Catch me on Radio 4 at 11am in “Inside the World of the Frequent Flyer”

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EDIT:  The programme is now online and you can listen to it here 

If you came to the Head for Points Christmas party in December you may have met Laurence Grissell from BBC Radio 4.  He was – with our permission – looking for interesting characters to feature in a documentary that he was producing.

The finished programme is now ready and will be broadcast at 11am today.  It is 30 minutes long.

This is how Radio 4 is promoting it:

Up in the air with the frequent flyers who’ll go to extreme lengths to achieve airline status and rack up air miles. Are they playing the system – or is the system playing them? Georgie Glen narrates their stories

Many hardcore frequent flyers will stop at nothing to achieve the privileges which go with airline status, planning convoluted multi-leg journeys to maximise their points. It’s a whole sub-economy – a parallel currency which the airlines control, and which the frequent flyers seek to exploit.

The consequence is a life which is spent perpetually in transit, on airplanes and in airport lounges. We hear what motivates these individuals, what they gain and what they lose from spending so much of their lives up in the air.

I recorded a long segment for the programme but I don’t know how much of it has made the finished cut (if any!).

My contribution should be slightly detached because as a family man I don’t have the time these days to undertake the mileage and tier point runs which are at the heart of the documentary.  I do, of course, understand the economics of the process from both the point of view of the airline and the traveller and that’s probably where I will pop up.  Part of the reason for hiring Anika was to let me escape much of the day-to-day review travel that comes with this job – the next stop for her is Johannesburg – in order to spend more time reading “Captain Underpants” to an eager 6-year old.

If you have something better to do at 11am – like, erm, working – you can listen online via this link after 11.30am.

I am as keen as you to hear the finished version.  It is worth noting that Laurence is a keen traveller and was doing mileage and tier point runs himself well before he decided to make this programme, so I am not expecting a hatchet job.

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  1. The occasional voice over (not the narrator) sounds a lot like the lady that does the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class voice.

  2. What's the Point says:

    Interesting 30 mins, but how annoying is the narrator!!!!!

  3. Trevor says:

    OT but I’m doing a budget run to Barbados in April and I thought this was [marginally] interesting. We started in World Traveller. After a while, BA offered an upgrade to WT+ for £125 but only outbound. Took that. I’ve looked occasionally to see if there are any rate changes. There has been. For many weeks the upgrade to the inbound for us both was stuck at £652. Last week changed to £1280. Today it’s £1480. That’s more than upgrading the outbound to Club! As a relative newbie I found this completely wild. I’ll keep checking but I’m guessing any upgrades at a reasonable [for me] cost for departing on 6th April have long gone….

    • Peter K says:

      Prices for flights tend to increase as you reach the departure time, not decrease sadly. I think you are unlikely to get any sort of cheap upgrade now.

      • Trevor says:

        Yes, I agree though some do say that in the last couple of days and even at the counter, if there are empty [in my case] WT+ seats they monetise them as that’s better than flying them empty. We’ll see.

  4. William Kerr says:

    As an avid Avios collector, not an upgrade/tier point “jockey” I found the programme correcly slanted parodying the individual who is status and tier point acquisitive – personally I find this motivation to do with status irritating, small-minded and superficial. The benefit of “working/churning” credit cards in order to acquire either free or subsidised flights through everyday spend is intensely satisfying – with a feeling of getting something for nothing. Nothing to do with a sense of status here. The narrator hit the spot in both her tone and delivery – it was correctly, in my view, mocking the aspiratonal traveller, as though afflicted with a severe case of piles, and unable to be happy with his already priviledged seat. The progamme was both well written and presented.

  5. Cate ⛱️ says:

    I’ve never been interested in airline status so this provides an interesting insight into the thought processes of people who do. It’s also understandable why those who’ve manufacturing no small number of flights are now less than happy being committed to a cost cutting airline.

  6. I quite enjoyed this! I liked the narrator, amusing I thought. “Status” is a strange phenomenon after all – those TP runners….you do find yourself thinking “get a life”. I write this from my upgraded room at the Del Coronado (Hilton Diamond) after having flown to San Francisco BA F -so I’m not dissing the collecting “hobby”, I’m extremely grateful to HfP – but the contributors (not Rob obvs) are clearly hooked and I suspect it is far more to do with making themselves feel important than they are willing to admit/accept.

  7. Master George says:

    I can understand (and have shared) the intense satisfaction of getting to Honolulu/wherever via six cities and back for less than £2k on a flat bed, being plied with champagne all the way. What I can’t understand is why you’d only spend 90 minutes there before heading home. That’s not a hobby, it’s an affliction. It’s a bit like the difference between those who will put a bet on their football team for the thrill and those who will put a bet on whoever’s playing whatever sport whenever they walk past a betting shop.

    • Everyone has different reasons for doing various things.
      Of course I’d like to spend a few days in Honolulu when arriving but the fare needs to include a Saturday night and is only available within a 7 day period to maximise my time status wise.
      I’m only doing it to give me flexibilty of forcing open avios seats on short haul flights as I would personally, and this will probably go against the grain of a lot readers, rather fly BA from Heathrow that Ryanair from Stansted.
      The status does not bother me as I have a fair amount of avios, and my next trip is to HKG in F via PVG but being able to get to Europe, relatively cheaply, using avios is a a priority for me and my family.
      Flying to Honolulu is not something I have to say I am particularly looking forward to but a friend is happy to come and business and F isn’t too bad, seems a good jaunt for a first TP run.

  8. The appeal for me is simple, you can get gold in one holiday if you plan well and that gives you access to gold priority rewards (unlock any seat for double avios) which can be extremely valuable for RFS tickets at busy times, time it right and you get 2 years of gold and 1 year of silver.

    At GGL you get the ability to unlock avios availability for 4 return bookings, for up to 5 people in a 2 year period in any cabin and use any companion vouchers or upgrade vouchers you may have.
    If your travel plans include 3 long haul trips in a given year it’s not too hard to stretch to this.

    I understand it’s not for everyone, and it’s also becoming much harder and more expensive to accomplish but it can add up if your a keen to travel with others and have a large avios balance.

    • + free seat selection on Avios CW /WT+ redemption bookings?

    • Andrew says:

      I flew short haul for work with a colleague and by getting silver status with a Hawaii trip, it meant we could both use the lounge at T5, for about 18 months. Best value ever tbh, as we didn’t need to buy drinks or food at the airport. It made the very short overnight work trip a more pleasurable trip and akin to night out.

      • Andrew says:

        I should add the short haul trips were booked with avios as a RFS, so for £35 each we got a return trip and got to use the lounge due to the TP run to hawaii

  9. Graham says:

    Enjoyed the R4 programme whilst on the M25. Rob and Ian came across particularly well.

    Thought that the ‘Cadbury’s Caramel’ narrator was utterly woeful. However, I guess every audience needs to be pitched to accordingly.

  10. Zooropa says:

    Did I hear one of the guys interviewed as saying “he only pays £1 per TP??” so a CW seat would cost him £140?. I am pretty good at finding deals, but if I heard that correctly, that is utter nonsense.

    Discuss ! 🙂

    • £1500 for a 1500 point run was fairly easy back when LCY JFK was 210 and AA 2-class flights gave F tier points.

      • Zooropa says:

        WOW – never knew that…

        I know the LCY route has gone down to 140 TP’s now, but are AA still offering F points for 2 class flights Rob?

        A good piece by you on the R4 article today BTW ! Keep up the good work.

        • Doug M says:

          No, they call it First, but the booking classes reward 40TP or 140 over 2000 miles. The only true F is on the trans cons from JFK to LAX and SFO, possibly couple of other routes too, but identified by 3 class planes.

        • Lady London says:

          QF has cabotage NY to YVR I think? In the right class this might give a nice return.

    • Genghis says:

      TLL on AY?

      • Doug M says:

        That was 200 for £232 at best as I remember. I think some of the West Coast to Panama come in at less than £1 per TP, but nothing LH does with the current TP structure and GBP exchange rate, or does it?

  11. What a brilliant programme. Really enjoyed it, i’m relatively new to collecting points and have been following this site for a while. I never realised how much effort people put in to keep their teir status. Wow!!


    • Doug M says:

      Have a browse of the BA forum on Flyer Talk.

      • But you’ll find it too confusing and argumentative, at which point we’ll be delighted to see you back here 🙂

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