Club Vistara needs to fix their gate upgrade processes at Delhi Airport

Vistara was the easy winner of the downfall of Jet Airways. Unfortunately, the JetPrivilege programme became irrelevant, and Vistara ran a great status match programme back in the day. They had frequent fliers make a beeline to Vistara, the only other credible full-service airline in the mix. Remember, apart from the Government of India, no one mandated Air India for flying, and of course, Vistara was the next best thing after sliced bread on this planet for a long time.

Now, I don’t know if they’ve become rusted or if this is my own overtly critical experience, but the airline is blowing it on the loyalty front at the moment. And it does not make life easy for the airline’s frequent flyers, arguably their most prominent champions, but perhaps also those who find things out of routine the most easily.

Before I go more into details, let me start with the stance that I’m not one of those people who returned from the USA and wanted airlines around the globe to offer free upgrades to people, especially their elites. I believe this creates pricing indiscipline because customers no longer want to buy business class but are rather happy to try their luck at the upgrade roulette. At Air India, you have to be a VIP or a Government official to be offered that free upgrade. At Jet Airways, they used to upgrade by the sequence of check-in and the tier of the member if the economy cabin was oversold for free. So, if I was SEQ 1 and JP Platinum, and the economy cabin was full, I could expect to be bumped up at the gate (after all the cash, miles and voucher upgrades were done with).

How Vistara Upgrades work

At Vistara, this works differently. Vistara did not go down the op-up route to Business Class. You could expect to be upgraded to Premium Economy, but that is a rarity. They are good about not making overselling a part of their life. Hence this is not a big problem for them.

However, Vistara does give out upgrade vouchers to their customers, and these are supposed to be used on flights with Vistara. Silvers gets 1, Gold gets 2, Platinum gets three vouchers when they make the tier for the first time, and 1/3/5 upgrade vouchers when they retain their tiers. That means a customer of Vistara can enjoy upgrades when they like. They could choose to use them on a special flight, such as off to their birthday, honeymoon, holiday, whenever.

Vistara A321neo Business Class

You need one upgrade voucher for an Economy to Premium Economy or a Premium Economy to Business Class upgrade, or an Economy to Business Class upgrade will mean two vouchers. These are the requirements for domestic flights. International flights have a vastly different upgrade requirement, which depends on flight length, amongst other things.

If you want an upgrade ahead, you can quickly call the contact centre, and they will upgrade you on the phone itself, subject to redemption seats being available in the cabin you want to be upgrading to.

Where are the lacunae?

However, what Vistara does not do, is to open up any available inventory to frequent flyers when not sold at the last minute. The Vistara belief is that paying customers are king, and they continue to sell unsold inventory via last-minute cash upgrades, which is usually at the airport. And honestly, I respect this approach. I have no problem with an airline trying to optimise revenue when they can, especially after all the losses caused by covid related grounding.

But what about loyalty for airport upgrades? This is where the problem sets in. I’ll go back to Jet Airways for a second.

If Jet Airways did not have an available upgrade seat, they would usually take down your voucher details and waitlist you on the flight. Their reservation system allowed them to do that, and at the airport, they had a ready list of who to upgrade after all the monetised upgrades were closed out as the flight was closed.

However, Vistara has no such capacity in the off-the-rack reservation systems they bought from Amadeus, and neither have they bothered to add this capability six years later. So, while they will politely take down your upgrade requests at the airport, they don’t care to clear them unless you push for it.

This is very different from an American loyalty outlook perspective, where the major airlines show you in the app and on the FDIS at your gate with the number of premium cabin seats open and where you stood on the upgrade list.

Delhi does not clear upgrades

In October 2021, I took a last-minute trip from Delhi to Mumbai booked at 9 PM on a Saturday for a noon departure next afternoon. Premium Economy was full, Economy was very full, and Business Class was selling at INR 50,000 per seat. I pulled the trigger on one of the last seats on this flight in Economy class, and the ticket would have cost over INR 12000+ for the economy class itself, which is a lot of money but par for the course for economy class tickets. These were the days when Vistara was serving those sorry sandwiches in Economy Class, and I was going to get on the plane from a meeting on Sunday, so I hoped to get some good food on the plane especially since I was going to hop off and get into another long meeting.

There were three business class seats available on the flight. I called Club Vistara, who could not make an upgrade happen because no redemption inventory in business class. I made them put a note on the reservation, which they said would flash when I’d turn up at the airport for dropping my bag.

Long story short, I arrived at the airport, and the agent mentioned nothing about the upgrade request. I reminded her. She knew nothing about voucher upgrades, so she called someone else (Vistara is handled by AISATS ground handling at Delhi). This second person took down my voucher numbers and told me I should either wait to get an upgrade cleared right now (upgrades clear T-90 minutes, or I could check with the boarding gate staff. She told me there were three seats on sale still, and there was a very good chance of clearing.

Roughing the Delhi airport serpentine queues, I made it to the other side, and at exactly T-89 minutes, I was at the boarding gate (not like I had better things to do once at the airport). I walked up to the boarding gate agent, and he shrugged, saying the business class was full. Eye rolls ensued. The guy opened his computer screen and thrust it in my face. The cabin was indeed full.

While no one wanted to give me clear answers, I was told things indirectly. At T-91, there were three seats open for sale again. So, I was looking for answers, just out of curiosity.

As I could see from my emergency exit window seat, the business cabin was full.  The answer was seated across the row at the other end of the Emergency Exit row where a captain was either deadheading or on standby travel. He was in his uniform. Usually, they offer business class seats if open, but it seems his family flew upfront while he flew at the back. How do I know? The family was reunited when the plane landed and had a bus take them.

It is not the captain’s fault or his family’s. They were travelling with valid tickets, of course. Honestly, I’m not privy to the entitlements they have onboard a Vistara flight, but what got lost in the process, was my puny little upgrade. And then it all came together.

Vistara does not have a waitlisting system for upgrades. This means when the flights close, there needs to be a manual upgrade processing done to ensure people get upgraded if eligible. At Mumbai, Vistara gets you to sign a form to process upgrades to keep your upgrade processing paper trail. So, there was no paper trail of my upgrade request. This means if the scrap paper my voucher codes were jotted down on were tossed in the wastebasket after I left the counter, there would never be any trace left that I’d requested for an upgrade.

Life was better when the Vistara Lounge existed because the Lounge staff had access to the reservation system in real-time, and they were a good bunch of people. So, even if you did not get that upgrade cleared, they were on it until the flight was closed.

The same thing happened again at the Delhi – Dubai flight I took in November 2021. No one knew at the boarding gate that I’d requested an upgrade because there was no system to tell them at the boarding gate.

Honestly, this sounds like a rant, but I talked to many Vistara frequent fliers before writing this down, and they are all having similar experiences. The airport staff does not seem to care anymore at Delhi Airport, which is unfortunate. Also, since the airport staff is not Vistara but AISATS with some managers from Vistara overseeing them, no one gives a damn is the feeling I get, now that I am spending more time flying out of Delhi.

I seriously hope that these issues are taken care of as part of their new upgraded systems, of which a warning of downtime before going into upgrade should have been normal, but we never got any today.

Honestly, there are a whole lot of lapses on the loyalty front these days, which I find amusing and I hope the Vistara loyalty team is spending time fixing these instead of vanity projects such as the Club Vistara instagram handle.

P.S. It turns out it is not just me who finds it troubling to use our upgrade vouchers with Vistara

Bottomline

Vistara seems to be slackening on their upgrade processing, at least at the airport in Delhi. With Delhi being their hub, they really need to get their customer handling a few notches up at Delhi and be out there to impress. With Covid as an excuse fast vaning away, Vistara really got to put their best foot forward in the times ahead.

Loyalty is a two-way street, as I keep telling everyone who bothers to listen. And in the airline business, especially in India, where customers will leave you for a puny INR 100 difference on the ticket price, it matters even more that you earn that loyalty every day.

What has been your experience with Vistara Airport upgrades recently? Please do comment with specific good or bad experiences if any and do mention the station (airport) where you were flying out of 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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Comments

  1. I’m a Platinum Member. And I’d say the Vistara Upgrade Voucher system is woefully short of the excellent system that Jet ran. Completely lacking in transparency. I managed to use one out of quite a few I’ve collected a few weeks back traveling from Blr to Del only because I checked in one minute before the counter closed! Almost as bad as Air India. Disgusted!!!!

  2. I too am a gold member since the day it was launched ..I clearly remember both delhi and mumbai airport the staff said you are the 1 sy gold member we are catering to felt v happy and proud ..But redemption inventory in business class. I too have often faced same problem..seats are empty but they want upgrade coz upgrade quota is over..and eventually the coupon also expires..alot of fine prints ..another point is in case of complimentary ticket unlike international travel like lufhthansa or swiss where when I have to travel priority and seata are always available, here in Vistarawe have to book according to Vistara convenience and not our own convenience as redemption is not allowed on this or that flight..bolling has to be done at there beg and call ..it’s sad. What’s d point of such a beautiful airlines and good membership when we can’t choose..also with redemption many things we dnt for example one free change in flight..I have complained to vistara many times but given up. Not to mention customer care is good but difficult to access, either it’s busy no ans or keep holding.

  3. I and my wife both are CV Gold, have tried many times to get upgrade from sharjah to delhi and dubai to delhi and they tell you point blank that we don’t provide any upgrade on international flights. That’s a lie but they will tell it to you point blank.
    From delhi to UAE, it has been miss and hit. Sometimes it has been possible,, other times not., which is understandable, but UAE to delhi, one can forget.

    • @Rahul, there is a reason for it, and it has been coded in the rules. For whatever reason, Vistara says airport upgrades on flights from international stations cannot be processed. While it is unfortunate, it has been put up in the book so you need to blame the Club Vistara team, not the airport team honestly!

  4. I am a Gold member of CV. I have faced similar issues at Mumbai and Delhi. The delhi crew used to handle upgrades much better compared to Mumbai before Covid arrived. However, it seems they have found an excuse in Covid and the services at Delhi airport have worsened. Initially they had a rule of upgrading only T-60. However, if you escalate they do upgrade before that as well. Also, I was once told at Mumbai airport that I can not upgrade as my ticket is booked using points. However, I had done the same at Delhi airport in the past and when I told them about it, they escalated the issue and I got an upgrade eventually. But I do agree completely that Vistara needs to handle their Club Vistara customers better.

  5. Vistara customer service is the worst. At times even Air India gave better service. Its just wait for Jet to be back in its previous glory.. its not just about upgrades but the entire experience which is so below par. As someone commented prefer flying Indigo. You get what you pay for unlike Vistara!

  6. The article is on point. I am a gold member. Faced a similar issue while trying for an upgrade a Premium Economy to a Business for a Delhi-Kolkata flight. The staff at the counter informed me that they will upgrade me at the Gate at 90 minutes within departure. At the gate, they told me to wait for more time. I had to request them after every 15 minutes but they kept asking me to wait. Finally, when the flight boarding started, they allowed me to use the upgrade voucher. Even then, the staff was clueless as to how to use the upgrade.

  7. I’ve given up on Vistara for a couple of reasons:
    I fly out of Bagdogra mostly and on my return via Delhi theres only a single flight option. Also their services were found to be lacking on the off occasions when i did take Vistara. Now I actually prefer taking Indigo as its most reliant. Even air-asia had better courteousness then Vistara, dont know why.
    Serious lack in the indian skies post JA, hope this changes soon.

  8. The are probably training themselves to be as helpless as possible since a merger with AI could be on the cards

  9. My dad (CV PLT) and I (CV GLD) have had experiences of being told at Delhi airport check in that the business class is full while making an upgrade request and later on the plane we found empty seats! Not sure about Vistara’s stategy here.

  10. I am 1K on United and their system of allowing PAX to book extra legroom seats, automatically waitlisting for domestic upgrades and Plus Points for international upgrades is awesome. I really missed that when I flew in India.

  11. You are right about the lounge staff, they have followed up for me and got me the upgrade while I waited in the lounge. Since the closure of the lounge I don’t even bother asking.

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