Obsessive Scots fly thousands of miles solely for airline rewards

They take multiple-stop flights across the world before coming straight back.

Sunday, 18th March 2018, 5:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 18th March 2018, 5:38 pm
Racking up the miles can earn first-class perks. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

The bizarre behaviour by the most extreme of frequent fliers is solely to retain their privileged status, enabling access to airport lounges, upgrades and priority treatment and a number of Scots are among those who spend thousands of pounds a year on “tier point” runs.

Air passengers can rack up the equivalent of air miles to eventually reach the coveted gold card “tier” with airlines such as British Airways.

This unlocks exclusive perks that also include fast-track check-in and boarding, and free and discounted business and first class tickets.

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Colin Alexander-Brown on the inaugural Finnair A350 flight to Heathrow.

However, fliers must keep accumulating these time-limited tier points to stay in the club – and for some, retaining their status has become an obsession. The most points can be earned by flying to far-flung destinations like Honolulu in Hawaii, making as many stops as possible en route.

Some passengers don’t even leave the airport before coming back.

Ross Fleming, 33, who has indulged his passion for a decade, spending £4,500 a year, admits he wonders if he needs psychiatric help. But he told Scotland on Sunday: “It’s a necessary evil I must take.”

To keep his gold-card status, trips flown by the Scot, who works at New York University in Abu Dhabi, have included to Auckland in New Zealand via Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne.

Ross Fleming flew to Auckland to preserve his gold-card status.

He said: “I had no reason to go to Auckland – it served no purpose other than to keep my status.”

Colin Alexander-Brown, 43, a police control room worker from East Kilbride, said: “A friend completed what to me seemed like a ridiculous 12 or 14 sector [stop] trip from the UK to Honolulu and back purely to get the points, miles and status. I saw how comparatively little he spent to travel so far in premium cabins and that started the ball rolling.”

Alexander-Brown once attempted 23 flights in five days, but hit bad weather.

He said of another trip: “It was also a bit of fun – there’s nothing like posting a Facebook check-in from five different airports in one day to tease your friends, accompanied by the obligatory selfies.”

Colin Alexander-Brown on the inaugural Finnair A350 flight to Heathrow.

Michele Robson, editor of website Turning Left For Less, which offers tips for “champagne travel on a prosecco budget”, said: “People become almost addicted to gaining status and earning miles. When you have had a taste of the finer things in life for very little cost, you want to keep doing it. The rewards for status and frequent flying can be very enticing. You can get access to first class lounges even on the cheapest economy ticket.”

A spokesman for British Airways in Scotland said: “We’re delighted to provide our customers with a fantastic loyalty scheme which we know they love.”

However, Ian Paterson, a Glasgow travel consultant who co-authors the Resfeber Travel Blog, said: “It worries me that those who take ‘miles runs’ don’t consider the environmental impact of what they are doing.

“A round trip from Glasgow to New York via London outputs 2.4 tonnes of carbon per economy passenger, according tomMyClimate.org.

Ross Fleming flew to Auckland to preserve his gold-card status.

“With the CO2 target widely accepted as just 5 tonnes per person per year, those who take unnecessary flights are often the people who exceed these targets the most.”