Air miles perk
Who gets air miles earned on flights paid for from the public purse?

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 29/97) - It's a secret perk for high-flying public officials of all stripes in the North.

Hundreds of thousands of frequent-flyer points are logged by employees of government and other agencies in the NWT each year.

Each publicly funded fare puts the official making the trip a little closer to a free flight to the Bahamas or a free blender or any one of a number of prizes airlines offer.

The two major airlines serving the North, Canadian and Air Canada, offer frequent-flyer programs, Canadian Plus and Aeroplan, in which travellers earn points each time they fly.

When enough points are accumulated they can be traded for free flights and merchandise and services.

Officials and members of the territorial government, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Nunavut interim commissioner's office and regional Inuit associations are allowed to use points they earn during official travel for personal use.

"A couple of years ago we did try to get a policy in place where the points that are earned were converted back to the organization," said NTI executive director Alex Campbell.

"I don't know the specifics, but our finance director back then checked on it and for some reason we couldn't do it."

The territorial government's financial management board secretariat took a look at the travel policies of the federal and provincial governments a few months ago, said secretariat official Gordon Robinson.

"We haven't decided to make any changes, based on that, at this point," said Robinson.

Canadian Plus and Aeroplan officials confirmed that points accumulated through that plan cannot be transferred -- to organizations or individuals.

There are a few exceptions, though. Points can be transferred in the case of death. Canadian also gives members the option of assigning their points to any of its charitable organizations.

Though GNWT employees and members and staff of the legislative assembly keep their points, rules at the federal government are much tighter.

Travel rules for federal bureaucrats are laid out in the Treasury Board's Travel Directive, which specifically addresses the bonus points issue: "Employees shall neither collect, be entitled to, nor use frequent-flyer points earned as a result of government business travel for personal or official purposes."

House of Commons guidelines, which govern members of Parliament, state frequent-flyer points and other travel promotional benefits can only be used for travel that would otherwise be charged to the House.

Points that cannot be used for parliamentary purposes should be donated to charitable organizations. If the points can't be donated, the member must give them back to the airline.

The guidelines are just that, not rules. MPs can still spend their points on personal travel and benefits, but they have to declare the free trips as taxable benefits.