Why THAI’s frequent flyer program is a solid alternative to KrisFlyer for Star Alliance redemptions

An introduction to Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus

GUIDE: Program Guide
TIME TO READ: 5 minutes
POSTED: February 28, 2018
UPDATED: August 31, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Thai Royal Orchid Plus

When thinking about frequent flyer programs for Star Alliance travel, many Australian-based travellers will naturally gravitate towards Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.

This is due to its large presence within the Australian market and its close relationship with Velocity Frequent Flyer, through which members of KrisFlyer and Velocity can transfer points between both programs.

While there are many Star Alliance alternatives, including those popular with many in the Point Hacks community, such as United Airlines MileagePlus, Avianca LifeMiles, or Air New Zealand Airpoints, this guide takes a look at the Thai Royal Orchid Plus program.

How useful are Royal Orchid Plus miles in Australia?

Thai Airways flies to Australia 39 times per week, serving Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with connections to many Asian, Middle East and European destinations through its Bangkok hub.

Thai Airways is also a member of the Star Alliance airline grouping, which contains 28 member airlines. That means you can use your Royal Orchid Plus miles for partner travel, like Singapore Airlines Business Class:

Earning Royal Orchid Plus miles

Through credit cards

Whilst there is no dedicated Thai Airways card in Australia, Royal Orchid Plus miles can be earned through a number of schemes that count it as a transfer partner, including:

Through flying

Make sure to compare the potential earn rate through Thai Airways against other Star Alliance programs.

Transfer Starpoints

Starwood Preferred Guest points can be easily picked up through regular buy miles promotions or by transferring from American Express Membership Rewards. Make sure to transfer over 20,000 points to get a 5,000-point bonus.

Redeeming Royal Orchid Plus miles

To determine the value proposition of Royal Orchid Plus as a Star Alliance program, I created two comparison redemption tables that pit Royal Orchid Plus against other popular Star Alliance programs in the Australian market, along with Velocity Frequent Flyer, given its ability to convert points with KrisFlyer.

Important notes

  • Points quoted are for roundtrip travel (one-way redemptions are permitted on THAI but all partner travel must be roundtrip)
  • The cheapest redemptions per route are highlighted in green
  • Velocity distance-based redemptions are calculated ex Sydney; to/from New Zealand ex Auckland; Europe ex Frankfurt; South Africa ex Johannesburg; and Rio de Janeiro ex South America
  • Air New Zealand Airpoints have been converted to a 1 AUD:1 point format based on a conversion of 1 AUD = 0.01 Airpoints
  • The results for the East Coast and Adelaide can be mirrored for those in Perth and Darwin

Crunching the numbers

The results

I wasn’t exactly sure what value I would uncover when I first embarked on this exercise but what surprised me was the large difference in points required between some programs for the same route. For some destinations, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive program is over 200%!

Royal Orchid Plus generally represents the best value amongst the covered Star Alliance programs for long-haul routes to Europe and The Americas. This applies to both Business and First Class.

For example, when flying to Europe, you’ll be forking out 210,000 Royal Orchid Plus miles instead of 296,000 KrisFlyer miles for the same trip.

Singapore Airlines is a popular choice for travel between Australia and Europe

For those routes where Royal Orchid Plus did not take honours, it was still competitive, with United MileagePlus and Avianca LifeMiles offering the best value redemptions between Australia and Asia.

For example, one of our favourite redemptions, THAI First Class between Sydney and Bangkok, is cheapest through MileagePlus at 130,000 miles return, which is 20,000 less than going through THAI itself.

Air New Zealand Airpoints is best avoided given their ‘any seat’ redemption structure of their program.

KrisFlyer only wins on round-the-world redemptions.

You can check for specific redemptions using THAI’s award charts.

Things to consider

  • Long transfer time from Amex: whilst transfers from American Express to KrisFlyer can take up to three business days, transfers to Royal Orchid Plus can take up to five business days, however, we have received a data point that one reader’s experience has been a transfer of less than 48 hours—please share your experience in the comments below
  • Fuel surcharges: are applicable to all flight redemptions, on both Thai Airways and its partners—and they can be high. If you are booking a Singapore Airlines flight, then it may be best to do that through KrisFlyer as there are no fuel surcharges. If you are booking a Star Alliance partner flight, whilst you may get a lower redemption rate through Royal Orchid Plus, the fuel surcharges will be lower through United MileagePlus and LifeMiles
  • Roundtrip travel: whilst one-way redemptions are permitted on THAI, travel on partner airlines must be roundtrip; similar to Asia Miles, one-way travel on THAI is more than half of the cost of a roundtrip ticket
  • Stopovers: just like through KrisFlyer, one free stopover and one open-jaw are permitted on roundtrip international tickets but not domestic redemptions within Thailand
  • Routing: a First Class redemption is great, but if it means a 23-hour layover, maybe not so much; likewise, if you have to make three connections, this could add some serious stress to your travels!
  • Expiring miles: Royal Orchid Plus employs a ‘hard’ three-year expiry of miles, meaning that after 36 months, your miles are forfeited, irrespective of whether you keep your account active within this time
  • Singapore Airlines First Class: can only be booked through KrisFlyer or Velocity
  • Lufthansa First Class: only available to partners within 14 days of departure

How to search for and book an award seat

One annoying thing is that Thai Airways does not allow you to search for award flights unless you have the required miles in your account.

That means that it is best to search on the United website and then phone THAI to confirm the seats are available for booking. Then you can transfer the points over but, if they are coming from Amex, do be aware that you run the risk of someone else snapping up that seat in the meantime—that is the risk you take in getting this lower-cost redemption.

You can make a booking online or over the phone.

An alternative to United is searching through the KrisFlyer website, which is progressively allowing partner airline searches.

Gold status

With input from some Point Hacks community members, I’ve become aware that achieving Gold status with Royal Orchid Plus provides the following excellent benefits:

  • Gold status lasts for two years (instead of the standard one year with other programs)
  • When you achieve or maintain Gold status, you are given a free roundtrip upgrade from Economy (not Discount Economy) to Business or Business to First on a paid ticket irrespective of distance travelled, meaning you could buy a Business Class ticket from Sydney to Europe and be upgraded to First the whole way
  • Every year you hold Gold status, you get a birthday gift allowing you to redeem an award flight at a 50% discount for yourself or an award nominee

Read more about Royal Orchid Plus Gold status.

Summing up

While Royal Orchid Plus lurks in the shadows of KrisFlyer, and to a lesser extent, United and LifeMiles, in the Australian market, it represents some exceptional value for those looking to base their travels within the Star Alliance network.

This is good news as most Australians will earn their Star Alliance miles through credit card spend, and the earn rate via American Express is the same for Royal Orchid Plus, KrisFlyer and equivalently for Airpoints.

These charts in this post clearly show that long-haul redemptions to Europe and the Americas are particularly favourable for Royal Orchid Plus members.

If you are looking to utilise Star Alliance carriers for your future travels, Royal Orchid Plus should definitely be considered as one of your Star Alliance programs of choice, particularly if you travel to Europe or The Americas.

However, you need to be aware of long transfer times from Amex, potentially high fuel surcharges and the fact that travel on partner airlines must be roundtrip, not one-way.

Have you had any ‘wins’ with redeeming through Thai Royal Orchid Plus instead of another Star Alliance program?

Supplementary images courtesy Thai Airways.

Why THAI’s frequent flyer program is a solid alternative to KrisFlyer for Star Alliance redemptions was last modified: August 31st, 2018 by Daniel Sciberras