Miles Off Target – The Problem With Air Miles

I’ve read lots of blog posts explaining how to travel for less using air miles. It’s a tip you find regularly on travel blogs. Most of them miss some key points  however and I would argue, could mislead people into bad decisions. I hope this post helps people avoid that.

Now, I’m not claiming to be the only authoritative voice on the topic of air miles but I have my own personal experience to draw from, as well as working with hundreds of clients within the travel industry who are attempting to achieve various goals using air miles.

Here, I want to present an alternative view: My first point is that air miles programmes are designed by the airlines to get you to spend more with them, be loyal to them and for them to make higher profit margins. This is always my starting point for thinking about these programs. I’ve seen people take out credit cards with uncompetitive rates just to earn a few air miles. I’ve seen people book flights they could have got for less from a different airline because they wanted to earn a few more points. These are points we don’t often hear about but are far from the worst point when it comes to frequent flyers.

One of the most troubling trends that the air miles culture has been responsible for is the ‘miles run’. A ‘miles run’ is when someone takes unnecessary flights just to earn air miles or tier points. Think of the environmental impact of that for a second. This is the behaviour that these points schemes encourage. If you think I’m exaggerating, here is a whole section of a frequent flyer forum devoted to just this subject.

Air Miles = The points you earn from the flights you take to spend on benefits. For example: Spend miles on an upgrade. 

Tier Points = The points you earn to elevate your status up the ladder of the milage scheme. For example: Bronze/Silver/Gold Member levels. 

One such example of this practise: I booked a man to fly from London to Dublin, back to London, to Miami and then to New York. Oh and then back via the same route. The guy genuinely wanted to go to New York but what a wasteful way to do it. He did it to get around 2.5 times more points that a direct flight would have provided and increased his carbon emissions by around the same value. The flights cost the same as the direct flight, so there wasn’t even a financial incentive to do it. If this example is something you would do, then you might be the very worst of the travel industry. I write this here not to tell people how to do it but to ask those who are already doing it to stop.

Now consider that just one return flight from London to New York is more than each persons allocated carbon target per year, based on what governments have agreed internationally. If you are flying more than that, they you are reliant on using poorer people from poorer countries who don’t fly, to balance out your personal emissions target. Not only are third world countries getting the worst deals economically but they are saving the planet whilst they do it by not using as many flights, owning as many cars and consuming at the same rate as the first world.

co2 emissions per capita
co2 emissions per capita

Above, we see that the USA, Canada, Australia and the Middle East are the worst offending areas per capita with around 15-20 tons to CO2 emissions per year for the average person. Russia aren’t far behind with on average around 10 tons per person, per year. The average target per person is widely accepted to be around 5 tons per person. Feel free to take a look at your own emissions output using this in detail calculator or this simplified version from the WWF. Of course, I am not suggesting people shouldn’t fly to places, just avoid wasteful and needless flights.

Credit Cards:

Of course, if you need a credit card anyway and you clear the balance in full every month, then you can accrue air miles for free effectively, using an air miles sponsored credit card. This takes good financial management from the card holder however and as I am not a qualified financial advisor, I wouldn’t want to give financial advice to readers of my blog.

There are hundreds of blogs out there telling you to sign up to miles accounts, credit cards and other methods of earning air miles. Personally, I can’t endorse it and this might be the only blog post you read looking at it that way. I hope that you are able to think about the motives of the airlines who produce these schemes, the kickbacks they are getting from credit card companies and the referral benefits to the blogs who are singing their praises. I hope you personally choose a travel method that doesn’t selfishly destroy the planet for your children too, when travelling around the world.

Air Miles Pollution

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