MPs spend £500,000 on business class flights – largely between London and their constituencies
The Telegraph has investigated the number of premium flights taken by MPs at taxpayers’ expense. They found the number of business class flights taken by MPs has nearly doubled in one year. Also that 10 MPs have claimed for more than 100 premium air fares each, with some of the flights worth as much as £850. Over the past three years MPs have spent nearly £500,000 of public money on such tickets. New rules introduced after the 2009 expenses scandal usually oblige MPs to buy economy class tickets. But 55 MPs have used a loophole to purchase business class fares that can be twice as expensive as standard class. Eric Joyce seems to have had the most business class flights (208) and Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary (188). An aide said it was difficult to work discreetly on secret documents relating to his shadow defence role while travelling in economy class. Most of the MPs’ air fares were purchased for domestic travel between Westminster and their constituency. However, politicians occasionally buy business class flights to attend conferences and other events overseas.
MPs spend £500,000 on business class flights
The number of business class flights taken by MPs at the taxpayer’s expense has nearly doubled in a single year, an investigation by The Telegraph has discovered.
22 Jun 2013
New rules introduced in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal usually oblige MPs to buy economy class tickets.
However, our investigation shows that 55 MPs have used a loophole to purchase business class fares that can be twice as expensive as standard class.
Campaigners described the purchase of business and club class tickets by MPs as “outrageous”, adding that members should pay for any upgrades out of their £65,000 annual salaries.
Details of politicians’ spending on luxury flights emerge just four days before George Osborne, the Chancellor, announces a further £11.5billion cuts to public expenditure in his latest Spending Review.
The expose raises questions about Parliament’s new expenses system and whether some MPs have failed to learn lessons from the scandal of four years ago.
Records kept by the expenses watchdog show that Eric Joyce has been reimbursed for more business class flights than another other Parliamentarian.
The Falkirk MP, who is serving a 12-month community order for committing assault in a House of Commons bar and has been stripped of the Labour whip, has made claims for 208 business-class flights worth £43,410 since May 2010. His most expensive flight cost the taxpayer £590.
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, has claimed for 188 premium flights at a cost of £33,224.
There are MPs in neighbouring constituencies to Mr Joyce and Mr Murphy who only ever claim for standard or economy air fares.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy MP (Heathcliff O’Malley)
An aide working for Mr Murphy said that it was difficult to work discreetly on secret documents relating to his shadow defence role while travelling in economy class.
The loophole permits MPs to be reimbursed for premium air fares if they can find any standard fare that is cheaper. A business class ticket booked far enough in advance can be less expensive than an economy fare – although it is still often twice the price of a standard fare ordered at the same time.
Although IPSA have urged members to exercise “restraint” when spending public money, the current expenses system places MPs under no obligation to get the best deal for the taxpayer.
The Telegraph examined all of the 2,454 claims made by MPs for business or club class flights published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) since the new expenses system was introduced three years ago. The total value of these journeys was £488,856.
IPSA’s records show MPs were reimbursed for 1,208 business or club class flights during 2011/12 at a cost of £249,868 – up from £122,152 for 683 such tickets the year before.
Labour MPs enjoyed premium air travel on 1,541 occasions. Lib Dems claimed for 538 such flights, Scottish Nationalists for 363 and Tories – most of whom who have seats closer to Westminster – for 24.
Ann McKechin, Glasgow North MP has used public money to fly business class 116 times at a cost to the taxpayer of £21,405. The city’s six other MPs have only ever claimed for economy flights.
Ms McKechin said that MPs have a changing diary and need flexibility when they travel. “The House of Commons’ travel office is also able to negotiate a special rate,” she added.
Pete Wishart, the Scottish Nationalist MP, has been reimbursed for 171 business class tickets between Edinburgh and Heathrow. Two fellow Scottish nationalists – Stewart Hosie and Angus Robertson – have not claimed any premium air fares.
Other MPs who have travelled in business class courtesy of the taxpayer more than 100 times include the Lib Dems Mike Crockart, Alan Reid and Robert Smith.
Most of the air fares were purchased for travel between Westminster and the MPs’ constituency. However, politicians occasionally buy business class flights to attend conferences and other events overseas.
Last May Gordon Brown was reimbursed for an £886 business class flight from Edinburgh to Brussels. The former Prime Minister was visiting the Belgian capital to speak with the European Union’s international development commissioner and the UK ambassador to Brussels.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It is outrageous that a number of MPs are still racking up huge bills living the high life at our expense.
“There is absolutely no justification for MPs travelling business class, especially when their own constituents are making the same journeys every day in economy. When our politicians should be looking for ways of saving money and cutting costs, it beggars belief that they feel it appropriate to waste taxpayers’ cash on business class flights.
“It’s little wonder that public faith in politicians is so low when they see them squandering our money on high-class travel. Any MP wanting to sit at the front of the plane should have to pay for the upgrade out of their own pocket.”
Only half of 58 Scotland’s MP have submitted claims for luxury air travel. Those who have not done so include the Liberal Democrats Sir Menzies Campbell, Jo Swinson, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael, whose seat of Orkney and Shetland is the furthest constituency from Westminster.
David Mundell, the only Conservative MP in Scotland, has claimed for just two business-class air fares over the past three years. Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, took just three premium flights.
Stephen O’Brien, the MP for the Cheshire constituency of Eddisbury claimed three business class flights to commute to and from Westminster – the most of any Tory.
The first of 12 “fundamental principles” of the new expenses system is that members should “always behave with probity and integrity when making claims on public resources”.
A spokesman for IPSA ( ) said: “The rules are clear – they allow an MP to claim the cost of a business class flight only when it is cheaper than an economy ticket.
“We publish all the details of these claims so constituents can see exactly what their MPs are claiming for.”
Details of MPs’ allowances are at
For the Commons, there is some guidance on financial support on the website of IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority)
Part of this states:
9.6 No claims will be payable for journeys which are undertaken for the purpose of carrying out ministerial functions, or for carrying out functions relating to an MP’s role on an official delegation.
9.7 The MP should always have regard to whether any particular journey is necessary and to the most cost-effective way to undertake it. In particular, whatever means of transport is used, consideration should be given to whether potential savings to public funds could be made through the use of concessionary fares such as Oyster cards, season tickets, advance purchase or off-peak travel.
Specific conditions: public transport
9.8 For allowable journeys by public transport, MPs may buy a ticket of any class but (except where paragraph 9.9 below applies) reimbursement will be limited to the rate of an economy class ticket available at the time of booking. In the case of air travel, “economy” includes “flexible economy”.
9.9 For allowable journeys made by rail, reimbursement will be limited to the rate of an “anytime standard open” ticket for the journey prevalent at the time of the claim.
For the Lords, the Guide to Financial Support for Members states (Feb 2013):
5.4.1. Members are entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of a business class ticket.
Members are expected to take advantage of any available cheap ticket facilities.
Members are encouraged to book their tickets through the Travel Office which is
located in the Palace of Westminster (020 7219 4232; parliamentarytraveloffice@
5.4.2. Members should use any Air Miles (Avios) offered by airlines in connection with
travel which they undertake in attending a sitting of the House or on other
Parliamentary business to offset their future travel costs in relation to Parliamentary
business. Any such Air Miles should not be used for their personal benefit.
EasyJet signs up MPs for Parliamentary travel
A year after offering free flights to Members of Parliament returning to deal with the summer riots, easyJet has been added to the list of preferred airlines for both Houses of Parliament.
18 Sep 2012
The year-long deal should see MPs and Lords using easyJet for both constituency and Parliamentary business travel. The UK’s 1,500 lawmakers are understood to take tens of thousands of flights a year. EasyJet estimates that of the airlines currently available to MPs on the preferred list it will be cheaper in seven out of 10 flights.
EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall said: “We know that many MPs, Peers and Government ministers already fly with easyJet. This deal will make it easier and more cost effective than ever before. We are sure they will vote with their feet and travel with easyJet across Europe.”
In August last year 80 MPs took up easyJet’s offer of free flights to return them to London for an emergency recall of Parliament to debate the riots.
The deal with MPs comes as easyJet is increasingly marketing itself as a business airline. From this winter it will be offering reserved seating and has been actively selling packages to the corporate market.
Earlier this month the airline also sold tens of thousands of seats to Thomas Cook to use in their package holidays.
“This deal is a good example of easyJet’s strategy of increasing the number of business travellers flying with the airline,” Ms McCall said of the tie-up with Parliament. “Over 9.5m business travellers fly with easyJet each year. They are attracted by our combination of low fares and friendly service, carrying our passengers to primary airports at convenient times.”
The deal was done through the Houses of Parliament travel management company Hillgate Travel.