Having not travelled much in 2017 and all of 2018, Preethika and I had decided on making at least two international trips this year. Our first international trip of 2019 was to Taiwan. While we were in Taiwan, Preethika bounced the idea of visiting Chiang Mai once again, this time to witness and take part in the beautiful Yi Peng Lantern Festival.
For those who aren’t aware, the Chiang Mai lantern festival takes place in November, and I started tracking flight prices in April. The cheapest return ticket from MAA to CNX I found in April 2019 was for ₹22,000. I found that to be on the higher side especially since we spent about ₹18,000 in all during our last trip to Thailand while hopping from Chennai => Krabi => Chiang Mai => Bangkok => Chennai. I had made up my mind to use my points and buy an award ticket on one of the Star Alliance flights.
Come July, and it appeared to me that the prices weren’t going to go down. Not just that, I also noticed an upward trend, with the cheapest tickets on Air Asia without baggage, was costing us ₹24,000. Thai Airways, a full-service airline, was costing around the ₹26,000 mark. It didn’t make sense for us to fly Air Asia, but then, somewhere, the thought of spending more than ₹20,000 for a return ticket to Thailand wasn’t making sense as well.
And that’s when I decided to use the points earned on my Citi Prestige credit card. Citi Prestige allows reward points redemption to both Air India (Star Alliance) and Thai Airways, so my first step was to get in touch with Air India since I am an existing Flying Returns member.
The headache that is Air India
It is high time Air India shut down or privatised. You’ve heard it from everyone else, and I’m doing my share. Here’s one more reason why.
Logged on to the Air India Flying Returns website, and the site tells me that there are no award flights for Chennai to Chiang Mai.
This I know wasn’t true since there is a Thai Airways daily in that sector, but to reconfirm, I also looked for multiple date combinations. Same result. On the side, I split the sectors and searched for Chennai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Chiang Mai and the website threw up multiple options.
I had a couple of problems with this. One, I didn’t want to do a piece-meal booking, and two, the points required for this booking seemed a little too much.
Move over Air India.
The difficulty of getting started with Royal Orchid Plus/Star Alliance continues
The advantage with the Citi Prestige Card is that they have multiple partners to whom you can transfer your points in exchange for miles. Thanks to them, transferring to Royal Orchid Plus, the customer loyalty program of Thai Airways was also an option, so I decided to explore that. Went to their website, signed up and got myself a frequent flier number. Next, I tried online redemption, and that wasn’t an option. Googled their customer service number here in Chennai and called.
I found their Mumbai number next. The gentleman who handled me was super helpful. Told him that I have sufficient points that can transfer but would like to understand availability for the required dates and the number of points required before doing that. Got crystal clear answers, and I was super delighted. Looks like he had handled similar customers before. And right when I was about to give him the green light to block the tickets for our dates, he threw a bomb at me.
Sir, since your flight is originating from Chennai, you will have to call the Chennai Customer Care of Thai Airways to both block and book this award ticket.”
What a big #facepalm moment! What kind of a stupid process is that?
I request that my call be transferred then — not an option. So cut the call and call the Chennai number again. No response. Try alternate numbers. One of the phone numbers does not exist. Others, no response.
I call the Mumbai office of Thai Airways again. Explain my predicament and request that they process my request – they deny politely. I verify if the numbers I have are correct. Yes, they are. Asked to keep trying.
And I try again. No one picks up. Then I decide to send the Chennai office an email, and I get the shock of my life.
I was flabbergasted by the automatic response. How in the world did a reservations email ID of a reputed airline company go on vacation?
Decided to spam all the email IDs mentioned in the vacation responder and received a response at around 5:30 pm that since it is the weekend (it was a Friday evening and during office hours), I could expect a response on Monday only.
Experience of getting an award ticket on Star Alliance: Bottomline
I got a response from the Thai Airways Chennai office on Monday and after that the going was smooth. Our award ticket on Star Alliance was issued during the same week. I thought earning points/miles was an art, but redeeming flight tickets in exchange for the points/miles saved is a much bigger skill.
The things we do to save money on international trips, hack travel ?