Cost of Newcastle United footballer's flight to Qatar exposed British Airways workers' £40k fraud
Glen Rankin and Elisha Oliver, who were team leaders at the airline's call centre, had handed out flights using money from the company's "goodwill budget" and allocated air miles to accounts - then pocketed the cash paid over by customers.
The scam was exposed after a colleague queried why the costs of a Newcastle United football player's flight to Qatar had been paid from the goodwill budget.
An investigation revealed a total of 33 transactions involved flights being booked using the goodwill budget to upgrade and pay for flights, which were also subsidised using air miles.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the cash paid by customers was put into Rankin's bank account, who then passed a share on to Oliver.
Rankin, 49, of William Morris Terrace, Shotton Colliery, made £20,000 in the fraud.
Oliver, 32, of Victoria Road East, Hebburn, made £12,630.
A judge said they used the cash to "supplement their particular lifestyles".
The pair admitted two charges of conspiracy to defraud, between January 1 2015 and January 7 2016, which cost the company a total of £40,093.
Miss recorder Margia Mostafa told the pair: "You were both working as team leaders and had been for some time, a position of responsibility within British Airways, a very good job to have.
"On January 7 2016 a member of staff brought your suspicious activity to the attention of a business manager and what happened on that occasion was a booking had been made for a Newcastle United football player to travel first class to Qatar, with payments coming out of the goodwill budget, that should not have been used by either of you."
The court heard an interval investigation was carried out and discovered air miles had been awarded to accounts, without justification, using Oliver's log-in details.
Oliver, who had been off sick and could not have used her own log-in details during some of the transactions, was interviewed by bosses and resigned two days later.
A more detailed investigation followed and revealed Rankin had used his work station to log-in with Oliver's details and book flights which were paid for from the goodwill budget.
The judge added: "What they were able to recover, from looking at your bank accounts, was that you Mr Rankin received £32,000 in cash as a result of those passengers who had received the benefits, making payments to you.
"Then £12,630 was passed on by transfer to Miss Oliver."
The judge told them: "This was a gross breach of trust."
Rankin, who the judge said was the "controlling mind" in the fraud, was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 150 hours unpaid work and a six month night time curfew plus programme requirements.
Oliver, who is now heavily pregnant and the judge said played a "subsidiary role", was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with a five month night time curfew.
The court heard Rankin had a drink and gambling problem at the time but admitted the offences straight away and has new, responsible employment.
He told the court through his legal team he has a "high level of remorse" for his involvement and is capable of leading a law abiding life.
The court heard Oliver had mounting credit card debts of over £30,000 when she committed the offences but has since sought help to manage them.
Brian Hegarty, defending, said Oliver has had a lot of involvement in raising cash for charities.