Just because you're booked to fly in economy with Air India doesn't mean you can't fly like a Maharajah in 'Executive Class' (business class), as you may be able to fly up front by upgrading using frequent flyer points, cold hard cash, or in some cases, even for free.
You won’t need to have frequent flyer points in Air India’s own Flying Returns program, either, as you can use points or miles from more popular schemes like Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus and United MileagePlus for your bump-up too.
Whatever your plan may be for escaping economy travel, this ‘how-to’ guide has you covered.
Air India business class upgrades: the basics
As you’d expect, business class upgrades on Air India are all subject to availability, and upgrades may not necessarily be available on every flight.
That’s particularly true when using frequent flyer points for your upgrade. Just because there are business class seats still for sale on your flight doesn’t necessarily mean your points will be of use.
However, when purchasing an upgrade at the airport or using a complimentary airport upgrade voucher (more on that later), if there’s a spare business class seat on the flight when making your request, your upgrade is practically a done deal.
Regardless of how you upgrade, you’ll earn frequent flyer points and tier miles/status miles as per the economy class ticket you originally purchased – not as per a full-fare business class booking.
Air India business class upgrades using frequent flyer points
As Air India is a member of the global Star Alliance family, you can use frequent flyer points from any Star Alliance member airline for your Air India business class upgrade: a distinctly different approach to that taken by other airline alliances, such as Oneworld, which have no alliance-wide upgrade schemes.
Most relevant for Australian travellers are the Air New Zealand Airpoints, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus Star Alliance frequent flyer programs, in which you can earn frequent flyer points on many popular Australian credit cards.
For instance, you can earn KrisFlyer miles and Airpoints Dollars via the ANZ Rewards Black and Westpac Altitude Black credit cards (via each bank’s respective loyalty program), or can earn these plus Thai Airways miles through cards like American Express Explorer and the American Express Platinum Card.
KrisFlyer miles can also be earned through the St. George Amplify Visa Signature credit card, when choosing ‘Amplify Rewards’ as your loyalty option and converting Amplify points into KrisFlyer miles.
The exact number of points (or miles) needed for your upgrade varies between frequent flyer programs and from flight to flight, as does the cut-off point for upgrades to be processed before you fly, and the fare types you can upgrade from.
For example, here’s how many points you’d need for a one-way upgrade from economy to business class on an Air India flight from Sydney or Melbourne to Delhi, and how far in advance you’d need to secure your upgrade with each program:
- Air India Flying Returns: 42,000 FR miles from Y, B, M and H fares; 59,500 miles from K, Q, V and W tickets; 70,000 miles from G, L and U fares; and 87,500 miles from T, S and E tickets, available until two hours before departure.
- Air New Zealand Airpoints: $1,660 Airpoints Dollars from Y and B fares only, when upgrading at least 7 days before departure
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer: 60,000 KrisFlyer miles from Y and B fares only, up to 24 hours before departure
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus: 70,000 ROP miles from Y and B fares only, up to 24 hours before departure
- United MileagePlus: 30,000 miles from Y and B fares only (now and following November changes), up to 24 hours before departure
It should be said that with many of the frequent flyer programs above, the number of points required for a business class upgrade is almost as many as are needed to book the same flight in business class outright, so this move is primarily for business travellers on company-funded, fully-flexible tickets, rather than one to use on your next holiday.
However, if you’ve earned a stockpile of Air India Flying Returns miles from your travels on Air India and other Star Alliance Airlines, being able to upgrade from many of the lower-priced fares does prove handy when flying on your own coin.
Provided you have enough miles for a business class upgrade, you’ll need to contact your frequent flyer program – not Air India – to request a ‘Star Alliance upgrade using miles’.
Have your Air India booking information handy, including your reservation number and flight details, but remember that as points-based upgrades are subject to availability, upgrades may not necessarily be available when you need to travel.
To avoid getting stuck, or if your travel dates are a tad flexible, we’d suggest calling your frequent flyer program to check for upgrade availability before booking your Air India ticket or converting any points across from participating credit cards, to avoid disappointment.
Buying an Air India business class upgrade at the airport
Don’t have enough frequent flyer points for an upgrade, or saving them for a rainy day? That’s okay – you can also upgrade to business class on Air India domestic and international flights using money on the day you travel to “fly like a Maharajah”, as the airline describes it.
Unlike points-based upgrades, monetary upgrades can’t be secured in advance and are only available at airport check-in counters on a first-come, first-served basis: but if there’s a business class seat still vacant on your flight, you’re in with a respectable chance.
Air India currently sells business class upgrades on its Sydney-Delhi and Melbourne-Delhi flights for A$799, subject to availability, from all paid economy tickets except for E-class fares – while on the journey home, business class upgrades are instead priced at US$784 (A$985) including 12% Indian GST from the same fare types.
On Indian domestic flights, upgrades can be purchased at the airport when travelling on any paid economy class ticket (being the E, S, T, U, L, G, W, V, Q, K, H, M, B and Y fare types) at a cost of Rs. 5,040 (A$99) on flights up to 750km, and for Rs. 6,720 (A$132) on flights over 750km, including GST.
All paid upgrades include airport lounge access where available, although you’ll continue to earn frequent flyer points as per the economy fare you originally purchased, and with no increase to the baggage allowance indicated on your ticket, which also remains as per economy.
Also note that if your travels involve connecting flights where the flight numbers are different for each leg, and where you’re checked through from the first city to the last, upgrades are only possible on the final flight of your journey that day.
For instance, if you’re booked on flight AI301 from Sydney to Delhi, connecting to AI805 from Delhi to Mumbai, any paid upgrades will only be available on the Delhi-Mumbai leg – but it never hurts to ask, of course!
Paid upgrades are not available when your initial economy class flight was booked using frequent flyer points from any frequent flyer scheme: Air India’s or otherwise.
Air India business class upgrades using Flying Returns Premium Club vouchers
Air India rewards its jet-setting Flying Returns members with a set number of upgrade vouchers each year, which can each be used for one complimentary upgrade from economy to business class on Indian domestic flights – although not international flights, such as to and from Australia.
Silver Edge Club (Star Alliance Silver) members receive one upgrade voucher; Golden Edge Club (Star Alliance Gold) members net two upgrade vouchers; and top-level The Maharajah Club members (also Star Alliance Gold) pocket three upgrade vouches.
For newcomers to the Flying Returns scheme rising through the ranks from basic membership through to The Maharajah Club via the Silver Edge Club and Golden Edge Club tiers, that places a total of six upgrade vouchers on the table to enjoy along the way.
These vouchers are physical rather than digital – so don’t lose them! – and can be used when travelling on any paid Air India economy class ticket, although not on economy class bookings made using frequent flyer points.
Upgrades are again subject to availability and cannot be requested in advance: only at the check-in counter on the day of travel upon presentation of the voucher and the member’s Air India Flying Returns membership card.
Vouchers cannot be used to upgrade others – even travel companions booked on the same reservation as the Silver Edge Club, Golden Edge Club or Maharajah Club member – only the frequent flyer member who earned the voucher.
For Indian residents, upgrade vouchers are valid for six months from the date of issue, while foreign residents have eight months to use their voucher from its issue date, owing to the longer lead time in receiving these vouchers via international shipping.