Booking Star Alliance tickets with AI Flying Returns: it’s buggy & complicated

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?

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Comments

  1. Tried booking *A award using AI miles on FRA- PNQ sector. This flight is operated by PrivatAir using Lufthansa Flight number LH768.

    AI informed me – 32500 miles plus approx. Rs 18000 taxes for 1 way

    I checked with United as I have some points with United as well. Unite shows 25000 UA miles plus $ 96 towards taxes.

    While I am ok with the fact that AI is charging more miles but how can they charge 3 times more for taxes???

  2. @Deo: Realized the hard way that Air NZ are very stingy when it comes to releasing award space unfortunately..!!From what the AI agent told me on the phone, he said he was seeing most award availability on AI, SQ & LH..

  3. Here is my experience:

    1) They only give you availability and tax amount. Booking has to be done at the city office, which is very far if you live in the suburbs of Mumbai.

    2) Agents seem to have very little training. Most times they won’t know the name of city and airport codes (if its a destination Air India doesn’t fly to). They will ask you to spell the name of the city. Many times I have had to give them airport codes

    3) None of the agents I have spoken to knew how to book star alliance flights. Every single time I have had to tell them to include stopover airports. The standard answer is “no routing”

    4) If you want to book a star alliance flight using Air India miles, do your research before calling them. Know what flight you want to take, stopover airport and have 3-4 options ready.

    5) Generally the availability is not very good. I don’t know if this is due to the incompetence of the staff that they are unable to find availability.

  4. @ Vinay: Merely searching for flight timetables is not enough, you have to find out whether the flights have award space on your dates. Air India agents (or any other airline agents for that matter) can’t do anything if your chosen carrier doesn’t open award space.
    Air NZ is very stingy when it comes to award space, especially long-haul.

  5. Faced a simialr predicament when trying to redeem on Air New Zealand on the following route: SYD – AKL – NAN – AKL – MEL. I had done some groundwork and had all the flight numbers and various options down. The agent was able to check for seats over the phone. Unfortunately though, not 1 award seat was available on any of the above sectors… There ended the plan..!!

  6. @KRISHNAKUMAR: As their systems can only search and price point-to-point, no wonder the agents could find none of the awards you mentioned as there is no direct flight between the city pairs.
    You need to do some homework yourself, figure out which connections have award availability and then call them and feed them each individual segment.

    P.S. The call doesn’t end with that. The ending statement is always “If you can please stay online and review our service quality”. 😉

  7. Last week, I called up AI call centr and asked for redemption options on following sectors..
    Mumbai – Charlotte, Mumbai Trininad, Mumbai- Mexico City, Mumbai- Rio and finally Mumbai – Victoria Falls. To my surprise the agent said award tickets cannot be booked on any of these sectors.

    The call ended with a usual dialogue…” AnythIng else I can help you with… Thanks for calling Air India”.

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