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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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 6 Comments

Just yesterday, I flew over to Delhi from Mumbai, yet again. I was originally scheduled to get into Delhi on AI101, which is perhaps one of my favourite flights given it gives me access to the Terminal 2 GVK Lounge, and I get to fly a Boeing 777-300ER between the 2 hour Mumbai Delhi segment (the flight further heads to New York from Delhi).

However, given that it is winters and Delhi has a massive fog problem, and I did not want to really really get into home middle of the night, I decided to change my plans. I now was going to depart from terminal 1A, from where Air India operates, and this meant I had access to the Air India Lounge as an Air India Golden Edge Member. This lounge is also available for all Star Alliance Gold members and The Maharaja Club Members of AI. There is a separate lounge for Air India Business Class passengers, not accessible by FFP members.

The lounge is situated pre-security, so you need to have enough time on hand to clear the security check and then roam around at the gates. This made it a bad option for me, but I wanted to try it out anyways for all of you.

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The Lounge was a pretty basic and small lounge. I’d never been here before, so I was all the more surprised to see a lounge for 16-18 passengers, only. Air India is the dominant carrier based at Terminal 1A, and I would have expected a bigger capacity lounge from them here.

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I was over in the morning, so they had a couple of Indian hot breakfast items like Chana-Parantha and Upma, along with vegetarian and non-vegetarian finger sandwiches and some bakery items. Apart from that, there was a choice of soft drinks (hot and cold).

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The lounge attendants stayed in the backdrop all the time, making a round every few minutes to clear the tables or ask if there was anything else I required. With this being an empty lounge and pre-security, I hardly stayed here for over half an hour to get some pictures, and then moved into the security hold area, where I could have gone to the Carnations Lounge or the American Express Lounge, but I was lazy and headed straight to the gate.

I don’t think I’d plan time for this lounge the next time I would be flying Air India domestically. It is a rudimentary lounge after all, but the pre-security location gives me some amount of anxiety.

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | No Comments

Air Canada is throwing their ring in the hat for a pie of Indian aviation. With significant population of Indian origin, they are going to connect the Toronto – New Delhi route on a non-stop flight with a Boeing 787-9 as of November 2015.

As per Air Canada’s announcement today,  they are going to be the only airline to connect this long-haul market with a non-stop flight. The only other carriers on this route is India’s Jet Airways which operates via their Brussels hub. Unfortunately, there is no information about the timing of the flight at the moment, but this will be a three-class configuration flight, including Business, Premium Economy and Economy. The flight will be operated from November 1, 2015 four times a week. I guess, with one 787-9 plane, there is only that much services possible to start with.

Update: Immediately after I posted, Airlineroute.net managed to dig up the times:

AC050 YYZ2055 – 2115+1DEL 788 1
AC050 YYZ2055 – 2115+1DEL 789 357

AC051 DEL0045 – 0500YYZ 788 3
AC051 DEL0045 – 0500YYZ 789 247

That should make one more addition for the non-stop flights from North America to India, apart from the Air India ops between EWR, ORD, JFK and Indian stations. And of course, United non-stop between EWR & DEL/BOM.

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 5 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | One Comment

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | One Comment

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 4 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 14 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 3 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | One Comment

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 4 Comments

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Posted by Ajay Awtaney | 11 Comments

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