A mileage run…on Southwest?


I am not a mileage runner. Most of my travel is award travel, and most often in business class, so the idea of paying to fly somewhere and back for no reason other than miles doesn’t generally appeal to me (and even less so to my better half, who would rather not hurtle through the sky in a metal tube more often than necessary). However, a recent Southwest status match promotion has me considering a mileage run. Am I crazy?

Southwest A-List Status Match

Status Match Promotion

Back in June, Stephen wrote about a promotion Southwest is (still) running offering to match status from other airlines to A-list status (See: Status Match To Southwest A-List, Extended 12 Months With Qualifying Activity). The short story is that if you have status on another airline, you can submit to receive a match. Once matched, you can enjoy Southwest A-list status for 90 days. If you fly 3 round trip flights (or 6 one-ways) during those 90 days, status is extended for a year. The catch is that previously-booked flights do not count. Only revenue flights booked after receiving confirmation of the match count (flights booked with Rapid Rewards points do not count). See the post for more information about how to register for the match.

Round trip #1, FTU

When this match opened in June, I knew I’d be traveling to FTU DC within 90 days, but I had not yet booked my flight. As Southwest flies into both BWI and Reagan airport, I knew I could pick up an easy round trip there.

A trip to Cabo came together

Last week, I wrote about the fact that I was looking at booking a stay at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos all-inclusive property in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico (See: Hunting for the best redemption: Hyatt, UR, or Citi Prestige?t and The two better methods to book the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos). The impetus of that trip was that I had last year booked cheap Delta lie-flat award flights via Virgin Atlantic to California and back (I used 18K Membership Rewards points each way — see this post for more on that). We decided that we would fly from Los Angeles to Mexico to make the budget easy by staying at an all-inclusive.

While our flight to California lands in LA, we’re flying back from San Francisco. We have family that we would like to visit near San Francisco in San Jose, California. We decided to fly from Los Angeles to San Jose del Cabo and then from San Jose del Cabo to San Jose for a couple of days before leaving.

As my wife and I each have a Hilton Honors Aspire card and we each have a Business Platinum card from American Express, we have some airline credits to use up this year ($250 each on the Aspire cards and $200 each on the Business Platinum cards). We have selected Southwest Airlines as our preferred airline, so it makes the most sense to fly to and from San Jose del Cabo with Southwest. See our resource page Amex airline fee reimbursements. What still works? for more on why this was an easy call.

That gives me 4 one-way flights (round trip to BWI and then Los Angeles to Mexico and Mexico to San Jose, California).

Which leaves me 2 one-ways short of a year of A-list status….

Do I really want A-list status?

Of course, my next question was: do I really want a year of A-list status? My answer to that is easy: No.

Don’t get me wrong — the benefits of A-list status aren’t bad. You get priority check-in and priority security lines where available. In some cities, that can save a lot of time. While I know most bloggers are strictly carry-on only, my family is a checked-bag-every-time crowd….as are many Southwest passengers since everyone gets 2 bags for free (which causes said long lines). Skipping those lines for dropping off bags would be nice. Priority boarding saves you from wasting money on Early Bird Check In, though so does having a baby since family boarding is between Group A and Group B (so this won’t really be a perk for me for the time being). Free same-day standby might come in handy for me on the way back home from FTU DC as I might get to the airport in time for an earlier flight home. Earning 25% more points on paid flights isn’t hugely important to me since I don’t buy cash tickets all that often.

If I’m not all that interested in A-list benefits, then why even consider “mileage running” this by booking two more one-ways that I don’t really need? Leverage. I’ve currently got Alaska MVP status, but it’s set to expire at the end of this year. According to reports at StatusMatcher.com, Alaska is known to match Southwest A-list status to Alaska MVP. The main benefits of MVP status are a 50% mileage bonus on paid flights and the chance to waitlist for upgrades (though I imagine chances are slim on many routes).

It just so happens that I’m set to fly from New York to Hawaii and back on Alaska early next year. I booked the trip with an Alaska companion code when there was a really cheap airfare sale, so it’s a paid flight. Alaska awards 1 mile per mile flown. That means even without status, I’ll earn about 10,000 miles on my round trip from New York. If I’m able to status match to MVP, I’ll earn an additional 5,000 miles. Since Alaska miles will be much harder to obtain from credit cards after the earning rate on the SPG cards changes tomorrow (8/1/18), those miles are valuable miles to me.

While I don’t often fly on paid flights, I do keep my eye out for great paid business and first class fares on Alaska partners as they can yield a ton of Alaska miles. No Mas Coach recently wrote about how they have more than 1.6 million Alaska miles because of earnings like 625% of mileage flown on some paid international premium cabins. If there’s a sale I can book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or with Amex Membership Rewards, I could potentially use those points to get a flight that comes with a nice haul of Alaska miles.

Having Alaska MVP status isn’t mission-critical for me, but I’d stand to pick up an easy extra 5K miles and I might stumble into another opportunity or two where I could benefit from the MVP mileage boost. And maybe I’ll be able to leverage that status for something else — after all, my MVP status this year is how I got the match to Southwest A-list in the first place :-).

Finding a “mileage run”

Maybe I should more accurately call this a “status run” since I’m not actually concerned with the Rapid Rewards points earned. At any rate…

After the trip to Los Cabos, I’ll be in San Jose, California for a few days. Lucky for me, San Jose is something of a hub for Southwest flights. There are a lot of cheap flights in and out of San Jose.

I probably haven’t exhausted the search on all of the possibilities from San Jose, but the cheapest option I’ve found so far is Burbank, CA, with flights for about $62 each way.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Since we’re visiting family in San Jose who are not only completely unaware of the miles-and-points world but generally not really much into travel hacking tools like Google Flights and Kayak, I’m sure that Aunt Nancy and Uncle Don aren’t really going to “get” why I’m flying somewhere for no reason. Luckily, as you can see above, I found an option where I could sneak out early and get back by lunchtime for $124.

But is it worth it?

That’s the hundred-and-twenty-four-dollar question. Should I fly round trip to Burbank for no reason other than to hopefully be able to get a status match to Alaska in early January?

On the one hand, between my flights to Baltimore, Los Cabos, and Burbank, I wouldn’t even use up all of the airline credits I have for this year. Of course, that’s not really free money as I paid it out in annual fees. So there is some cost here, though the real cost of maintaining this status for a year is only the flight to Burbank. The flight to Burbank involves more than just the $124 price tag though. I’ve got to either have someone wake up at the crack of dawn to bring me to the airport or I’ll need to take an Uber/Lyft/rideshare at least one way. Then there’s the time I would spend flying to Burbank and back — only a few hours, but not worthless.

In exchange, I’d get 10K Alaska miles (assuming this extended A-list status can get status matched to Alaska before my trip next year). I value those Alaska miles pretty highly as I’ll likely use them towards business or first class flights to or from Asia or Australia, where Alaska has some great sweet spots. I think most people would value 5K Alaska miles at less than $124 — though it is certainly possible to get more value when used for valuable redemptions. The possible miles I might earn if I happen to find a great fare in a paid premium cabin on one of Alaska’s partners that works with my schedule and can be booked with other points….aren’t worth much unless a lot of stars align.

In short, I think it’s close to a wash…unless I manage to snag an upgrade on at least one of my segments to Hawaii and back. Then, it might seem like I came out well ahead. That seems very unlikely….but it’s more likely than if I have no status.

Bottom line

If you have a few trips lined up (but not yet booked) and you have status with another airline, the Southwest Airlines status match might be worth considering, and not just for the sake of status with Southwest. If you’re able to leverage A-list into Alaska MVP status, it could turn out to be pretty valuable. Is it valuable enough to consider flying somewhere for no purpose other than picking up status? I don’t know, but here’s hoping that Priority Pass adds a breakfast spot at Burbank airport in the next couple of weeks….

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