Going The Distance: Mileage Running On Marathon Flights

Travis MacRitchie is at his Los Angeles apartment packing a single carry on bag for a flight halfway across the world.

“I’m going off on a pretty ridiculous adventure, so fingers crossed that it’ll go okay,” he says.

He’s headed to the Middle East on a flight to Bahrain and he’ll be back home in just three days.

MacRitchie is embarking on his first mileage run, a technique used by travelers to earn frequent flyer miles as quickly as possible. He’s flying out of LA to Washington, D.C., then D.C. to Dubai, and finally Dubai to Bahrain. This round-trip flight will earn him 36,000 miles, guaranteeing him Gold Status with United Airlines.

“The perks definitely make travel much, much easier,” says MacRitchie.

There’s priority security screening, complimentary upgrades and airport lounge access. For MacRitchie, being pent up in a plane is worth it.

“I enjoy the process of traveling itself. To me, it’s fun. So I can definitely think of worse things to be doing on my weekend,” he says.

This may sound expensive but his ticket is just $600.00. His boarding pass prints out and MacRitchie is on his way.

“It really is about getting a deal,” says Howie Rappaport, editor for the Frugal Travel Guy blog.

He says mileage runners scour the Internet and post on forums like flyertalk.com for specials, discounted prices and mistake fares.

“Looking in one of the forums there, someone had posted a deal that American Airlines had a fair from Philadelphia to Beijing, China, for just under $450,” says Rappaport. “And that would be round trip.”

Never mind the destination, Rappaport says mileage running is all about gaining status.

“When it comes to loyalty, you can kind of get caught into a trap. It’s almost like a drug, because when you start getting those benefits, you don’t want to lose those benefits,” he says.

Three days later, MacRitchie returns from his marathon flight. He walks out of Los Angeles International Airport with messy hair and a scruffy beard.

He looks exhausted.

“Well, it was successful in the fact that I got back here today and I’m still awake so, yeah. I made it,” he says.

MacRitchie spent over 40 hours in the air. He was actually in Bahrain for just half of a day.

“I got to go to the hotel, I slept pretty well there, went to the gym there, walked around Bahrain for a little bit, ate some shawarma, and that’s about all I did,” he laughs.

But the flight back wasn’t easy.

“It just went on forever,” he says. “That plane would not get there. I felt like we were going in reverse.”

Still, MacRitchie says he would do it again if the price is right. But those days are numbered.

Starting in January, United and Delta will incorporate spending requirements in addition to miles. If you want to maintain the top premier status on United, you’ll have to accrue 100,000 miles and spend $10,000 for those flights.

Ariana Arghandewal, managing editor at flyertalk.com, says that defeats the whole purpose of mileage runs.

“Mileage running is going to be a dying sport in the future because very few mileage runners are going to see any value in spending $10,000 just to get upgrades and a certain number of miles and bonuses on their flights each year,” she says.

But miles earned this year will still get you status next year. And there are 2 1/2 weeks left before 2014. That’s plenty of time to fit in some quick, last-minute trips around the world.

Just sit back, relax and try to enjoy the flight.

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