Oct. 11: The railways, which have been losing passengers in the upper classes to aggressive airlines, have decided to hit back with a loyalty programme that mirrors frequent-flyer schemes.
The point-based programme will be launched on a trial basis by the year-end. Initially, it will be restricted to travellers who make online reservations through the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation-managed www.irctc.co.in.
The scheme will allow passengers who book AC chair car, AC two-tier and AC first class tickets to redeem points.
“The Shubh Yatra card is expected to be launched by the year-end on a pilot basis. Initially, the benefits will be restricted to tickets booked on the Internet. The response (to the scheme) will decide whether we can extend the loyalty programme to tickets booked over the counter,” said Amitabh Pandey, the corporation’s group general manager (IT services).
“We are in the process of finalising the points system. For instance, a passenger travelling during a lean period over a distance of more than 500 km may gets points worth 10 per cent of the cost of the ticket. During the peak season, the points earned would amount to about 5 per cent of the ticket price,” said a Railway Board official.
The programme ' dubbed the scheme of frequent travellers (SOFT) ' is being launched in association with the State Bank of India. The cost of the ordinary card is likely to be Rs 500, unlike the airline facility that is free. A co-branded SBI card will be priced at Rs 750.
“Each point will be equal to a rupee,” says Pandey. “A passenger must accumulate a minimum of 500 points before he can redeem them.”
“The passenger may even be offered a discounted ticket by deducting points,” the board official said.
The loyalty programme is expected to boost rail ticket sales through the Net. The website registered 2,26,547 reservations this September as against 97,595 in September 2004. The revenue earned in September 2005 was Rs 29.9 crore. It was Rs 14.2 crore in the same month last year. “This is the highest reservation in a single month till date,” Pandey said.
The corporation has already registered a revenue of Rs 109 crore for the first five months of 2005-06 as against Rs 176 crore in the last financial year.
The railways’ existing software will have to be tweaked to accommodate the loyalty scheme. The Centre for Railway Information Systems (Cris) is making the necessary changes.
Cris sources said: “We are in a testing period and a few pilot projects will be undertaken soon. There are a few technical problems that need to be sorted out. These are more to do with the logistics as we will issue a plastic card in addition to a soft card (consisting of an user name and password).” The plastic card is needed for booking tickets over the counter and the soft card details for online reservation.
When a new user accesses the site, he will have to click on the sign-up link in the home page. This will lead him to an Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation registration page that will display two options: (a) Loyalty program and (b) SBI co-branded card.
If the user does not select any of the options, the site will automatically prompt him to book the ticket.
However, if the user selects any of the SOFT options and submits the registration details, a confirmation mail will be sent to the specified mail-ID. It will then take him to the loyalty membership registration page. On the page, the user will have to enter two important bits of information: mother’s maiden name and an Embo Name (the name to be printed on the card).
The Embo Name is vital as it will be printed on the loyalty membership card and is necessary when redeeming points. The Embo Name will have a maximum of 15 characters.
The SOFT registration confirmation page will display a loyalty number and the Embo Name. The loyalty number will have 11 digits and the first digit will be 2. The user will also get a mail confirming the loyalty membership details. A card will be despatched later.
Every time users book tickets thereafter, they will be directed to the loyalty home page.