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‘Frequent Flyer – The Video’ – the best 20 minute film ever made about air miles

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As it is a quiet Sunday today, I thought it was a good time to give this excellent video another push.  Hopefully you may have 20 minutes spare today to enjoy it.

If you’ve never seen “Frequent Flyer – The Video”, then you really should. It has been about 10 years since Gabriel Leigh made it, I think as a graduation project in the US, but it remains a high quality piece of work.

It is a 20 minute piece about collecting airline miles, in particular the people who do it. It primarily focuses on mileage running – taking very cheap or multi-segment flights on crazy routings in order to accumulate miles or status points very cheaply – rather than credit card churning, probably because it makes for better TV.

Frequent Flyer The Video

This practice has historically been very popular in the US because of the ability to turn a New York to San Francisco flight into an 8-segment marathon, on the same airline.  It has become less common in the last couple of years as the major airlines brought in spend targets as well as mileage targets to retain status.

In Europe a mileage run was always a lot more difficult because of the number of different airlines – the best you might manage is, potentially, flying London to Zurich to Frankfurt instead of London to Frankfurt, in order to add an extra Star Alliance flight segment or some extra miles.

British Airways tier point runs are trickier to do these days.  There are still some good options, such as the longer Club Europe routes which earn 160 tier points return and, of course, the good Qatar Airways business class sale deals to Asia which earn 560 tier points return (4 x 140 point segments.)

Anyway, back to the video. The production quality is outstanding, as good as any documentary made for the cinema. Randy Petersen, founder of Flyertalk, is featured, as are some other regular Flyertalk posters, albeit under their real names.

It includes a segment with Steve ‘Beaubo’ Belkin, author of the ‘Mileage Maniac’ book we reviewed recently.  He talks about how he infamously hired disabled Thai rice farmers to fly between Bangkok to Chiang Mai all day, every day, in order to take huge advantage of a Star Alliance promotion! (Belkin is the first person you see talking when the video starts, Petersen is second.)

The link to the video is here on Vimeo if it is not showing above. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again – it is worth it for the quality of the film making alone.

A planned feature length version of ‘Frequent Flyer’ which was the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign hit the buffers, which was shame.  Leigh is now based in Sweden and is a transport correspondent for Monocle, as well as continuing to make documentaries.

PS.  Don’t forget the similar Radio 4 documentary, “Inside The World of the Frequent Flyer”, which was broadcast in 2018 and is still available.  This benefits from focusing on the UK approach, whilst possibly suffering from having me in it.  The link to listen is here.

Comments (17)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Ian says:

    I’m not sure in these days of heightened environmental awareness that these crazy mileage runs can be justified any longer. All of a sudden they seem selfishly extravagant and unnecessary.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done these things myse;f in the past, to retain status and such like but times are changing, especially for aviation.

    Unnecessary flying should be discouraged.

    • Track says:

      The pandemic showed that all those flights are necessary for cargo. Recovery to 2019 flying levels is necessary and even more.

      Global supply chains are at a glut right now, even more so as shipping containers delayed and spend more time sitting in port queues around the globe.

      • BuildBackBetter says:

        It’s a temporary bottleneck as every industry has restarted at same time and every company wants a slice of consumer spending. A bit like labour shortage globally now compared to pre pandemic.
        Long term not everything needs to be transported by planes.

    • Ian M says:

      But what’s the definition of ‘unnecessary flying’? You could easily argue that flying from London to Sydney for a holiday is unnecessary. Likewise flying somewhere closer, say to Greece for a holiday is also unnecessary. Take your holiday somewhere close to home that you can reach by riding a bicycle

    • Steve says:

      I’ll do you a deal. I won’t tell you how you should live your life, and you don’t tell me how I should live mine. Deal?

      • Doug M says:

        No deal. How you live your life has an effect on how I can live mine.

      • Chrisasaurus says:

        Only if you go and live on an island where you can’t affect other people.

    • TimM says:

      Times are a’changing. One could argue that anything that encourages “unnecessary” CO2 output should be discouraged or banned. That would include any advertising or promotion of travel by any means unless it is ‘necessary’ and only by the greenest method reasonably possible – in a hierarchy of walking, cycling, rail, bus, taxi etc. and probably ending with collecting loyalty points on repeated private trips to space (unless they are ‘necessary’ that is).

      Instead of HfP we should have Don’t Head for Points, or simply, Don’t Head. It is not as exciting though is it?

      My own proposal is only to allow unnecessary trips and ban all essential ones. Travel only for pleasure, or not at all: Headfor

    • Dominic says:

      There are far more impactful industries to target than aviation.

      The industrial farming of cattle would be a good start, but flying is about 1/25th of global emissions. Agree we should all be playing our part, but me hopping on a flight to Krakow on a flight that will fly anyway (as a result of high numbers of Poles in the UK) is making very very little impact in terms of emissions.

    • the_real_a says:

      I’m looking forward to the mouthy woke folk swapping Mykonos for 2 weeks at the The Grand in Scarborough consuming a diet of vegetables whilst loudly congratulating themselves on superior moral choices.

      • ChrisC says:

        That’s not the meanign of ‘woke’

        It means being aware of social justice issues. I’d probbaly be called woke by some but I don’t see my choices as being superior to anyone elses.

        I eat meat but am aware of animal cruelty issues. It’s not going to stop me eating meat though.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    I’m actually reading Mileage Maniac right now. It’s an interesting and entertaining read for any HfP reader, although the title is accurate – remortgaging your house without telling your wife is definitely on the unhealthy end of the spectrum when it comes to commitment to miles acquisition.

  • Mark says:

    How do you pay someone else to earn your miles? I suppose it has to be possible to pay for a ticket on your own account but for someone else? I wasn’t aware that was possible.

  • Ryan Gill says:

    Hi. I’m in Spain4 a while. Any one person should be able to use my Bolt code fora £10 discount in the London area. D7X1D5 might/should ensure a tenner off

  • Gabriel Leigh says:

    Hi Rob, thanks for posting this and for your kind words about it! Nice to see it still out there and being seen for the first time by some. I do still intend to finish the feature-length at some point. Though I know most will only believe that when they see it, and fair enough! In the meantime I’ve been busy making lots of aviation-themed videos for Flightradar24’s Youtube channel, in case you’re curious to check them out. Anyway, keep up the good work with HfP and all the best!

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