Air India’s Frequent Flyer program not known to AI

Sigh, I’ve just wasted a whole productive hour of my life this afternoon, and I need to vent it out. So, bear with me for a bit.

Domestic Flight Cancellation Charges

One of the advantages of the Flying Returns program is that at elite tiers, such as Gold and Maharajah Tiers, you get almost free domestic ticket cancellation/rebooking, as compared to the INR 1600-1900 which is the going price these days amongst Indian airlines. They charge you a modest INR 200, which also allows people like me to take a bet on fares long out and lock in some tickets subject to our schedules. Here is a snapshot of the benefits for Air India Gold Club:


Now, the trouble seems to be that Air India does not know their own benefits, a lot of times. I had booked a ticket in April 2014, and as the travel date came closer, there were readjustments to my schedule. I ended up booking another ticket to make the flight, and I now wanted to cancel one part of this ticket. I was given Air India Gold back in the day via a status match, and I’ve started giving them quite a bit of business in return.

Since AI’s system’s are outsourced and not so well programmed, to cancel in these kind of situations, you need to work with agents as I discovered today. I first went online to cancel the ticket, but it wanted me to pay the full cancellation charges, not automatically accounting for my AI Gold tier. I remembered using this benefit in the past, so I called Air India reservations. They had no clue of this benefit, and every time I used the word frequent flyer program, they told me I was booked on a revenue ticket and not on an award ticket, so these cancellation charges would be due. Once I asked for an escalation, and I was left on hold for 20-25 minutes.

I hung up and call back 4 times before getting across to an agent who was patient and seemed to appreciate what I needed. He transferred me to the frequent flyer program department, and briefed them on my requirements. There, they went through some verification checks with me, and then made a remark on the ticket that I was eligible for INR 200 cancellation fees on my ticket. This time, they transferred me back to reservations, who again did some more key-tapping to cancel the ticket. However, the peculiar part with AI is, you actually need to send an email to Air India to get the refund. One long hour, while I tried to be also productive with a PowerPoint presentation and I closed it forgetting to save the changes. Sigh!

Lounge access policies are inconsistent

Me and my fiancée were flying on an Air India flight to Goa last weekend, and we inevitably ended up booking a flight which flew out of Terminal 2 at Mumbai. This means extra work, extra paperwork and extra time to check-in as compared to a flight from the domestic terminal 1. We arrived almost in the middle of the night at 3 AM at the airport to board our flight.

At first, the Air India check-in agent just handed us our boarding passes and had us on our way. I was groggy, so it took me a couple of minutes to turn back and realise that he did not extend us the lounge access. At Mumbai Terminal 2, you need a specific lounge invitation to get in the airport operators’ lounge.

The check-in agent acted clueless about Gold Status benefits, although he was sitting at the counter for Golden Club members and Star Gold members. Eventually he yelled out to someone to cross check, and the other person validated my stance. This agent now wanted to see my Air India FFP card, in spite of the fact that the boarding pass clearly showed my status.

Eventually, he got me one lounge pass, and I asked him for another one towards +1, and he called in a senior. This manager kind of guy told me that they would be unable to issue me a second lounge pass, whereas Air India’s policy on their website and members guide states:

Flying Returns TMC and GEC members travelling on Air India in any class can access the lounge. They may also take one guest with them, provided guest is also travelling on an Air India or Star Alliance member airline flight departing on the same day.

In this case, we were both on the same flight, just on different PNRs, so this interpretation holds, however the manager on duty decided to cut costs on his own initiative. I think I will need to now carry the AI membership guide along whenever I fly AI next.

On our way back from Goa, I was booked into Business Class on an award ticket to come back to Mumbai as I did not get a reasonable fare for a revenue ticket. Again, proactively lounge access was not offered, and on asking for it, I was told Air India had no lounge at Goa. While as per this FlyerTalk member,

I got lounge access at GOI last week – at the “restaurant” upstairs. AI J and LH*G. In the back was a roped off section for other airlines too. But there was no lounge invite at check-in. Just a lady who escorted me thru security and then took me upstairs to the restaurant and asked me what I wanted from the menu. It was then “taken care of.”

Look, this restaurant was several decibels higher in terms of noise as compared to the rest of the GOI terminal, so I did not mind sitting in the main terminal and buying more edible food and drinks, however, I just ask of Air India to apply policies consistently.

Any of you been through similar Air India experiences as well?

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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. Regarding Mumbai T2 lounge access, are Star Gold members given access on Air India? What about when flying other carriers?

  2. AI !!! Don’t really know what to say about these people…
    I wanted to try their airport upgrade ‘scheme’ on my sin-del-sin sector on enquiring about the same at AI desk at Changi I was told I need to pay SGD 180 plus a SGD 20 fee for the class difference, but then I thought of trying their economy as it was a new Dreamliner hence I changed my mind n dropped the offer….
    But on my way back on del-sin I decided to upgrade and then the typical AI story started….
    Just to cut the long story short- for the same upgrade that was being offered for a total of SGD 200 at Singapore airport for my return trip, these SMARTIES sitting at IGI asked me INR 25,000 for a one-way (i.e del-sin) upgrade.

  3. I have had similar experiences in the past. I got a tier match to AI gold on my AI SBI Visa Signature. Me and my wife were supposed to travel BLR-GOI sector on AI. I had bought an economy ticket and used the upgrade vouchers at check in. First the female at the check in desk sent me to the economy line to check in (and i’m AI gold status still. Then they called up some supervisor who did the upgrade formalities and i was given the two seats i requested. She then sent me back to the executive desk to validate that upgrade (again why? i have no idea). The female at the exec class desk did not give me lounge pass so i asked for one each for me and my wife. She said AI gold doesn’t get lounge access for one guest. Luckily her supervisor was sitting there and he asked her to give for both(fortunately). She didn’t even apologize for the mistake and sent us on our way. Later i found that my bags weren’t priority tagged either. Its like AI isn’t really interested in keeping passengers at all and its a little sad that they themselves don’t know their flying returns product. Have many other instances like that with AI.

  4. Damn !!. Just when i thought it would be worthwhile to get the SBI card and start earning towards Gold Status, your experience with the staff at the airport puts me in 2 minds. The frustration of going through the demeaning process of explaining to dumb staff how the system works makes me break up in a sweat.

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