The Maharaja’s Frequent Flyer programme

As very long-time user of the Air India frequent flyer program it is frustrating to see that nothing has changed over the last decade either in terms of customer service or redemption.

It is interesting to see how aggressively the Maharaja and their employees promote their frequent flyer program. They have also tied up with credit card companies which enable customers to earn additional miles by using their Co-branded credit cards.

Almost everyone I know saves their miles for holidays. It is an established fact that passengers select an airline to accumulate miles for use later. The age-old philosophy of “One Airline, One Hotel Chain and One Credit Card” has yielded many “paid for holidays” for customers.

However, in the case of Air India, when the time comes for redemption of these miles, painfully collected over a period of time, the horror starts.

It is impossible to get through to the customer service line for redemption of points. I have wasted hours on the phone, listening to how important I am as a customer. Air India is the only call centre where they give the waiting time in 30 second slots. It is also the only waiting line where the time keeps increasing and the number of the people in the queue, ahead of the caller, keeps increasing.

When one does manage to get through the call drops or is disconnected, only to start all over again. I have spent 88 minutes holding, waiting for a customer service agent, in 3 separate calls and was still not able to speak to an agent.

The only way to get a ticket is to make a trip to the local Air India office. This is another frustrating experience. The Air India staff actually believes that they are doing the passenger a favour because the tickets are against miles and not paid tickets.

Be prepared to wait for several hours because either the “concerned person” is not available or “the system is down” or “Mumbai staff is away for lunch” etc. The standard response from the counter staff is “please sit down and we will call you”. Spending 3 to 4 hours is a standard norm at an Air India office to get a redemption ticket.

There is another aspect which has been surprising for me. If the flight time has changed, Air India cancels the confirmed seats without any reference or communication to the customer. What would have happened to customers who have reached their destination and have suddenly realised they don't have tickets to fly back home.

Finally, Air India cancels a flight and simply sends an SMS. Who cares about the passengers who may have planned urgent trips and who is bothered about the money that may have been lost for hotel bookings? Definitely not Air India or its “customer service” staff.

Having flown several different airlines over the last few decades, Air India’s frequent flyer program is definitely the most challenging and has the most difficult customer service agents.

Instead of treating a frequent flyer as a valued customer Air India treats them as a nuisance value.

If the Tatas are to attract Indians to start travelling again with them, this is one department that needs serious looking into and correcting.


The author is a CEO Coach, a Storyteller and an Angel Investor. He hosts the highly successful podcast titled The Brand Called You. A keen political observer and commentator, he is also the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies. He is the author of 7 best-selling books and writes for several online newspapers.

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Twitter: @gargashutosh

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Storyteller | CEO Coach | Author | Entrepreneur | Investor | Founder, The Brand Called You, Guardian Pharmacy | YPO | WEF GLT | TiE Charter Member |

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Ashutosh Garg

Ashutosh Garg

Storyteller | CEO Coach | Author | Entrepreneur | Investor | Founder, The Brand Called You, Guardian Pharmacy | YPO | WEF GLT | TiE Charter Member |

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