UPDATE | Thai Airways' drastic devaluation of its Royal Orchid Plus frequent flyer scheme has been deferred indefinitely, which comes as welcome news to rusted-on members of the program.
The airline had originally planned to hike its redemption rates on September 1 for flights with both Thai Airways and across the Star Alliance, with the number of points needed for many first and business class journeys set to double.
Many frequent flyers with a sizeable balance in Royal Orchid Plus (ROP) would have naturally taken their points out for a real spin, booking flights across the globe ahead of the planned revamp.
Mindful of this, Thai is waiving any change fees for award flights booked between June 17 and July 29 2014 as a goodwill gesture, giving ROP members a chance to book more suitable flights without forcing their hand with a deadline.
While there's no set date for any further changes to award flight redemptions through ROP, any such changes "will be announced to members with advance notice" in a clear effort to boost confidence in the program.
For now, at least, the existing redemption rates are here to stay.
PREVIOUS | Thai Airways is raising the number of miles needed for award seats and upgrades in its Royal Orchid Plus loyalty program.
The huge increase will see nearly every frequent flyer redemption become more expensive come September 1 2014, with many return trips set to double in price.
The same applies when cashing in miles for both Star Alliance flights and upgrades, with new, ‘simplified’ redemption rates.
Here’s what it all means for Aussie travellers.
Flights from Australia to Bangkok
Currently, a one-way journey from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Bangkok on Thai Airways takes 38,500 miles in economy and 68,500 in business.
Sydney-based travellers also have the option of first class on Thai’s Boeing 747s, which comes in at 105,000 miles.
From September, economy is cheaper at 33,000 miles, but both business and first class face sizeable increases – climbing to 98,000 and 150,000 miles, respectively.
Under the current system, return trip awards provide a lower cost per flight: it’s 55,000, 98,000, 150,000 miles for economy, business and first under the current system.
The changes see this rising to 66,000 miles in economy, 196,000 miles in business and a whopping 300,000 miles in first class – that’s double the current award rates at the pointy end.
Flights from Australia to London
London-bound travellers from Australia’s east coast current fork out 63,000 miles for a one-way economy trek via Bangkok, 118,000 miles for business and 160,000 miles for first class.
The newer ‘simplified’ rates see economy a little cheaper at just 49,000 miles, but both business and first jump substantially.
Business class becomes 170,000 miles, while first is 230,000 miles – making the new business class cost higher than the existing first class rate.
Return trip awards rise from 90,000 miles in economy to 98,000 miles, while the current business and first class rates again double.
That sees today’s price of 170,000 miles in business and 230,000 miles in first catapult to 340,000 for business class and a staggering 480,000 miles for first class (from Sydney only).
Flights from Australia to North America
For Sydney-based travellers jetting to Los Angeles and San Francisco with United or to Vancouver with Air Canada, the number of miles required goes up across the board.
Economy is slightly more expensive under the new system, now 120,000 miles as opposed to the old figure of 100,000.
For business and first class travellers, it’s not good news. The number of miles required will double, so the existing 150,000- and 180,000-mile rates become 300,000 and 360,000 in business and first, respectively.
The only advantage of the changes for Star Alliance travellers is that one-way bookings are now available at half the mileage rates above, but as you’ll wind up paying the same as the ‘old’ return rate, the benefit is moot.
Using miles to upgrade
Upgrade rates are increasing across the board, although the biggest loss is for economy travellers looking to upgrade to business class.
Come September 1, upgrades will no longer be possible from the cheaper G, V and W-class economy ‘fare buckets’, and will instead be possible only from the more expensive fares.
Between Sydney and Bangkok, travellers on the most flexible Y, B and M fares will begin shelling out 51,000 miles for a one-way upgrade as opposed to the current 34,000-mile price.
On midrange economy fares in the H, Q, S, T and K buckets, the asking price jumps from 44,000 to 66,000 miles.
It’s a similar story for business class travellers hoping for a seat at the pointiest of pointy ends, with rates between Sydney and Bangkok changing from 52,000 to 62,500 miles.
Fortunately, no adjustments are being made to the business class fare types that can be upgraded to first class.
If travelling onwards to London, the upgrade rates hike from 38,000 and 50,000 miles in full and midrange economy to 51,000 and 66,000, respectively.
In business class, Bangkok-London upgrades go from 58,000 miles to 69,500, which represents a smaller increase than economy, but is a devaluation nonetheless.
For any upgrades processed or award tickets booked prior to September 1 2014 – including for travel after this date – the current, more favourable rates apply.
Using Royal Orchid Plus miles to upgrade on Star Alliance flights sees similar changes, so if you have a few Royal Orchid Plus miles to burn, you’d best do so sooner rather than later.
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