Ever since Air India joined Star Alliance, the interest in being able to redeem Air India Flying Returns miles for Star Alliance tickets has been well known, but somehow, it has been so complicated that no one has bothered to figure it out. Even in the award reservation service I am offering in beta right now, there has not been much interest in using AI miles for Star Alliance tickets.
One part of the reason is that the award chart is inflated, and the other is the myth that only Air India elites can access the Star Alliance inventory. Reader Deovrat tried to crack the code, and went about making a dummy reservation. He used a request to redeem for BOM-GRU, where there is no direct flight between the two segments, and came back with some interesting revelations, which he wrote about on FlyerTalk:
Firstly, you cannot book an award ticket by phone. He writes, you can check availability and taxes on the phone, but not book the ticket on the phone.
Air India won’t let you book an award by phone. They can only tell you if award space is available for a flight and can calculate the taxes, and thats it.
Alright. I picked up the phone and asked for a business class award seat BOM-GRU for a random date, which I confirmed beforehand to have availability on LH via FRA and SA via JNB too.
The agent couldn’t find any space. Neither could the next one. Or the one after that.
At the fourth attempt, I asked him if I can manually suggest flight numbers to him so he can search for them individually and build an itinerary.This worked to an extent and he could see award space
Air India’s award booking system is buggy, and prices awards per segment, rather than from origin to destination. This is similar to their own algorithm, where, for instance, if you take BOM-DEL-LKO to arrive at LKO, you won’t be charged the BOM-LKO miles (9500 miles), but BOM-DEL-LKO would cost you about 14,000 miles, since you’re taking a connection. So, if you take a BOM-GRU flight via FRA, you get charged for BOM-FRA + FRA-GRU.
At the time of pricing, he quoted me BOM-FRA + FRA-GRU miles and not BOM-GRU miles, as he should have. This was the first sign of trouble.
Subsequent attempts on a lazy Sunday revealed that their computers can only price an award point to point. I assume that because Air India priced their own awards on a point to point basis before they joined *A, their agents can’t join 2 tickets together for a single itinerary. Turned out their IT systems are not updated either. One guy actually listened to me and told me I was right, but there was no way he can override the system or anything. None of the supervisors I asked could help out any more than that either.
Here are his key findings:
- You cannot book a Star Alliance award ticket by phone as of February 2015, you have to go visit your city booking office.
- Air India imposes fuel surcharges on partner flights.
- Currently, their IT systems are pricing the awards wrong as they are breaking an itinerary down for each segment of the trip. So, if you have a connection, then you will be charged for each segment separately.
e.g. a BOM-DEL-NRT-KIX award would be charged as BOM-DEL segment + DEL-NRT segment + NRT-KIX segment; instead of simply priced at the miles between Indian Subcontinent & North Asia/Far East as per the chart.
- For the above reason, Stop-over and Open-jaw have no contribution at present.
- Actually, Open-jaw will always have zero significance, given that you can book one-way awards. Till any confirmed updates from Air India, you’d have to fork out additional miles over and above you are entitled to.
- And oh, the rumour that only elite members (Silver, Gold, Maharajah) are allowed to redeem for Star Alliance is a total myth and that story can safely be put to bed. If you get a rogue agent, hang up or move to a different one.
So, there you go! There is a lot of work to be done at Air India Flying Returns, and I hope it is done in double quick time!
What has been your experience redeeming Air India Miles for Star Alliance member tickets?