A guide to THAI’s frequent flyer program for Star Alliance redemptions

An introduction to Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus

GUIDE: Program Guide
DIFFICULTY: Easy
TIME TO READ: 5 minutes
POSTED: April 1, 2019
UPDATED: April 16, 2019
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Thai Royal Orchid Plus
STATUS: Note that Thai Airways will be devaluing their award chart from 1 October 2019 and Starting April 2019, redemptions for United Airlines-operated flights moved to a dynamic pricing model affecting travels from 15 November 2019 onwards. Learn more in our analysis here.

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?

This guide is an update to the original guide published in February 2018. Since that time, THAI appears to have doubled the number of points required for Star Alliance redemptions, in addition to forecasting a planned devaluation of their award chart from 1 October 2019.  This has resulted in THAI Royal Orchid Plus moving from the best placed redemption in 8 of 12 routes in Business  and 7 of 12 routes in First respectively, to 0 routes in both cabin classes. Further details are shown below.

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 Marriott Bonvoy points

Marriott Bonvoy 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

Similar to my the first time I created the above tables, I was surprised at the level of disparity between the number of points required for the same route.

However, a striking change in results from this time was the competitiveness of the THAI Royal Orchid Plus program against other Star Alliance members.  It has seriously deteriorated during this time, with things set to get worse on 1 October 2019.

United Mileage Plus offers excellent value for redemptions on fellow Star Alliance carriers, including on its own new United Polaris.

Emerging as a clear winner from THAI’s devaluation has been United Mileage Plus, which almost clean sweeps the routes covered in both Business and First class, with Avianca LifeMiles not too far behind.

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

KrisFlyer only wins on round-the-world redemptions.

SIngapore Airlines A380 at Singapore | Point Hacks
Singapore Airlines is a popular choice for travel between Australia and Europe

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

It is a shame that THAI has made these changes to their Star Alliance redemptions, and will further erode their competitiveness later this year, as the THAI Royal Orchid Plus program had provided the Australian market with a viable Star Alliance alternative to the more established KrisFlyer program.

However for those of you looking to redeem for Star Alliance flights, there is still some great value in other Star Alliance programs such as United MileagePlus and Avianca LifeMiles.

Supplementary images courtesy Thai Airways.

A guide to THAI’s frequent flyer program for Star Alliance redemptions was last modified: April 16th, 2019 by Daniel Sciberras