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Should frequent flyer schemes still exist when the climate is in crisis?

Should frequent flyer schemes still exist when the climate is in crisis?

Back when they started, frequent flyer schemes were simple affairs. The premise, first introduced in 1979 by Texas International Airlines, was straightforward: customers who chose to fly with a specific airline would be “rewarded” for their loyalty. Early rewards might come in the form of perks or special fares for frequent customers, but this quickly evolved into air miles, which could go towards the cost of future flights once enough of them had been accrued. The idea was taken up by airlines around the world, in the hopes that offering an incentive would encourage passengers to pick them over a competitor.

Skip forward to 2023 and these programmes have morphed into something much more complicated. Air miles have been replaced by points, with different names, values, methods of collection and stipulations around how you can spend them depending on the carrier or group of airlines (British Airways recently made waves by changing the way Avios (its name for points) are earned from per mile flown to per pound spent). These days, you don’t just earn – or have to redeem – points from or on flights; stay in the right hotel chain, rent a car from the right company and pay with the right credit card, and points can be garnered and used on partner airlines, or indeed spent on a whole host of other travel experiences.

With ever-more complex rules, travellers have to be increasingly savvy in order to make collecting points worthwhile. Entire online communities and websites have sprung up to cater to this new breed of loyalty scheme “gameification”, such as The Points Guy, Head for Points, One Mile at a Time, View From the Wing and Inside Flyer. Website, for instance, is packed with articles advising travellers on how to get more points for their buck, from “How to maximize your rewards earning with the Ink Business Preferred” to “Amex Platinum vs. Delta Reserve: Which card is best for Delta loyalists?”.

Airlines are incentivising a small group of incredibly frequent flyers to take flights they don’t even want, just to get points

Alethea Warrington, Possible

Amid this mind-bending world of virtual currency, airlines have introduced tier points – separate from reward points – to denote just how special a customer is. The more you fly – but, more importantly, the more money you spend – the more…

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