Gadling’s guide to mileage running — Elite status and frequent flyer tiers.

Most people know that by subscribing to a frequent flyer program, one can accumulate miles over the duration of several flights, ultimately saving up for a free ticket or upgrade. What many people don’t know, however is that there are rewards for accumulating those miles fast enough – usually over the period of one calendar year. For example, if you earn 25k, 50k or 75k miles in a particular airline program over the course of the year, you’ll be rewarded with “perks” at each tier.

These perks come in a variety of different flavors, from preferred seating to quick routes through security lines to upgrades into first class. That’s right, often if an airline has space in first class and they know you’re an elite member they’ll upgrade you to the front of the jet, where (depending on your carrier and flight) you can enjoy free meals and bottomless drinks.

In addition to the perks, it’s also sometimes worth it to earn the miles that you make on your journey. Take this example: as a top tier member of Northwest Airlines, I get a 125% bonus on miles for every flight I take. So while a flight I might run between Detroit (DTW) and AMSterdam may normally earn 4k miles, I would earn 9k miles. And if I have a TOLedo-DTW-AMS-Barcelona(BCN) round trip flight (like I made last Wednesday), I would earn somewhere around 24k miles. Considering that a domestic economy award ticket costs only 25k miles to redeem, I’ve pretty much earned a free domestic ticket with my international journey.

Thus, booking inexpensive long haul flights can often pay off other perks pretty quickly – as long as the fare is cheap enough. You just need to calculate the price per mile (PPM) ratio. Usually if that’s in the 0.01 – 0.02$ or below range, you’re on the line of effective vs. ineffective. A great tool to do this is Farecompare, where you can sort destinations from your departure city by the PPM earned.

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