Researchers recommend banning frequent flyer reward programs

WesJet planes at Merida International Airport. (PHOTO: buenosdiasmerida.com.mx)

Climate change researchers recommend banning all frequent flyer reward programs to cut carbon emissions by targeting jet-setters.

  • A new report commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change, the UK government’s official climate-change advisers, has called for a ban on all frequent flyer reward programs to discourage people from traveling by air so much.
  • Researchers from Imperial College London, who wrote the report, said that just 15% of the entire British population take 70% of all flights from the country.
  • The report also called for an “air miles levy” to punish people who fly long distances, which would target those who rack up the most air miles, rather than people who travel shorter distances.
  • These recommendations were made in an attempt to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

A report commissioned by the UK government’s official environmental advisers is calling to ban frequent flyer reward schemes to discourage people from traveling by air.

In an independent report published by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last week, researchers from Imperial College London noted that about 15% of the entire UK population take 70% of all flights from the country.

The CCC stressed that it commissioned, but did not write, the report. It also added it does “not agree with all the recommendations,” without specifying which ones.

One way to punish this elite group of travelers is to “introduce regulation to ban frequent flyer reward schemes that stimulate demand,” the researchers said. It did not give specifics.

Frequent flyer programs — provided by almost all airlines around the world — are designed to reward and encourage customers for traveling with the same airline, by giving them the option to upgrade their class, or get free flights, if they rack up a certain amount of points.

Some passengers take extra flights to reach or maintain benefits with certain airlines, which is the kind of behavior the proposal would target.

The researchers’ proposal could discourage flyers from remaining loyal to certain airlines or discourage them from flying as much as before.

Airlines would also risk losing out to competitors as travelers lose incentive to stay loyal.

Airlines who partner with banks to issue airline-branded credit cards could also lose revenue, as they currently receive money from the bank for every mile the card user accrues, Bloomberg reported in 2017.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Heathrow Airport near London, Britain, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Heathrow Airport near London, Britain, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

The report has also proposed an “air miles levy” to target frequent flyers while protecting those who don’t travel as much or travel shorter distances.

By placing the levies on frequent flyers, rather than a flat fuel tax, those who don’t fly as often would in theory not be disproportionately affected.

“Aviation has so far enjoyed generous tax treatment despite a large proportion of flights being taken by a small, wealthy segment of the population,” the report said.

“Given that there is a finite budget of carbon emissions allowable if global warming is to be held below 1.5 degrees, the highly uneven distribution of emissions due to flying raise equity concerns.”

The levy would increase according to the number of air miles flown, rather than the number of flights taken, the researchers said. Carbon emissions from one long-haul flight could be higher than those from several short-haul flights.

Imposing an “air miles levy” would “limit rising demand for flying in a way that does not make it inaccessible to lower-income households [and] encourage shift in demand from flying to trains and from long-haul to short-haul,” the report said.

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