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Opinion: Spend-Based Loyalty Programs Bring an End to the Mileage Run

An Air Canada Airbus A321 painted in the Star Alliance livery in Los Angeles. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

This week, Finnair announced that it would be moving the company’s loyalty brand to a spend-based model. This adds to the list of Airlines that have moved to the spend-based loyalty model. This announcement further demonstrates that the days of doing pure mileage runs are all but in the past.

Mileage runs are a weird quirk of the airline industry used by point hackers and business people that value the top-tier status that they use to get premium benefits that the world’s airlines offer to the very top of the elite spectrum. Typically a mileage run takes place in the later months of the year when a traveler may not be eligible for their current level of status for the following year. My personal longest mileage run began in Los Angeles saw me fly to New York then on to Houston followed by Rio De Janeiro then back to Houston and finally San Francisco. This trip allowed me to maintain top-tier status with my chosen airline and, while mildly excessive, was similar to what hundreds if not thousands of frequent fliers do every year.

Are Mileage Runs a Relic of the Past?

Spend-based frequent flier programs are becoming all too frequent and may very well end people’s desire to mileage runs. Having to spend $10,000 dollars is definitely a lot harder for most people than just spending a weekend on an airplane in economy racking up miles. These were the weekends that I got to fly with my dad to maintain his status and I just thought we were going to have a cool weekend of flying.

These days I’m sure you’re wondering why anyone would care about racking up status but as a trip reporter that spends 80 to 90 days a year on airplanes and in airports the luxuries that having top tier status with an airline in an alliance is incredibly helpful. From lounge access to upgrades, it helps like nothing else can. It allows one to get a bit more rest and should the worst happen and your flight gets canceled, you have a dedicated telephone number to call and get things figured out.

Spend-based loyalty programs are inevitable and eventually most airlines will adopt the program. With that, I’m sure the number of status holders will drop quickly. Airlines need to make money but status was a way for airlines and frequent fliers to acknowledge each other but if a single roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to London can get you Platinum or very near to Platinum status with United, is it really about loyalty?


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