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India is a beautiful country to visit, and easily the most eye-opening place I’ve ever been in my life. From the world famous Taj Mahal to the golden Sikh Gurdwara in Amritsar to the pink city of Jaipur, India provides a never-ending stream of sights, smells and general sensory overload.
While India is home to over 1.3 billion people and a massive aviation market, in this guide we’ll focus on traveling to the two main airports and two biggest cities in the country: New Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM). As you’d expect from a country this large and important, most major airlines fly to India, so no matter what type of points and miles you’ve been collecting, you should have a good way to get there.
Airlines That Fly to India
In order to make this list a little less daunting, I’ve excluded carriers that don’t make practical sense for a US-based traveler. I’ve also grouped the airlines by alliance — Star Alliance is first, followed by Oneworld and SkyTeam, and non-alliance airlines are last.
- ANA flies from Tokyo (NRT) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- United flies from Newark (EWR) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Lufthansa flies from both Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) to Delhi and Mumbai
- Air Canada flies from Toronto (YYZ) to both Delhi and Mumbai, and from Vancouver (YVR) to Delhi
- Swiss flies from Zurich (ZRH) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Singapore flies from Singapore (SIN) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Turkish flies from Istanbul (IST) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Ethiopian flies from Addis Ababa (ADD) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- British Airways flies from London (LHR) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong (HKG) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Japan Airlines (JAL) flies from Tokyo (NRT) to Delhi
- Qatar flies from Doha (DOH) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Finnair flies from Helsinki (HEL) to Delhi
- Air France flies from Paris (CDG) to both Delhi and Mumbai*
- KLM flies from Amsterdam (AMS) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- Korean Air flies from Seoul (ICN) to both Delhi and Mumbai
- China Eastern flies from Shanghai (PVG) to Delhi
- China Airlines flies from Taipei (TPE) to Delhi
** Air France’s flight to Mumbai is operated by its low-cost subsidiary JOON
- Emirates flies from Dubai (DXB) to Delhi and Mumbai
- Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Delhi and Mumbai
- El Al flies from Tel Aviv (TLV) to Mumbai
In addition to the lengthy list above, India’s troubled flag carrier Air India — also a Star Alliance airline — serves a large number of international destinations. But be forewarned that the carrier often gets mixed reviews.
Now that we know how to get there, the next question is how to book it. The following are all the airline and transfer partners for each of the above airlines. Of course, not all of these are equally good choices. More on that in a minute…
|Points Program||Transfer Partners||Airline Partners||Miles Needed (Round-Trip)|
|Aeroplan (Air Canada)||Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One, Marriott||ANA, Air China, Air India, Asiana, United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Singapore, Turkish, Ethiopian||
|Avianca LifeMiles||Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One, Citi ThankYou, Marriott||Air Canada, ANA, Air China, Air India, Asiana, United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Singapore, Turkish, Ethiopian||
|Alaska Mileage Plan||Marriott||British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Korean Air||
|American AAdvantage||Marriott||British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Finnair||
|Delta SkyMiles||Amex Membership Rewards, Marriott||Jet Airways, Air France, KLM, Korean Air||
|United MileagePlus||Chase Ultimate Rewards, Marriott||Air Canada, ANA, Air China, Air India, Asiana, Lufthansa, Swiss, Singapore, Turkish, Ethiopian||
Best Redemption Choices
Despite the large number of airlines flying to India, there aren’t as many worthwhile redemption options as you might expect. This is largely due to routing restrictions imposed by many airlines that force you to fly east — the shorter distance — instead of west through Asia.
Let’s take a look at six of the best programs for redeeming miles to India, as well as how to earn those miles and maximize the value of your redemption. Note that for all partners on this list, Marriott points transfer at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. This means that transferring 60,000 Marriott points to Aeroplan, for example, would net you 25,000 miles.
Air Canada’s independently run loyalty program Aeroplan is a great way to book Star Alliance awards at a reasonable price. You’ll want to be careful which airline you fly though, as Aeroplan passes on carrier surcharges for some (but not all) Star Alliance carriers. For example, expect award tickets on Lufthansa metal to include $500+ in taxes, fees and surcharges each way. The good news is that getting Aeroplan miles is relatively easy, as the program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One, as well as a partner of Marriott.
Here’s how many Aeroplan miles you’ll need for a one-way award ticket from the US to India:
- Economy: 50,000
- Premium economy: 65,000
- Business: 75,000
- First: 105,000
If you can find saver level award space, and are willing to brave a 14-hour nonstop on United or Air India (two airlines that are not known for their quality service…) a flight like the one below can really shorten your travel day.
However, Aeroplan is one of the few carriers that will let you route through Asia, so you could take advantage of ANA’s business class seat if you’re willing to pay the ~$350 in taxes.
On the other hand, while it might not be as luxurious of a ride, this combination United/Air India itinerary only has $25 in taxes, and you get to fly on two 787 Dreamliners.
One feature I really like about Aeroplan’s search engine is how it clearly displays mixed cabin awards with a bright yellow highlight, so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when you arrive at the airport to check in for a 15-hour flight and find out half of it is in a lesser cabin.
You can also check the box to hide results with mixed-cabin itineraries entirely.
2. Avianca LifeMiles
While Aeroplan has a slight pricing edge when it comes to premium cabin travel, Avianca LifeMiles also offers very attractive mileage rates, made even sweeter by the lack of fuel surcharges. These miles are also very easy to rack up, between transferring Amex, Capital One, Citi or Marriott points or buying them at a steep discount. Here are the one-way award costs for flights from the US to India:
- Economy: 42,500
- Business: 78,000
- First: 111,000
No fuel surcharges is a really great deal, as that one-way Lufthansa award costs 111,000 miles and only $40.69 in taxes. You can also save 7,500 miles each way in economy booking with Avianca instead of Aeroplan.
Note that the new LifeMiles booking engine also clearly shows the benefit of booking mixed-cabin awards. In the above example, you could swap out either first class leg for business class and save 15,000+ miles. While other Star Alliance programs have fixed rates based on the highest class of service you’re flying, LifeMiles will discount these mixed-cabin itineraries proportionally.
The tradeoff comes with customer service, a department where Avianca is seriously lacking. If you think there’s any chance you’ll need to change or cancel your award (and you’re not flying a carrier like Lufthansa that has massive fuel surcharges), Aeroplan is not only the cheaper option in premium cabins but will also give you some peace of mind should anything go wrong on your journey.
3. Alaska Mileage Plan
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program is rather unique. Since Alaska is not part of one of the major alliances, it has individual partnerships with airlines instead. This means that the cost of your ticket will vary (by quite a lot, potentially) depending on which Alaska partner you fly. Below are the one-way award costs for flights from the continental US to India on Alaska’s various partners. As you’ll see, the prices range from decent to laughably bad.
Let’s take these partners one at a time, though I won’t bother with Korean Air as 100,000 miles one-way in economy isn’t worth discussing. British Airways is a reasonable option, though remember you’ll pay several hundred dollars in carrier surcharges each way when routing on the UK-based carrier.
As always, Cathay Pacific is one of the greatest sweet spots in the Alaska award chart. For just 70,000 miles each way, you can fly one of the world’s best first class products and build in a free stopover in Hong Kong. There’s just one caveat: the Alaska website doesn’t show Cathay availability, so you’ll have to search segment by segment on either the clunky British Airways website or the only slightly better Qantas website and then call Alaska to book.
At just 42,500 Alaska miles each way, Emirates economy ranks as one of the cheapest ways to get to India on miles, period. The pros: a more direct routing (flying east instead of west) and plentiful award availability. The cons: 13+ hours of jealousy thinking of the first class shower suites right above your head.
4. American AAdvantage
Recent devaluations combined with the switch to revenue-based earning has made the AAdvantage program a lot less attractive in recent years. But if you’re sitting on a large stash of AAdvantage miles from a recent Citi / AAdvantage sign-up bonus, there are still a few creative ways to get to India. Since AA doesn’t fly nonstop from the US, all itineraries will include at least one segment on a Oneworld partner.
Here are the AAdvantage prices for a one-way award ticket to India:
- Economy: 40,000 miles
- Business: 70,000 miles
- First: 115,000 miles
Your first option is to fly through London (LHR) on British Airways. While award space is plentiful, ridiculous carrier surcharges can really kill the value of a BA award ticket, so on if you’re flying through Europe, you might be better off with Finnair. Award space is generally available both from the US to Helsinki (HEL)…
…and from Helsinki (HEL) to Delhi (DEL).
These routes are operated by Finnair’s A330s, and while they aren’t the newest planes out there, they do offer a number of highly coveted “throne seats” in business class.
Of course, if you’re looking for a business class redemption, nothing comes even close to Qatar’s Qsuite. You can fly the world’s best business class seat from an ever-growing collection of US gateway cities, including Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), Houston (IAH) and Washington-Dulles (IAD), connecting through Doha (DOH) to a large number of destinations across India. Even though the flights from Doha to India are often under 4 hours, Qatar flies a number of international wide-body jets on these routes, including 787s, A350s and 777s. At only 70,000 miles each way in business class, this is an absolute steal.
Last but not least is the best possible exception to AA’s routing rules. You’re allowed to fly westbound to India, but only if you route through Hong Kong (HKG). Your flight from the US to HKG can be operated by AA or Cathay Pacific, though if you’re flying in a premium cabin, you’ll definitely want to choose Cathay over AA. From there you can connect onwards to India on Cathay Pacific. Unfortunately, unlike Alaska, AA won’t give you a free stopover in Hong Kong.
5. Delta SkyMiles
Delta’s decision to remove its award chart and switch entirely to a pricing model of “an award costs what it costs” makes it difficult to talk about the program in a general sense. The best we can do is sample some routes to figure out what an award ticket might cost.
For example, in early September there are plenty of one-way economy awards from JFK to Mumbai for 40,000 miles and less than $100 in taxes. Most of these routings involve a Delta flight to Europe (London or Amsterdam), and a Jet Airways connection on to India.
Things get a little trickier in business class. While there are a number of options for only 105,000 miles one-way, these all seem to include long and tiresome two-stop routings.
However, if you’re forced into a two-stop routing (and even if you’re not), you should keep an eye out for the banner on the left that says “New Flagship.” This means you’ll be on one of Delta’s shiny new A350s which feature the fully enclosed Delta One Suites.
6. United MileagePlus
Whereas Aeroplan offers you cheap mileage costs on Star Alliance awards but with high carrier surcharges, United offers you a similar selection of routing options for more miles but without many of the surcharges you’ll find on Aeroplan. One-way award pricing is as follows:
- Economy: 42,500 miles
- Business: 75,000 miles (85,000 on a Star Alliance partner)
- First: 140,000 miles
United still operates a nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to Delhi, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag if you can find any award space at all. Economy fliers will be happy that the 777-200 only has 9 seats across in economy, as opposed to the 10 across you’ll find on newer 777-300ERs. Business class could be better, but also could be worse. You won’t have the carrier’s newest Polaris seats, but you’ll also avoid the carrier’s worst layout, the eight-across “dorm style” business class some 772s have. Instead, the 2-2-2 configuration is a (not so) happy medium.
By far, your most comfortable option would be Lufthansa first class. While it costs an exorbitant 140,000 miles in one direction, the $100 in taxes and fees beats the ~$500+ you’d pay booking through Aeroplan. You’ll also get access to the Lufthansa first class terminal in Frankfurt, which is easily one of the best “lounges” anywhere in the world. Lufthansa only releases first class award space to partners like United about 15 days before departure, but if you know when to look, it’s usually not that hard to find space from multiple US gateways.
The greatest advantage Star Alliance carriers have here is access to nonstop award inventory, either on United from Newark (EWR) to Delhi (DEL), or on Air India, which flies to a number of US cities including New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD) and San Francisco (SFO). Saver level space on these coveted non-stop routes is not always easy to come by, but with a little flexibility you should be able to find it. At the very least, connecting within the US (say, from Chicago to New York) before a non-stop flight to India sure beats stopping in Europe or Asia on the way. The nearly non-existent taxes only sweeten this deal further.
Bonus: Mix and Match
India was my first major points redemption and will always hold a special place in my heart. I was dead set on flying Lufthansa first class, but when the time came to pull the trigger, I just couldn’t convince myself to part with 140,000 miles. Instead, I booked a one-way ticket on American Airlines from Chicago (ORD) to New York (JFK), and a one-way cash ticket on Singapore from JFK to Frankfurt (FRA). My total out of pocket cost for the two tickets was ~$450.
I then booked a one-way Lufthansa first class award from Frankfurt to Delhi for only 60,000 United miles. I still got the full experience — including a chauffeur from the first class terminal to my flight and nine hours of first class bliss — but my cost was much lower. I saved 80,000 United miles for only $450, essentially buying them back from myself at a cost of .56 cents per mile. Compared to TPG’s valuation of 1.4 cents each for United miles, I got an amazing deal.
The options for getting to India on points and miles are about as plentiful and diverse as the country itself. If you start with a base of transferable points, you should be able to find multiple options to consider, allowing you to pick the airline and routing that maximizes your comfort at the lowest reasonable cost.
Featured image of the market in Jodhpur’s Old City by Instants / Getty Images.
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