Does Premium Economy Bring Back The Mileage Run?

Welcome to February. As we anxiously await word from Punxsutawney Phil tomorrow, you may think that I would want to talk about going someplace warm. Think again. We’re going to chilly South Korea. But don’t worry, we won’t be there long.

The Revived Premium Economy

premium economy

The mock-up for the AA Premium Economy cabin

You used to get first or coach. That was it. Maybe on an international flight, you could get business. As airlines have tried to decommoditize their products, though, they’ve added new benefits and options. On Delta, for instance, you can book into one of six different fare classes.

One of those new products is a premium economy (PE) product. Different airlines call it different things, but the product is about the same across the board:  at least some two by two seating on international flights with more legroom and better in-flight amenities. It’s similar to domestic first class. The product serves as a compromise for passengers who want something better than coach but don’t want to pay for business.

Since it’s a new class of service, though, airline revenue management systems don’t have a history of sales on which to base forward pricing. Thus, you will find markets where PE is priced at a multiple of traditional coach, and others where it’s priced almost the same.

Unintended Consequences: Elite Status Mileage Runs

mileage run, premium economy

A not inexpensive mileage run for 21,000+ elite qualifying miles

Back in the good old days, when airlines based the number of miles that you earned on the miles you flew, rather than how much you paid for tickets, mileage runs were popular.* Once the airlines switched to a system where the number of miles that you earned is based on how much you spend, the traditional mileage run died. Who cares if you flew 20,000 miles on a $100 ticket (Yes, that’s an exaggeration.)? You don’t earn 20,000 miles anymore. You earn 500-1,100 miles, depending on your elite status (or lack thereof. Base members earn five miles per dollar spent, up to diamond at eleven per dollar spent.).

But one facet of the program didn’t change. You still earn miles toward elite status (on most airlines) based on how far you fly. So if you’re trying to bump yourself up a tier or two on an airline’s importance level, it can be a quick way to do so. The problem, though, has always been that doing a 15,000 mile flight in coach is not particularly comfortable and it’s prohibitively expensive for most in business.

I bring up the subject because of a recent sale offered by Delta on flights to Seoul, and this is PE plays a role. Delta is offering tickets to Seoul from several US cities at reasonable fares in Premium Select, in the range of $1,500 to $1,600. In return, you’ll earn over 21,000 miles that count toward your elite status. That’s almost enough to get you silver status, or bump you from silver to gold or gold to platinum. It also gets you halfway from platinum to diamond.* For most people, it would seem ridiculous to pay $1,500 just to bump yourself up a level.** But for others, the benefits are worth it, particularly as you get to the higher tiers. Not to mention:

  • You’ll do it in relative comfort, with an amenity kit blanket and decent food
  • You’ll pick up 7,500-16,000 redeemable miles, based on what you pay and your current elite status.
  • You’ll get to spend a couple of hours at one of the world’s best airports.
  • And, of course, you’ll have a fantastic story.

If you do it, just remember to bring a couple of good books, comfortable clothes and don’t lie to immigration about why your trip was so short. They’ve seen it before, and they’ll see it again.



Beginner’s Hint: A mileage run is a flight that you book solely to earn the miles. In other words, you don’t actually need to fly to the destination where the plane is going, but the fare is so cheap that you are “buying” miles very inexpensively. Presumably, your flight is round-trip.

*There are dollar spending requirements, as well, but for most tiers, spending 25,000 miles on your Delta credit card will offset the spending requirements.

**Not to mention that you actually have to spend a weekend flying to and from Seoul.


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