When Vistara launched its loyalty programme back in 2014/15, the airline became the first domestic carrier in India to move to a revenue-based system of earning and assessing elite membership. Then, the CCO, Giam Ming Toh, who was on deputation from SQ, had told me that Vistara had made a conscious decision to ensure their fliers were not just flying enough with them but also giving them enough revenue, and also because this is the way airlines would operate in the future. True enough, all US-based carriers went for revenue as a parameter since then. Delta was the only one who had announced their move to revenue back in 2014 w.e.f. from 2015.
Singapore Airlines itself has a revenue-oriented programme, apart from KrisFlyer, called the PPS Club. The Priority Passenger Service (PPS) is for passengers who have accumulated S$25,000 worth of PPS Value within a year. PPS Value is acquired while flying Singapore Airlines Suites, First Class or Business Class on Singapore Airlines, or Business Class on SilkAir. Think of it as SQ’s above-the-top-tier recognition, just like British Airways has the Gold Guest List, American has the Concierge Key and so on.
Vistara, over the years, has reassessed the programme a couple of times. First, they added the Platinum Tier back in 2016, which I think was consciously left out on launch day to be able to offer another upgraded elite tier later. Then in 2019, the airline changed the perks you get with the tiers and the upgrade requirements on the induction of the 737 and launch of their international operations.
Now comes their most significant change to date. Vistara has notified members that from January 1, 2021, Vistara will be changing the qualification criteria for earning the various tiers at Vistara.
For reference, the current criteria to qualify for the various status tiers on Vistara are:
- Silver: 15,000 tier points or 20 flights
- Gold: 25,000 tier points or 30 flights
- Platinum: 35,000 tier points or 40 flights
Vistara’s notification states that come January 1, 2021, members will be able to (re)qualify for Vistara tiers when they made it compulsory to have tier points as well as a flight count necessarily to earn status. The new requirements to earn status are:
- Silver: 15,000 tier points and four flights
- Gold: 25,000 tier points and six flights
- Platinum: 35,000 tier points and 8 flights
In this requalification requirement, Vistara states, as is the rule, that Economy Lite fares get no tier points but just a flight count. Also, the 4/6/8 flights need to be flown necessarily on Vistara itself (not on codeshare partner airlines) to ensure you get your status. Here is the screengrab from their mail last night.
In doing this, Vistara has moved the goalpost from attracting frequent economy class domestic passengers or frequent regional passengers to focus on frequent long-haul passengers or frequent short-haul business class passengers. I hope you can re-read that sentence to figure out the nuance of how Vistara has played its hand right now.
With the new programme qualification guidelines, here is how much money you need to spend ex-taxes on Vistara to be able to earn or retain the status:
- Retain Platinum: INR 318,181 (roughly INR 3.2 Lakhs)
- Upgrade Gold to Platinum: INR 350,000 (INR 3.5 Lakhs)
- Retain Gold: INR 250,000 (INR 2.5 Lakhs)
- Upgrade Silver to Gold: INR 277,777 (INR 2.8 Lakhs)
- Retain Silver: INR 166,666 (INR 1.7 Lakhs)
- Upgrade Base to Silver: INR 187,500 (roughly INR 1.9 Lakhs)
First and foremost, I can’t be thankful enough for Vistara giving everyone 11-months notice towards this change. Let me add some perspective to this:
- Vistara needs time to change their IT systems
- Vistara, per their communication, want to make their tiers more value-based
Is this a devaluation? I don’t think so. Is this a process of elimination, yes. With one swoop of the pen, Vistara is ensuring that they limit their ranks of Gold and Platinum members to a select few, those who do pay for their higher-end fares. This is very much in line with the American standards of airline loyalty now, and Vistara is signalling that the programme is going to account for long-haul revenue as well, as this year they start operating their medium to long-haul flights on the Boeing 787-9 and the A321neos as well.
With this move, Vistara has levelled up with Air India, where you need to earn a certain amount of revenue to be able to get into the Golden and Maharaja Tier ranks. UK’s earlier loyalty journey was based on their level up with JetPrivilege, which was India’s most significant loyalty programme and their prime competitor. With JP out of the way, they don’t need to worry about providing big perks for small money.
If you requalify anytime during 2020, you still get to hold on to the status for one-year. Also, the contracts Vistara has to provide complimentary Gold Tier with other partners such as Axis Bank stay for now. Will this change? I don’t have access to their agreements to be able to comment on that. One thing is for sure. There will be soft-landing for those who don’t qualify.
But with significant revenue ask comes great load on the airline to provide loyalty benefits worth sticking around. Air India is tardy in this department. Vistara Platinum is just about a tad bit incrementally better than Vistara Gold at the moment. The perks need to vastly enhance when the request to spend (much) more money to garner status is coming in. Do I want them to offer me a unicorn every time I am at the airport? No. But I want stuff such as same-day standby on another flight being computerised rather than me having to queue up at a counter precisely one hour before the flight and then run through the security check to get on an earlier flight. I also want a lifetime loyalty programme where I don’t have to bother about this stuff once I’ve given 5-7 years of loyalty to the airline.
Is this a cost-cutting move coming through as a change? Maybe that was the starting point, or perhaps that is the result, but yes, there will be lesser people to reward at the end of this exercise unless everyone decided that perks were so crucial that they would be willing to fly to the UK/Tokyo to retain them. Business Class flyers anyways don’t need the perks since they get access to (almost) all the perks when they fly J.
What do you make out of the changes to the Vistara frequent flyer programme which will be set in 2021?