Airlines Begin Targeting Sustainability With Frequent Flyer Schemes

While sustainability efforts and practices should not be seen as a competitive advantage among carriers, a little healthy rivalry among friends when it comes to the most environmentally educated customers can only be a good thing as far as the planet is concerned. Over the past couple of weeks, two major airlines have announced new frequent flyer benefits to customers ready to make more sustainable choices.

Etihad greenliner
Both Etihad and Qantas are launching new rewards for customers who make conscious choices in regards to sustainability. Photo: Etihad

New Green tier and Conscious Choices

A little over two weeks ago, Australian flag carrier Qantas announced a new Green membership tier for its frequent flyer program. The new initiative will reward members who make sustainable choices – both in air travel and in daily life.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways just today announced its forthcoming Conscious Choices – a range of sustainable initiatives offered by the Etihad Guest program. Both schemes are set to roll out in early 2022.

To qualify for the Green tier, Qantas frequent flyers will need to complete at least five sustainable choices each year across six areas – flying, travel, lifestyle, sustainable purchases, reducing impact, and giving back.

Customers can offset their home and car emissions through the frequent flyer program. They can also install solar panels or make a contribution to the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Benefits will include Qantas points or status credits. These will be handed out in addition to rewards received due to status or as part of the airline’s Points Club.

On a much more encouraging note than the news that as little as 1% of Ryanair passengers choose to offset their flights, Qantas said the initiative had been driven by customer feedback. As many as two-thirds of Qantas’ customers want to be more aware of their impact on the environment and support in leading a more sustainable life.

Qantas will allow its frequent flyers to earn points through taking sustainable actions across six different areas. Photo: Getty Images

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Maintaining or gaining status

Meanwhile, Etihad’s frequent flyer program members can also earn tier miles and additional benefits through choices made while in the air or on the ground. For instance, bringing less baggage onboard or using miles to offset carbon emissions. There are also Etihad frequent flyer miles to be had through offsetting emissions from activities such as driving, cooling one’s home, or cooking dinner.

Members will also be able to purchase sustainable products through Etihad’s Guest reward shop in partnership with Collinson and CarbonClick. There is also the option of using only a digital membership card instead of a physical one. The tier miles rewards will help members maintain their existing tier or upgrade to a new one, Etihad says.

Etihad Greenliner
Etihad has offset all the emissions from its signature Greenliner aircraft for the whole year. Photo: Etihad

The offsetting dilemma

The benefits of offsetting are something that can be debated. Many environmentalists say that offsetting schemes are a distraction, as more CO2 is still being released into the air. Other airlines say that they should only be a ‘last resort’ on the way to net-zero flight.

The jury may still be out on how efficient a climate change mitigation mechanism offsets really are. However, that is not to say that offsetting projects, when done right, do not offer significant benefits.

For instance, Qantas frequent flyer offsets will go towards restoring local inland ecosystems, reforestation projects, Indigenous fire management projects, and the development of wind farms in developing countries.

Meanwhile, Etihad has expanded its offsetting program to support national parks in Peru and Indonesia, along with a previous project in Tanzania. They are all certified by the Verified Carbon Standard and Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard.

Which airline do you think will be next in line to offer more benefits to those willing to travel and live more sustainably?