Please note: this post has been edited to reflect changes to certain credit card names, images, and earning structures.
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.
Money? Maybe not. Or at least, not as much as you think. Using some points and credit card benefits, it can be done.
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 Platinum Card® from American Express awards 5X on purchases made directly through airlines. Several cards award 3X on travel purchases or trips purchased directly with airlines. (Some quick examples: Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express® Gold Card, and the American Express® Green Card, some Delta SkyMiles Amex cards).
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.
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 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.
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 and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 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.
#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.
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.
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 Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited can be helpful.
”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.
Remember the Platinum Card® from American Express 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.
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:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (learn how to apply)
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN (learn how to apply)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (learn how to apply)
- Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card (learn how to apply)
While Amex’s Priority Pass benefit no longer includes certain airport restaurants, other cards’ PP Select memberships do.
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.
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