Sunset aerial view through airplane window over wings. Flying at sunset and looking out of the window and enjoying the panoramic view. Travel and transportation concepts

Another week, another story making the rounds, and this one may take the cake. A study commissioned by the UK Government suggests banning frequent flyer miles, or loyalty programs to help reduce carbon emissions and environmental impacts from air travel. Of all the dumb ideas, this is amongst the worst offenders. Here’s why…

Before I dive in, let me quickly reiterate that I believe in climate change, the science behind it and the need to act to curb our impact on the environment. Full stop, no doubt. But this is just straight up dumb, and feels like reading my essays from when I was a freshman in college. Naturally, the study comes from a University in London.

Banning airline miles is dumb for all the following reasons…

Air Miles democratize travel. They are not for one percenters, they are for everyone, and most people earn them without flying. Something those college kids probably haven’t figured out yet. There’s at least 20 ways to earn miles from home.

Only a small percentage of each plane is filled with seats gained by redeeming airline miles, and filling those seats helps to maximize each flight, by helping more people get somewhere without an additional take off and landing. Airlines actually reduce their carbon footprint by allowing people to use miles to send planes off full.

Air miles aren’t the reason 99.99999999 percent of people travel. Most people will travel anyway, and if anything, the only “negative” impact is that miles help people travel in more comfortable seats. But again, those seats are flying, and better that they go filled than not.

Airlines are doing more now to curb their impact than most other travel industries, including creating jet fuel based on trapped carbon emissions, or from waste that already exists. These fuels could reduce CO2 by 70% per tonne. That’s massive. Add in more fuel efficient aircraft, like 787 and A350 which are 30% more efficient than previous models, and that’s big too.

In countries like the UK, which is the country looking at banning airline miles, passengers in higher cabins pay greater taxes and passenger duties, which could be better used to offset carbon impacts. So even if airline miles are getting people upgraded, they’re paying more which the government can do more with.

Seeing the world helps people realize that it needs saving, and many countries are entirely dependent on tourism. The world would be far worse off, less tolerant and more impoverished if tourism shuttered. Air miles help people see the world, not just rich people, all people.

Why not attack shipping, cruises, or any of the more wasteful industries first? I’m not saying there aren’t improvements that can be made in air travel, but it’s not even close to the worst offender, yet is the one in the news because it’s easily made classist.

Sunset aerial view through airplane window over wings. Flying at sunset and looking out of the window and enjoying the panoramic view. Travel and transportation conceptsAnd Of Course, There’s Always A Hypocrite…

Amusingly, my friend Tim from Points To Be Made found that Imperial College London, the University which made the study actually claims that all air miles flown on behalf of the university, be it from staff or PhD students belong to them, and not the individual who flies.

“In general air miles (or credit card points) acquired by a member of staff as a result of official travel are not taxable and are not for personal use.” – Imperial College

That’s an absolutely ridiculous policy, and against everything that airline miles stand for. For a University advocating for the dismissal of airline miles, they seem rather fond of them, and keen to hoard them.

 

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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15 Comments

  1. A dumb idea is better than no idea. At least you are trying. You will come up with a better one.

    More than what the blonde chimpanzee his trope of ass kissers are engaged in. No idea except protect the supremacy of whites through illegitimate means.

  2. Ha ha, the rich irony. More elitist virtue signaling. We must do everything we can to stop global warming unless it’s inconvenient to me personally. LOL!

  3. I don’t disagree that other industries should be looked at, but that doesn’t mean that frequent flying should be completely ignored.
    While I agree that seeing the world is a great thing that opens your eyes, the argument that seeing the world shows you what needs saving doesn’t hold up. If you fly once in a while, you still see what needs saving. If you are flying 2,3, 10 times a month, does that really open your eyes more.
    The fact of the matter is banning frequent flyer programs would decrease flights. I’m not saying I like the idea, but the premise is sound. I think it would horrible government overreach, but it would decrease travel. No more mileage runs, no more flying to Tokyo for the weekend etc. Yes, it would lead to more class segregation by not allowing people to fly as much or as often, but these programs already enforce that given that there are lots of persons who cannot obtain credit cards to get the “free” miles. We would all be paying for our trips and have to pick many fewer places to go.

    You agree with the premise of climate change being real so we need to do something to help fix it. Flying less helps whether those of us who love travel want to admit it or not.

  4. On the contrary, I can’t support this idea enough. Think of how many air miles are generated by non-flying means. And I agree – let’s talk bout cruises before we talk about Airlines.

  5. Every climate change model predictions created in the last 20 years has been wrong. Man made climate change is not even a theory. It is still at the hypothesis stage. It becomes science once they create a theory that can be proven. I learned scientific method in 3rd grade,

  6. I do think that banning FFPs is not the way to go but I still pause and think about the science behind it. Did the original study have reliable measurement of the impact? It is usually difficult to isolate these impacts scientifically. but I am also disappointed that you didn’t cite or quote some statistics at least…I feel like you are arguing based on how you feel about this issue, rather than based on some reliable statistics or science.
    1. What is the percentage of miles earned by not flying, world wide, not just USA?
    2. Award miles maximize flights??? The argument is to reduce unnecessary flying, so instead of filling those seats with award tickets, maybe airlines should reduce the capacity and replace with smaller airplanes, which might create less ~CO2. In any case, filling seats, even it is for free, just carrying your weight and luggage can create more ~CO2 than not filling those seats…
    3. Where does this 99.99999% come from? I do feel like we fly at least partially because of status, and FFP certainly makes me feel like taking more flights is joyful. It is hard to measure the world without FFPs because there is no counterfactuals…
    4. Your tax argument is a bit misleading. First, why create a problem and try to solve it with money you created from the problem? Usually in this case you would need more money to get back to the original situation. Mind you, some problems are not reversible even by money. And there is no guarantee that governments would use that money for environmental causes. It could be pocketed by politicians. All I am saying is it is better not to create the problem if you can do so, instead of trying to solve it with money later
    5. I certainly agree with the last two points but doesn’t mean we should not reduce air travels.

  7. Yes… if you didn’t push back on this, you’d be a fool because your life (and income) is based on getting air miles. But that doesn’t mean that any of your rebuttal actually make sense.

    “Air miles democratize air travel”: Yes, what the planet needs right now is to encourage even more people to fly. Not! But the opposite is on the way: it is going to have to cost frequent flyers more and more per flight each year if we are going to marry reality with human survival on the planet 😉

    “Airlines actually reduce their carbon footprint by allowing people to use miles to send planes off full” : a full plane weighs more than a half-full one, so it will have more carbon emissions. Maybe you are talking about carbon footprint “per person”? (which is an airline strategy to hide actually increasing overall emissions).

    “Airlines are doing more now to curb their impact than most other travel industries” : Keep drinking the cool aid. The airlines are running scared and doing everything they can to reduce emissions PER PERSON. Not TOTAL emissions. Do you think any of them seriously are trying to fly LESS planes? If so, you have misunderstood capitalism.

    This post smacks of total denial, but the wheel is turning my friend. Why not switch to pushing for the concept frequent flyer miles on trains (in countries where trains function, i.e., not the US) and get out while the going is good?

    1. “Air miles democratize air travel”: Yes, what the planet needs right now is to encourage even more people to fly. Not! But the opposite is on the way: it is going to have to cost frequent flyers more and more per flight each year if we are going to marry reality with human survival on the planet 😉

      Travel is fundamental to many world economies, and the human impact of virtually every method of transportation is worse, when broken down per traveller. Rail is your only cling to, and that’s not getting you across an ocean.

      “Airlines actually reduce their carbon footprint by allowing people to use miles to send planes off full” : a full plane weighs more than a half-full one, so it will have more carbon emissions. Maybe you are talking about carbon footprint “per person”? (which is an airline strategy to hide actually increasing overall emissions).

      Well, you clearly aren’t a pilot. The fuel load required between one and the other is minimally different, and in terms of maximizing each journey, thus reducing the need for more journeys, this is crucial.

      “Airlines are doing more now to curb their impact than most other travel industries” : Keep drinking the cool aid. The airlines are running scared and doing everything they can to reduce emissions PER PERSON. Not TOTAL emissions. Do you think any of them seriously are trying to fly LESS planes? If so, you have misunderstood capitalism.

      They all want to save money on fuel, and biofuel flights have already successfully taken place. It’s only a matter of scaling up.

      This post smacks of total denial, but the wheel is turning my friend. Why not switch to pushing for the concept frequent flyer miles on trains (in countries where trains function, i.e., not the US) and get out while the going is good?

      You stick to your trains.

  8. In total the Imperial report contained less that 78 words on Frequent Flyer programmes. The UK Press just love to focus on it because flying is a class issue to many people.Their focus instantly turns to City Workers and the 1%.

    From beginning to end the wide-ranging Imperial report is garbage, and you’re right Gib: the Imperial policy on air miles is ludicrous given the HMRC specifically rules out Air Miles as a work benefit (EIM21618), so Imperial can’t excuse such a ludicrous clause as a tax-disclaimer – it simply isn’t necessary.

  9. Self serving post aside, banning frequent flyer miles is not smart. I take my current situation, just 20 status credits shy of retaining Gold for QFF. Basically $150 gets me all the benefits of that membership level. So it is worth far more than $150 to me. The lounge membership itself is worth it. Thateaves me with flying somewhere I don’t need to fly to maintain my current level.

    As a happy medium, why can’t I buy the flight, not fly and still get the points and status credits. Or better still, just buy the status credits. When Qantas introduced buying miles, the number a member could buy was limited to a percentage of the points they currently held… The same thing could work in this instance.

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