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Rookie Wednesday: Positioning Trips to Start an Elite Mileage Run

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Rene's Points Rookie travel post.

Discovering a great mileage run deal from your home airport or city is always fantastic.

But what if you live somewhere like Omaha, Bismarck, or Casper — and most of the good runs begin in Chicago, New York, Vegas, or somewhere in California?

Take a positioning trip to wherever your mileage run starts!

While not ideal, it may be your only choice. (Don’t forget Adam at Juicy Miles can personalize an MQM or MQD run for you!)

“But that’s more time and money!” you may fear.

Time, yes.

Money? Maybe not. Or at least, not as much as you think. Using some points and credit card benefits, it can be done.

Comfort Plus seats on a Delta Air Lines flight Embraer 175 operated by Delta Connection.

I’ve positioned several times to or from cities such as Las Vegas, San Francisco, San Jose (California), Dallas, and Paris. (Yep, the one in France!) Rarely have I paid money — or at least, a lot of it — for positioning trips.

Here are some ways others and I have been successful, as well as more ideas that may help you!

Paying for Positioning Flights

Miles, points, vouchers, and gift cards all come in very handy when I need to position somewhere. Let’s take a look at your options.

Pay with Money

If you have the money and find a great deal to your positioning city, you may just want to pay out of pocket. I’ve done with this $59 tickets on Southwest. Just remember to use a card earning you a nice bonus. The Chase Sapphire Reserve awards 3X points on travel purchases. The Platinum Card from American Express (learn how to apply) awards 5X on purchases made directly through airlines.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s Priority Pass membership (which still allows restaurant visits) and $300 annual travel credit can save you plenty of money during mileage runs and positioning trips!

Redeem Frequent Flyer Points/Miles for an Award Ticket

All those miles you’ve banked may help you offset the cost of a positioning trip. You can use them for an award flight to get you to/from wherever your mileage run begins and ends.

If you need more miles, remember to transfer them from your favorite airline’s credit card transfer partner. Delta folks can transfer from American Express, United and Southwest from Chase, etc.

Delta SkyMiles Amex Members: Pay with Miles

Delta SkyMiles Amex cardholders are eligible to Pay with Miles. This allows you to apply available SkyMiles (at a valuation of 1 mile = 1 cent) to offset any or all of a ticket’s price when purchased through Delta.

Pay with Miles tickets earn full MQM based on fare class. They earn redeemable SkyMiles and MQDs based the ticket’s remaining cash balance (if any).

So, really, you can earn free (or very cheap) MQM for free while on your way to a mileage run!

Use Points to Book Through Credit Card Travel Portals

Here’s another instance when you can use points to earn points!

When you book flights through a credit card company’s travel portal (i.e. AmexTravel.com), those itineraries are considered paid/cash trips — even when you redeem points

For example, if you have a $300 Delta trip you want to book through Amex Travel and apply 30,000 Membership Rewards points to offset the cost, you still earn full MQM, MQD, and however many SkyMiles your status tier yields.

Yes — you can book Delta trips through Chase‘s Ultimate Rewards travel portal, use URs to pay for the trip, and still earn points! In fact, when using the Chase UR portal, each point is worth 1.5 cents each. So just 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points would buy your $300 ticket!

Remember, Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN (learn how to apply) cardholders receive a 35% Membership Rewards credit when paying with points on an annually selected airline of choice or any first class ticket purchase. (So in our above example, the Amex Business Platinum cardholder would ultimately spend 19,500 Membership Rewards after receiving their credit). This is just one of the reasons I love this card.

Gift Cards

If you purchased airline gift cards with your Amex Platinum or Gold incidental credit, here is a great opportunity to use them! Save money on your positioning flight by applying airline gift cards toward the purchase.

Supermarkets and gas stations sometimes sell discounted Delta gift cards. Remember to use a card rewarding you for your purchases at those stores — such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited. The American Express Gold Card (learn how to apply), and Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express (learn how to apply) receive nice bonuses at supermarkets.

You can save a few bucks on Delta (and other airline gift cards) through marketplaces such as Raise. Be sure to first visit TopCashback to save even more on your Raise purchase!

I occasionally see discounted Southwest Airlines gift cards on PayPal Digital Gifts and eBay, so those may help you position if you live in or near a Southwest city.

 

Bump Vouchers

Delta Air Lines voluntarily denied boarding bump voucher

#Bumpertunities paid for a few of my mileage runs and positioning trips! Delta vouchers earn MQM, MQD, and SkyMiles. Why not let the mothership pay part (or all) of your mileage run or positioning trip?

Fly Other Airlines

I touched on this a little when I mentioned using Southwest for positioning trips. One of my clients flies me Southwest all the time, so positioning runs are a good way to burn Rapid Rewards points.

Passengers board a Southwest 737 at Hollywood Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR) in Burbank, California.

I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Business Unlimited cards; they help top off my Rapid Rewards balance for short, free trips from the Los Angeles area to San Jose, Las Vegas, or wherever close I can start a run.

If you need to position somewhere, shop around.

“Great. But I Need to Stay Overnight Where My Mileage Run Begins (or Ends)!”

You might have a mileage run that starts on, say, a Friday. But time or positioning fare prices (or both) dictate you have to arrive Thursday.

Don’t sweat it.

Consider credit cards like the World of Hyatt card and IHG Premier Rewards Credit Card that come with anniversary nights (limited to certain properties).

Most hotel credit cards have low-ish annual fees (Marriott’s Bonvoy Bold Credit Card has no annual fee) and can easily be worth the welcome bonuses. Those points can be used to pay a hotel night during positioning trips or weekend elite mileage runs.

Chase darn near has a monopoly on the major hotel chains when it comes to transfer partners. So loading up on Ultimate Rewards points with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or no annual fee Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited can be helpful.

Chase Freedom No Annual Fee Credit Card
Turn Ultimate Rewards into cash back or travel points with the no annual fee Chase Freedom credit card — which currently has a killer welcome bonus, too!

If you don’t have enough points for a hotel and must pay out of pocket, remember to save money starting your booking through Rakuten (formerly Ebates), TopCashback, or Dosh.

”So Do I Get to My Hotel?! Ground Transportation Costs Money!”

During positioning trips requiring an overnight stay, I first seek out hotels actually in or at airports. (Like the Grand Hyatt DFW in Dallas, the InterContinental MSP, etc). They’re maybe a tram ride and walk from your gates — and often have dedicated TSA lines for hotel guests.

Entrance to the Grand Hyatt DFW from Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport in Texas.
The Grand Hyatt, which is accessible from the airport at DFW

If you have to leave the airport for a hotel nearby, consider Uber or Lyft.

Remember the Platinum Card from American Express (learn how to apply) has $200 in annual Uber credit that can help with those costs. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s annual $300 travel credit works with rideshares. (Don’t forget Lyft rewards you SkyMiles for each ride with that service).

Some hotels are a 10-20 minute walk from the airport, like the Hyatt Regency LAX and a few other nearby properties.

Don’t forget about complimentary hotel shuttles, too.

”What About Food?”

As much as possible, I try to eat in airport lounges or Priority Pass restaurants (more on that in a minute) when traveling.

Detroit B-C Delta Sky Club
Detroit B-C Delta Sky Club

It can be a challenge, especially with certain lounges limiting access to departing passengers only. Delta Sky Clubs currently don’t have those restrictions and kindly welcome arriving passengers. Receive complimentary access with:

While Amex’s Priority Pass benefit no longer includes certain airport restaurants, other cards’ PP Select memberships do.

Priority Pass Select membership card obtained through American Express Platinum card.

Priority Pass memberships obtained as benefits through cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, Mastercard Black Card, and Mastercard Gold Card are still valid for select restaurant visits.

Barring all that, you may have to pay for airport or hotel food and beverage.

Any Other Tips?

Do you have any tips to save on positioning trips or mileage runs in general? Please share them in the Comments section below! — Chris

This blog series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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