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Garuda, the national carrier of Indonesia, has been in the news a lot lately. It joined the SkyTeam alliance back in March, entered into a mileage partnership with ANA in April, and earlier this week, Citi announced that Garuda would be one of eight new ThankYou points transfer partners.
With so many more possibilities, I thought it was time to take a look at the airline’s Garuda Miles loyalty program and discuss how you can maximize it for flights both on Garuda itself as well as its partners.
Garuda Miles – The Basics
The airline currently flies to 40 domestic destinations and 14 international destinations in 12 countries, and carries 19 million passengers annually – though it does not currently fly to the US. However, it does service various other interesting destinations, including Amsterdam and Bali.
Garuda’s mileage program is pretty straightforward. It works like most of the traditional frequent flyer programs out there: you earn miles for flying as well as with partners like hotels and rental car agencies, and then redeem them for award tickets on Garuda and its airline partners (you can also redeem for other things like hotel stays and gift cards). Your miles remain active as long as you have just 1 activity every 3 years.
Like many non-US frequent flyer programs, you earn a percentage of the miles flown based on the fare class of the ticket you purchase as well as which airline you’re flying, so it pays to review Garuda’s earning chart for the particular airline you plan to fly. You can find the earning page here and click on the specific airline pages to see individual earning charts.
For instance, on Garuda itself, unfortunately many of the most heavily discounted economy tickets earn no miles, including those in fare classes V, H, S, G, E, U, X, O, Z and L. Tickets in Q and T classes earn just 25% of the miles flown; those in M, K and N earn 75%; and only full-fare Y and B economy tickets earn 100% miles. Executive (business) class tickets in C, D, I and J fare classes earn 150% mileage, and F and A first class tickets earn 200% miles.
On Air France/KLM, on the other hand, even discount economy fares in T, E, N, G, R and V earn 25% miles, though you only earn up to 150% miles for F and P first class fares, while the rest of the fare buckets fall somewhere in between.
For folks interested in racking up miles flying Delta, here’s how the earning breaks down:
- 25%: Economy L, U, T, X, V, E
- 50%: Economy S, H, Q, K
- 100% Economy Y, B, M
- 125%: Business Class J, C, D, I, Z; First Class F, A, P, G
So as you can see, flying Delta you’re only earning a fraction of the miles flown unless you’re buying expensive full-fare economy tickets, or business/first class tickets.
As I mentioned, Garuda also has several non-airline partners including some hotels, but points-earning options are pretty limited. For instance, you can earn 1,000 points for staying at the Mandarin Oriental Jakarta (and only that Mandarin Oriental), or earn 500 miles per rental with Avis. It’s a nice thought, but it won’t get you far.
Membership Levels/Elite Status
Garuda Miles has four membership levels or tiers. You earn Tier Miles based on the distance you fly and the fare class of your ticket – not just economy/business/first, but the actual fare code, like T, V, Y, B, M, etc.
The basic level is Blue, which you achieve simply by enrolling. You get a welcome bonus of 300 miles and there are other typical benefits like being able to earn and redeem miles for awards, as well as priority waitlisting on certain reservations.
Garuda Silver: You achieve this by flying 10 flights or earning 10,000 Tier Miles within a calendar year. Silver member benefits include a dedicated check-in counter at Jakarta, 5 kg in free excess baggage, and a Tier Miles percentage.
Garuda Gold: Earned by flying 30,000 Tier Miles or 30 eligible flights in a calendar year. Benefits include dedicated check-in at Jakarta, 15 kg free excess baggage allowance, a 25% Tier bonus, baggage handling priority and domestic airline lounge access (along with guest access for international flights).
Garuda Platinum: Earned when you fly 65,000 Tier Miles or 65 eligible flights within a calendar year. Benefits include premium check-in, access to the Garuda Indonesia Executive Lounge, 20 kg in free excess baggage, a 25% Tier bonus on miles, priority baggage handling and ticket cancellations, and refund fee waivers on certain tickets.
Redeeming miles seems to be a bit of a chore, since you have to contact a Garuda Call Center to put your ticket on hold, complete an award ticket application form that you have to download from Garuda’s website, submit the completed and signed form along with your original Garuda Miles membership card and ID (i.e., passport) to a Garuda Indonesia Sales Office in person, then go back to the office and claim your ticket in person. The process to use miles to upgrade is the same, but with a different form to fill out and submit.
So just redeeming miles for an award requires a couple visits to your local Garuda office – a possibility only for folks in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and New York in the US, and none of them are at airports. Here’s the list of US offices. All that is a lot of effort, but there could be some instances where it is worth it to put in the extra time.
Notably, when redeeming miles on Garuda itself, you need to input your city pairs into the mileage calculator, since the airline uses a distance-based chart both for itself and its partners.
You have to go to the Garuda Frequent Flyer (GFF) guide to find the pertinent mileage numbers for Garuda, but you can see them here along with sample routes. Some of the best values available are for domestic short hops such as Denpasar to Surabaya, which is just 250 miles, so award tickets start at just 4,000 miles each way. So if you plan to island-hop around Indonesia, it can be worth looking at the domestic redemption chart, since there are low-mileage awards to a ton of destinations and it can be a good way to save cash on those quick flights.
Here’s the chart for Delta (though it appears to be the same chart for all Garuda’s airline partners):
The key to maximizing Garuda miles is to focus on potential sweet spots like high-cost, short-haul flights under 1,000 miles, and then the upper bands that are divided into 2,000-mile increments starting at 4,001 miles and above.
For example, a Delta flight from Atlanta to Cancun is just under 900 miles. Delta would charge you 35,000 miles in coach or 60,000 in business class for a roundtrip award ticket. However, Garuda would require just 30,000 miles in coach and 50,000 in business class.
Likewise, Delta would charge you 45,000 miles in economy and 90,000 miles in business class to fly Atlanta-Caracas to Venezuela. But that flight falls within the 2,000-mile band for Garuda, so they would only require 45,000 miles or 75,000 miles in business class. A potential savings of up to 15,000 miles.
You can also save a few thousand miles on Delta’s route from New York JFK to Tel Aviv, which counts as the Middle East according to Delta’s award chart. Delta would charge you 90,000 miles roundtrip in economy, but Garuda will charge you just 85,000. For business class, however, that calculation is flipped, with Delta charging 140,000 miles and Garuda charging 150,000 miles roundtrip.
Despite two recent devaluations and a lot of uncertainty about how Delta redemptions will change starting in 2015, however, its award chart still beats Garuda on most routes, so it takes a bit of digging to find where Delta’s region-based zones don’t match up to Garuda’s distance-based formula.
The one major reason you might still want to redeem Garuda miles instead of Delta miles is if you just need a one-way award. Delta still requires you to book roundtrip awards (this will change in 2015), or if you do book a one-way, it costs the same number of miles as a roundtrip. Garuda doesn’t have that same restriction.
Another scenario in which you might want to accrue Garuda miles is if you want to try out Garuda’s own flagship 777-300 first class. One of the main routes this operates on is from Tokyo Narita to Denpasar Bali. It’ll cost you 90,000 miles each way, but since Delta doesn’t allow you to redeem miles for first class awards on partners, using Garuda miles could still be your best option.
Flying Blue, the mileage program of Air France/KLM, has been a partner with Garuda for about 6 months now, so you can look on the Air France site for award availability. Like with Delta, Flying Blue requires fewer miles than Garuda miles does for most award itineraries, and is a transfer partner of both Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards. However, if you don’t have any of those points, but do have Citi ThankYou points instead, you might consider transferring them to Garuda miles.
This is especially useful for short-haul flights within Europe, which can be very expensive, and even potentially for longer hauls. For instance, Paris to Bangkok on Air France requires 85,000 miles in economy and 150,000 miles in business class roundtrip using Garuda Miles. Flying Blue requires 80,000 miles roundtrip in economy, so it’s a better choice. However, in business class, Flying Blue requires 100,000 miles in each direction, but Garuda requires only 75,000 miles – a 25% savings!
Again, the flight mileage makes all the difference. If you want to fly Garuda’s one European route from Jakarta to Amsterdam, Flying Blue will cost 40,000 miles each way in economy, but because that falls within the 6001-8000-mile band, you would need 52,500 Garuda miles each way. Business class would be 95,000 miles each way using Garuda miles, or 100,000 miles each way using Flying Blue miles.
Using Garuda Miles for award tickets can make sense for short-haul redemptions where other programs charge a set amount of miles through a zone-based redemption chart, but it’s worth double checking since Garuda’s mileage chart can be more expensive (a lot more in some cases) depending on the flight distance.
Garuda Miles also offers the opportunity to upgrade using miles on its own flights, and while there are some decent values, it’s not worth it in most cases thanks to fare booking restrictions and the hassle of actually redeeming your miles.
For example, upgrading from economy to business class on the Jakarta-Tokyo route on Garuda’s 777-300 would cost you 21,000 miles each way. That’s not bad considering an economy award is 35,000 miles and a business class award is 63,000 miles.
However, beware that you need to purchase an upgradable economy ticket in V, H, S or G classes; otherwise you can’t use miles to upgrade. Likewise, upgrading from business to first costs 54,000 miles, but you have to purchase a ticket in C or D fare classes.
As a quick example, a one-way flight from Jakarta to Tokyo starts around $508 in August for the lowest, restricted economy fares.
But if you wanted an upgrade fare, you’d have to pay $328 more for a total of $836 in order to buy an upgradable fare class.
Business class tickets on the same flights are going for $1,642. So you’d save $806 by using 21,000 miles, a value of about 3.85 cents per mile. Not too shabby.
That said, it’s worth pricing out the itinerary you want to upgrade and seeing if the mileage expenditure and cash outlay of purchasing a higher-fare economy ticket is worth it for your needs.
Citi ThankYou Points
Last week, Citi announced that cardmembers of the Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Chairman cards could transfer their ThankYou points at a 1:1 ratio to eight new airline transfer partners, including Garuda.
This is a huge step forward for the ThankYou points program, since before this the only transfer partner was Hilton, and if you wanted to use your points for flights, you could only do so through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center, where you would generally get 1-1.33 cents apiece in the form of statement credits toward airfare. With these new transfer options, ThankYou points have become much more valuable in my estimation.
The current offer for the Citi ThankYou Premier is 50,000 points – 20,000 when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of cardmembership, and 30,000 more points after spending another $3,000 in the first 3 months of your second year as a cardmember.
The card also offers 3 points per dollar on dining and entertainment, and 2 points per dollar on airfare and hotels, no foreign transaction fees, and the first year’s $125 annual fee is waived.
While you might not want to consider making Garuda your primary (or even one of your primary) mileage programs thanks to earning and upgrade restrictions and an onerous redemption process, the program does have some useful facets. It can offer great value if you want to use miles for expensive short-haul tickets, to fly within Indonesia, or to try Garuda’s own flagship first class service, as well as booking one-way awards on SkyTeam airlines, which Delta does not allow you to do yet.
Have you flown Garuda, or used their miles? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below!