What is a “mileage run?”

It’s usually around this time of year that newspapers will write articles about the crazy things that mileage addicts do to bump up their accounts at the end of the year.  Often, it’s in regards to people who are only a few miles (or thousand miles) away from the next tier of elite status and want to make it over the hump.  And since only miles that you fly count toward elite status (also known as “butt-in-seat” miles), they need to get on a plane.  The problem is, they have no plans to take trips before December 31.  What to do, what to do…

In this case, some people will take what is known as a “mileage run.”  The concept is simple: For a mileage run, you don’t care where your flight takes you.  You simply need a certain amount of frequent flyer miles.  For lack of a better term, it’s a trip to nowhere that usually involves choosing a cheap destination, boarding the aircraft, arriving at your destination and then hopping back on the same plane and returning to your origination.  For a mileage runner, the only thing that matters is getting a certain amount of miles as cheaply as possible.

Example: Let’s say you’re a New York resident and have 23,000 miles year-to-date on American Airlines.  You know that getting 25,000 miles for the year will earn you elite status for 2014, so you decide to do a mileage run.  Since Florida always seems to be a cheap destination (not a lot of business travelers on this route), you check out a couple of the flights to Florida.  Bang!  A round-trip flight to Palm Beach is only $218 and earns 1,035 miles each way!  You book a flight that leaves out of La Guardia at 7:30 am and arrives at Palm Beach at 10:40.  The return is only 45 minutes later, at 11:25 and gets you back to New York at 2:10 pm.  It probably uses the same plane, so you don’t need to worry about a late arrival.  You’ve earned elite status and have the whole afternoon left!

The above example is about as simple as it gets.  A non-stop flight in an inexpensive market is every mileage runner’s dream.  Often, you simply have to go to your airline’s website and keep trying destinations until you find one that meets your criteria.  It can take a few minutes, but leisure destinations such as Florida and Las Vegas often have great fares.

If nothing else, mileage running leads to great stories.  Often, you will see the same crew on the return as you had on the outbound.  Since mileage running has become so common, they’ll know exactly why you’re there and everyone will have a good laugh.  Other times, you’ll find yourself on a flight from New York to Boston.  By way of Los Angeles.  Even the customs officials are in on the game.  I once did a mileage run to London and the woman at customs thought it was suspicious that I had only spent a few hours in the country until I explained what I was doing.  After that, she shook her head, rolled her eyes and stamped my passport.

Bottom line: There’s little that a bit of ingenuity and fun can conquer.

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Cash back for shopping online

If you are at this site, you’re visiting either because A) I begged you to do so or B) you’re interested in learning about frequent flyer miles.  Possibly both.

One of the methods I mentioned to earn miles was shopping through the airline sites.  But there’s one thing that’s better than miles: cash.

Cash is generally king.  It’s hard to put a value on miles, but I generally consider them to be worth 1-2c per mile (although they can be worth significantly more if you use them for premium tickets).  On the other hand, most cash back shopping sites pay up to 50% back for purchases, although the vast majority of orders give you back 5-15%.  It works the same was as the airline sites, although the cash back sites are much easier to navigate than the airlines’ sites.

Here’s how it works: Sign up at a cash back shopping site (I’m recommending a few below.) and do a search for what you want to buy.  When you shop through their site, you get cash back.  Simple.  Want to buy something at Macy’s?  Get back up to 6%.  Under Armour?  8%.  FTD?  20%.  You get the impression.  With only one major exception (Amazon), you can get cash back for just about any store you can think of.

Example: You need to do a little shopping at Nordstrom.  If you went to Nordstrom’s site directly, you’d get nothing back.  But if you go to my favorite cash back site, Mr. Rebates, you’ll get 7% back.  Simply go to the site, type “Nordstrom” in the search box and then click on the little box.  It will take you to the Nordstrom site and credit you 7% on any shopping you do.  And that’s it.

[warning]Word of warning: Before using any of these sites, be sure to clear your cookies, which is a simple way to get rid of all the bits of data that previous sites have left on your computer.  I do it each time I access the sites, just in case.[/warning]

There are literally dozens of cash back shopping sites out there, but here are four of my favorites.  Please note: I may get something for referring you to the site, which could be a few dollars or a fraction of a percent of what you spend.  Anything I get comes from the company, not your cash back, so I appreciate it if you use my links.  Thank you!

Mr. Rebates is my favorite cash back site.  It is the easiest to navigate, pays back more than most others and has excellent customer service.  You can cash out every month.  I often use them in lieu of other sites that pay a few percent more but aren’t as consistent.

Big Crumbs is my other favorite site.  The site is also easy to navigate, the rebates are good and customer service is good.  Every once in a while, I have a rebate that doesn’t get tracked, but if I email them, they always credit my account quickly.  It takes up to 60 days before you can cash out.

Ebates.com is the best-known cash back site.  It’s a high quality site, but the others often have slightly higher commissions.  Ebates pays once per quarter.

Finally, there’s topcashback.com.  TCB is almost always among the highest paying, but purchases often don’t track (meaning the site doesn’t record your click-thru and you don’t get credit) and take up to 90 days before they post to your account.  If you’re willing to track purchases diligently, you can make money here, but I’d recommend one of the first two sites that I listed, even if they pay a slightly lower amount.

And that’s it!  For those of you who prefer cash to miles, your holiday shopping just got a little more lucrative.

 

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And now, for something completely different: Mega extrabucks at CVS

As many of you know, around black Friday, CVS offers a huge number of items as free after extrabucks, e.g., but something for $5 and get $5 in extrabucks back.  I did my run this morning for all the free stuff.  It’s an annual tradition for me and I find a lot of amusement in it.  Note: Your CVS may have different items for free after extrabucks (FAE) than mine.  The object is to assemble all the items that are FAE and divide them into lots so that you can use the EB from the previous lot to buy the next lot.  Any items you don’t actually need can be donated to a local charity.

In Boston, this year is a highly efficient run, which means that you will have almost zero dollars out of pocket* if you do it correctly.  Your instructions, based on my local CVS ads, are below.  You’ll need a copy of the ad to follow this email.  The FAE items are on pages 2,3 and the back cover.
The target price is $12.99, which means that the most expensive item on offer for FAE is $12.99.  We’ll call it $13 for the sake of simplicity.  All items you purchase must be bought in lots of $13, so you can use the EB from the previous lot for the next lot.  At the end, you should have about $13 in EB, which equals your input.  Here is the order in which I’d recommend shopping:
1) Buy the glucose reader for $12.99 and receive an EB coupon for $12.99
2) Use the above coupon to buy Rescue and Mycratine and get your EBs
3) Use those EB to buy the Probiotics and both Starbucks cans
4) Use those EB to buy Advil, Total Home, Anti-Diarrhea stuff, toothbrush and Somnapure
5) Use those EB to buy everything else, which total about $13
*Okay, here’s the difficult part.  Not every CVS has every product.  So the instructions may not maintain their integrity if your CVS is missing a couple.  Thus, you should be prepared to change things around on the fly to minimize your out of pocket (OOP) costs.  For instance, my CVS didn’t have some of the medical stuff, meaning that my $13 target price didn’t work.  So my target price became the next highest item, the Rescue at $7.79.  Using that as the target, each lot ended up being about $8 and I ended up with my last lot being $5, so I also bought the $3 toothpaste, which gives back $2.50 in EB.  In total, my OOP came out to just over a dollar, which includes the extra $.50 for the toothpaste.
What you’ll need to bring:
A pen and scrap paper to redo calculations and lots if your CVS is out of any items.
Several copies of the circular, since you will mark up multiples as you rejigger your lots
A sharpie to cross out items, since ballpoint pen ink doesn’t show up well
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A list of SkyTeam alliance members

If you are reading these posts in chronological order, this is the last of our alliance lists.  SkyTeam is the third major alliance and the North American partners are Delta and AeroMexico.

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A list of oneworld alliance members

Here is a list of the airlines in the oneworld alliance.  Note that certain affiliate carriers (airlines that provide service as partners of the larger carriers) are listed separately.  The major US airline in OW is American, although US Airways may join after their merger.

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A list of Star Alliance members

One of my readers gave me a great suggestion, which was to post a list of the members of the various airline alliances on the site.  And while traveling on multiple alliance partners is not quite as seamless as traveling on a single airline, it gets the job done.  The major North American Star members are United, US Airways and Air Canada, although US Airways may depart for the oneworld alliance after its merger with American.  Here are the Star Alliance members:

 

 

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Up to 1,500 free United miles (including an easy 500 for free)

Today, I’m introducing a category that I am going to call “gimmes.”  A “gimme” is an offer where you have to do virtually nothing to get free miles.  The mileage amounts aren’t huge, but they’re free and they add up.

United Airlines has partnered with an organization called MyPoints.  MyPoints gives you their own proprietary points for clicking on ads, making purchases, etc.  They often have very good offers for buying gift cards (e.g., buy a Cheesecake Factory or Applebee’s gift card and get several hundred points).  Points are worth just under a penny per point and can be traded in for anything from gift cards to frequent flyer miles.

Here’s the gimme: Just by signing up at this link, you get 500 United Airlines miles.  That’s it.

If you do make a purchase through MyPoints (There are generally better sites out there for shopping.) within 30 days, you’ll get an additional 1,000 United Airlines miles.  The extra 1,000 isn’t as strong a deal as the gimme because you can generally do better elsewhere for online shopping, even with the bonus miles thrown in.

Note: MyPoints sends several emails per day with points opportunities.  Many of them are simply “Click on the ad and get five MyPoints points,” but if you don’t want to get all their mail, set up a separate email account that you check less frequently.

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Welcome to Milepoint readers!

A hearty welcome to those readers who found me through Milepoint, where I just posted my link.  About this site:

  • This site is set up primarily for novices in the format of “there’s no such thing as a silly question.”  I wanted to be a teacher at one point in my life and, although that didn’t work out, I’ll have my chance here.
  • I hit a number of topics on the blog.  Some are about the programs themselves and some are simple ways to earn a few (or more) extra miles.
  • I try to explain the basics in detail.  I know how frustrating it is to read about ten strategies to get elite status if you don’t even know what “elite status” means.  I’ve been there.
  • I’ll still try to have something for everybody.  For instance, if an offer comes up for free miles, both novices and experts can take advantage of it.
  • If you have an idea or need help with something, please ask.  There’s a “Contact Me” button as well as a comment section for each post.

In short, I’m a little different than your typical blog, since most of my readers are people just getting started.  I look forward to continuing our journey together.

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How to eat your way into an award: Dining for miles

One of my favorite ways to earn miles is at restaurants.  Virtually every airline has a free program that allows you to earn miles for eating at participating restaurants.  The proposition is simple: You simply attach your frequent flyer number to a credit card and earn miles for every dollar that you spend.  Consider it a win-win-win: Airlines sell miles to the restaurants who use them to attract customers.  That’s you, and when you use your linked credit card, you earn miles based on how much you spend.  Each airline has slightly different rules regarding how much you need to spend and how much you earn, but the basics are all the same, since they are almost all administered by the company Rewards Network.  Note that you can only have one airline per credit card, but you can switch it at any time.  And, of course, you can have different airlines on different cards if you have multiple credit cards.  Here are the links, as well as a few of the terms:

Alaska Airlines: 500 mile sign-up bonus if you sign up in 2013 and spend $30 at a restaurant within 30 days of sign-up.  You also need to complete a short review of the restaurant.  You earn anywhere from one to five miles per dollar spent, based on how many transactions you have annually.  The range of offers is found here.

American Airlines: 1,000 mile sign-up bonus if you sign up in 2013 and spend $30 at a restaurant within 30 days of sign-up.  You also need to complete a short review of the restaurant.  You earn anywhere from one to five miles per dollar spent, based on how many transactions you have annually.  The range of miles offered is found here.  Sound familiar?  See, I told you that the basics were all the same!

Delta Airlines: The sign-up bonus is 2,000 miles, although you need to spend $40 within 30 days to be eligible.  The one to five miles you earn have similar qualifications as the above airlines, but you can read about them here.

UnitedUnited spices it up a bit, offering 1,500 miles for each of your first two dines, as long as you spend at least $40 within 40 days of signing up for the program.  That’s a potential, um, er, (whips out calculator) 3,000 bonus miles.  Enjoy your dinner!  Similar criteria to the others for earning levels.

US Airways: Sign-up bonus of 1,000 miles for a $40 dine within 30 days.  Hmm, that’s not so good.  On the plus side, you know the drill now on how to earn points.

 

 

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Administration notes

1) Thanks to those of you who have contacted me.  I definitely appreciate the suggestions, given the “youth” of this blog.

I recently learned that there has been a significant delay between the time that you send your email and the time I receive it.  Several days, in fact.  I apologize for the delay and will try to determine the cause.

In the meantime, you can hunt me down in one of two ways: First, leave a comment to a post.  Or second, email me directly at frequentflyermiles101@gmail.com.

2) One of the promises I made when I started the site is that I would make a note whenever I stand to personally benefit from something, so here is the first example: I added google adsense to the blog.  I’ve set it up so that it’s unobtrusive, but I do make money if you click on an ad.  It’s only a few cents, but I don’t want to draw lines as to “what counts” and “what doesn’t count.”  Thanks for your understanding.

Thanks!

Mike

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