Is Mileage Running Legal?

Is Mileage Running Legal?

So, I know what you’re thinking, of course it is, and you’re right. Mileage Running is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t mean that customs agents aren’t going to give you a hard time when doing it.

Over the past few months my international travels have increased exponentially. In the past year I’ve been around the world about 5 times. What’s more, I’m only taking most of these trips over long weekends which means I’m doing very quick turns in each destination.

While there isn’t theoretically anything wrong with this, it does raise eyebrows at immigration checkpoints. Today I wanted to share my recent experience clearing customs during a mileage run. Next, I want to provide a little advice or guidance to anyone considering doing an international mileage run.

Clearing Customs In Oslo

I’m currently sitting in the OSL Lounge in Oslo airport waiting to begin my journey back to the United States. It’s currently 6AM in Oslo and I arrived here just 8 hours ago. When I arrived I was exhausted after about a day of travel. I wasn’t quite ready for the line of questioning that came from the customs agent.

As I approached the customs agent I handed him my passport. He then began with the standard line of questioning:

Agent: ”What is the nature of your trip to Oslo”
Me: “I’m just visiting”
Agent: “How long are you staying for?”
Me: “I leave tomorrow morning”
Agent: “Back to London?”
Me: “Yes, and then onto the United States”

This is where things took a turn. He immediately began questioning what I was doing and why I was only staying in Oslo for a few hours before heading back to the United States.

He continued asking me questions about where I was staying and my plans for my stay in Oslo. As he thumbed through my Passport he noted the Vietnam visa and the recent stamp from Doha.

It was at that point where I laid it out to him as clearly as I could. I took this series of flights this weekend purely to earn miles. The price was right and I took it.

A few moments later, looking perplexed, he stamped my passport.

How To Handle These Situations When Mileage Running

Provided that you’ve done your research regarding tourism visas you should have no issues entering a country during a mileage run. There isn’t a minimum stay with regards to tourism. In fact, I once left customs only to return just a few minutes later because I didn’t want to wait at the airport transit counter.

However, when you’re in front of the customs agent, getting questioned, it’s hard not to think about the fact that they could detain you. And for what it’s worth, getting detained simply isn’t fun.

So, when clearing customs during a mileage run the best piece of advice is to simply be 100% honest. I could have lied and shown the agent my return ticket 2 weeks later (on one reservation) which would have eased his skepticism, but lying to a customs agent is never a good idea. The last thing you want to do is to get caught in a lie and then have to explain why you felt the need to lie.

Whenever a customs agent is questioning me during a mileage run I tend to throw out a few quips about the length of my stay. Usually that defuses the situation. However, if the questions continue I just start explaining how mileage running works. I explain that I found a fare that was so cheap I couldn’t help but take it. I explain how I’m going to earn miles based on the distance flown rather than the price paid. Most importantly, I explain how this trip will help me qualify for elite status. A few minutes into a lengthy explanation the agent’s eyes normally glaze over and the stamp comes out.

Final Thoughts

In all seriousness the key takeaway of this should be that Mileage Running is legal and that you should be 100% honest when speaking to any immigration officers. Lying to a government official could lead to much bigger issues.

I always get a bit nervous when clearing customs. I’ve always had a bit of anxiety when it comes to speaking with a government official. Mostly because I’m nervous that they’re going to detain me.

Anyway, I hope this lessens any nerves you have about clearing customs during an international mileage run. What you’re doing is perfectly legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Anything not normal raises eyebrows of customs agents so just be prepared to explain what you’re doing and have your itinerary handy to show the agent.

Disclaimer: This does not constitute legal advice. Travel at your own risk and have fun!

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