Last year, I spent some time investigating the Air India frequent flyer program “Flying Returns”. At that point of time, I kind of started to appreciate the program a bit, because they finally had some structure to it, and they have much better availability over other Indian airlines. Earlier, the tier hurdles were not clear and no one had a clue as to who got their top tier and who did not. Seemed like in the process of getting ready for Star Alliance membership, they came up with a process because they needed to.
However, this post on FlyerTalk seems to have raised a few valid pointers about how the program still sucks, and in my own personal experience, that matches up.
The mileage earning opportunities on lower fare classes are 25% of the mileage flown, which means, for a 706 mile flight (BOM-DEL, for instance), you get a credit of only 177 miles. This means that even for a Silver status on the airline, which does not get much in terms of benefits (10% bonus miles, 1 upgrade, priority boarding which is non-existent, and some excess baggage), one needs to do about 85 flights on this sector, which, at an average cost of Rs. 5,200 (~$100) would be about Rs. 442,000 (~ $8000) of spend just to earn Silver status.
Jet Airways used to similarly award 20-25% of mileage of a low revenue fare class, but they fixed it about a year back and now almost all fares on 9W full-service flights get 100% miles flown, while JetKonnect gets 75% mileage on the same route. But at least they awarded tier-points to compensate and you could upgrade/requalify for a tier by earning tier points if you flew enough with them.
Also, the only partners Air India has at this point of time for earn and burn, inconsistently, are Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, both of which need massive number of miles to be able to dream up a burn on them.
So my question to all of you is that is Air India’s frequent flyer program as bad it really looks, or are there sweet spots I don’t know of or appreciate yet, apart from the availability being there. Let me know via the comments.