Last-Minute Mileage Run Strategies for 2019

Sam KemmisNovember 25, 2019
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

You look at your frequent flyer account. You’re close to earning elite status for all the flying you’ve done this year. But you’re a few miles short, and only a few weeks remain in the year.

What do you do?

If you’re like most people, you do nothing, because booking a flight just to earn status seems absurd. But if you’re one of us weirdos who can’t live without the benefits elite status affords, you might want to make a last-minute mileage run.

Finding cheap flights at the end of the year is notoriously tricky — flying during Thanksgiving week or the last two weeks of December is expensive no matter the destination. But don’t fret; we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves to help you nab status for 2020 without breaking the bank.

Use Google Flights’ open-ended search

Google Flights offers a handy search function that lets you find the cheapest flights to anywhere for a given date range. It’s almost like this was made for mileage runs, since it lets you quickly see which destinations have cheap round-trip fares. Simply enter “North America” into the destination field and you’ll see a map like this:

You’re looking for a combination of cheap fares and long distances from your home airport. For example, some flights to New York from Los Angeles were still well under $300 round-trip in December when we last checked.

You’ll have to do some filtering and searching to find low fares offered by the carrier you’re trying to earn status with, but these snapshot views offer a good way to quickly narrow down potential destinations for a mileage run.

Ask the airline for a challenge (or favor)

Airlines want you to earn elite status, since it means more business for them in the following year, so it doesn’t hurt to ask them for a leg up.

Simply email the frequent flyer program and explain your situation, e.g., “I’m 5,000 miles short of MVP Gold status and can only earn 3,000 miles — help!” Sometimes they will offer you a “challenge” to earn status that doesn’t require hitting the usual thresholds. And sometimes, especially if you’ve been a frequent flyer with the program for many years, they’ll do you a solid and re-up your status as a favor.

As always when dealing with hard-working airline employees, kindness goes a long way.

Use your credit card points to book travel directly

Some rewards experts would gasp at this suggestion, since using credit card points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards® to book travel directly is rarely the most valuable redemption option. Yet sometimes it’s the best choice.

Unlike award travel bookings, which don’t earn redeemable or elite-qualifying miles, flights booked using credit card points are effectively cash fares. That means you can get the miles needed for elite status without spending any cash at all.

Why use points instead of cash? At the end of the year, some of us are hesitant to spend more cash or add to mounting credit card bills. Booking flights with points avoids this problem. Also, if you’re looking to use up points or close your credit card account (maybe before paying your annual fee again), using points to book travel in this way is a good way to clear them out of your account.

The bottom line

Falling just short of airline elite status is a shame. Last-minute mileage runs can get you over the threshold needed to earn status, but they’re hard to do in December without heavy spending. Use these tactics to explore mileage run options, but remember: There’s always next year.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.