Segments are credits an airline gives to your Frequent Flier account for every leg of a journey you fly. Airlines give segments to help passengers who fly a lot but fly short flights. Such passengers may fly even more than some 100k fliers, but their miles do not add up. Segments only have relevance for Elite Status qualifucation and add no value towards redeemable miles.
Elite Status Qualification
For every Elite Status level airlines have two ways to qualify. One is the traditional way to qualify – with Elite Qualifying or Status Miles. The alternate is to qualify with segments. Typical Elite Levels are Silver, Gold and Platinum (or their equivalent). I discussed these in detail in my article on the How and Why of Elite Status. Qualification via Status Miles is typically at 25,000, 50,000 and 100,000 miles respectively for these levels. These status miles, of course have to be earned in a single year (calendar or rolling window). Qualification via segments is typically seen at 30, 60 and 100 segments flown in a year.
As I mentioned in the intro paragraph, this qualification criteria is specifically designed for short haul commuters. Even at the typical 500 mile minimum that such fliers may earn ore flight leg, even after 60 legs flown, they are only at 30,000 miles or just over half way to Gold. With segments, they would be qualified Golds.
For such fliers, adding segments can make the qualification much easier. On most routes, airlines usually have same or similar prices for non-stop flights, as they do for one-stop routes. But the routes with a stop count as two segments each. I know someone who commutes regularly from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). This is an approximately 600 mile flight. They instead fly via LaGuardia (LGA) in New York. This gives them four segments for a round trip. After 15 round trips, they are qualified as Golds. The Status miles earned are 30,000 (2,000 per round trip). With miles only, they would be a Silver, but thanks to segments, they are Golds. This person does this enough every year to qualify as a 1k on United.
Where there is Status to be earned, there are runs. And yes there are segment runs. I have seen a segment run go: DCA-CLT-MCO-IAD-PHL-LGA-BOS-DCA in a single day. That is seven segments. I know there are crazier runs done by people. Just look at the Mileage Run forum on FlyerTalk.
Personally, I intent to always qualify on miles. I would rather do a Mileage run from Washington DC to London, spend the night in one of the beautiful hotels in London City Centre and fly back, than board and deplane from six flights, always worried about missing the next connection.
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