For frequent flyers worried about the gradual climb in prices of air tickets over the last few months—partly as a result of oil prices—the consolidation in the airline industry could have some surprises in store.
Since 2003, most of the new airlines that started operations in the country—with the exception of the regional Chennai-based carrier Paramount Airways—have relied on the low-cost model promising affordable air travel to the masses. Air Deccan, SpiceJet, Indus Airways (the airline closed operations recently), GoAir and IndiGo squeezed the distance, but offered no freebies—the logic being that cheap tickets were the best freebies.
Just four of the nine scheduled passenger carriers in the country offer a frequent miles programme that allows passengers to earn “air-miles” for flying with them. These miles are redeemable for free tickets or towards the next ticket that is bought on the airline or partner airlines.
That may change now. With the coming together of Air India-Indian Airlines, Jet Airways-Air Sahara and Kingfisher Airlines-Air Deccan—three most visible airline groups— streamlining and integrating frequent flyer programmes are under way.
“For a full-service carrier, a frequent flyer programme is a strategic tool, so all three will need to re-look at how to integrate their programmes,” says Kapil Kaul, a New Delhi-based analyst with Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
The integration process itself is expected to take anywhere from six months to two years. Manoj Chacko, Kingfisher Airline’s global sales and marketing marketing head, says he would not discount the possibility of bringing low-cost carrier Air Deccan into the King Club frequent mile programme. “It may take a little bit of time. There are iterations before a final model is arrived at…we are working on it.”
Chacko says the frequent flier programme could be extended to Air Deccan passengers, but it is not clear how it will be shaped. One of the larger challenges for the the airline is the customer base. While Kingfisher banks on corporate travellers, Air Deccan’s passengers are sometimes first-time air travellers who get food pre-packed for the flight.
So, will someone who flies Kingfisher be able to redeem miles for a free Air Deccan ticket? Or will he utilize that ticket anyway? “We will need to do some fine-tuning,” says Chacko, who expects the announcement on an integrated model in the next six months.
Some start has already been made. Last week, Jet Airways announced that the airline will allow all of JetLite’s (formerly Air Sahara) frequent flyer members to automatically enrol into the 14-year-old Jet Privilege programme. Earlier in the year, Jet had bought over Air Sahara, which was offering tickets nearly equal to that of a low-fare airline, renaming it JetLite. “Effective July, all the members of the Cosmos frequent flyer programme (Air Sahara’s miles membership) have been enrolled into Jet Airways’ Jet Privilege programme and all their balance miles transferred to their Jet Privilege account. Jet Privilege members can now earn and redeem Jet Privilege miles for their flights on JetLite,” the airline says in a statement.
Airline reliability, route network and flight frequency will define why a passenger would opt for a particular frequent miles programme over another, says Kaul.
For instance, Firdaus M. Mogul, vice-president, global commercial cards, American Express India, is a Kingfisher Airlines loyalist. Says he: “It is perhaps the only airline in India in which you can continue to work on your laptop in the business class even after someone in front has pushed his seat back. It is a big plus for me.” Mogul, who travels about 100 times within India and abroad on business, recently used his miles for a family vacation in Goa. Frequent traveller Viajayanti Khare, vice-president with a Pune-based tech consultancy, who makes business trips every week, says she is not convinced of the plethora of offers. A member of Jet Privilege for five years with most recent additions to her wallet being cards from Air India’s Flying Returns and Kingfisher’s King Club, Khare says, “I have never had any issue with Jet so there is no point of flying any other airline unless it is about flight time.”
Given that the focus of most of the three major Indian airlines is now shifting to high-yield international operations, members will also be able to redeem miles across flights from Kanpur to New Delhi to New York on a single network. In the last three months alone, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and Air India have all multiplied their tie-ups with international airlines. Kingfisher says it is going to catch up with Air India’s list of a dozen international partners by the year-end. “We are looking at adding one new partner airlines a month,” said Chacko.