If you’re close to reaching the next medallion tier by year’s end — or perhaps more importantly, if you want to make sure you keep your current status and don’t get bumped down in the new year — it can be tempting to book a trip simply to ensure your status. This is called a mileage run, and it’s a thing. As Delta is the largest airline in the US, we’ve used it as an example here, but the same principles can be applied to any other airline in the country or the world.
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In order to improve your medallion status on Delta, you need to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) or Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQS’s, basically the number of flights taken per year). For instance, you currently need 50,000 MQM’s or 60 MQS’s in a calendar year in order to retain or earn Gold status on Delta.
Note that you also have to have spent a certain amount of Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD’s) in order to qualify. For Gold, you’ll have to have spent $6,000, for instance. Check out the full list here. MQM’s, MQS’s and MQD’s are available for purchase on Delta for up to a dollar per mile, but is it cheaper to purchase actual tickets and earn points that way?
For the purposes of this article, we have primarily focused on MQM’s. We have found that MQS’s and MQD’s usually have a higher threshold, so you’re more likely to reach your goal on MQM’s. The exception is if you travel often and on shorter trips, rather than traveling far and on fewer trips, which is the norm.
How Many MQM’s Can I Earn on a Trip?
Best Case: A Trip For $196 Can Yield Up to 4,000 MQM’s
If you are a Platinum member on Delta, you can sometimes find deals approaching these numbers, that’s less than 5 cents per MQM. However, these seats are only available during campaigns and aren’t something you can count on — especially if your elite status is about to expire and you quickly have to top up to keep your status.
Short-Notice Bookings Will Cost You 7 to 20 Cents Per Mile
When looking for the cheapest flights with the maximum number of MQM’s, we’ve generally found it very hard to find anything under 7 cents per MQM.
Below we will walk you through a few examples we have found, which illustrate how to book trips that yield the highest possible number of MQM’s at the lowest possible cost. But first let's understand how the system actually works and how you can go about looking for your own mileage-run trips.
As a point of reference, Delta will sell MQM’s for cash on their Elevate Your Status page. For a Gold Medallion Member, the price per MQM ranges from 16 to 99 cents, depending on the size of the bundle. In other words, it will cost you two to 14 times as much to buy points for cash than to buy an actual ticket. Clearly, it’s worth flying somewhere instead.
How The System Works
The Difference Between Redeemable Delta Miles and Medallion Qualifying Miles
First, it is important not to confuse Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s), which give you status, with Redeemable Delta Miles, which can only be used for award travel. They cannot be combined.
Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) can be earned when you fly or by spending with Delta SkyMiles credit cards. They are only relevant for your Medallion status and cannot be used for award travel, so they have no inherent value. These miles are reset to zero on the first of January each year.
Redeemable Delta Miles are also called SkyMiles (or bonus miles) and are earned based on how much you paid for your flights. They are earned when you purchase a ticket and can be earned with SkyMiles credit cards, as well. The important distinction here is that these miles can only be used to book award tickets or to pay with miles. They have no expiration date and do nothing to change your Medallion status.
How to Earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) Through Travel
These are the basic rules for earning MQM’s through travel:
The higher the class of travel, the more MQM’s earned: Flying economy will yield fewer MQM’s than flying business.
The longer the flight, the more MQM’s you earn: Delta will take the number of miles flown and multiply it by a certain percentage. For instance, first and business class can yield more than 200%, whereas economy may yield as low as 50% or even 0%.
Each booking class has several one-letter fare-class codes that can yield a different number of miles: It is not enough to know what class you are traveling, such as business or economy. You must also pay attention to the fare class, such as “L” or “S,” which are examples of discounted fare classes and will yield fewer miles.
Different partner airlines will grant a different number of miles: You can earn miles by flying with Delta partners such as Air France and Aeromexico, but these partner airlines will differ significantly in terms of the number of Delta miles you can earn from them.
How to Book a Maximum Miles Trip
So here we go — here at Chatflights we’ve cut through the clutter and the confusion to give you a simple guide with insider tools and tricks for you to book a trip with the highest number of miles possible per dollar spent.
Step 1: Find a cheap ticket with Google Flights.
We have found Google Flights to be a great tool. It provides an easy interface via a map called Google Explore.
Step 2: Find the Fare Class using a tool such as Expedia or a travel agency such as Chatflights.
Once you have found a trip that seems well-priced, you’ll have to find out what fare class it is in. As mentioned above, we don’t mean business or economy, but the one-letter fare-class code that can be seen by a travel agent (such as Chatflights).
If the trip in question is available on Expedia, then you can find the fare class by clicking your way through the booking process until you arrive at the Review Your Trip page and by clicking on Show flight and baggage fee details. As seen below, you’ll find the fare class. In this case, a Delta ticket to Denver from New York in economy class is in fare class E. You will also find the fare class by booking your trip on delta.com.
Step 3: Find out exactly what this trip will yield in terms of miles, and do a bit of simple math.
Using the tool WhereTo Credit, you can find out exactly how many miles you’ll get for your ticket.
Enter the airline, in this case Delta
Enter the booking class, in this case E
Go down the list and find Delta Airlines
Now, armed with your flight number (in this case JFK – DEN at 6:31 PM is DL 2219), your booking class (E) and the percentage miles earning from Where To Credit (in this case 70% if you are a silver member), you next need to find out the distance in miles of your particular flight, for which you can turn to Great Circle Mapper. Upon entering“JFK-DEN,” we find that this flight covers a distance of 1,626 miles.
Using all of the above data, we get 1,626 miles x 70% = 1,138 MQM’s. Since the return leg is identical in distance, your $243 trip to Denver and back from JFK will have yielded 2,276 MQM’s. This means that you will have spent $243 / 2,276 = 10.7 cents per MQM earned for this trip.
The same calculations for the same trip but in first class (fare class Z, which yields 190% for a silver member) costs $717 and yields 6,179 MQM’s, or 11.6 cents per MQM. You will generally (but not always) receive marginally fewer miles per dollar on higher fare classes, but on the other hand, you will receive significantly more miles per trip.
Examples of Other Flights We Have Found – Nothing Under ¢7 per Mile
Here at Chatflights, we can help find the best possible mileage return for our customers. Here are some recent examples of flights we found that yielded a good mileage return.
DISCLAIMER: Oftentimes, these mileage run trips are booked with relatively short notice, since we are usually looking to “top up” before a deadline for our customers. So most of these trips were booked in the near future. For the purpose of comparison, however, the fourth trip below is an example of what you can achieve with a few months’ notice, achieving a better cost per mile than 7 cents.
Delta Comfort+ (W) Los Angeles (LAX) – New Orleans (MSY)
The trip cost $342.80 and yielded 3,340 miles x 140% (Delta silver member) = 4,676 MQM’s
Cost per mile = 7.3 cents
Delta First (I) Miami (MIA) – Seattle (SEA)
The trip cost $1,136 yielding 3,800 miles x 230% (Delta diamond member) = 8,740 MQM’s
Cost per mile = 13 cents
Air France (A) New York (JFK) – Paris (CDG)
The trip cost $1,135.28 yielding 7,270 miles x 210% (Delta gold member) = 15,267 MQM’s
Cost per mile = 7.4 cents
Delta Economy (E) New York (JFK) – Los Angeles (LAX)
The trip cost $196 and yielded 4,950 miles x 80% (Delta gold member) = 3,960 MQM’s
Cost per mile = 4.9 cents
This flight was four months out, hence the lower price.
Chat With Us at Chatflights and Let Us Help You Book Your Mileage Run Trip!
At Chatflights, you’ll be able to chat directly and in real time with our experienced travel hackers. We’ll help you find the perfect trip to top up your miles, or any trip you need yielding maximum benefits.
Finding a trip that will give you maximum points while also fitting your preferences is as much an art as it is a science, and we love this stuff. Our experience shows that we should be able to get you two to three times better value in half the time it would take you to do it yourself.