Up until 2001, employees of the US federal government were not allowed to accrue frequent flyer miles from official travel and apply them towards personal trips. They were supposed to earn miles and use them to offset the cost of government travel.
This didn’t really happen in practice. Since employees weren’t benefiting from collecting miles, those that weren’t attuned to also earning elite status tended not to bother collecting the miles at all.
There was no good way of tracking the miles earned on government travel, and certainly no good centralized way of monitoring this. It’s difficult to parse out miles earned from one type of activity from miles earned for things like credit card spend, rental cars, hotel stays, transfers in from other programs, etc.
And then actually using the miles for work purposes represents a challenge, since there’s usually far less flexibility and no desire to go through the hassle of getting the seats.
Ultimately the federal government determined that the policy wasn’t actually saving money. So why take away the benefits? Now there’s plenty of data that argues low-skilled federal jobs pay more than comparable work in the private sector, once factoring in all benefits. But those job aren’t necessarily the ones which involve travel. Many high-skill jobs don’t pay as well (though this is a very tough issue to parse well), and there was concern that denying mileage-earning was one way in which federal employment of high skilled workers was at a disadvantage relative to private employment.
If it didn’t actually save money for the federal government to dictate all miles would be used for business travel, why not let employees keep their miles as is standard in the private sector?
Twelve years later, American Samoa has apparently decided that government business travel will accrue miles only to offset government travel costs, according to the Associated Press’ Fili Sagapolutele.
American Samoa plans to take away frequent flier miles from government workers who travel on behalf of the U.S. territory.
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says the territory will use the miles to help medical patients travel off-island when needed, or help students travel for educational programs.
Moliga says Hawaiian Airlines agreed to the plan that takes effect June 1. Hawaiian is the only carrier connecting the U.S. territory to the rest of the country.
According to American Samoa’s government, they’ve solved the issue of co-mingled miles. Hawaiian will apparently be depositing miles into a separate account for use by the government of American Samoa.
Hawaiian seems especially accommodating, considering that the Samoan govenrment has gone all populist on it in the past over its high fares. Hawaiian is the only carrier service Pago Pago in American Samoa. (independent Samoa on the other hand has service to the US, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere). And fares are higher because they can’t fill the planes but continue service with US federal subsidies.
Legislation demanding this has been bandied about in American Samoa since at least 2008, though it would likely have been pre-empted by the U.S.’s Airline Deregulation Act.
Still, I wonder how easy it will be to get saver seats on Hawaiian’s thrice-weekly Pago Pago flights. ‘Coach flex’ awards run 55,000 miles each way from Pago Pago to Honolulu. And who will be tasked with booking the awards? Working with HawaiianMiles can be a vexing task indeed. I suspect this won’t amount to much savings for the U.S. territory.
And there’s as yet no indication how this edict will play out with travel beyond Honolulu on other airlines.