Travel Cheat: How to Make the Most of Your Air Miles in India

Expert tips to save on flight costs for a family vacation.  
Traveller Chicago O'Hare Airport
You can save money on your travels if you use your air miles smartly. Photo: Nick Harris/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

If you haven’t planned early enough for the annual family vacation, a hike in flight ticket prices can cut down your holiday options. Consider offsetting the cost of your vacation with the stash of air miles that you have earned via travel and spending over the years. After all, 5,000 miles and ₹500 cash on a ticket from Mumbai to Lucknow is a much better deal than spending ₹8,000 on the same.

Before you jump in, remember that you depend on the airline to open up seats which can be redeemed against your miles, also called redemption seats. These are capacity-controlled. Here is how you can use your miles to plan a vacation with the family.

Air India

Air India plane

For domestic travel, Air India has a good availability of redemption seats. Photo: BriYYZ/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Air India miles are earned by flying Air India or Star Alliance airlines, and crediting them to your Air India Flying Returns account. You can only earn miles for tickets that have your name on them. Your family members will earn miles in their individual accounts. So do remember to sign up everyone in the family for an Air India Flying Returns account.

For domestic travel, Air India has very good availability of redemption seats, sometimes four or more economy seats on a flight. You need to log into your Flying Returns account to check redemption seat availability, and book the redemption tickets. Otherwise, you can call 1800 180 1407 for availability and booking. Air India will only deduct airport charges and taxes.

If you don’t have enough miles, you can transfer reward points from your credit card accounts (such as those with Citibank, SBI Card, American Express or HDFC Bank), or buy miles from Air India at ₹1 per mile (You can only buy 50 per cent of existing miles present in your account). You can also club miles with your spouse by emailing Air India at flying-returns.ai@iclployalty.com along with a copy of your marriage certificate.

Jet Airways

Jet Airways flight

JetPrivilege is a partner with almost every Indian bank, so you can earn top-up miles by converting your credit card points. Photo: BriYYZ/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Jet Airways miles are earned by flying Jet Airways or other partner airlines and crediting to your JetPrivilege account. Jet Airways has many partners in the market, including credit card issuers, magazines, retail stores, hotels and restaurants so you can also earn a lot of miles by using co-branded credit cards, shopping, earning miles for hotel stays or eating out.

To redeem these tickets, you need Jet Airways to free up redemption seats. You can check availability on www.jetairways.com. To redeem miles, you would need at least 5,000 miles in your JP account, and have used your account at least twice.

For sectors less than 500 miles of flying, you will usually require 5,000 miles redemption for a one-way ticket, and some sectors even have about five or six seats open for redemption. Sectors between big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru will usually have two economy seats and one or two business class seats open for redemption tickets. The best place to book the redemption tickets is on their website itself, since you just need to select the flights and pay taxes.

If you don’t have enough miles, JetPrivilege is a partner with almost every Indian bank, so you can earn top-up miles by converting your credit card points. JetPrivilege also offers you a family pool, called MyFamily+, to allow the miles of the entire family to be pooled into one account and used for redemption tickets.

Etihad Airways

Etihad Flight

It is easy to use Etihad’s miles to travel within India on Jet Airways. Photo: Curimedia|PHOTOGRAPHY/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Etihad is a majority owner of the Jet Airways JetPrivilege frequent flyer program. As such, it is very easy to use Etihad’s miles to travel within India on Jet Airways. The redemption chart is available here. You will notice that using Etihad miles is the cheapest way to use miles to travel around the country. For example, if JetPrivilege charges 8,500 miles for a Mumbai-Delhi economy ticket, Etihad miles will only cost you 5,459 miles.

Availability of redemption seats is exactly as Jet Airways shows it, and you can use the Jet Airways website to check for seat availability. If you have availability, you can call Etihad at 1800 209 0808 to ask for a redemption ticket. They will tell you the number of miles required, and usually someone will call back to charge the taxes on your debit/credit card over the phone and complete the ticketing process. There is no way to complete the ticketing online.

The only hitch with booking tickets on Jet Airways via Etihad miles is that you don’t have access to last-minute seats, and you have to book at least 14 calendar days in advance.

Tips

Redeeming credit card points for tickets: Apart from using miles for redemptions, some credit cards also offer you the ability to use your credit card points for burning against tickets. For instance, with Citibank’s PremierMiles credit card, you can choose to burn your points directly with goibibo.com or yatra.com. A lot of banks such as HDFC Bank, State Bank of India, ING, IndusInd and others have also got their own portals where you can redeem your debit/credit card points with them against flight tickets, at values anywhere between 100 points = ₹25 to ₹70 (depending on your bank’s tie-up).

Remember, only a limited number of redemption seats are available, so if you don’t see enough mileage seats available, you may want to book some passengers with revenue tickets, and others with miles. The key is to be flexible with your dates and schedule, since not all flights will award seat availability as per your expectations or needs.

Also, I don’t advocate the use of miles where cheap revenue tickets are available. For instance, I won’t spend miles on a Delhi-Mumbai ticket for 8,500 miles and ₹1,000 in taxes when I can buy a ticket at ₹3,500, since my miles won’t deliver good value here at about ₹0.25 per mile.

  • Ajay Awtaney curates a website focused on airline and hotel loyalty programs, Indian airlines and passenger experience. He tweets as @livefromalounge.

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