Are frequent flyer programs here the world's lamest, or just the least used?
(Updated: July 2009)
While everywhere from the local Alfamart and Century Pharmacy to Jakartan car parks have membership cards and/or discounts for regular customers, Indonesian airlines seem to have bucked this cultural trend; they either don't have any program or their schemes are so cumbersome to join/use that it seems few bother.
As airlines around the world reduce their passengers' ability to earn and redeem frequent flyer points, this is not surprising. But, the real question is this: are they worth joining?
Do frequent flyer programs in Indonesia really offer free flights, or is it impossible to redeem points without a torturous bureaucratic process?
But are any of them any good? I consider them individually below:
Garuda is the most well-known and has by far the most professional FF operation. It is the only one you can:
Having said that, you won't earn points for any special "economy promo fare" tickets, which means you would have to either pay a lot more to fly Garuda (than its competitors) domestically or you would have to fly internationally. As such, you can't earn many points from flights unless you fly very frequently or you go to its furthest destinations: Japan or Saudi Arabia. (Codeshares with Malaysia Airlines to Europe mysteriously disappeared this year). There were rumours of Garuda's impending membership of SkyTeam, but nothing has happened yet.
Oh yeah, and the award redemption process is REALLY simple too. Check this out:
How to Redeem Award Miles for an Award Ticket
1. Choose your desired flight destination and departure date.
2. Make sure that you have enough Award Miles in your account for your intended destination.
3. Contact Garuda Indonesia Call Center at 0 804 1 807 807 (from Indonesia) or Garuda Indonesia Sales Office to reserve your flight.
4. Complete the Award Ticket application form available online at http://gff.garuda-indonesia.com or at any Garuda Indonesia Sales Office
5. Submit the completed form along with your GFF membership card and a copy of your ID (KTP, passport or other ID) to Garuda Indonesia Sales Office.
6. You can pick up the Award Ticket at the Garuda Indonesia Sales Office where you submit your application. If you cannot come personally, the person representing you must be provided with a power of attorney (original).
Is it worth joining? Only for very frequent flyers.
Lion Air's frequent flyer program used to be possibly the world's most difficult/expensive to join. You had to fly FOUR times on Lion Air, then mail in your tickets and boarding passes to the airline - and hope that they didn't go missing in action (a not infrequent occurrence in Indonesia's postal system).
After a recent webpage overhaul, it doesn't say how to join; it just lists some of the benefits and says:
Please visit us at a later date for more information.
Is it worth joining? No
Merpati has limited information in Indonesian and English (sometimes) about the benefits, and how to join. I personally tried to join at the Customer Service counter at three different locations, but was only successful inside the (secure) check-in area at Terminal 2 of Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta - suggesting application forms are hard to come by. It's probably even more difficult to find out e.g. how many points you have.
Is it worth joining? No
Sriwijaya Air's frequent flyer program is more like an executive lounge membership. It costs Rp600 000 per year - same as the annual fee for the Garuda Indonesia Citi credit card (see below) - and gives members access to executive lounges, 10 kg extra baggage allowance and a 5% discount on fares. You would either really need the extra weight or fly Sriwijaya very frequently for it to be worthwhile.
Is it worth joining? No, not for most people
Do branded credit cards really encourage customer loyalty to a specific airline, or are they just another way for airlines to make money that derive little benefit for passengers?
Three airlines offer branded credit cards:
Lion Air BII Card
While Air Asia gives a small discount on tickets used purchasing their branded credit card, the latter two feed extra points into their respective frequent flyer schemes.
Information on fees and charges can be difficult to find, but generally speaking the annual fees tend to be higher than for normal credit cards. (On top of this, Indonesian credit cards charge stamp duty and a fee for paying the bill (!) each month.) While the Garuda Citi Card earns points faster than its competitors, you would still need to spend tens of millions of Rupiah before you could get a free flight just from using the Garuda card or any other. In addition, as its FF magazine Skynews says, almost all the Indonesian gold credit card rewards programs offer Garuda miles for points anyway.
(Lion Air's branded credit card has itself disappeared from the Lion Air web page, which may be an oversight or because it is no longer available).
Is it worth joining? Only for very frequent flyers (Air Asia) or big spenders (Garuda).
Are any IM readers members of the Lion Air, Merpati and Sriwijaya frequent flyer programs, or have the branded credit cards? If yes, what have your experiences been?
More generally, how do you think these programs compare with their international counterparts?
It often seems that businesses just make it deliberately hard to do some things. I don’t have an airline example but my bank, when I tried to change my postal address, they wanted documentation and proof that I had moved, utility bills in my name with the new address, or something from my employer, why? Why can’t they just believe me that I’ve moved?
Anyway, on the Lion Air site, this picture
The air hostesses look fine and normal, but that pilot looks as though he’s still in high school!
I think that the best that can be said about frequent flier loyalty programs is that they can get you through the check-in process a little bit quicker and into the executive lounge a little faster. Tyring to actually get a free seat on say, singapore airlines can be a very difficult process as only a few seats are allocated for rewards. Most of my colleagues will say that the best rewards program is offered by klm in terms of upgrades, seat choices etc… I use mostly singapore airlines and about all they are good for is the express check in and express boarding.
Patung: I can commiserate with you on the banking thing.I think it all started when governments starting cracking down on offshore banks as money laundering institutions.
I can commiserate on banks too. Here are some assorted personal highlights:
I have to go to the branch where I first opened the account to do anything, e.g. change my address. I haven’t bothered to try to find out what documents are required for that.
As above for Mandiri, with the added bonus that if you have a USD account with them you can only withdraw USD from the “home” branch too. I only discovered this after I moved to another city; really useful.
One of the few banks that offer a joint (husband and wife) account with 2 ATM cards, but customer service forgot to inform me that to avoid huge fees you had to keep the minimum balance above Rp6 juta.
I am slowly migrating across to Commonwealth Bank, because you can do online transfers (both SKN and RTGS) to others without any fees, plus a few ATMs have USD in them as well as Rp. Oh yeah, and I have successfully changed my postal address with them a few times without supporting evidence.
Yes I’ve had those types of experiences with BCA (although many moons ago I was able to open an account with them only using a passport for ID, nothing else), although the bank I’m talking about was HSBC. For my other bank, which is not in Indonesia, I could change my address online, no paper, but traditionally I think you just have to fill in a form and sign it….anyway when these little frustrations happen I’ve learnt to just smile and nod and say ‘ok, I’ll do that’ or whatever, then forget about it.
anyway when these little frustrations happen I’ve learnt to just smile and nod and say ‘ok, I’ll do that’ or whatever, then forget about it.
That’s a lesson only 3rd-world countries — all over — can teach you .
For me loyalty programs itself can be usefull only when flying frequently with a specific airline or groups like Star Alliance or Sky team. Otherwise the process of collecting reward miles is quite cumbersome and long.
However, FF combined with credit cards (co-branding) is another issue. If one plans to visit overseas family or friends or simply likes to travel, it can be usefull particularly for long distance flights. Longer flights = more reward miles = more expensive tickets.
However, ticket purchasing with co-branded card means in already substantial number of miles for the next flight. Moreover, collecting process can be speeded up by paying everday purchases and utility bills with co-brands. Now monthly expenses multiplied by 12, 24, 36 etc and there is a ticket for visiting uncle in Japan, USA or Europe.
When I said “Longer flights = more reward miles = more expensive tickets”, I should have stated “longer flights = more expensive tickets BUT also = more reward miles” to be precise.
Garuda used to be good on frequeent flyer service but something happened last year (probably finance department taking over} and now you get no miles for discounted tickets which are still higeher than other airlines. The other really annoying thing about Garuda is that they say nowhere on the frequent flyer site that redemption flights are subject to taxes and fuel surcharges, so you can wind up actually paying half the fare. So much for “free flights”. They also estimate mileage redemption on the maximum fare applicable. All in all, the garuda program is now just not worth it when you can get cheaper flights left right and center.
Having just spent 45 minutes online trying to locate a GARUDA MILEAGE REDEMPTION TABLE (if I want to upgrade from Economy to Business using accrued miles)…folks it doesn’t exist online. You have to call their CALL CENTRE to get that info. It must be the ONLY AIRLINES THAT DOES NOT PUBLISH IT ONLINE!!! And by the way, it takes 18,000 miles per sector to ugrade