Air India Flying Returns drops the devaluation bomb!

Air India has been in the middle of a devaluation, and it isn’t pretty at all. In the beginning of December 2015, they started rolling out the changes for Flying Returns, but unlike Jet Airways JetPrivilege changes, AI gave no notice of the changes, and flicked the switch on Air India own metal redemptions, overnight.

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Star Alliance Chart changes from January 26, 2016: YQ Gone, Miles hiked up 100% and more!

Air India’s Star Alliance redemption chart was always more expensive than their own metal redemptions. Additionally, when you burn AI Miles on Star Alliance redemptions, you need to be paying on a per segment basis rather than on a zone-wise basis. Air India unveiled a new award chart last night, which is in summary below:

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This award chart is for one way economy travel on *A airlines, and essentially, moves from the earlier 11 zones, to 6 zones, but 4 sub-zones on the basis of distance in these countries. Hence, we are talking a total of 24 combinations instead of the earlier 11 possibilities, only for Economy. The rules for other cabins are not stated yet.

The way to read this chart is to first locate if you want to travel within a zone or between zones, and then look at the distance. For instance, if you want to travel JFK-DCA on United in the new chart, you get it for 5000 Flying Returns miles since it is less than 500 miles of distance. But if you want to travel New York to Mumbai, which is approximately 8000 miles in distance, you have to look at the USA to Asia Chart, and see the greater than 2500 miles column.

Good news, fuel surcharge is gone. Better news, you can now redeem on Star Alliance for as less as 5000 miles in Economy. However, bad news, there is tons of inflation. For instance, India to the USA on Star Alliance carriers will now cost 100,000 Flying Returns miles in economy one-way, while it used to cost 55,000 miles + fuel surcharge earlier. On the other hand, for comparison sake, American’s AAdvantage gives you a First Class redemption between the two regions for 90,000 miles (to be inflated too soon, but still a good deal till it lasts!). Europe from India on AI miles used to cost 32,500 miles, but now it costs 90,000 miles one way.

Here is the Star Alliance Award Chart pre-26 January 2016 since it will be taken down from Air India’s website shortly. Here are some comparisons in percentage terms:

  • USA to India: 100K FR Miles one-way economy (new) as compared to 55K FR Miles one-way earlier. [81% hike]
  • Europe to India: 90K FR Miles one-way (new) as compared to 32.5K FR Miles one-way earlier. [177% hike]
  • South America to India: 110K FR Miles one-way (new) as compared to 55K FR Miles one-way earlier. [100% hike]

Interestingly, you can fly Europe to Toronto cheaper than you can fly Europe to USA. I can’t really seem to scratch my head and figure out anything more than that some sweet spot redemptions have been made available on the basis of perhaps bilateral deals with some airlines, such as with United. However, on the whole this is a much more Expensive chart, and we don’t even know the Business and First class redemption requirements yet!

Air India Redemptions: YQ gone, mileage bumped up massively

On the day Air India released the KYC requirements, they also made some other changes. They bumped up their own award chart to remove fuel surcharge, but add tons of miles instead. One good thing, if you connected on Air India’s own metal and AI did not have direct flights available, you’d still be charged for the direct routing rather than per-segment.

  • AI International Redemptions: Oy, this went in the not bearable zone too! For instance, Delhi to Chicago used to be 45K miles + Fuel Surcharge, but moved to 80K miles and taxes. They also repriced Mumbai to London to 45K miles. Delhi to London is now 50K miles, however Jet gives it to you at 42.5K miles. And in business Jet is at 85K miles DEL-LHR, but AI is 100K. To go to Hong Kong, DEL-HKG is 35K but Jet is 30K miles. Overall, unimpressive!
  • AI Upgrades: Earlier, Economy to Business Class Upgrades used to be a flat 75% of normal Economy Class redemptions. Now, they are 60-190% depending on the fare class of ticket you booked. Interestingly, there is no chart published for this.
  • AI Domestic flights: Domestic flights are always the place an airline wants you to redeem, and Air India is herding us into this direction as well. After all, these are multiple flights in a day, and the airlines find it very easy to release this capacity. Mileage requirements have gone down in some cases. Ahmedabad – Delhi, for instance, is now 5500 miles, instead of 7500 miles earlier. They have also been bumped up in other cases. For instance, Mumbai – Delhi went up to 10000 miles from 9500 miles.

Bottomline: I personally don’t ever subscribe to the theory that Business Class is 2x of Economy Class for mileage redemptions under the new system. After all, in the fuel surcharge days, Business Class & Economy used to have same fuel surcharge, so if economy goes up by a certain number of miles to accommodate the YQ, then J should be adjusted by the same mileage rather than double this mileage.

I can live with most of the Air India changes, but I can’t agree with their Star Alliance redemptions. It is okay to have a differential chart for the airline versus other partners, but it is not cool to have it inflated about 37.5% over your own airline! That is not fair!

Readers, what do you think of the changes for Air India’s Flying Returns program?

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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. The domestic US awards below 1.5k miles are not bad! They sort of replace Avios for short-haul flights. I wonder if there’s a convenient way to get miles into AI w/o flying them. Any CCs in India?

  2. This devaluation is just insane. I have been a pretty loyal Air India Gold customer, and I almost always fly only Air India or Jet within India. But I don’t think I will be going out of the way to fly Air India anymore, might as well buy a cheaper ticket on IndiGo. I’m just glad I redeemed most of miles ( almost 200000 miles ) last month for some *A business class tickets.

  3. Honestly, that has to be one of the most pathetic redemption charts out there. By making FFP redemptions unattractive, I fear that AI will lose their loyal patrons as well.

  4. Overall it’s a negative development for the Flyers as well as for AI. They should treat FFP as a revenue generating tool. By making the programme so unattractive they will not achieve anything positive. Perhaps they should have introduced Dyanamic redemption miles value like revenue ticket. It makes more sense to allow the members to redeem their miles than to run planes with empty seats.

  5. @AJ
    I agree with you. Though several other airlines also charge you miles for upgrades according to the fare, its really not practical for Domestic flights. A Bom-Del flight costs 20k miles in business and 17.5k for an upgrade if you have bought the cheapest upgradable class. For Star Alliance, their redemption charts are disgusting. If we have to book a business class ticket for bom-sin, it costs approx 80k miles(flying returns) for one way. Whereas if you redeem Krisflyer miles, you get First Class for 50k miles(saver fare).
    I hope Star Alliance really does something about it.

  6. I don’t mind paying as long as Air India makes it easy to redeem miles on *A carriers. Last month I wanted to book tickets to Italy on Air India. It wasn’t available online and I have had to be in conversation with Air India’s agents for upto an hour while they book tickets. This has happened in September last year as well when I was trying to book tickets on Lufthansa and earlier. An hour on the phone is standard. Presently I have 135000 miles stuck with Air India. 90,000 of those are related to a cancelled redemption ticket and 45,000 miles are those which Air India just randomly deducted while I was making my booking. I have no idea how to escalate the issue and get my miles back.

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