UPDATED 2018: AirAsia is the world’s favorite low-cost carrier and has its own rewards program called Air Asia BIG. From it’s humble beginnings as a way to earn points on flights, AirAsia BIG has expanded to add benefits for frequent travelers, and more options to earn and redeem AirAsia rewards for flights and with partners! So, how good is the Air Asia rewards program? Is it worth signing up for it and even worth your loyalty to move your spend to AirAsia to earn rewards? Read my AirAsia BIG review to find out!
Reach – how far will it take me? AirAsia is serving 138 destinations in more than 20 countries and growing quickly. They have subsidiaries and hubs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Japan. Different from other discount airlines, they also have long-haul flights and even a Business Class offering! That means AirAsia can take you further than most low-cost carriers and even many full-service airlines!. They don’t have any airline partners or alliances, so you won’t be able to earn or use points on other airlines. If you want to know more about AirAsia, Safety and Ratings, check out all the AirAsia Facts & figures!
Earning – what do I have to do to earn points? One of the biggest changes is how you earn Air Asia Big points: You no longer earn any BIG reward points on promotional fares – eliminating the most interesting fares! On regular “low fares” you can earn up to 1.5 points per 1 MYR – a significant increase from the previous 0.5pt/MYR (6.3pt/USD). The earn rate increases for more frequent fliers, based on their level in the program:
You can now earn up to 10pt/MYR (42pt/USD) on low fares and up to 12pt/MYR (50.4pt/USD) on flexible or Premium Flatbed fares! One of my biggest complaints in the past was the slow earn rate, making it near impossible to earn a free flight. The new earning model takes away point earning for deal hunters, but increases the earning for regular travelers on Air Asia. At least now AirAsia will show you on the fare overview, how many points you should earn on your flight, if any!
You can also earn points with a growing number of partners, from mobile phones and banks to car rentals and hotels. The earn rate varies greatly, for example a hotel booking via booking.com will earn 10pt/USD (or approx. 2.5pt/MYR)! You can find the long list of partners, varying by country here!
Getting credit for your flights continues to be a significant issue with AirAsia’s BIG program. Even when booking the flights through their website with your ID, you frequently don’t get credit for your flights or the points don’t match the rules laid out. In fact, not a single one of 11 flights I booked with the ASEAN Pass credited! Of my last two flights, one was credited with too few points, one not at all! If you do want to make sure you get your points, you’ll have to check on every flight and ask for credit after 5 days and within 30 days, a rather onerous condition!
AirAsia also made it more difficult to keep track of your points by removing the points calculator from the website – another customer-unfriendly move!
Redeeming – how much are AirAsia BIG points worth? AirAsia is making it easy to redeem points for flights on their web site, providing a similar booking screen as you find for cash bookings:
You see the dates and lowest available price per day across the top and when selecting a specific day, you see the different fares for each flight, including promo fares, fixed point redemptions and premium fares!
The redemption is a mix of revenue based redemption (calculating the points needed basically on the cash-price of the fare) and some available fixed point redemptions (based on zones or distance of flights). Both options are displayed on the same screen, so you can see whether fixed fee or revenue based is the better deal for you. Promo, Fixed and Regular fares all offer the same benefits (none), so you should just pick the cheapest one! Premium fares include luggage, seat selection, a meal and priority boarding. You always have to pay taxes and fees separately in cash, so only the base fare and add-ons can be paid with points!
But what is the AirAsia BIG points value? I analyzed a number of flights from three of their hubs over a three month period, including domestic and international flights as well as short- and long-haul flights by comparing cash prices for available tickets and points rates needed for the exact same flight!
The average AirAsia BIG point value is 0.29 US cents – that’s very, very little and unchanged from my previous review! The values I found ranged from 0.18 ct/pt to 0.47 ct/pt. You’ll find the best value during an AirAsia Big sale
Based on the new earnings structure and the unchanged redemption value of points, AirAsia BIG members traveling mostly on promotional fares will no longer receive any rewards. Regular “Red” members flying on standard fares will earn a reward rate of 1.8% and top “Black” members traveling mostly on Premium fares will receive a reward rate of 14.6%.
For the average leisure traveler, the AirAsia BIG program has become a lot less rewarding – the reward rate (or discount) has dropped from 5.7% in my last review to roughly 1/3 at 1.8%, making other low-cost carriers like Cebu Pacific and their GetGo Rewards program more attractive!
But, similar to the big US airlines, frequent business travelers on premium fares see their reward rate almost triple. This makes Air Asia BIG rewards an alternative to local full-service carriers like Malaysia Airlines!
Status – what elite membership benefits will I get? AirAsia introduced membership levels from Red to Gold (14 flights), Platinum (24) and Black (50) and even promotional fares do earn segment/flight credits to earn higher tier status.
Currently, these levels only determine how many points you earn, but there are no other perks, like priority check-in or boarding associated with these levels. Even as a “Black” level elite you will have to pay extra for those simple benefits!
Probably one of the best “perks” of membership at all levels is early access to the AirAsia sales, giving you a head start on snatching those low cash or point fares. Recently, AirAsia has limited the BIG sales to the mobile app for access, so it pays to download the app for redemptions!
Let’s hope that eventually AirAsia will offer some of these perks to elite members – if indeed they want to compete with legacy carriers for business travelers, they will have to!
What else is there? Not much – you can no longer redeem points at Tune hotels, but can get vouchers for hotel bookings through Kaligo or for activites via Klook. AirAsia’s BIG program doesn’t have any innovative features, like GetGo’s sharing points.
AirAsia also offer BIG sales, which is the best opportunity to redeem points for flights!
Bottomline: Who should join the AirAsia BIG Loyalty Program? Given the lack of any point earning on promotional fares and the low reward rate for regular travelers, you won’t earn many points by flying. If you live in a hub of AirAsia, like Kuala Lumpur, you can earn additional points through merchants and credit cards, making it a good alternative to other local airline programs.
If you don’t live in a hub or only fly with AirAsia once-in-a-while, I’d still recommend an AirAsia Big Signup to get access to fare sales – and not worry too much about the points. If you get credit and can use them – great! If you don’t, the minuscule value of points is simply not worth worrying about! And, to answer my question from the introduction, it’s not worth shifting your spend from other airlines just for the rewards program.
If you live in one of the AirAsia hubs, like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, and fly them regularly, you should sign up and collect points. You should look out for partner promotions to add to your balance – I collected more points from promotions than from flights! You can find all the details, the Air Asia BIG Sign up as well as links to the AirAsia BIG app here!
AirAsia offers consistent service at very low prices, earning them the SkyTrax award year after year for their Economy Class and Premium Flatbed, but it still has some ways to go to make their AirAsia Big program more competitive for frequent travelers!