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What’s a Mileage Run and What Happened When One Traveler’s Mileage Run Went Wrong

In a series of recent Tweets, Andrew Kimmel a TV producer who previously worked on ABC’s The Bachelor shared a horror story of a mileage run gone wrong. Over the course of 21 Tweets, Kimmel recalls a recent trip to Los Cabos, Mexico that ended with Kimmel being thrown in jail and without a passport. Kimmel’s trip to Los Cabos was a last-ditch attempt at earning elite status at American Airlines.This last-minute attempt to earn enough elite qualifying miles to obtain elite status is commonly known as a mileage run.

Kimmel’s horror story, while extremely riveting, is less the result of the mileage run and more the result of rampant police corruption in Mexico. However, since his disastrous Los Cabos trip is such an interesting story, I thought it was worthwhile to include in this post.

When A Quick Mileage Run Goes Terribly Wrong

I will explain what a mileage run is in more thorough detail later in this post. However, here’s what you need to know to understand why Andrew Kimmel took a last-minute trip to Los Cabos.

(Jump to “What Is A Mileage Run”)

Kimmel prefaces his travel mishap explaining via Twitter that he was $275 shy of re-qualifying for elite status as a member of American Airlines’ AAdvantage program. A few years ago, American Airlines followed Delta Air Lines in requiring members of its AAdvantage frequent flyer program to not only fly a certain distance or on a certain number of flights but to also spend a certain amount of money. American Airlines refers to money that is spent on flights as elite qualifying dollars. To achieve American’s lowest tier elite status, AAdvantage Gold, members are required to spend a minimum of $3,000 on flights while also traveling a minimum of 25,000 miles or flying a minimum of 30 segments. Kimmel was extremely close to racking up enough elite qualifying dollars (EQDs) to keep his elite status in 2020.

Just $275 away from reaching elite status, American Airlines, like many other major airlines, offered Kimmel the opportunity to keep his elite status. All Kimmel had to do was pay a whopping $1875 and elite status was his for 2020. Like any seasoned frequent flyer, rather than pay nearly $2000 to make up for the $275 keeping Kimmel from elite status, he booked a quick last-minute trip from Los Angeles to Los Cabos, Mexico. He paid just $400 for a round-trip ticket from L.A. to Los Cabos. According to Kimmel, he also plunked down cash for a “cheap” hotel room and rented a car for just $35. Kimmel’s short trip to Los Cabos would allow him to re-qualify for elite status for significantly less than American Airlines’ asking price of $1875.

This is where his mileage run gets interesting. Kimmel made his way to Los Cabos, Mexico and decided to go out to a few local bars on the last night of his trip. It should be noted that Los Cabos, located in Baja California Sur, is considered to be a relatively safe vacation spot for travelers. Ultimately, it wasn’t a group of armed cartel members that turned Kimmel’s last-minute mileage run into an absolute hell. According to his Twitter feed, Kimmel was asked to pay $300 USD for two beers he had while at a local bar. He refused to pay the outrageously overpriced tab. Kimmel eventually offered to pay after the bartender threatened to call the police. However, the transaction was declined as the large purchase at a Mexican bar triggered the card’s fraud protection. The bartender then forced Kimmel out to an ATM demanding that he withdraw the cash required to pay the fraudulent bar tab. Kimmel refused.

The bartender then called the local police. Kimmel notes in a Tweet that he initially assumed that the police would be on his side of the dispute. However, in Mexico, there remains widespread corruption among local police departments. While Mexico’s federal police (sometimes referred to as the federales) is relatively free from this corruption and widely considered reputable, state and local police departments are rife with corruption. Though Kimmel did not clarify what police force responded to the incident, Kimmel likely had a run-in with the Los Cabos/San Lucas Municipal Police. Unsurprisingly, the municipal police sided with the bartender, likely under the assumption that the responding police officers would receive a cut of what was essentially ransom.

Kimmel did not comply with the request of the municipal police to withdraw the cash demanded by the bartender. After failing to comply with the demands of the police, Kimmel was handcuffed and arrested. He also had his debit card and passport stolen by the bartender. He was then brought to a police station and put in jail. Kimmel states that the arresting police officers claimed that he would be released in just 30 minutes. However, this didn’t turn out to be the case. He remained in jail for several hours. To avoid going into too much detail, Kimmel’s experience in jail won’t be included in this post. However, if you’re interested in that part of this story, be sure to check out the entire thread on Twitter.

Eventually, someone posted bail and Kimmel was released. He made his way to Los Cabos International Airport and explained to American Airlines ticketing agents what had happened and that he no longer possessed a passport. Contrary to what many believe, if you’re a lawful resident of the United States you can’t be denied entry into the US. As long as you’re able to prove your identity at your point of entry, you’ll almost always be allowed back into the country. Ultimately, Kimmel was allowed back into the United States and completed his mileage run. Was it worth it? If you asked Kimmel that question, it’s highly unlikely that he would respond positively. In the end, however, it made for an amazing story and the perfect way to preface the main point of this post. What is a mileage run?

What Is A Mileage Run

From the introduction of the first modern frequent flyer program in the early 1980s, crafty frequent flyers have formulated ways to essentially game an airline or hotel’s frequent flyer program. Some of these tactics border on violating a loyalty program’s terms and conditions. Other tactics, including mileage runs, are completely valid ways of maximizing the return from a loyalty program.

A mileage run, in its simplest form, is booking a flight for the sole purpose of earning points or miles. There are a number of variations of mileage runs. The most popular mileage run involves booking a flight to earn elite qualifying miles, points, segments, or dollars. For those unfamiliar with these terms, they are defined below:

  • Elite Qualifying Miles: miles earned from air travel or alternative methods including credit card spend that count towards an airlines’ required number of miles flown to earn elite status.
  • Elite Qualifying Points: similar to elite qualifying miles, points earned from air travel or alternative methods including credit card spend that count towards an airlines’ required number of points earned to obtain elite status.
  • Elite Qualifying Segments: similar to elite qualifying miles/points, flight segments earned from air travel that count towards an airlines’ required number of segments flown to earn elite status.
  • Elite Qualifying Dollars: money spent on air travel or through the use of co-branded credit cards that count towards an airline’s spending requirement to earn elite status.

While, in recent years, mileage runs to obtain elite status at an airline have become a less effective means of doing so, they are still quite popular. Many airlines determine how many elite qualifying miles, points, and dollars to award a traveler based on several factors. Some tickets earn more elite qualifying miles, points, or dollars than others.

For example, some airlines award additional miles for flights on select partner airlines. Another common example is an airline awarding additional points or miles for travelers who book refundable tickets or who book a seat in a premium cabin. With elite qualifying miles, points, and dollars not awarded based solely on how many miles were flown or how many dollars were spent, dedicated frequent flyers have devised ways to maximize how many elite qualifying miles, points, or dollars they earn per flight.

One example of how a frequent flyer can maximize the number of elite qualifying points or miles earned is by booking a cheap flight that covers a large distance. For example, for just $308 one-way, you could travel from Los Angeles to Bangkok with a stop in Tokyo. Both flights are operated by American Airlines’ partner Japan Airlines (JAL). The fare code for this itinerary is fare code “S” which allows the traveler to earn 100% of the elite qualifying miles for the journey. This $308 flight would yield over 8,000 elite qualifying miles. A similarly priced domestic flight between Los Angeles and Dallas, for example, you yield just 1,231 elite qualifying miles. This is just one example of maximizing the number of elite qualifying miles earned per flight.

In the example above, the mileage run is from Los Angeles to Bangkok. A frequent flyer might book that itinerary for the sole purpose of earning elite qualifying miles. Additionally, in most cases, travelers look to minimize other expenses including lodging, transportation, and meals during a mileage run. Extremely dedicated frequent flyers might not ever leave the airport during a mileage run, relying entirely on airline lounges for meals and only sleeping when they’re in-flight.

Basically, a mileage run is a way to earn miles or points or work towards meeting the requirements to obtain elite status with an airline. Additionally, it’s not just cheap flights that cover a great distance that are considered mileage runs. Any trip can be considered a mileage run so long as the main purpose of the trip is to earn miles, points, or work towards earning elite status.

More From The College Points: A College Student’s Guide to Maximizing Points & Miles

Are Mileage Runs Worth It?

The answer to the question “are mileage runs worth it?” depends entirely on who you ask. Some frequent flyers swear by mileage runs while others find them idiotic. At one time, the answer was yes, mileage runs were worth the time and effort. However, this is no longer the case. With the addition of elite qualifying dollars which requires frequent flyers to spend a certain amount of money to earn elite status, mileage runs for the purpose of earning elite status are rarely worth the time, money, and effort.

There is still a valid case for taking mileage runs for earning elite qualifying miles or miles that can be redeemed in the future. Some airlines still award a great deal of redeemable miles for relatively inexpensive flights. Additionally, earning elite qualifying miles or points is still accomplished with mileage runs. Still, without meeting an airline’s spending requirements, mileage runs to earn points or miles are a waste of time, effort, and money.

Mileage Runs – The Bottom Line

Andrew Kimmel’s viral Twitter thread is less about a mileage run gone wrong and more about what can go wrong in a foreign country. Mileage runs, flights booked with the sole purpose of earning miles, points, or elite status, probably won’t end with a stolen passport and a stay at a Mexican jail. Additionally, in Kimmel’s case, his mileage run did achieve its purpose. He flew both segments of his $400 round-trip ticket which allows him to re-qualify for elite status. Nevertheless, mileage runs aren’t what they used to be yielding far less effective results for today’s frequent flyers than in the past. Still, each year, thousands of frequent flyers take to the sky for the sole reason of earning points, miles, and status.

More From The College Points: How to Buy Frequent Flyer Miles

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