So, Club Vistara has been in the making a few months now. First came the name, then the earning details, the program design, then just yesterday, the redemption chart. My criticism of the earn-burn ratio is known by now and I’ve gotten tonnes of private feedback about the program since last night. One thing I always tell readers of the blog, airline honchos, travel editors and anyone who cares to listen…
Loyalty is a two way street. If I’m asking for it from you, then you’re getting it from me.
-Harvey Specter (Suits)
But there are a lot more interesting things which make me thing if they’ve wondered and thought through the whole program before announcing it. See, a loyalty program is not a necessity for an airline. Indigo comes top of mind for an airline that built its reputation as a no-frills airline, and is still preferred by people due to its on-time reputation, even though they are slipping up now. I’m confident Indigo will add a frequent flyer program, later than sooner. Jet Airways has its massive breed of loyalists who come to it to be able to maintain status, perks and also going forth burn their points.
When Vistara started, they had no restrictions of a legacy airline. So, they chose to go the revenue-based points earning way, which has been in the USA since just a year or so back. They might call them points, but at 5 points per INR 100, basically, the kickback is always going to be substantially lower than Jet Airways. But Vistara even beats the program I called miser, Flying Returns, hollow!
India is a market, which I feel, is at the inflection point of more people taking to the planes right now. So, while Jet Airways and Air India are following some smart strategies by being generous, Vistara is doing the exact opposite. I feel, the guy receiving the miles has to have enough to be able to make their first redemption, and that is when they appreciate frequent flyer programs better.
What Vistara expects, is that we’d be happy to receive a 5-7% kickback in terms of points, and then do tonnes of those flights to be able to get the first free one. This is a fallacy no less, and a wrong assumption. I fully accept they are a new airline, and that is the reason I expect them to have been smarter while designing a program, to give more to the customer and lure the customer back many a times, rather than, give them less, expect them to be loyal.
Why don’t I like the program now?
- The benchmarks to get anywhere are too high, and the benefits too little. You need to spend INR 7 lakhs to become Gold, and all you get is check-in and boarding with Business Class, and lounge access for self. And some free bags. No upgrades.
- Silver is even worse off. Just yesterday I was on a Vistara flight, and even the Board/check-in with Premium Economy benefit was nicked off. All you get is a free 5 kg baggage allowance I guess.
- Points expire in 36 months. This was not there the time I signed up for the program, and has just been snuck in as a condition without any announcement.
- The loyalty chart itself is valid till September 2015. Hey, redemption charts are made for the long term, and not modified as you go along.
- The biggest reason, you can only redeem tickets for self. That’s a big joke. For instance, just now, I helped a friend redeem his miles to send his parents tickets to visit him. Or maybe someone has a long-distance relationship and needs the miles and so on. Why show them the moral handbook?
Vistara needed to think the frequent flyer program and their business objectives alignment before launching the program. Too bad it is coming in piecemeal, and only awards the rich! What are your thoughts?