In air travel, much like in life, loyalty pays. Airlines, which invented the first full-scale loyalty programme back in 1981, have seen how passengers come back for more when they’re treated to more facilities and benefits rather than the one-off traveller. Road warriors vouch for these being life savers.

In India, three airlines currently offer a loyalty programme, Air India, Vistara and SpiceJet. Air India’s frequent flyer programme, Flying Returns (Flyingreturns.co.in), allows you to earn benefits not just on Air India, but 27 other airlines that are members of the Star Alliance, including United, Thai and Singapore Airlines (Staralliance.com).

However, the benefits don’t come easy. On earning 25,000 status miles on Air India and other Star Alliance member airlines, you just get more baggage allowance. Only on earning at least 50,000 status miles on Air India and other Star Alliance airlines (within a year) do you attain Gold status, which will get you the perk of lounge access on all your Star Alliance flights for one year after. The best part is, once you are Gold or above, you get free cancellations on your Air India domestic tickets, which matters for frequent travellers as plans change for them a lot.

The Air India programme is structured in such a manner that it only benefits long-haul frequent flyers. On a short-haul economy flight between Mumbai and Delhi, you can only earn 177 status miles (25% of flown distance). So, you can do the math about how long it would take you to get to Gold, as compared to the other airlines which offer perks at 30 flights a year or upwards.

If you are a Star Alliance frequent flyer, however, you would do well to assess the programmes of other Star Alliance members and sign up for them if this works better for you. For instance, Avianca LifeMiles (Lifemiles.com) has a very good redemption chart, where you can get business class redemption tickets starting at 8,500 LifeMiles. Or if you would like to earn Star Alliance Gold, you could look at Asiana’s Asiana Club, where you have to earn just 40,000 elite miles over two years to get Star Alliance Gold Status for a further two years.

For those who are impressed with Vistara, the airline offers Club Vistara for you to earn points on their flights. Unlike other airlines, Vistara grants you points on the basis of the amount you spend buying their tickets. You earn eight points for every 100 spent as a base level member, and 11 points per 100 as a Platinum member. To earn Platinum, you usually have to fly 40 times within a year, but if you are a Gold card holder with another airline, you can get a status challenge with them, where you only have to fly 12 times within three months to get Platinum status. Vistara Gold can be earned by just signing up for the Axis Bank Vistara Infinite Credit Card.

The reason Vistara Platinum is to be considered is that this is the only tier from Vistara that provides you the benefit of free rescheduling of flights. At a few thousand rupees per flight, those costs could add up quickly for a business traveller.

No-frills carrier SpiceJet has also been offering a loyalty programme, called SpiceClub. Your phone number is your SpiceClub number, and you need to register to get access to the programme.

On 30 flights a year, you get the SpiceClub platinum, which gets you four free upgrades to SpiceMax, four free meals through the year, and two free changes or cancellations, among other benefits. But the problem with SpiceClub is the rules change too frequently, and, most of the time, the airline will not credit your flights to your account on one pretext or another, in spite of many follow-ups.

If you travel a lot internationally, you would do well to do a lot of business with Oneworld member airlines. Though Oneworld is a smaller alliance than Star Alliance, the benefits—including top-tier members getting access to first class check-in counters and first class lounges—are better. British Airways, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific are the Oneworld airlines that operate from India.

Eventually, you would need more than one frequent flyer programme if you fly a lot. So, choose as per your travel patterns to make the most of their benefits.

Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.

Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.

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