Mileage Runs I Have Known

A mileage run is this ridiculous idea that you buy a plane ticket near the end of the year and fly somewhere for no good reason, all so you can move up to the airline’s next level in their frequent flyer program.
At this time of year, the skies are full of frequent flyers making pointless cross country trips just to preserve their exalted airline status.

If you think it’s silly, I won’t argue.

I’ve been pretty close to Air Canada Super Elite a few times – which requires you to have flown 100,000 miles or 95 segments in the previous year.

That’s a lot.

But it seems to be worth it if you fly frequently – it’s a level where Air Canada seems willing to help you if there’s a problem. Super Elites get to use Air Canada’s concierge service, which gives you a supersecret phone number you can call for problems, and sometimes the concierge will meet you at the airport and sort out a problem on the spot. I have occasionally had some travel snafu where I’ve missed or almost missed a connection, and the Concierge will often be standing right there with your new boarding pass, or even better, they’ll open some secret doors and hustle you through the airport via a mysterious shortcut if you’re tight on time.

My favourite Super Elite perk is that if you manage to use some of your upgrade points to move up to business class – and every Air Canada traveller gets upgrade points, it’s just easier for Super Elites to turn them into actual upgrades – the flight attendant takes the biz class dinner orders in descending order of airline status. And everybody up there knows it. Whoever is the top-ranked flyer on this flight gets their first choice of chicken or fish. You can easily get caught up in looking around and thinking, hey, I’m number 3 out of 12, that’s not bad, but who are those other two people? What’s their story?

I have done a lot of travel for work over the past 30 years and have a little extra bonus status – I’m an Air Canada Million Miler. That bumps you ahead of the normal Super Elites when they take the dinner order. So that’s nice. Air Canada even sends you a model airplane with your name on it when you hit that level. They have other perks at two million and three million miles. I don’t think I’ll make it up there before retiring.

(And you probably think a million miles is a lot, but my just-retired second level manager finished his career with seven million miles on American.)

It’s hard to explain but once you’ve experienced Super Elite service, you’d really like to stay up there. I’m sorry. I like it. I travel a ton for work, and this makes it a little more bearable.

Everything about air travel is pretty miserable, and I wish they’d treat every passenger with respect (and a bigger seat) but at the moment that’s not how it works.

So anyway. Here are some dumb pointless mileage runs I’ve done. (Maps are from one of my favourite web sites, the Great Circle Mapper)

2011 Mileage Run


In 2011 I was at 90 segments mid December and started scrambling to find the cheapest possible 5 segment itinerary on Air Canada or one of its partners (which at the time included USAir.) Wound up doing this out of Buffalo. A quick trip to Salisbury, Maryland for lunch, and right back.

first flightOn the first segment from Buffalo to Philly, I took a stab at the sudoku puzzle in the inflight magazine, but messed it up and wrote a note of apology to the next passenger.

On the fifth flight from La Guardia back to Buffalo, I thought I’d take another shot at the same puzzle, and opened up the inflight magazine to try again, only to see a messed up puzzle and this note of apology.

IMG 0121



In 2016 I was in the same boat. 5 segments short. A quick hop from London to Montreal and back. Much to the amusement of my family in London. Explain to us again why you are going to Montreal?


Both of those were completely pointless itineraries where I never left the airport. But sometimes you can make an actual trip out of it.


In 2017 I was a few hundred miles short, and Cathy and I made a quick hop down to Dallas for some actual sightseeing – including visiting the fascinating Texas School Book Depository museum. And this is one time that the concierge service really paid off.

Our connection coming home through Montreal was delayed, and I was worried we’d miss the flight to Toronto but much to my delight, the Air Canada Concierge was standing at the gate as we got off the plane.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hayman? Come with me.”

He managed to open a few doors that probably should have stayed closed, and hustled us past Canada Border Services and to the connecting flight.

this is stupid

If you think this is wasteful of time, fuel and money, you are probably right. You have to actually take the flight, you can’t just buy the ticket and not show up….

Airlines are moving towards a model where they care more about how much money you spent than how many miles or segments you flew, but we aren’t there yet. For now, it’s still based on flights. (and in Air Canada’s case, there’s also a minimum spend at each level.)

Sometimes, through some mysterious formula, the airline might let you “buy up” to a certain status if you’re close. I know people who’ve been offered lower Elite tiers. But the formula is a mystery, and although I might gladly take them up on the offer, they’ve never extended it to me.

So my big idea is that if you are close enough to consider a mileage run, the airline ought to let you donate that money to pay for a flight for someone that needs one. But so far Air Canada hasn’t taken me up on that idea.

I promise society that I will keep lobbying for Air Canada to revise this and eliminate the need to take these wasteful flights. If frequent travellers could donate to someone in need, that would surely be a win-win.

surely you’re not doing this again this year



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *