What is Mileage and Mattress Running?

by Kevin on August 25, 2013

I love the idea of using reward credit cards — especially those with big bonuses — to “purchase” luxury trips that would normally cost thousands of dollars.

I flew to Europe with my parents in my teens in economy class. I’m not saying it wasn’t a great trip and I’m not saying I’m not grateful because it was an amazing trip.

However, flying coach or economy sucks. Lets be honest. Squeezing a bunch of people into the back of the bus for a 6 or 8 hour flight was pretty miserable. (Then again, we didn’t have smartphones and tablets available back then to entertain us!)

Wouldn’t it be nice to fly up front with your every need cared for? You can with reward miles.

The only problem with relying on reward miles to get your luxurious first class seats or the best suites at hotels abroad is that you have to keep acquiring those miles.

For some people there is another way, albeit probably one that is more expensive, called mileage or mattress running.

When I first heard about it I scratched my head just like I did when I learned about carrying multiple reward cards. But it makes sense for some people.

What is Mileage Running and Mattress Running?

For those business travelers or just extreme travel enthusiasts that love to travel a ton, you can earn a vast amount of airline miles or hotel points plus status in order to get free upgrades by using that company’s services a lot.

A run of either kind — mileage for airline travel and mattress for hotel travel — means you identify a good rate that will allow you to acquire a lot of some or all of the following: points or miles, and flight segments or hotel stays/nights.

For example, to reach Executive Platinum status on American Airlines you have to fly 100 segments or 100,000 miles in a year. That’s a lot, but getting Executive Platinum gets you all sorts of benefits with the airline in terms of upgrades (so you can buy an economy seat and be bumped into business or first almost every single time) and benefits.

But how do you get to 100 segments? Well first you probably travel for business, but what if you only fly 60 segments per year? You’d qualify for Platinum, but maybe you want the additional perks of Executive Platinum.

With a mileage run you identify a cheap fare that generates a lot of either segments, miles or both. Recently there were some great fares from Boston to Dallas to Anchorage, Alaska on American Airlines. You might pay 3.5 cents per mile for 10,000 miles and get 4 segments out of the deal.

That means you spent $350 and some significant time on an airplane just to get closer to status. And hopefully you were able to tie the flights in to an actual trip you wanted to take, but some people literally fly to the destination airport, turn around, and get back on a different flight back to their origin.

With mattress running it is the same concept. The big hotel groups like Hilton, Marriott, or Hyatt might give you status after 40 stays in a year plus points for the nights you stay based on the room cost. Some people will get a great deal on a less expensive hotel within the chain’s group — say a $70 per night hotel — and stay there many times in order to get free stays at the most luxurious hotels in the portfolio. In that case you might be swapping $140 in two stays for a night in a luxury hotel suite that might normally cost $700.

Is Mileage and Mattress Running Worth It?

To the average person, probably not. You’re still going to spend a big chunk of change up front and in some cases just in order to get status. I’d rather take my reward miles and use them to get guaranteed first class tickets rather than crossing my fingers that I would get an upgrade.

Mileage runs or mattress runs could be beneficial to me, but only if I were on the cusp of reaching the next level of status. For example, let’s say you had 52 segments on American Airlines and needed just 8 more to get to Platinum status. That’s just two round trips with a connecting flight. If you could find a great fare not only would you net some more miles on the deal but you would get to that next level of status.

The benefits are great, but they only really help you in getting nicer seats if you’ve paid for the lower level seats. That’s even more money you (or your company) has spent.

What do you think? Would you willingly hop on a plane, fly to a destination, turn around and fly right back just to get closer to status on an airline?

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