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When booking revenue tickets, you always want to calculate how many miles or points you will earn for flying the ticket – especially if booking a mileage or status run. These days, fares are all over the place and are largely determined by your origin and destination, among other factors. When you are buying a cash ticket, you should always aim to earn as many miles or points as possible – after all, you are spending your money and therefore you should maximize the miles earned. To determine if a revenue ticket is “worth it” for the miles and points earned, we use a metric called CPM or cents-per-mile and through that, we can determine whether or not we are getting a “good” deal or if the ticket is worthy of a mileage run.

What is Cents-Per-Mile (CPM)

Cents-Per-Mile or CPM, is the metric we use to calculate and determine whether or not a revenue ticket is worth the amount of miles it generates for us. This method largely applies to frequent flyer programs that still award miles based on distance flown and not fare paid (and also for status/elite miles).

Why Cents-Per-Mile (CPM) Matters

The cents-per-mile or CPM you pay for a ticket matters – that’s how you know whether or not you are getting a “good” deal on a revenue flight. If you are looking at booking a ticket for a mileage or status run, you should be aiming for a CPM of around $0.04 for the ticket to be considered a good value mileage run.

Airlines price fares based on a number of factors, but the biggest ones are your origin and destination as well as the cabin you are flying. Some markets will always have more expensive fares and other markets will be much lower, therefore sometimes positioning for a mileage run or a better priced ticket could make sense.

Calculating Your Cents-Per-Mile (CPM) on Revenue Tickets

Cents-Per-Mile or CPM is how much a single mile earned will cost you. To calculate your CPM, you use the following formula:

cost of the revenue ticket / total miles earned (including any cabin or elite bonuses) = cents-per-mile or CPM

  • for example, if your ticket cost $1,000 and you earned 15,000 miles for the flights…
  • … your CPM would be: ~$0.07, as in you are paying 7 cents-per-mile ($1,000 ticket cost / 15,000 miles earned)

You can easily calculate the amount of miles earned from a ticket before purchasing it based on your frequent flyer program, cabin flown, and any elite bonuses.

The above example would not be a good mileage run fare because you are paying more than $0.04 per mile.

Calculating the Value of Your Award Ticket

You can also determine and calculate how much value you received from your frequent flyer miles when redeeming them for an award ticket. As always, the best ways to use miles and points is for international First Class and Business Class tickets – as that is where you’ll get the most value out of them.

To calculate the value or CPM of your award ticket, you would use the following formula:

(cost of revenue ticket – taxes/fees paid on award ticket) / miles redeemed = value of your miles or cents-per-mile or CPM

  • for example, if your award ticket cost 120,000 miles + $150 in taxes/fees
  • … and the cost of the ticket in cash was $5,000…
  • … your CPM/value of the miles redeemed would be ~$0.04 cents-per-mile (($5,000 ticket cost – $150 taxes/fees on award ticket) / 120,000 miles redeemed)

In the example above, we are getting an excellent redemption since most airline miles are valued between $0.01 – $0.02 per mile and in the case above, we are getting much more value from our miles.

An example where we would be getting not so great value from our miles would be a ticket that costs 10,000 miles + $6 in taxes/fees or $120 in cash. The value of our miles here would be ~$0.01 per mile, which is in line with what a mile or point could be worth with a given airline, but it isn’t above that – and you always want to aim at receiving more value from your miles than what they are worth.

All in All

The cents-per-mile or CPM metric is a really useful tool whereby we can determine whether the revenue ticket will earn us miles at a good rate or whether we are booking an award ticket and getting more value from our miles than they are worth. Whenever you are booking a ticket or redeeming miles, you should always compare the costs of a revenue vs. award ticket and always calculate the CPM to ensure you are getting a good deal.

If you find significantly lower priced tickets out of other cities, it could make sense to book a positioning flight to take advantage of that better fare – just make sure you do the math on all flights to determine what is “worth it”. Remember that when you are booking cash tickets and especially tickets for mileage or status runs, you always want to aim to earn a lot of miles at a great price.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.