Poll Finds Majority of Frequent Flyers Do Mileage Runs to Maintain Status

By Jeremy Del Nero on 6 January 2014
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A lie-flat bed on an American A321T

Airline status can mean a lie-flat bed instead of coach

Status with an airline or hotel has always been a rewarding aspect of frequent travel, and some travelers wear their status as a source of pride, like a Boy Scout merit badge.  It makes sense then, that some globetrotters will put in extra time, money, and effort to maintain that status.

Although some frequent travelers will reach status benchmarks with relative ease, others may find themselves on the cusp of a milestone late in the year and will choose to do a mileage or mattress run to maintain their elite status with an airline or hotel.  This was the case with Frequent Business Traveler editorial director Jonathan Spira, who knew early on that he would be short on Medallion Qualification Miles with Delta for the coming year.  To maintain his Platinum status, he did his first ever mileage run, during which he traveled from New York to London via Los Angeles.

To find out how many frequent travelers do this, we partnered with FlyerTalk, the world’s largest online travel community.  Between December 16 and December 31, we asked our readers if they did a mileage or mattress run and whether or not, in the remaining two weeks of the year, they had plans on sneaking in last minute flights or hotel stays.

The survey’s results found that a majority of frequent flyers (60%) did in fact do a mileage run in 2013 to maintain status, while only a quarter (25.3%) said they did a mattress run.  A subset of both groups, 16%, said that they did both mileage and mattress runs in 2013.

A quarter of those surveyed said they intended on doing a mileage run in the last two weeks of the year, although only 13.7% said a mattress run was in their immediate future.  Just 5.3% said they would do both before 2014.

The disparity in the number of people who do mileage runs versus mattress runs may reflect that airline status is more sought after or highly valued, or that it’s far easier to reach and maintain status with a hotel group.  Compared to airline status, hotel status is handed out as if it were candy.  In addition, travelers can earn points and stays at the least expensive hotels within a chain or group, which could be as little as $40 or $50 per night, which are then redeemable at far more desirable locations.  This is something that doesn’t translate over to the air travel world.

However, mileage and even some mattress runs may not necessarily be convenient.  Most if not all travelers would prefer to, and indeed do, reach status benchmarks organically through business travel throughout the year (in many cases with a client or employer footing the bill), but it’s a testament to the benefits that come with status that a frequent flyer will go out of his way to ensure his continued status.

But that raises the question; just how far out of his way will a frequent traveler go to reach those benchmarks?  While it’s beyond the purview of this article to discuss this in depth, each frequent flyer (or frequent guest) has to determine the value he seeks from a particular loyalty program in order to determine how much of that time, effort, and money to devote to it.

Some frequent travelers weigh the cost versus the benefits and opt not to do a mileage run.  Henry Feintuch, CEO of a technology PR firm based in New York, who was short 2,012 miles in 2011 for 2012 Premier status with United Airlines, settled on a $480 flight from Newark to Fort Lauderdale that gave him 2,146 miles and allowed him to reach his goal.  For 2014, he needed 5,000 miles but was only able to find flights that cost $850 or more and this would have allowed him only to maintain Silver status with United, not Platinum, so he ultimately decided to forego the mileage run. “It was a coin toss at the end,” said Feintuch.

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