If you're regularly bound for Bangkok or beyond on Thai Airways, it's worth getting to know the airline's Royal Orchid Plus frequent flyer scheme.
As a Star Alliance airline, Thai’s Royal Orchid Plus members can also grab points when jetting off with the likes of Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, United Airlines, Air Canada and Air China.
The beauty of alliances is that you can pick and choose which loyalty program you belong to – you aren’t trapped only to the program of your most-travelled airline.
Nonetheless, whether you’re often flying to or through Bangkok or only fly with Thai on your annual holiday, here’s what you need to know about Royal Orchid Plus.
Royal Orchid Plus 101
Along with Thai Airways flights, Royal Orchid Plus lets travellers earn and redeem points on all Star Alliance member airlines.
From Australia, that includes Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, EVA Air, Asiana Airlines, Air New Zealand, South African Airways, Air China and Star’s newest member, Air India.
Further afield, Royal Orchid Plus extends its grasp to ANA, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines and Turkish Airlines, among others.
It’s free to join, so zip across to the Thai Airways website to enrol. And, by joining online, you’ll pocket a bonus 2,500 miles with your first Thai Airways flight.
You’ll also be able to set your seat and meal preferences when signing up, so by attaching your Royal Orchid Plus (ROP) membership number to future Thai Airways bookings, these requests will automatically be carried over.
Don’t forget to also quote your ROP number when travelling with Thai’s many partners, as there are miles to be earned there too – you’ll just need to set your travel preferences manually.
Speaking of points, your miles expire exactly three years from the end of the quarter in which they were earned if they haven’t yet been redeemed.
For example, if you earned 4,000 miles on September 15 2014 and 3,500 miles on October 2, the first batch would expire on September 30 2017, while the second set faces extinction on December 31 2017.
That rule doesn’t apply to Platinum members, although accounts that go two years without earning or redeeming any miles will be closed and the balance wiped completely – even if the points weren’t due to expire for a further year.
Royal Orchid Plus tiers
Moving beyond the entry-level (purple) tier, your status will progress through Silver and Gold as you fly more with Thai and its partner airlines, while Platinum is exclusively the domain of Thai’s frequent-flying business and first class passengers.
How far you progress is based on your travel history over both the last 12 and 24 months, with the more favourable of the two used to calculate your membership tier.
That’s done by looking at your rolling balance of ‘qualifying miles’ every month (also referred to in the program as ‘Q miles’) – which you’ll earn when flying with any Star Alliance airline.
Q miles generally mirror the number of regular, redeemable miles you’ll earn on your travels, although much like Qantas status credits, Q miles can’t be swapped for award flights or business class upgrades.
You’ll earn the most Q miles in Royal First Class and Royal Silk Class (business), while all eligible economy fares earn one Q mile per actual mile flown.
On the cheaper G, V and W economy ‘fare buckets’, you’ll earn redeemable miles at between 25 and 50% of the actual distance flown. While you’ll also pile up Q miles on those tickets, they only help to reach or retain Silver status – for Gold, V, G and W tickets aren’t counted.
With Thai’s Star Alliance partners, you’ll earn both qualifying and redeemable miles based on ROP’s partner earning rates.
Royal Orchid Plus Silver
After piling up 10,000 Q miles over 12 months or 15,000 Q miles over 24 months, you’ll move up to Royal Orchid Plus Silver status – yours for two years from the qualifying date.
That’s easily done by making one return trip from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Bangkok and back in business class, or even a one-way trek to London from Australia’s east coast or Perth on most economy fares.
The benefits aren’t many, but you’ll get an extra 10kg of checked baggage on Thai Airways flights, along with priority baggage tags to get you on the road faster.
ROP Silver members also have Star Alliance Silver status, which also doesn’t bring many discernable perks – but if you’re waitlisting for a flight or travelling on standby, priority treatment could see you flying out ahead of another passenger.
Royal Orchid Plus Gold
Over 12 months, 50,000 Q miles or 40 international Thai Airways flights is enough to take out the Gold, while 80,000 Q miles over 24 months gets you there as well.
Excluded from Gold-level Q mile calculations are those cheaper G, V and W fares – so as a rule, if you’re earning one point per mile, you’re on track for Gold.
At the pointy end, flying Sydney-Bangkok-London and back in business class twice each year would see you more than qualify, reeling in roughly 26,517 Q miles on each visit to the UK.
Every time you reach or maintain Gold, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 miles and a free round-trip upgrade certificate.
You’ll get another return upgrade after earning 50,000 further Q miles within 12 months, or flying 40 international sectors on Thai.
Perhaps equally exciting is the prospect of Star Alliance Gold status, which get you into Thai’s Royal Silk Class lounges worldwide and also lounge access when travelling with all other alliance members – including in Los Angeles where you’ll find the new Star Alliance lounge.
With Gold also comes priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling across the alliance, as does an extra 20kg of checked baggage or one additional piece, as applicable.
Also an improvement over Silver, Gold guests are higher in the pecking order when waitlisting or on standby and can make a confirmed economy class reservation on flights that are already full, provided the booking is finalised at least 72 hours before departure.
Royal Orchid Plus Platinum
At the very top is the ‘invitation-only’ Platinum level, which the airline pegs as being exclusive to “very frequent flying members who travel with Thai exclusively in Royal First Class and Royal Silk Class”.
It’s on-par with Singapore Airlines’ PPS Club, and rather than waiting for a formal invitation, you’ll get there after gathering at least 80,000 Q miles per year, for two consecutive years, from Thai Airways business and first class travel alone.
Flights with other airlines – even in first class – aren’t considered for Platinum members, nor are economy flights on Thai’s own aircraft.
Over and above the Gold level, top-tier travellers enjoy unlimited complimentary upgrades. Of course, they’re subject to availability, and if you’re already flying at least business class to have earned your Platinum status, you’ll want to fly on routes that offer first class to make this useful.
Otherwise, this benefit can also be transferred to a Platinum member’s ‘award nominees’ in Royal Orchid Plus, who might be able to put the generous perk to good use.
There are private, Platinum-only check-in counters in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, and from every other city, Platinums can use the first class check-in queues regardless of the fare booked.
Access is also granted to Thai’s Royal First Lounges with a guest in tow, but as Star Alliance doesn’t have a tier to rival Oneworld Emerald, the normal, lower-level Star Alliance Gold perks kick in when flying with airlines other than Thai Airways.
Not that it’s a problem for a frequent traveller, but award miles belonging to Platinum members are also guaranteed not to expire for as long as the Platinum status is held.
Finally, “top priority services before and after flights with Thai” also come as standard – and can range from a simple express immigration card right through to golf buggy escorts through Bangkok’s bustling terminal.
Earning award miles with Thai Airways
On a return trek from Sydney to Bangkok, the number of award miles you’ll pick up depends on where you’re sitting on board. In business class, that’s an easy 11,697 miles, or 14,037 miles up the very front in first class.
In economy, you’ll earn 9,358 miles on most fares, 4,679 on G-class tickets or just 2,339 miles on V- and W-class saver fares.
Onwards to Frankfurt on Thai’s Airbus A380, you’ll pick up a further 16,752 miles in first class, 13,960 miles in business class and 11,168 on most economy fares over the return journey.
Redeeming award miles with Thai Airways
Through Royal Orchid Plus, award miles can be swapped for flights and upgrades on Thai’s ever-growing list of airline partners.
Award flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Bangkok set travellers back 105,000 miles in first class, 68,500 miles in business and 38,500 miles in economy, which is simple enough.
But, if you’re flying all the way through to London, you’re best to redeem the journey as a single award. From those same cities to Heathrow via Bangkok, those one-way rates show their value at 160,000 miles for first class, 118,000 miles for business and 63,000 miles for economy.
You'll do even better to redeem these as a return award. Rather than doubling in mileage cost, the asking price increases by just 44% – making that Heathrow return trip just 230,000 miles in first class, 170,000 miles in business and just 90,000 miles down the back of the bus.
As a special treat for ROP Gold and Platinum members or their 'award nominees', the airline currently allows one return award redemption each year to be booked at half the usual mileage – which could see your value-packed first class London trip come in at just 115,000 miles.
To take advantage of the deal, you'll need to make a return award booking on Thai Airways-operated services with a TG flight number and begin your journey by December 31 2014.
While this 'limited time' promo has actually been running for a number of years, it's not yet known whether the deal will flow into 2015.
If you’ve bought confirmed tickets, upgrading to business class is also a great way to use your miles, although Gold and Platinum members don't receive any discounts on these.
You’ll burn through fewer miles upgrading from the higher-priced economy tickets – that’s anything in the Y, B and M ‘fare buckets’ – and more from the less expensive H, Q, S, T and K seats.
On that same Sydney-Bangkok journey, it’s 34,000 miles to upgrade to business from top-end fares, 56,000 miles from those sub-parity G, V and W tickets and 44,000 miles for tickets in between.
To compare, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can upgrade from economy to business class on the same route for 25,000 points in ‘flexible economy’ or 40,000 points on mid-range ‘economy’ fares, although the cheap ‘discount economy’ tickets aren’t normally eligible for upgrades.
That’s a little more generous on paper than in Royal Orchid Plus, but as you’ll generally earn more points per mile flown through ROP than Qantas – at least, in economy – you’ll quickly find that it swings in your favour.
And, although there were planned changes to the ROP redemption rates from September, the airline has decided to defer the changes indefinitely – so if you regularly fly with Thai Airways or its Star Alliance partners, it’s worth seeing if Royal Orchid Plus is right for you.
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