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Air India is joining Star Alliance very soon – on July 11th.
That’s great news for United flyers and Chase Ultimate Rewards® cardholders because you’ll now have an additional airline to use your miles on for long flights to India. Flights can be expensive and it’s a long journey so this is a great destination to consider using your miles.
But what are your options for getting to India with miles? Here is CompareCards.com’s guide to which are best.
There are only two airlines with nonstop service to India from the United States: United and Air India.
Jet Airways is an Indian airline that serves the United States, but its flights stop in Brussels along the way. Delta also flies to Delhi and Mumbai, but its flights stop in Amsterdam.
For Economy class, consider United MileagePlus®
If you’re willing to connect, United MileagePlus® miles already have good access to awards in Economy class for 70,000 miles roundtrip if you fly with its partners Lufthansa or Austrian Airlines via Europe.
For nonstop trips United’s own flights from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai are a bad deal for using miles to India, with almost no seats available at the Saver level, meaning you’ll pay 170,000 miles roundtrip in Economy Class.
But the addition of Air India looks promising for nonstop award availability with United miles.
Air India flies to India nonstop from the following U.S. airports:
- Chicago O’Hare (to Delhi)
- Newark Liberty (to Mumbai)
- New York JFK (to Delhi)
And the award picture looks good if you plan ahead.
Air India’s nonstop flights have at least one seat available in Business and Economy Class on most days next January for example. If you’re looking for First Class, the Chicago to Delhi route has availability most days next year.
While you can’t yet book Air India flights with United miles (that won’t happen until at least July), you can check availability by creating a frequent flyer account at Air India.
Then you can login here to see which flights have award seats open. These could potentially be available for booking with Star Alliance partner miles come July.
As for closer in booking, this summer is pretty grim for Business or First Class, though there are a few days with seats, which is more than we can ever say for United’s own flights.
But for Economy Class there are many options. Most days in August are available from Newark and Chicago, while Chicago also has most days in July available for awards.
Even dates ahead of Diwali in October have good availability.
And flying back there over the Christmas holidays is also possible with miles:
While Air India doesn’t release a lot of seats on each flight (it works out to 1 or 2 at a time), they seem to be good about releasing them on a large number of flights so it’s easy to find a flight that works in Economy Class.
Are there cheaper Business / First Class options?
United miles are very expensive for partner flights like Air India’s in Business and First Class.
You’ll end up paying 160,000 miles for Business Class and an usurious 280,000 miles for First Class on partners like Air India with United miles.
A way around this is with the Avianca / Taca LifeMiles program, which is part of the Star Alliance, letting you book United, Lufthansa, Austrian, and eventually Air India flights.
They’ll get you there for 135,000 miles in Business and 180,000 miles in First Class. You can buy up to 150,000 LifeMiles a year directly, and they often offer 2 for 1 promotions that let you buy them for about 1.5 cents each. That means you can get a Business Class ticket for about $2,000, which is a great deal versus the $10,000 cost of nonstop Business Class tickets to India.
There’s also a 40,000 mile signon bonus for the LifeMiles credit card that gets you even closer.
American AAdvantage® miles can be a great deal
AAdvantage® miles are easier to earn than LifeMiles, and will get you to India for the following prices:
- Business Class: 135,000 miles
- First Class: 180,000 miles
While British Airways flights are the default you’ll see when you search for awards to India using American’s website, that’s not the option you’ll want to use, as they are burdened by taxes and fuel surcharges on Business and First Class tickets of over $1,500.
Instead, you’ll want to take advantage of American’s partnerships with Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, where you can book award flights without big surcharges.
Etihad has outstanding premium class award availability on its flights out of New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C to its hub in Abu Dhabi. From there you can fly to most major cities in India.
And yes, that even includes its flights out of Los Angeles, a city that’s notoriously tough to get premium cabin award seats on long haul flights. You’ll eventually be able to fly in its luxurious new ‘Business Studio’ seats that are as nice as many airlines’ First Class seats, but it’s already a top quality lie flat ride.
You can check availability directly on Etihad’s website using this link. Any seat that shows availability in the ‘Guest Business’ or ‘Guest First’ column is available for booking with your AAdvantage® miles over the phone. You can ignore the mileage prices that display on Etihad’s site…you won’t pay those when using your AAdvantage® miles.
Qatar Airways also has a lot of availability from its hub in Doha to cities in India.
The challenge is availability from the United States to Doha is sparse. Qatar serves New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Miami from the U.S. Their Economy Class availability is more reliable, so it’s a good alternative to United miles for getting to India.
You can check Qatar availability by logging into the British Airways website and doing an award search there.
Delta SkyMiles might get you there
Delta’s partner Saudia Airlines has good award availability in Business Class on its flights from Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. The challenge is the flights are ‘dry’ – they serve no alcohol, and you transit Jeddah, a rough airport for dealing with connections.
But they’ll get you there for 140,000 miles roundtrip and no nasty fuel surcharges.