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Fifth-freedom routes often make great redemption options — since these flights are usually operated by premium aircraft and foreign carriers, they offer a chance to experience an airline you might not otherwise be able to.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a fifth-freedom route, note that it’s a flight operated by a foreign carrier between two foreign countries as part of service connecting those points to the airline’s home country. For example, Delta operates flights from Minneapolis (MSP) to Tokyo (NRT), and the same aircraft continues on from Tokyo to Singapore (SIN). The flight between Tokyo and Singapore is operated between two foreign countries for Delta, an American carrier. But Delta can carry passengers from Singapore — a city it could not otherwise reach with nonstop service from Minneapolis — to the US and also from Singapore to Tokyo.
There are many notable fifth-freedom routes around the world. Below, I rounded up some of the best options for point redemptions originating in North America.
1. New York (JFK) to Vancouver (YVR) – Cathay Pacific 777-300
This route is quite possibly the best first-class option in North America. Cathay Pacific’s award-winning product is bookable with Alaska and American miles, and other Oneworld currencies. The best redemption value is definitely Alaska for premium classes, with business going for 25,000 miles and first class for 35,000 miles each way. For one-way economy redemptions, American charges 15,000 miles and Alaska charges 17,500 miles.
To search for award availability, use British Airways’ site. Cathay operates flights daily on the route, continuing on to Hong Kong. Philippine Airlines also operates the route three times per week, with flights continuing on to Manila after. The only good way to redeem Philippine Airlines awards is to book with Etihad Guest — you can transfer points to the program from American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
2. Houston (IAH) to Manchester (MAN) – Singapore 777-300
Singapore Airlines is launching this route in late October 2016. The airline currently operates a daily fifth-freedom flight from Houston to Moscow, and then on to Singapore. Once the routing changes later this year, the IAH-MAN flight will be one of the best ways to get to Northern England from the US.
Flights will be operated by the airline’s 777-300ER and are bookable with KrisFlyer miles. At launch, the plane will offer eight of Singapore’s previous-generation first-class seats, but it may be upgraded to the new four-seat configuration eventually. The lowest-level awards are much more accessible than on Singapore’s other fifth-freedom routes to the US — those being New York to Frankfurt, Los Angles to Tokyo and Seoul and San Francisco to Hong Kong. The prices are even better once you factor in the 15% discount for booking awards on Singapore metal online. Business is just 48,875 each way and first class is 57,375 miles each way. Singapore KrisFlyer partners with all four major transferable currencies, so it’s easy to earn and redeem miles.
3. Montreal (YUL) to Havana (HAV) – Air China 777-300
This is one of the more interesting routes. Air China flies four times per week from Beijing to Montreal, and three times per week, the flight continues on to Havana. Aeroplan awards aren’t available to Cuba and United does not yet allow you to redeem award tickets for this specific flight to Cuba, but you can book awards with other Star Alliance carriers, and United may allow these redemptions soon. US airlines recently began commercial service to Cuba, with JetBlue flying from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara as of August 31, and American flying from Miami to Cienfuegos as of September 7.
4. Los Angeles (LAX) to Papeete (PPT) – Air France 777-200
Air France flies from Paris to Los Angeles daily, but continues on to Polynesia three times per week. This flight is best booked with Delta miles far in advance, or with Air France miles at any time. Delta allows you to book the flight up to 331 days in advance, but Air France’s Flying Blue program only allows you to book 10 months in advance at most. So for the first month of booking, Delta members can book seats on Air France’s flight, while Air France’s own members are blocked out.
Delta charges 50,000 and 80,000 miles for economy and business; Air France charges 30,000 and 75,000; Korean charges 30,000 and 45,000; and Alaska charges 40,000 and 60,000. These rates are one-way, although Korean Air requires a round-trip redemption, so you’ll actually be paying 60,000 or 90,000 miles total. Air France Flying Blue also charges close to $200 in taxes and fees, which the other programs do not. Korean is probably the clear winner, and although it’s a hassle to book partner awards, you can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards instantly.
5. Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) – Air New Zealand 777-300
Air New Zealand offers daily flights to London from Los Angeles, with the route originating in Auckland. The 777 aircraft servicing this route features the carrier’s signature economy Skycouch (ideal for families) and new premium economy seating, in addition to business-class seats. You can book seats on this flight with Star Alliance airlines including United and Air Canada, though availability is very difficult to come by.
6. New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP) – Emirates A380
This is one of the best known fifth-freedom routes to the US. Emirates has a completely over-the-top first class, including a private cabin and a shower on board the plane. Alaska’s Mileage Plan program used to be a solid option to redeem for this route, but back in March 2016 awards jumped to 47,500, 105,000 and 180,000 one-way in economy, business and first class, respectively. JAL Mileage Bank is now the best option for redemptions, with business going for 65,000 miles and first for 100,000 miles each way. You can transfer Starpoints to JAL, but note that points can take more than a week to transfer.
7. Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (CDG) – Air Tahiti A340-300
Air Tahiti flies daily from Papeete to Los Angles, and some flights continue on to Paris. You can use both American and Delta miles to redeem for an award flight, but you must call to book. To see award inventory, you can use ExpertFlyer and search for space. Both airlines charge the same number of miles to fly Air Tahiti as other partners, such as Delta on Air France, and American on its own metal. This could be a good option to look into when other airlines don’t have award space.
8. Los Angeles (LAX) to Dublin (DUB) – Ethiopian 787-9
Ethiopian has recently modernized its fleet and is expanding its North America presence, with flights to Toronto, Los Angeles, New York and Washington. The airline’s intercontinental fleet is entirely lie-flat in business class on the Dreamliner. Ethiopian also flies to Dublin from Washington, D.C., in addition to operating a nonstop on some days from the nation’s capital to its East African hub. You can book awards on United or other Star Alliance airlines.
9. Newark (EWR) to Lomé (LFW) – Ethiopian 787-9
Ethiopian just launched its newest route to the New York metro area. The flight goes to Addis Ababa via Lomé, the capital of Togo. It is one of the few direct flights from the US to West Africa. This route can be redeemed with miles from any Star Alliance airline, including United (40,000 miles each way in economy, 80,000 miles in business) and Air Canada (50,000 miles in economy each way, 75,000 in business).
10. Washington (IAD) Dakar (DKR) and Accra (ACC) – South African A340-600
South African also operates flights from the US to West Africa. It uses both the A330 and A340-600 aircraft for flights from Washington, D.C. to either Dakar or Accra and continuing on to Johannesburg. Flights operate every other day, alternatively, to each destination. South African used to operate similar fifth freedoms to New York (JFK), but the airline since changed that route to nonstop service. Note that Delta flies to both Dakar and Accra nonstop from New York. You can book award flights on South African Airways with any Star Alliance currency including United miles (redemptions match the amounts above), but Etihad partner redemptions provide terrific value, at roughly 106,000 miles round-trip for business class.
11. Honolulu (HNL) to Christmas Island (CXI) and Apia (APW) – Fiji Airways 737
Fiji Airways has a hub in Nadi and flies nonstop to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the airline operates to Honolulu via two pacific islands: Kiritimati atoll (Christmas Island) and Apia in Samoa are served multiple times a week from Honolulu. The airline continues on to its Fiji hub after. While the flight to Kiritimati only takes about 3 hours, the cost can be more than $800 round-trip. This makes for a great points redemption with Alaska Airlines. Alaska charges 37,500 and 45,000 miles for economy and business-class, respectively, for one-way awards from Hawaii to Fiji. Since Alaska allows for a stopover, you could stop on one of the islands for free each way. Alaska also charges 40,000 and 55,000 in economy and business class each way, respectively, from the US mainland to Fiji. That would allow for a free stopover in Hawaii or one of the other islands, when you fly with Alaska to Hawaii and Fiji Airways onwards.
What are your favorite fifth-freedom flights?
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