If you travel a lot, you know that mileage plans can be a great way to save money on future travel. Business Insider introduces us to some impressive frequent fliers who have mastered the system.
Mileage runners are a subculture of frequent flyers who've found impressive ways to hack the system.
In online forums like Flyer Talk, they debate the best ways to rack up the most miles for the least amount of money.
But while each flyer has her own unique style and mileage goal, they can all agree on one thing: Elite status is the only way to fly.
"I know people who have a passion for new routes, new aircraft, new carriers, etc., but that's not me," says Scott Mackenzie, who runs the blog HackMyTrip. "If sitting on a plane for a day means I get an upgrade or a free flight in the future, that's a fair trade."
We reached out to eight mileage runners and asked them to share their best runs, travel tips and what they have in their carry-on.
Read on for more.
Michelle Singh spent a Saturday flying 'MRY-SFO-PHX-LAX-MRY' as a kid to make Premier status.
Background: Today she's a stay-at-home mom and private pilot who blogs at Miles Points and Mai Tais. Check out her cool aviation photos on ThirtySixThousand.com and follow her on Twitter @hulagrrl210.
First run: "My very first mileage run was as a kid," says Singh. "I was just a few hundred miles short of making Premier for the very first time, so my dad dropped me off at the airport one morning, and I spent my Saturday flying MRY-SFO-PHX-LAX-MRY. No one seemed to care that I was an unaccompanied minor."
The status: Premier Gold on United. "I like having access to their Economy Plus seating and Star Alliance lounges when I travel overseas," she says. "Another great perk that many overlook is their very generous 3 x 70 lb. baggage policy."
The goal: Become a million miler. "I have about 800,000 lifetime miles, so I figured after two years of making 1K, I should reach that goal. After that, I'll be a Premier Gold for life!"
In her carry-on: Noise canceling headphones: "Crying babies and loud talkers are no match for my Bose QC15s."
Best way to pass time: People watching.
Tip: Do a stopover to get more value. "Technically, a stopover is anything over 24 hours, but a long layover, like 18 hours, is still a great way to see a new city."
Stefan Krasowski drove through all seven United Arab Emirates within 24 hours to make it in the Travelers Century Club.
Background: The New York business exec runs Rapid Travel Chai, an internationally-focused blog that helps people book the trip of the lifetime, even if it's just for one weekend. Follow him on Twitter @rapidtravelchai.
Greatest run: "One Friday night I left work, flew to Dubai, arrived Saturday night, spent 24 hours driving over 500 miles to each of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, each counting as a country for the Travelers Century Club," recalls Krasowski. "I flew back Sunday night and went straight into the office Monday morning. 16,000 miles flown, seven countries visited, awesome memories, no vacation days used."
The status: Delta Diamond, "which gives a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of fee waivers and flight changes," he says.
The goal: Travel to every country in the world while holding down a full-time job. "Many of these trips include airfares, often for the shortest flight, that would be prohibitively expensive without being able to redeem miles for them," says Krasowski.
In his carry-on: "Passport, international driving permit, international certificate of vaccination, cash, multiple credit and debt cards; something to read, something to listen to."
Biggest challenge: "Earning tolerance from my wife is a lifetime work in progress."
Tip: Always book on a Tuesday at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. Eastern Time. "That is almost always when fares drop each week. My Tuesday lunchtime is always blocked for checking airfares," says Krasowski.
Greg Davis-Kean took advantage of a Sears promotion and flew across the country in one day.
Craziest run: "Sears happened to be having a big promotion that day in which they were offering 10 points per dollar through Chase's Ultimate Rewards Mall, and so I spent the day not just flying, but blogging about my online shopping experiences as well," Davis-Kean recalls. Read his adventure here.
Status: Delta Platinum, which requires 75,000 medallion qualifying miles per year.
The goal: Keep high elite status with Delta. "With Platinum status, Delta allows free changes to award tickets (up to 72 hours in advance)," making those miles more valuable. "If I see a tempting award, I can book it just in case," says Davis-Kean. "If I decide later that it doesn't work for me, I can cancel it without penalty."
In his carry-on: "My iPhone, iPad, and laptop go with me everywhere."
Favorite airline: "I really do like Delta," Davis-Kean says. "It works because I live near a Delta hub and I have high level status, which gives me perks when flying (elite security line, priority boarding, free domestic upgrades, etc.)."
Tip: Stop booking nonstop flights. "By including a stop or two you can greatly increase your earned miles often without paying much (if any) extra," he says.
Seth Miller flew First class to visit Spokane, Washington three times in five days.
Background: Miller got hooked on mileage running in 2000 during his first job and now the IT consultant blogs about all things point-related on Wandering Aramean. "I still spend an unhealthy amount of time on FlyerTalk and MilePoint.com," he says. Follow him on Twitter @WanderngAramean.
Best run: Visiting Spokane, Wash. three times over five days. "I was flying in First class the whole time, back and forth from Minneapolis or Chicago and bouncing all over the USA to get there. I got to play a round of golf at one of the better courses in Idaho and also accrued about 100,000 points for around $500 in airfare."
The status: Premier 1K on United.
The goal: Maintain that status. "Combined with an attractive award chart and great global coverage, either directly or with partners, I've yet to find an award trip I couldn't make work using my points."
In his carry-on: Only the bare essentials make the cut, says Miller. That means his passport, camera, Netbook and Kindle. "Everything else is optional."
Why he flies: "I love just about every aspect of it," he says. "People watching in the airport, flying around the world (even in coach!) and experiencing new places is an incredible rush for me."
Tip: Chase the fare, not the destination. "Assuming the price per mile rates work, I don't really care if I'm headed to Portland, Singapore, Geneva or Istanbul, all of which I've done in the past several weeks."
Scott Mackenzie holds Premier 1K status with United, which requires flying 100,000 miles per year.
Worst run: "I was flying from Seattle to Washington, DC, via Charlotte, then directly back on United nonstop," says Mackenzie. "My red-eye on United was overbooked, and they wanted to put me on a nonstop flight in first class. I turned it down because those few extra miles connecting through Charlotte were critical ... I regretted my decision as the flight was delayed three hours and the gate changed several times. It was like that scene in 'Airplane' where people run along the airport from gate to gate."
Status: The PhD graduate has Premier 1K status with United, which requires flying 100,000 miles per year.
The goal: "My goal is that the money I spend on mileage runs will all be earned back when I redeem my miles for more expensive award tickets," he says.
In his carry-on: "I always carry The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. I need something on paper to read when electronics aren't allowed. Sometimes I'll bring my iPad, too."
Favorite airline: "Singapore Airlines. Their employees take service seriously, going so far as to ensure the glass is always turned so their logo faces you."
Tip: Book first and ask questions later. "Most airlines will let you cancel within 24 hours for a full refund, and the rest will allow you to at least put it on hold for 24 hours without paying," he says.
Darren Booth flew from LA to Honolulu to San Francisco to Sydney—in one day.
Background: Booth is a full-time blogger obsessed with the culture of flying. "My dad signed me up for United's Mileage Plus program in 1988 when I was 16," and he's been hooked ever since. He started sneaking "simple day" trips from Chicago to Detroit to rack up more miles in high school. Now that he's grown up, you can find the Angeleno reviewing the newest VIP lounge for CNBC or his blog, Frequently Flying. Follow him on Twitter @FrequentlyFlyin.
Craziest run: Los Angeles to Honolulu to San Francisco to Sydney—in one day. "I spent 8 hours in Sydney and flew back on the exact same routing," Booth says. "I earned nearly 50,000 miles in that 36-ish hour span since I was an elite frequent flier (double miles) and it gave me 25,000 miles towards my annual target of 100,000 miles on United. And I did the same trip the following week!"
The status: Booth is a Premier 1K on United and Executive Platinum on American, which each require 100,000 miles of 'butt-in-seat' actually flying annually.
The goal: Million miler status on United, also known as lifetime Gold status.
In his carry-on: Booth is never without his MacBook Pro and packs his own version of an amenity kit just in case his check-on doesn't arrive: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, underwear, etc..
Favorite airport: Singapore's Changi Airport. "It's beautiful, has fantastic airline lounges, a transit hotel, incredible shopping, a nature trail, movie theatre, swimming pool, twister slide and free tours of Singapore are available to transit passengers."
Tip: Expect some delays for connections. "The 45-minute 'minimum' connection time at some airports airline require is simply not enough time these days. I always try to plan for two-hour connections."
Rene takes Delta so much, the airline practically pays him to fly.
Background: Rene is a full-time blogger who's after only one thing: elite status on Delta. His blog Delta Points tracks the ins and outs of flying the carrier, which he's been doing for several years.
Cheapest run: Pittsburgh to Los Angeles for just $137 roundtrip this year. "The airline was almost paying me to fly."
The status: Undisclosed.
The goal: Platinum Medallion status with Delta. "If you fly for business or leisure, you need status!"
In his carry-on: "I must have a power brick to recharge my phone and table, also my Samsung 7" and my laptop," he says.
Worst run: "Never had one. They're all good."
Tip: Check the blogs for inside hacks. "If you read Boarding Area's blogs for a month, you're guaranteed to become a pro."
Sarah Jones started doing her mileage runs during work trips.
Background: Jones is the anonymous blogger behind Road Warriorette. "Six years ago I started traveling for work and decided pretty quickly I needed to take advantage of the miles and points I was accumulating on business trips," the Texan tells Business Insider. Follow her on Twitter @RoadWarriorette.
Worst run: "I flew to Seattle before a work trip to Charlotte," Jones recalls. "The flight from Seattle to Dallas/Ft. Worth was delayed, and I almost missed my connection. Never again! Now I only do mileage runs at the END of work trips. Talk about stressful."
The status: Platinum with American and A-List with Southwest.
The goal: "This year I want status with two airlines: Executive Platinum with American and the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass," says Jones. "I want Executive Platinum because I fly American so much, and I really want the bonus miles and first class upgrades. I want the Southwest Companion Pass because then my husband and baby can fly with me for free."
In her carry-on: "My iPhone, Kindle, lip balm and knitting. I have to stay connected and entertained."
Favorite airport: "San Francisco. With wine, great food, and a yoga room, what else do you need?"
Tip: Stop booking with random airlines. "Focus on one airline and sign up for the frequent flier program," Jones advises. "Even a few flights a year will eventually add up!"
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