Is Air India Flying Returns the most miser frequent flying program?

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.

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About Ajay Awtaney

Ajay is a financial services pro, working to bring order to the chaos of the financial industry on an everyday basis! Beyond that, he dons the hat of India's favourite frequent traveller, trying to help people elevate their travel experience via tips and tricks they never knew before, or introduce them to the world of miles and points. Armed with an MBA from MDI Gurgaon and graduate degree in computer science from the University of Delhi, Ajay brings a systematic and objective approach on the table for his audience in dissecting travel and loyalty programs in India and around the world, and how to benefit from them. Ajay has been quoted in various reputed traditional and online media including The Hindustan Times, Inside Flyer, Bloomberg, DNA India, Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph, Mumbai Mirror, Mint, MoneyLife and The USA Today.

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  1. I am trying to get my missing miles by providing all the scans of boarding passes…but it is almost 45 days…still yet to get the confirmation….I think they have some internal problems in the system between retro card team and account team. Manual crediting of missing miles has some problem….Finally I have sent a mail to appelite hoping some resolution will come….

  2. After aquiring nearly 50,000 miles each my wife and l tried in vain to obtain two executive class rewards from Trivandrum to Goa via Mumbai for January 2015, every date l put in would only allow 1 reward, so l called, why dont you have one economy and one executive seat was the offer, why would they only offer 1 seat every day l ask sorry was the answer no more help. as a family we would have booked this year 6 executive seats from London to trivandrum return, now l have told them as they are so very badly in flexable that l will book with another air line does any one out ther hava any ideas who to contact?.

  3. I would like to raise the following few points here.

    1) Yes AI has a bad FFP programme but again it is easy to burn/redeem than other airlines.’

    2) I have GOLD AMEX AI CARD which was one of the best earlier since it gave me 15% Discount on Economy and 25% on Business class, which in fact used to work equal to Eco class fare at times.

    AI has changed everything without a word from AI to FFP /Card members. Now the discount is available only on FULL FARE and not on discounted fare. Moreover, you cannot get discount by booking online at their site or through a travel agent. Only valid if booked directly at their city or airport counter.

    I think AI has gone out of their minds

  4. I had several overseas business class flight but no points despite my repeated requests. Put in request to update change in my postal address but No result. To my surpirise I got an email conveying that 42000 points have been expired last month. I immediately called their phone number but was told to contact some numbers 02261342251 and 02240631360 the numbers, some one picks and drops, I would request Air India that they should have sent a message before the expiry of the points rather than conveying conveying lateron. Hope they revalidate, thanks

  5. Y do u look only from the perspective of a domestic flyer, it shows a bias. It is equal or good for international travel,as for business class flights AI gives 200% (compared to Jet’s 150%), and first class 250%, with almost equal miles to jet’s program in economy. a big plus point for AI is much better award availability than jet( what’s d use of miles if u can’t redeem them). If someone does not like AI, then u can earn equal AI miles while flying Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

    • @Dr Anshul Gupta, I am looking overall. I am talking about the amount of flying you need to do as a domestic flyer to get status, something that other programs make easy by doing segment counts or other metrics because I would assume a lot of their flyers would be flying domestically only. As for AI availability, it is going down as well over the past few months. .

  6. Its not bad.

    Everytime I have booked a RT from USA-INDIA…it always gets me a free ticket to BOM and their availability is pretty good too.

    I think domestic flying on Air India doesn’t earn much, but if you fly them international as the ticket was cheap to begin with)..their program is not bad and i have used them many times for domestic award redemption in the past

  7. I don’t know from personal experience but did have an Indian university travel agent set up a fraudulent Air India account in my name for flights they’d organised and got to see some earn and burn during the long and drawn out process of trying to regain my points.

    For a $1500 BNE-SIN-BLR return on SQ (W class Y) they got 11578 points, which is the same as was eventually transferred into my preferred program VA. They used 11500 points to buy a return BLR-TRV ticket – worth about $120 return.

    Definitely not a great return, but not particularly bad either, and definitely not the worst I’ve seen, pretty stock standard in Asia really. For example I would say it’s about the same you could expect on QF. Though I would rate QF as one of the stingiest programs out there too in terms of earn and burn (more the burn part, given that you’ll often find yourself having to pay $550 in fees and charges for an award ticket worth $600 – even after paying 15000 points). Some CX fares won’t even earn on the CX program at all and cheap SQ flights only earn 10% on SQ’s program. Worse, many of their routes are increasingly taken over or ‘code-shared’ by their LCC ‘partners’/subsidiaries (Jetstar, Dragonair and Silk Air) which not only have sub-par service but more often than not won’t credit either (even if technically the websites say they’re supposed to).

    On the plus side, there often isn’t an enormous $ difference between non-earning and full-earning fares, so once you factor that in status is much easier to get than the example you’ve given. The OP example has been unlucky, but it could happen on any number of airlines.

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