Air India Flying Returns Program Review

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Air India is the country’s flag carrier, and its third-largest airline, after IndiGo and Jet Airways. It flies to 60 domestic and 31 international destinations in 19 countries across Australia, Asia, Europe and North America. In the United States, Air India flies to New York and Chicago.

Air India joined the Star Alliance in 2014 after making required upgrades to its fleet. It added several Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which currently fly to 22 destinations, including Sydney, London, Moscow, Frankfurt and Tokyo. Unfortunately, the new aircraft is not on any U.S. routes.

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Air India’s frequent flyer program is called Flying Returns. You can use its miles to fly anywhere in the world on Air India or Star Alliance partners.

Although the program is relatively easy to use, there aren’t many redemption sweet spots. But if you’re interested in domestic flights in India, Flying Returns awards are quite valuable. Domestic flights begin at 7,000 miles roundtrip.

One-way tickets are available for half the miles of round-trip flights. Air India also allows one stopover and one open jaw per flight. Fees for changing a ticket or cancelling and redepositing miles are probably the best you’ll see in any frequent flyer program: only 500 miles.

There is currently a glitch in the Flying Returns online booking system that prices every segment separately. You aren’t supposed to be charged for connecting flights. Air India acknowledges this issue and said it is working on a fix.

Hubs:

  • Indira Gandhi International Airport
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport
  • Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport

How Can You Use Flying Returns Miles?

Flying Returns has three separate award schemes, depending on the carrier and destination:

  • Domestic awards on Air India are distance-based
  • International awards on Air India are mostly region-based
  • Star Alliance partners have their own region-based award chart

Air India doesn’t publish award charts for its own flights, which can make determining redemption levels a little confusing, particularly for international routes. Using the Flying Returns mileage calculator, for example, suggests that the airline has region-based awards for Europe.

Most one-way tickets from India to Europe, including Frankfurt, London and Paris, cost 25,000 miles in economy, 50,000 miles in business and 62,500 miles in first class. But flights to Rome and Moscow are priced at only 19,000 miles in economy, 38,000 miles in business and 47,500 miles in first. That doesn’t make much sense if the awards are purely determined by region, so distance must be playing at least some role in international redemption rates on Air India flights.

Air India’s Star Alliance award chart

Program Perks:

  • Family pooling is allowed
  • Good redemptions on some domestic and international flights between India and Asia or Europe
  • Low change and cancellation fees
  • Many destinations served by Dreamliners, offering excellent business class service
  • Flights earn a minimum of 500 miles
  • One-way redemptions allowed

Booking Quirks:

  • Fuel surcharges on Air India flights and most Star Alliance partners
  • Online booking glitch for connecting flights
  • Can’t book partner airline award tickets online

Best Value Awards:

There are some good redemption deals in the Flying Returns program, but you have to look for them.

The airline’s distance-based domestic awards allows for some excellent redemptions on short hops on Air India. Those flights, such as Delhi to Jaipur, start at 7,000 miles.

Air India Domestic and International Mileage Award Calculator
Air India’s mileage calculator

There are some good deals on longer flights, too. The eight-hour trek from Delhi to Tokyo costs 38,000 miles roundtrip in economy, or 76,000 miles in business class. You can also get between Delhi and Rome (another eight-hour flight) for the same price.

Worst Value Awards:

Avoid redeeming for long-haul flights on Star Alliance partners, both in economy and premium classes. The longer the flight, the less value you’ll get for your miles. Flights between the U.S. and Australia cost an excessive 120,000 miles for economy, 240,000 for business and 300,000 for first.

The Good Stuff: Upgrades and Elite Status

You can use miles to upgrade your cash tickets from economy to business or business to first on Air India and Star Alliance partners. You can’t upgrade an award ticket. A one-way upgrade from economy to business between the U.S. and India costs 49,500 miles.

Star Alliance mileage upgrade chart

Air India Flying Returns Elite Levels and Perks

Each level includes the perks of the previous level.

  • Silver Edge Club: Additional baggage allowance; 15 percent bonus miles on flights; dedicated check-in counters at select airports; priority check-in and boarding; free upgrade voucher; priority baggage handling; priority reservations, wait list and airport standby on Star Alliance flights
  • Golden Edge Club: Reduced cancellation and change fees; 25 percent bonus miles; lounge access for member and one guest; two upgrade vouchers; priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling on Star Alliance flights
  • The Maharajah Club: Three upgrade vouchers; 30 percent bonus miles

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Air India does not offer a co-branded credit card for U.S. residents, but here are few cards you can use for booking Air India

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