Every week I see a post or a picture in one of the frequent flyer communities of someone celebrating their Million Miler status with one of the legacy carriers. Often the elated and relieved poster will recall countless years and flights it took to achieve the milestone. This is followed by congratulatory remarks, memes, and GIFs from onlookers who themselves recall their personal victory or their current journey towards that goal.
I hope I never achieve it, and I hope you don’t either. I do have an alternative goal to strive for though.
Million Miler Benefits
Let’s first look at what is in store for you from each of the legacy carriers after achieving Million Miler status:
For each subsequent million miles you fly in a program further benefits await. There could be more bonus miles, higher lifetime status, additional gifts, increased recognition and.or the ability to gift status to a companion.
Cost of Achieving Status
To put a sense of scale to flying one million miles, consider that a JFK-LAX transcon is 2,475 miles. That means it would take 401 flights to qualify as a million miler. But even that would not earn you that status since the major domestic airline programs no longer count actual miles flown towards the status.
Only base miles flown count towards Million Miler status for American and United while Delta counts Medallion Qualifying Miles. That’s a big difference as you physically have to fly 1,000,000 miles on a plane with AA and UA compared to Delta where you can earn MQMs on co-branded credit cards or fly expensive fares which earn more than one MQM per mile flown (less than one on select partner fares).
Assume a transcon flight averages five hours in the air, plus two hours on either side for ground transport, check-in, security, and baggage claim. That’s seven hours for each flight at 401 flights is 2,807 hours or just short of 117 days of non-stop travel. Obviously longer flights with less ground transport can shorten that time, but odds are you’d have many flights shorter than a transcon, meaning more frequent ground transportation.
Next is the cost of flights. Award tickets do not earn any qualification towards Million Miler status. In the mileage run world, anything around 3.5 cents/elite qualifying mile or MQM is seen as a good deal. The majority of people’s flights for business wouldn’t be in mileage run territory as far as cost is concerned, but let’s assume absolute best case scenario. That means $35,000 in paid airfare is the absolute best case scenario, though I imagine it would be much more.
I personally wouldn’t invest 117 days of my life and $35,000 in best case scenarios in order to receive bottom tier status and a $650 suitcase. The opportunity cost of the time alone compared to lost productivity towards other accomplishments is staggering.
The unknown cost is time away from friends and family in addition to all the other stressors travel induces. I propose a different, more enjoyable status to strive towards for the million mile goal.
Reward Million Miler
A true badge of honor in my opinion would be flying a million miles solely on award tickets. A Reward Million Miler would represent one million miles of leisure travel with friends and loved ones, pursuing passions and exploring the world. It’d take a true reward expert to earn that many redeemable miles without flying excessively, and represents a strategy to truly emulate. Flying 401 transcon routes at saver rates of 12,500 miles would represent 5,012,500 miles redeemed through a single program.
It’s not an unobtainable goal, but represents real effort and loyalty. Earning redeemable miles through partners and co-branded credit cards still yields the airline money. The billion dollar contracts airlines enter with banks to sell miles as bonuses to new card members is a huge cash flow for them. If you drive demand for those miles through an airline’s partners, you’re helping the airline’s balance sheet.
I continue to try and keep my count of lifetime flown miles in each program low as my goal is to pay no more than taxes and fees for plane tickets. I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles over the last five years, maybe even a million. Any time colleagues or friends tell me how close they are to Million Miler status, I proudly show my lifetime flown miles in the four or five figure range on United and American. To me, that represents a Reward Million Miler in the making.