Is Air India Flying Returns the most miser frequent flying program?

Last year, I spent some time investigating the Air India frequent flyer program “Flying Returns”. At that point of time, I kind of started to appreciate the program a bit, because they finally had some structure to it, and they have much better availability over other Indian airlines. Earlier, the tier hurdles were not clear and no one had a clue as to who got their top tier and who did not. Seemed like in the process of getting ready for Star Alliance membership, they came up with a process because they needed to.

However, this post on FlyerTalk seems to have raised a few valid pointers about how the program still sucks, and in my own personal experience, that matches up.

The mileage earning opportunities on lower fare classes are 25% of the mileage flown, which means, for a 706 mile flight (BOM-DEL, for instance), you get a credit of only 177 miles. This means that even for a Silver status on the airline, which does not get much in terms of benefits (10% bonus miles, 1 upgrade, priority boarding which is non-existent, and some excess baggage), one needs to do about 85 flights on this sector, which, at an average cost of Rs. 5,200 (~$100) would be about Rs. 442,000 (~ $8000) of spend just to earn Silver status.

Jet Airways used to similarly award 20-25% of mileage of a low revenue fare class, but they fixed it about a year back and now almost all fares on 9W full-service flights get 100% miles flown, while JetKonnect gets 75% mileage on the same route. But at least they awarded tier-points to compensate and you could upgrade/requalify for a tier by earning tier points if you flew enough with them.

Also, the only partners Air India has at this point of time for earn and burn, inconsistently, are Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, both of which need massive number of miles to be able to dream up a burn on them.

So my question to all of you is that is Air India’s frequent flyer program as bad it really looks, or are there sweet spots I don’t know of or appreciate yet, apart from the availability being there. Let me know via the comments.

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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. Tier upgrade should be based on both no. of points earned (parameter 1) as well as no. of flights taken (parameter 2)- similar to Vistara’s frequent flyer programme. It should basically be an OR condition between the 2 parameters.

  2. i am happy always with Flying Returns.award redemption is easy and quick compared to any other airlines.Would you ever visit any European airlines/Middle east and mess for not issuing award ticket.will any other airlines provide you 1333 mileage points on online booking apart from your normal accrual.has any other airline provided you additional 10 kg for all base members since 1965 until 2015.had anyone checked what other airlines charge you after your demise? where AIR INDIA takes your human remains free of cost.Service you complain.. had any of you visited to any other govt services in India and found so quick. Every time you travel if you are a premium club member if you ask for a free upgrade at airport based on availability they provide you .I found Flying Returns will remain best

    • @Noura, please tell me how do they give a free upgrade at the airport. I have been a gold member for years, and they only give operational upgrades at the gate, not at the check in counter. Also, you may be a friend or family of the airline which is why you may find it easy to get those free upgrades others don’t.

      As for 10 kg allowance, this was introduced a few years ago. In 1965 there was no Flying Returns program. Air India is the slowest of the government services and found them not so quick contrary to your claim. the 1333 miles bonus is for international business flights. not applicable for everyone.

      • The frequent flyers of Air India is the most frustrating loyalty programme of any airline in the world. I flew Delhi Bangkok Delhi in December Business class. At every stage I made sure that my Flying Returns Number was given. It is printed in the Boarding Cards. But no miles credited. I rang up and was told to go to the web site and claim under retro miles. Did so. The claim procedure is bizarre- seeking information which the passenger cannot possibly have e g. Fill up RBD and the choice runs from A to Z- literally. Rang up again and after tortuous verification procedure was given my choice as Z for Business!!! Then I had to fill in ticket number to which the response is that the ticket number does not fall in specified fields or something like that. Rang up again and the person at the other end was equally perplexed and gave mne a mail id to write to. Did that and have just got a reply that why dont I file directly through the retro claims on the website. This is so stupid that it cannot be bizarre but a conspiracy: Air India is chasing away all its customers. No flyers less problem. My F F Number is 106349475 if IAr India ever looks at this blog.

  3. I find that the KYC process is so cumbersome and complicated forAir India flying returns that the idea is to make sure that air miles earned are not used. My own example of getting the KYC process completed is bizarre and the only explanation is of a bureaucracy which has no idea of what it is trying to achieve.When I realised around the beginning of 2016 that some substantial number of miles were going to expire I tried to book a flight using them. AT that time I recieved a long letter of apology that the frequent flyer programme was being misued and all members had to go through a KYC process. Since I was in a hurry to complete the process I went to the Air India local head office with all the KYC documents. I was told there that they would not be able to entertain me unless I completed the process online first! About 4 months ago I started the process but at each stage I came across hurdles whose aim seemed to be to make sure that the process was not completed.For instance for proof of identity and address I uploaded my Aadhar card. This was rejected on the grounds that since I had earned some miles international flights only a passport could be used!! Both the first and last page of the passport were insisted upon. When I uploaded both the pages the rejection was on the grounds that the file uploaded was too large for the system to accept. After many phone calls and e mails the trick was finally explained to me. Upload the first page as identiry proof and the last page as address proof. When I pointed out that the form has a a pop up which explicitly states that both pages are required I was told to ignore it! Having finally uploaded all the documents I am now waiting for them to be verified and my status remains as pending. Since the bulk of my miles expire end June i doubt I will be able to use them. I could howver set myself up as a consultant on how to navigate through the frequent flyers programme.


    • I fully agree with these comments as I have had a very similar experience with Air India Flying Returns. I am a member of several other frequent flyer programs (including Jet Airways) and in all of them it is very straightforward to use the miles I have earned, but for Air India, not only is the web site completely unhelpful, but the systems in place do not favour the use of accumulated miles. Even contacting the call centre does not get any results, although the agents are usually very enthusiastic and try to help. All this is encouraging me to avoid using Air India for any future travel and also to eventually abandon my whole families Flying Returns accounts and miles. Bye Bye Air India, your crappy “loyalty program” is forcing me to be dis-loyal to you. There are plenty of other airlines available that treat their frequent flyers much better than you do.

    • haha… I was trying to sign up for Air India Flying Returns and after a couple of failed attempts (trying to upload passport and address proofs in the file size limit they expect – I ended up downloading couple of image / document compression softwares on my laptop and wasting 1 hour), I decided to do a quick google if its just me or there are other people who find this process truly typical “Indian” i.e. utterly British raaz 18th century babu kagazgiri? And if they “have” to do this kagazgiri, atleast they could have there registration form software in place. It accepts 400kb files! My first mobile 20 years back would produce images more than this size limit.

      I have been flying all over the world for last 15 years and never seen such a backward and inefficient process to sign up for a rewards program! Now after reading your experiences, I am sure even if I do successfully get a membership, I would never be able to avail it! I mean if the membership registration is nightmare, I can only imagine what it would be like to try and avail your rewards points. Thanks @Raghavan for sharing your experience.

  4. I am trying to get my missing miles by providing all the scans of boarding passes…but it is almost 45 days…still yet to get the confirmation….I think they have some internal problems in the system between retro card team and account team. Manual crediting of missing miles has some problem….Finally I have sent a mail to appelite hoping some resolution will come….

  5. After aquiring nearly 50,000 miles each my wife and l tried in vain to obtain two executive class rewards from Trivandrum to Goa via Mumbai for January 2015, every date l put in would only allow 1 reward, so l called, why dont you have one economy and one executive seat was the offer, why would they only offer 1 seat every day l ask sorry was the answer no more help. as a family we would have booked this year 6 executive seats from London to trivandrum return, now l have told them as they are so very badly in flexable that l will book with another air line does any one out ther hava any ideas who to contact?.

  6. I would like to raise the following few points here.

    1) Yes AI has a bad FFP programme but again it is easy to burn/redeem than other airlines.’

    2) I have GOLD AMEX AI CARD which was one of the best earlier since it gave me 15% Discount on Economy and 25% on Business class, which in fact used to work equal to Eco class fare at times.

    AI has changed everything without a word from AI to FFP /Card members. Now the discount is available only on FULL FARE and not on discounted fare. Moreover, you cannot get discount by booking online at their site or through a travel agent. Only valid if booked directly at their city or airport counter.

    I think AI has gone out of their minds

  7. I had several overseas business class flight but no points despite my repeated requests. Put in request to update change in my postal address but No result. To my surpirise I got an email conveying that 42000 points have been expired last month. I immediately called their phone number but was told to contact some numbers 02261342251 and 02240631360 the numbers, some one picks and drops, I would request Air India that they should have sent a message before the expiry of the points rather than conveying conveying lateron. Hope they revalidate, thanks

  8. Y do u look only from the perspective of a domestic flyer, it shows a bias. It is equal or good for international travel,as for business class flights AI gives 200% (compared to Jet’s 150%), and first class 250%, with almost equal miles to jet’s program in economy. a big plus point for AI is much better award availability than jet( what’s d use of miles if u can’t redeem them). If someone does not like AI, then u can earn equal AI miles while flying Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

    • @Dr Anshul Gupta, I am looking overall. I am talking about the amount of flying you need to do as a domestic flyer to get status, something that other programs make easy by doing segment counts or other metrics because I would assume a lot of their flyers would be flying domestically only. As for AI availability, it is going down as well over the past few months. .

  9. Its not bad.

    Everytime I have booked a RT from USA-INDIA…it always gets me a free ticket to BOM and their availability is pretty good too.

    I think domestic flying on Air India doesn’t earn much, but if you fly them international as the ticket was cheap to begin with)..their program is not bad and i have used them many times for domestic award redemption in the past

  10. I don’t know from personal experience but did have an Indian university travel agent set up a fraudulent Air India account in my name for flights they’d organised and got to see some earn and burn during the long and drawn out process of trying to regain my points.

    For a $1500 BNE-SIN-BLR return on SQ (W class Y) they got 11578 points, which is the same as was eventually transferred into my preferred program VA. They used 11500 points to buy a return BLR-TRV ticket – worth about $120 return.

    Definitely not a great return, but not particularly bad either, and definitely not the worst I’ve seen, pretty stock standard in Asia really. For example I would say it’s about the same you could expect on QF. Though I would rate QF as one of the stingiest programs out there too in terms of earn and burn (more the burn part, given that you’ll often find yourself having to pay $550 in fees and charges for an award ticket worth $600 – even after paying 15000 points). Some CX fares won’t even earn on the CX program at all and cheap SQ flights only earn 10% on SQ’s program. Worse, many of their routes are increasingly taken over or ‘code-shared’ by their LCC ‘partners’/subsidiaries (Jetstar, Dragonair and Silk Air) which not only have sub-par service but more often than not won’t credit either (even if technically the websites say they’re supposed to).

    On the plus side, there often isn’t an enormous $ difference between non-earning and full-earning fares, so once you factor that in status is much easier to get than the example you’ve given. The OP example has been unlucky, but it could happen on any number of airlines.

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