30,000 miles to nowhere. Hacking companion mileage runs


Background: Currently, there’s a one time opportunity to get top tier AAdvantage elite status (Executive Platinum) by enrolling in and completing the US Airways Preferred Status Trial.  For fun, I decided to go for it and I know that many readers did too.  Follow along through this series of posts, or on Twitter search for hashtag #30Ktonowhere.  For additional background, please see: The last great mileage run.

US Airways Companion Certificates

Remember these things?  Those with the Barclaycard US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard received one of these certificates each year.  While this benefit goes away in 2015, many cardholders still have active certificates.  Since I have two US Airways cards in my name, I have two certificates.  One requires booking flights by the end of this year and competing travel by 3/31/2015.  Another requires booking flights by 4/30/2015 and completing travel by 7/31/2015.

companion mileage runs

Here’s the key awesome thing about these certificates: both the primary ticketholder and their companions earn full mileage and elite credit.  This means that flights booked with these certificates should count towards the US Airways Preferred Status Trial (source: Jeanne at Heels First Travel).

Here are a few key facts about the certificates:

  • Valid only for roundtrip coach-class travel within the contiguous 48 United States or from the contiguous 48 United States to Canada.
  • Blackout dates exist.  Near term blackout dates include: December 19,20,26,27,28; January 3,4; Feb 13.  There are also blackout dates for certain city/date pairs.
  • Minimum 2 night stay required.
  • Certificates are valid only on flights operated by US Airways and US Airways Express.
  • You must call to book and pay with your US Airways MasterCard.
  • Primary ticket must be $250 or more.
  • You may add up to two companions for $99 each, plus taxes and fees.

Using the certificates for mileage runs

The hard part will be finding two friends from the same area to mileage run with.  The harder part will be finding travel dates that work for everyone.  Ideally these friends will also have their own Companion certificates to share.

The next step is to find cheap, long distance flights that meet the certificate requirements.  An easy way to do that is to use Google’s Explore flights feature: google.com/flights/explore.  Put in your starting location and filter to Oneworld flights.  Then, look for cheap long-distance flights within the contiguous United States or Canada.

companion mileage runs

For example, looking at flights from Washington DC, I see cheap OneWorld flights are available to Los Angeles:

companion mileage runs

While the best price of $231 is too low to qualify for the Companion Certificate (which requires fares of $250 or more), there are likely to be other choices that are slightly more expensive.  I clicked through to Google Flights and filtered to US Airways flights (since AA operated flights won’t qualify for the Companion Certificate).  Realizing that I need a two night stay in order to use the certificate, I played with the dates a bit to find the best fare/combination. Amazingly, I found a perfect sweet-spot flight at $251:

companion mileage runs

In real life, though, the perfectly priced flight might not work for your schedule, so let’s look at a more realistic option.  Playing around with dates some more, I came up with this flight for $292 transiting through Philadelphia on the outbound and through Phoenix on the return:

companion mileage runs

According to Great Circle Mapper, the round trip flight is 4860 miles. However, since two of the segments are less than 500 miles and each will earn 500 miles, the total miles accrued for this trip should come to 5400.

companion mileage runs

Math time

Let’s assume that you would bring along two companions and that each would cost about $130 (after taxes and fees) for a total charge of $552 for all three passengers.  Given that, we can work out the price per mile:

  • 3 passenger cost: $552
  • Per passenger cost: $184
  • Preferred Qualifying Miles earned per passenger: 5400
  • Cost per mile: 3.4 cents

While it is occasionally possible to find mileage runs that cost less than 3.4 cents per mile, it is fairly rare these days.  The ability to easily book a flight at this price per mile at just about any time, is fantastic.

Dealing with the 2 night stay requirement

Companion tickets require a minimum stay of two nights.  That requirement appears to rule out doing “same day turns”.  In other words, it appears that it would be impossible to use the certificate to fly across the country and back in one day.  There is, fortunately, an easy workaround.  The trick is to have two companion tickets at your disposal.

Lets say you want to do two separate same-day turns on two separate weeks.  The trick would be to book two interlocked round trips.  For example, if you wanted to fly from DC to Los Angeles, you could book something like this:

Round trip 1:

  • Jan 22 DC to LAX, arriving LAX at 10:30 am
  • Feb 5 LAX to DC, departing LAX at 2:10 pm
  • Total price (at the time of writing): $252

Round trip 2:

  • Jan 22 LAX to DC, departing LAX at 11:45 am
  • Feb 5 DC to LAX, arriving LAX at 10:30 am
  • Total price (at the time of writing): $251

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