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In July 2014, Air India became a member of the Star Alliance airline group, and that turned out to be great news for United Airlines flyers. It offered a way to use MileagePlus® miles for flights to India, and travelers from the U.S. suddenly had more flight options to the Indian subcontinent.
There are only two airlines with nonstop service to India from the United States: United and Air India. But there are 40 carriers around the world — including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines — that also serve the country with stopovers. Below we’ll look at a few options for getting to India using your miles.
Economy class options
United has flights to Mumbai from Boston Logan, Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty and Washington Dulles airports. There’s also a direct flight from Newark to Delhi — and for a nonstop trip, the Newark-to-Delhi is a pretty good deal, at 85,000 MileagePlus miles and $28.43 in taxes and fees round-trip in economy.
But don’t use your MileagePlus miles to book an award flight on Star Alliance partners in this particular case — the same JFK-Delhi flight on Lufthansa and Air India will cost you a whopping 190,000 miles and $63.43 in taxes and fees round-trip in economy.
There are also economy options on American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The Delta option, a codeshare with SkyTeam alliance partner KLM, requires more miles than United, but fewer than the Lufthansa-Air India option. Plus you’ll pay $111.63 in taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges (shown below). These surcharges are imposed by airlines, but no one really knows exactly what they cover.
While American Airlines has economy options on its Oneworld® Alliance partners for flights between JFK and Delhi, those free miles will cost you, since these carriers have among the highest carrier-imposed fees.
A round-trip British Airways flight via London Heathrow needs 80,000 miles but comes with a whopping $731 price tag, including carrier-imposed fees ($550) and taxes. A flight on Cathay Pacific through its Hong Kong hub comes to 80,000 miles round-trip, along with $123.63 in government taxes and $229.60 in carrier surcharges. A Qatar Airways flight via Doha is also 80,000 miles and $608.35 in taxes, including $480 in carrier surcharges.
All three flights are one-stops ranging from 17 to 23 hours each way. We only advise these award travel options if you have miles to burn and don’t mind paying the higher surcharges.
Travel on Air India
Air India does have nonstop award availability for those who want to redeem their United MileagePlus miles. Air India flies direct to India from the following U.S. airports:
- Chicago O’Hare to Delhi
- New York JFK to Delhi
- Newark Liberty to Mumbai
- San Francisco to Delhi
- Washington Dulles to Delhi
Members of Air India’s Flying Rewards loyalty program can use their miles for flights and seat upgrades on that carrier and its Star Alliance partners. You can check seat availability by either creating a frequent flyer account at Air India, or via each of the Star Alliance partners, including United Airlines.
When booking on Air India, remember to specify the booking class: O for first, I for business or X for economy; all are subject to availability.
Business class is twice as much as the points of Flying Rewards economy when redeeming for flights, and first class awards cost 2.5 times. So a round-trip reward between Chicago and Mumbai is 160,020 points in economy, 320,040 in business and 400,050 in first.
You can book Flying Rewards award tickets for yourself or anyone else.
Business or first class options
United requires a very high number of MileagePlus miles for its business class flights to India. Its Newark-Delhi flight will run a whopping 360,000 miles round-trip. Plus, the number of miles needed for premium seats is similar if you transfer points to book with its Star Alliance partners, including Air India.
If you’re not a Star Alliance member, American AirlinesAAdvantage® has some very reasonably priced AAdvantage business MileSAAver® miles between JFK and Delhi flying on oneworld partner British Airways at 140,000 round-trip.
But know when you book this fare, you’ll pay $1,180.93 in taxes and fees, including $1,000 in carrier-imposed charges and a $110.80 UK passenger service charge.
Delta Air Lines also has Delta One® business class award flights to India, but it’s pretty costly, starting at 400,000 SkyMiles®.
But the points needed for that Delta One award seat can shoot up to 860,000, depending on departure and return dates.
The bottom line
When it comes time to redeem award miles for coach travel to India, United Airlines is your best bet, thanks to its reasonable miles and low fees and taxes. A flight on Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and Air India cost more than double than United, plus it has higher carrier-imposed surcharges and taxes.
For business class travel, Delta had the highest miles needed, plus $152.93 in taxes and fees. United was in the middle for miles, but had the lowest taxes and fees, at $28.43. For coach and business reward flights using American Airlines AAdvantage oneworld partners, the miles needed are lowest among all carriers, but the carrier-imposed surcharges and taxes were the highest.
Air India has been in the Star Alliance for nearly five years. The airline’s entry into the alliance opened up access to the subcontinent, connecting India-based travelers to 39 destinations in the U.S., Europe, Australia, the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Gulf.
Options abound on getting from the U.S. to India using award miles. The trick is to be patient and do the homework to get the best miles for economy and premium cabin flights.