Finally an Alternative to United MileagePlus? – Thai Royal Orchid Award Program Overview

Thai Airways Royal Orchid program is probably not the first airline rewards program on your list, unless you happen to live in Thailand. But with many credit card partners, recently becoming a transfer partner for the Citibank Thank You program in the US, and the ongoing devaluation of United’s MileagePlus program, it’s worth to look a little closer!

Reach – How far will it take me?

Thai Airways is the flag carrier of Thailand and serves 73 destinations in 35 countries –  you can read more about them here. They also are a partner airline in StarAlliance (read more here), together with Lufthansa, United and Singapore Airlines, giving you access to a vast number of airlines and flights to get you to destinations around the world, earn and redeem miles on!

Earning – what do I have to do to earn miles?

One of the reasons that Thai’s Royal Orchid program is worth a look is that you still earn miles the old fashioned way, for distance flown, and not like on United or Delta, based on the amount of money you spend for the tickets.

Thai RoyalOrchid Earn Table

The amount of miles varies by class of ticket, going as high as 150% for a First class ticket. You earn the same bonuses by fare class, with the exception of premium economy, when flying on StarAlliance carriers. While there are fare classes on both Thai and partner airlines that earn lower or no miles (see details here), surprisingly all fare classes on United Airlines currently earn full mileage, which is better than most and can earn you more miles for a cheap, long-haul ticket than in United’s MileagePlus program!

You can also earn miles with hotel and rental car partners, as well as a long list of credit card partners not only in Thailand, but in 17 other countries as well. That’s almost half the countries they fly to, giving you a good chance to fly and earn by credit card! One of the most interesting, recent changes is the ability to earn Citibank ThankYou points via credit cards and transfer them to Thai Airways, allowing you to top up your account for a desired award.

Redeem – what do I get for my miles?

So, you have plenty of options to earn Thai miles, maybe even more than on United, but how much do you get for those miles?

Thai uses a distance based redemption chart for Thai Airways flights, with some exceptions for individual destinations, giving you access to rewards tickets in all fare classes. One-way awards are also available, although at more than 50% (depending on fare class and destination between 60-70% of a round-trip ticket). Some examples for flight awards in economy (business) are 15,000 (20,000) miles within Thailand, 55,000 (98,000) miles to Australia, 70,000 (130,000) miles to Europe or 90,000 (170,000) miles to North America.

For StarAlliance awards, Thai uses a regional award chart and only allows for round-trip tickets. The miles required are higher than on Thai flights, so with Thai being on of my favorite airlines, I’d choose Thai flights wherever possible! Some examples for StarAlliance awards from Thailand in economy (business) class are 70,000 (127,000) miles to Australia, 80,000 (144,000) miles to Europe and 110,000 (198,000) miles to North America.

You can find the full award charts here.

I consider a business or first class award trip on Thai Airways an aspirational award – better than anything I have seen on US carriers and some of the best in the world. You can read more about Thai Airways Business Class (here) and First Class (here).

Status Benefits – what perks will I get?

Thai Royal Orchid has four levels of membership:

Thai RoyalOrchid Benefits Table

Unique to the Royal Orchid program is that mileage is automatically evaluated on a rolling 12 months schedule – in any 12 or 24 months period you achieve the mileage tresholds above, you will achieve the status indicated. Silver and Gold status also entitle you to the equivalent Star Alliance status. While 10,000 miles to achieve Silver is not much – you don’t get a whole lot for it either. Gold at 50,000 miles is pretty standard, as are the associated benefits. Only needing 80,000 miles over two years might make it a little easier on you. Platinum status used to be by invitation only, but has now a defined treshold of 80,000 miles in Business and First Class when flying Thai only. This is pretty tough to achieve, unless you travel on business from Bangkok frequently. The benefits, especially the unlimited complimentary upgrades on domestic and international flights and miles without expiration are great!

Who should join Thai Royal Orchid?

If you are based in Thailand, it should be a no-brainer to join the program. Unless you are exclusively flying discount carriers domestically or across the region, Thai Airways is your best bet!.

If you are a (disgruntled) United flyer who flies 40,000-50,000 miles a year on discounted tickets, mostly long-haul flights, it might be worth checking out! 4-5 flights in economy to Asia or Europe on United, at averages prices of $1,000-1,200 would get you only 25,000 miles on United, but more than double that on Thai Airways! It would be easier to achieve StarAlliance Gold Status over a two year period and you would get Lounge Access on domestic fligths in the US without having to buy a Red Carpet Club membership. Your redemption value would vary based on your target destainations. If you are planning a dream getaway to Asia, you could be in luck! And you could even top of your account with a Citibank ThankYou credit card, using Thai as a new transfer partner!


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