The controversial proposal to axe frequent flyer points

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  • Richard Carmichael
    Irish surgeon
Could frequent flyer schemes become a thing of the past? (Source: Getty)
Could frequent flyer schemes become a thing of the past? (Source: Getty)

If you fly frequently, you’re likely part of a frequent flyer rewards program in order to reap the benefits of all the time spent being airborne.

However, climate researchers in the UK would have these perks and benefits stripped away from everyone under a new plan to reduce carbon emissions.

In a report prepared for the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) by Imperial College London academic Dr Richard Carmichael, a series of measures were proposed to engage consumers to take specific concrete actions to reduce carbon emissions and encourage governments to facilitate change.

One of these measures – which spanned transport, aviation, heating, and diet as areas where consumer behaviour could be shifted – was to bin frequent flyer programs.

In order to discourage excessive flying, regulation should be introduced to ban “air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivise excessive flying”.

Evidence showed frequent flyers took extra flights in order to maintain their privileged traveller status, indicating that frequent flyer is associated with status and social identity, Carmichael argued.

“Introducing restrictions to ‘all-you-can-fly’ passes and loyalty schemes which offer air miles would remove incentives to excessive or stimulated flying,” he wrote in the report.

Another measure that could also be introduced could be a frequent flyer tax. This would not affect most flyers, Carmichael said.

“Given the small number of frequent fliers, most of the population would be unaffected by the levy and families would not be penalised for an annual holiday in the sun.

“Frequent flyers, who strongly tend to be wealthier and less price-sensitive, would incur increasingly powerful taxation to discourage additional flights.”

In this way, those who flew less would also pay less for the same flight than those flying more often, and some of the money from the tax could go to research into lower-carbon aviation technology.

The tax could be measured according to air miles travelled, and should factor in the larger emissions by first-class travellers which can have seven times the emissions of an economy ticket.

“By factoring in distance, the levy would be more closely linked to emissions and fall more heavily on those polluting more.

“It would also more effectively discourage long-haul flights: as most flying is for leisure, some shift from long-haul to short-haul destinations would be expected, delivering further emissions reductions.”

Carmichael described flying as a “uniquely high-impact activity” and as the “quickest and cheapest way for a consumer to increase their carbon footprint”.

“A lack of policy in this area is likely to be increasingly seen as inconsistent and unjust and risks damaging public engagement with climate action.”

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