Take a guess how many elites Air India Flying Returns has?

Air India’s Flying Returns program is the only Indian program which has access to Star Alliance. Now, this would have been a great USP for the airline given the differentiation they have on the front where one could earn elite qualification miles flying with over 25 airlines around the world.

Important to note that Air India did not have a formal status guideline for the longest time. However, around the time they entered Star Alliance, they formalised these guidelines, making top-tier status available at 75,000 status miles.

Right about that time, Air India also launched a new offering with SBI Card offering status on the airline for a certain amount of spending per annum. Subsequently, they reversed the decision last year which would have meant a lot of elites would have been out of the system.

We all know that Air India had 2 million members. This was something that is now validated by Air India themselves.

Air India Flying Returns member base

Air India Flying Returns member base

Here is how the membership base on the elite tiers has moved over the years. Clearly, a lot of silver and Gold members were lost after the benefits were withdrawn to Air India SBI Cardmembers.

Air India Elites

Air India Elites

This is interesting data because this gives us an insight into how there are tonnes of people flying Air India, but perhaps not enough to reach one of their top tiers. This means so many points must be just expiring every year given people won’t be making enough miles to get a redemption done. Given this, the change to Air India’s program where miles would be easier to use for redemptions should be a great idea.


Clearly, Air India has figured it does not want to go down the path of being a mileage factory. For them, they’d likely work more as a frequent flyer program and they are rewarding their top-tier elites and which is the path they’ve set course to now.

About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. I have been trying to upgrade flights on Ai for the past 2 months. The online upgrade system always returns a “Network Service Error”, and it is virtually impossible to get through on the telephone. I thought it would be easier in Singapore. It wasn’t. What good are miles if they cannot be redeemed?

  2. Will be interesting to see how much $ AI made via SBI co branded cards vis a vis the benefits awarded to the same SBI card owners, my guess is AI didnt return a lot of $ and saved. Also to be able to know if having elites under 1% is good for the program, there needs to be a comparative data from competing star members.

  3. Wonder if the depleting list of elite flyers has something to do with senior govt and defense functionaries being dissuaded /prevented from accumulating miles & / tier statuses.
    (said a distant defense relative)…
    But they need to fly AI .

  4. Last week I redeemed Air India Miles on a Thai Airways flight – USM-BKK (Koh Samui – BKK). 12,500 miles per person. The ticket costs approx 9K per person so I got a pretty sweet deal.

    But this was done at the Air India office – Mumbai. Cannot be done online.

  5. They have removed all U.S routes from their award inventory. Try searching for an award flight on any of their U.S routes. virtually zero. The program does not really reward its members. Its just a matter of time before some announcement comes up.

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