re after, its probably not worth it on its own. The real reason to join a loyalty program is to reap the soft perks, the perks which make travel less onerous for you, e.g. shorter security lines, shorter check-in lines, better facilities, late check-out, complimentary internet etc.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


    Its all about the benefits to you. Are they worth it. If not, ditch.

  • Christopher Elliott

    You’ve been a long-time reader of this site, and I appreciate that. We agree on many issues. I think we agree in principle on loyalty programs. We’re just seeing two different sides of the issue. You view loyalty programs as a way to hold on to what we all used to have — I think taking away the amenities and only giving them to the elites is a terrible idea. Do you really need data to back up that assertion?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    So, I didn’t really answer your question and I apologize.

    The logic of a mileage or mattress run is that the benefits of the higher tier is greater than the cost of the run.

    For example, years ago, I was going to finish out a year having traveled 90k+ miles. But, if I had 100k miles by the end of the year, I would get certain benefits.There were two that were of particular financial value to me. Complimentary upgrades to first class on all domestic travel on AA metal and 8 one way system-wide one class upgrade anywhere that AA metal flew.

    I knew that the next year would be a heavy travel year as well. AA charged $25-50 per 500 miles to upgrade domestically. That’s between 5k and 10k in domestic upgrades. A $200 mileage run to Chicago to save at least 5k seems like a reasonable thing to do. Plus being much higher in the queue for upgrades.

    As an added bonus, I flew to Greece for vacation. I bought a coach ticket and flew in business class.

  • bodega3

    Thanks. I knew I had read it before.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Of course, my brilliant commentaries get better with age, don’t they? (No, don’t answer that.)

  • Miami510

    Loyalty programs, whether it be the supermarket or an airline, are valid only when they offer something special without taking financial advantage of those without the card. Is the free baggage on one airline supported by a new charge for baggage for those without the card? Are they giving better meals in business class and cutting back the quality/quantity of meals in coach?

  • Poley King

    The percent of mileage runners to every other type of traveler is so statistically insignificant i don’t see why anyone even talks about it

  • Christopher Elliott

    Very well said!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m first and foremost a techie. I need data to back up all factual assertions :-)

    I’m probably more OK with market forces. I remember being a dirt poor law student. If someone wants to save a buck and get something crappy, I don’t begrudge them that choice.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I suspect that they are usually independent occurrences.

    Revenue = Price of ticket minus overhead. Coach tickets dynamics may not be a factor.

  • Ian Parrish

    Look Chris, I get that you don’t like frequent flyer programs, but when you portray someone who disagrees with you as having “limited comprehension skills”, you’re the one who comes off as a bit fanatical. As Carver Clark Farrow says, there’s a place for data here.

    I’ll throw in the notion that there’s a place for nuance as well. In the ideally designed frequent flyer program, both the airline and the traveler benefits. This is primarily (but not exclusively) people that fly enough to reach elite tiers without mileage running. In exchange for their loyalty and paying some premium to fly an airline they get additional perks and opportunities to redeem miles for travel. I’m in this situation now with my work travel and feel well-rewarded.

    Now, if you’re an infrequent flyer, just buy on price…there’s no reason to be loyal to one airline or another. However, the frequent flyer programs can STILL work for you! I flew on TWA as a college student once or twice a year and then American after that occasionally, maybe with gaps of a couple years [TWA became American and those miles rolled over]. But, I made sure to keep my miles from expiring by being savvy and purchasing thing over the internet I was going to buy anyway through their Mileage Mall once every 18 months. I recently redeemed those miles I had accumulated over all those years for a first class ticket with Cathay Pacific from Southeast Asia…a ticket that would easily cost over $10,000. All the marginal effort was just paying attention to the miles once every year and a half. Now, tell me that has no value.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Great Story.

    When I took the State Bar Examination, it was held at the Hyatt so everyone stayed there. I signed up for the Loyalty program at check-in. The perk? Free lounge access. Breakfast and a light dinner each day for three days. Score. Didn’t stay at a Hyatt again for 8 years. But not paying for breakfast and dinner was a great savings for an unemployed 24 year old.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    me, me, me, me, me!!

    They’re great fodder for people who are against loyalty programs.

  • Helio

    I used to have two credit cards, both with loyalty programs. The Visa is free of charge, associated with by bank account (OK, the card fee is buried into the regular bank fee, but if I cancel this card, I’ll pay the same anyway). This Master card was associated with an airline, having a very small annual fee (I was eligible to a heavy rebate). This card was very nice, it gave me automatic elite status, and I also had priority boarding and extra bags.

    When the rebate was canceled, I made the math, and to recover the higher annual fee I’ll need to fly and/or spend a lot more. I canceled this card and signed for another Master card without fees but without points or miles. Now I concentrate my expenses at the Visa card, keeping the Master card for emergencies.

    Nevertheless, I confess I miss the priority boarding…

  • Justin

    My Hotel Loyalty Points covered two weeks of my overseas stay.

    I empathize when the terms and conditions change. No one enjoys giving their all for Brand Loyalty, only to have the rug pulled out from below. We spend copious amounts of money, work hard to accrue points, only to have their value diminish over time.

    I am not sure the winning solution.

  • Christopher Elliott

    That assumes we were given a real choice. Many airlines simply pulled the rug out from under us, all but coercing people to join a “loyalty” program.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Excuse me, did you say you nuance? But isn’t claiming I “don’t like frequent flyer programs” a broad-brush generalization of my measured, well-reasoned critique of so-called “loyalty” programs?

    It sounds to me as if you just don’t like anyone criticizing these programs. I understand. You don’t want them to change or to go away. You like how you’re treated in the front of the plane. You think the people in the back have chosen to be abused.

    Look, there are plenty of other blogs out there that drink the Kool-Aid on frequent-flier programs. Not this one. I’m here to make sure everyone is treated well — not just the people with platinum cards.

    Is that another windmill I see? Rocinante, where are you?

  • LFH0

    From an efficiency standpoint, mileage runners are not good for air travel because they unnecessarily consume transportation resources, and possibly deny transportation for others, all for no inherent purpose but to secure possible future benefits. But the carriers set the rules, and if for an individual it makes sense for him or her to jump through the hoops by making mileage runs, then the practice will exist.

    I remember many years ago, when I was amenable to flying, that Eastern Air Lines had a frequent flyer promotion in which a free round-trip anywhere in North America was offered for having flown seven segments. Accordingly, I found the cheapest fare out of New York to be a round-trip to Columbia, S.C. via Atlanta, Ga. (I think it was $99 return), so in the course of two weekends I flew two round-trips between New York and Columbia (actually, one round-trip from New York to Columbia and back, and one round-trip from Columbia to New York and back, so as to fulfill the Saturday night stay requirement). I had no business in Columbia, no real interest in Columbia; all I did was walk from the airport to a deli to buy a sandwich, and perhaps also deny some other traveler a cheap seat on those flights. In the end I received a round-trip to Central America, well worth the $198 invested. But in doing so I wasted transportation resources unnecessarily.

    Today I belong to the frequent traveler programs of Amtrak, Via Rail Canada, Greyhound Lines, Celebrity Cruises, et al., but rarely are the promotions ever sufficient these days to warrant making a mileage run on any of them. Indeed, the programs do not affect my choice of carrier, the decision being based only on other factors (e.g., price, schedule, route).

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • Christopher Elliott

    Well, do you think unbundling was just about making more money from fees?

    By taking away these amenities from the ticket price, many passengers felt they had no choice but to pledge their fealty to a loyalty program, so they could be treated with the same dignity that everyone used to be treated with.

  • Ian Parrish

    I really like reading your blog posts. I think you do good for consumers. But in these comments on your blog, you come across as unduly personal and petty. You don’t engage the issues. Anyone who disagrees or even tries to engage the subject is labeled with terms like “religious dogma”, “limited comprehension skills”, or “apologists,” and those are just from scrolling up today. It’s just not professional. I try to make useful posts on here that help your consumers directly and your advocacy, but then I and others get bombarded with rudeness and sarcasm (see above) from you if we ever disagree. And here, my requests for “nuance” suggests that I would like some mix of praise and criticism for frequent flyer programs to be considered. On the topic of frequent flyer programs, there’s plenty of room for both. I’m certainly open to discussing the ISSUES…are you?

    Maybe you should hire an editor or get a moderator to review your posts before publishing them. As the author of this site, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard and avoid these ad hominem attacks. I can’t imagine this level of discourse is what you use when you engage in your travel advocacy with companies or when you write your USA Today column. I’m sure if you were write US Airways with some sarcastic Don Quixote reference, they would just delete your e-mail immediately. Please respect your readers and those that take the time to comment on your site. Thanks.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m sorry you feel like I’m insulting you. That’s not my intent.

    If you scroll back to the comments and read them carefully, I think you’ll find that I wasn’t engaging in any ad hominem attacks. (By the way, those violate our comment policy.)

    “Religious dogma” was not a phrase I used, so I can’t really comment on it. I did say that some commenters seemed to have limited comprehension skills, a reference to the fact that they couldn’t tell the difference between a personal attack and a criticism of their “loyalty” program. I think it’s a little ironic that I’m being called out for that, on several levels.

    I don’t consider the term “apologist” to be an attack or an epithet. It’s correctly describes someone’s bias. I am biased toward the average passenger, and I freely admit it. I’m a consumer apologist.

    Why don’t I say praise loyalty programs? Because there are plenty of forums and blogs where these harmful, anti-consumer programs are celebrated, embraced … even worshipped. Honestly, I can find very little about these “loyalty” programs that are positive or praiseworthy.

    Regarding moderators: I do have them, and from time to time, they rein me in. It just happened a few days ago, and I do listen to them.

    I would beg to differ on the “higher standard” comment. We hold everyone in the comments to the same standard, and I should be allowed to engage anyone who unfairly attacks my stories or tries to put words in my mouth. And for the record, I’m not saying you did any of those things.

    One more thing: I’m getting a little tired of people saying, “You do such good work, Chris, so why do you have to write these things about loyalty programs?”

    The answer should be self-evident. If loyalty programs were good for consumers, I wouldn’t have to criticize them. I’m on my Quixotic quest because I’m on your side.

    Rocinante, let’s ride!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t understand that. Merely joining a loyalty program doesn’t do much to alleviate fees. That generally requires some elite level of treatment, which usually begins at 25,000 Butts-in-Seat miles accrued annually; far more flying than most non-business travelers can begin to imagine.

    I didn’t scratch the surface of elite until I started consulting in 1999, even though I was a somewhat regular flyer since 1986 and always flew American.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    In fairness, I’m the one who mentioned “religious dogma”, not Chris. In frther fairness to Chris, apologist is one of those words that just sounds bad, even though its not.

    In fairness to Ian Parrish, I wouldn’t know how else to take “limited reading comprehension” except as an insult. Not saying it was directed at me.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Loyalty programs are not covered by an consumer protection laws. Perhaps they should be.

  • Christopher Elliott

    OK, here’s how I see it:

    Some commenters seem to have limited comprehension skills.

    That’s not a direct personal attack.

    Carver has limited comprehension skills.

    Direct personal attack. Not allowed.

    If I ever said that, my moderators would hang me from the highest tree behind the Elliott ranch.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Like I said. I’m not saying it was directed at me. If I felt that it would be a different conversation. However, it’s still an insult, it’s just that the insultees are identified vaguely by group rather than by name.

  • Justin


    I really like your suggest. Mr. Chris Elliot, take heed. Maybe the next article needs to promote consumer protections for loyalty programs.

  • Extramail

    I agree that loyalty programs hurt the leisure traveler. But, I also believe that loyalty progams can be used to the benfit of the frequent business traveler. My husband flew almost exclusively on delta for the first 20+ years of his work life because delta was about the only choice you had out of Atlanta, thus it made sense to join the loyalty program. His travel was a business expense thus he did not pay for the ticket so the loyalty program didnt cost him a dime. More times than not, he was bumped to first class because there were so few “elite” flyers. Once the airlines introduced the possibility of “earning” miles via credit card, the “perks” occurred less frequently. I believe delta got so much flack from the butt-in-seat flyers about being crowded out by the mileage gatherers that they are trying to weed out said mileage gatherers. Atlanta is no longer his primary airport thus he has more options for choices on flights and can now choose based on time and cost.

  • Andy Shuman

    Interestingly enough, I agree. And I rarely agree with Mr. Elliott on anything FF related. Departure of mileage runners is bad news for everyone. They used to fill these seats for the airlines, spending thousands of dollars in the process, thus adding to the carriers bottom line. You don’t run miles on an award ticket.

  • Ian Parrish

    Thanks for responding. I can certainly see how you can be frustrated with loyalty programs. I think we could have an interesting back and forth on the issues….might even make an interesting column.

    There’s certainly common ground I bet we can find. For example, I bet we could agree on the following:
    1) Frequent flyer programs do provide a number of benefits for frequent travelers that are able to fly the same airline.
    [Just to be clear on definition…a frequent flyer generally flies at least 25,000 miles with the same airline in a year]
    2) Frequent flyer programs have by and large gotten worse in the last couple years. In fact, the airlines hold all the cards. They can change the terms for better or for worse when they like…it’s in the fine print. For example, United recently almost doubled the number of miles required to redeem certain desirable awards. Or Delta’s miles are so devalued that they’re often referred to as “SkyPesos”.
    3) Here’s I think the point you really want to make. For the infrequent traveler, frequent flyer programs are often a bad deal. This happens when travelers spend extra money to fly a given carrier, but never really manage to benefit from them. That is, they don’t make an elite level that gives them perks or their miles expire from inactivity. These travelers should just buy the cheapest fare. Airlines sometimes bamboozle and dazzle them with credit card offers too.

    Here are some things I’m not sure we agree on, but would be worth digging into:
    1) Air travel is still cheap in inflation-adjusted dollars compared to the “golden years” of air travel with PanAm and TWA. The luxury of flying has gone down, and hassle has gone up. I don’t think this has anything to do with frequent flyer programs.
    2) If we eliminated frequent flyer programs entirely right now, would travel get better, worse, or stay the same for the infrequent flyers….the one’s without elite status? My answer is that it wouldn’t get any better. They won’t magically start getting free bags, free food, or better seats. In fact, if airlines lose the marginal revenue they get from loyal high value flyers, they might have to start to charge other flyers more. Remember, business airfares somewhat subsidize the casual flyer…that’s where things like the Saturday night stay requirement comes from for cheap airfare.
    3) If used correctly, even infrequent flyers can benefit from frequent flyer programs. See my story above. This requires both being informed about the details and taking actions to keep miles from expiring.

    Here’s some of the issues I think are relevant. I’d like to know your take on this.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks. I think I can address those questions in a future column.

  • Justin

    Counterpoint: You filled a seat that might have gone unsold and added to the airline’s profit margins.

    You’ll never know.

  • MarkKelling

    Except for the very top levels, I don’t think that UA and Delta requiring a spending level in conjunction with the mileage accumulation will impact the mileage runners or the Elite frequent flyer numbers.

    For example, I fly UA a lot and on the trip I make the most often collect 2,500 Elite qualification miles at an average cost of $250 in coach. So 10 of these round trips qualifies me for Silver Elite in both miles, 25000, and dollars, $2500. If I choose badly by making last minute reservations or flying in business 1st, the cost skyrockets. So a frequent flyer who makes even Gold with the $5000 requirement or Platinum at $7500 will still probably get there. The only issue is this spending must be solely with UA and NOT with their code share partners meaning you have to be even more careful when booking. The only ways I can see someone not making their level dollar requirement is if they fly international routs on code shares that used to count fully toward status level or they snare a fat finger flight at way below regular price.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    From an efficiency standpoint, mileage runners are not good for air
    travel because they unnecessarily consume transportation resources

    It sounds like you are making an economics based argument. If so, it has one major issue. Efficiency, from an economics perspective, means going to the person who values the good or service the most. If the frequent flier values the seat more than someone else, its an efficient use of resources.

    There are of course, other definitions of efficiency.

  • LFH0

    You’re right if one looks only at the economic perspective of an individual. Here, however, I’m looking at the economic perspective of society. That is, what benefit does society achieve from transporting individuals that have no need to be transported anywhere in particular, and are simply riding for the sake of earning points?

    Yesterday I read an interesting story in the San Jose Mercury News, “Homeless turn overnight bus route into Hotel 22.” See Homeless individuals ride the Valley Transportation Authority no. 22 route overnight, on its 2-hour journey between east San Jose and Palo Alto, taking up most of the seats. The news article points out that from an individual economic perspective, the $2 fare (or $70 monthly) is a bargain compared to staying in a hotel. And while these individuals do pay a fare, it is comparable to the airline mileage runners in that they have no real need to travel between San Jose and Palo Alto, and they take away seats from people who actually have a need for transportation between those two cities.

    It would be more economically efficient for society if carriers permitted the mileage runners to simply pay for their points, without them actually having to consume transportation unnecessarily. It would be more economically efficient for society if the VTA permitted the homeless to simply sleep in a parked and stationary bus, without them actually having to consume transportation unnecessarily.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I hear what you are saying. But consider

    Is a mileage runner any different than any other leisure flier who has no particular economic reason to be somewhere? If we accept your reasoning then any leisure flyer is economically inefficient, which of course is not true. It’s why airlines are priced primarily for business travelers, who are willing to pay more (i.e. they have a positive consumer benefit even at higher costs), and the remaining seats are priced for leisure travelers who would have a negative consumer benefit at the higher priced business class fares. A mileage runner is the same as a leisure traveler from that perspective.

    As I’m sure you remember, in economic theory, each individual acting to maximize his or her benefit, within a framework of a good flow of information, results in the maximum economic benefit to society. Of course, the major hole in that argument is that economics is only concerned with…economics. It makes no allowance for morality, ethics, or compassion.

  • Red Guevarra

    I’m eilte (Medallion) with Delta, but I’m also elite with KLM and Alaska. While I may lose DL status in 2014, I’ve still got my other two. Ironically, I became elite at KL and AS from flying…you guessed it – Delta.

  • Red Guevarra

    Southwest’s program is best for depositing points earned from hotel stays and car rentals. Otherwise, fly any one of the legacy carriers and start accumulating their miles. I recommend signing up for Alaska’s. Why? Because you earn not only on AS flights, but also from flying AA and DL, along with several international airlines from oneWorld and SkyTeam.

  • Red Guevarra

    You can now bank your DL miles into Virgin Atlantic’s program, I believe.

  • Red Guevarra

    I agree with Justin. Those rev tickets were cheap for a reason i.e, off peak and by you buying a couple of tickets, you even helped the economy – the airline, the airports, their employees and of course the IRS.

    The transportation resources you claim you had wasted well, not very many people wanted them at that time. And mathematically speaking, the per-person amount it cost the airline to ferry you from point A to point Z is minuscule.

  • Red Guevarra

    I still run! Heck, I run every month that I barely noticed I’ve reached Platinum at Aeromexico Club Premier about a month ago. So now I’m elite at 4 carriers.