If you’re a travel enthusiast, then India might be high on your radar. With the second biggest population in the world, India is a melting pot — even inside the country, it seems like there are so many different cultures wherever you look!
India’s diverse languages, customs, music, architecture, and food draw travelers from all over the world. But unfortunately, India is not a particularly convenient destination from America. Let me explain.
Only 3 carriers operate flights from North America to India: United Airlines, Air India, and Air Canada. Air Canada only operates in Canada, while United Airlines and Air India support America.
Understandably, the first instinct is to look at Star Alliance frequent flyer programs, since all of the aforementioned airlines belong to the same alliance. In this guide, we’ll explore the best ways to fly to India with points and miles.
I’ll focus here on nonstop flights to India, but will also touch on some ways you can book 1-stop flights as well. There are a few sweet spots that exist with these 1-stop flights, though non-stops might be preferable for those who want to waste no time traveling around the giant country that is India!
Table of Contents
Best Airline Programs to Book Flights To India
When flying nonstop from the United States or Canada, you have 3 options: United, Air Canada, and Air India.
Air India is the only option of the 3 above that has a first class product on these nonstop routes. However, Air India’s premium cabin products are notoriously bad, so I wouldn’t necessarily encourage flying with them unless you want some novelty.
If none of these options seem appetizing to you, you’ll have to take a connecting flight to expand your potential.
Most of your options for connecting flights are:
|Notable airlines that operate connecting flights to India from North America|
|Emirates (Dubai) to Delhi & Mumbai||Etihad (Abu Dhabi) to Delhi & Mumbai||Qatar Airways (Doha) to Delhi & Mumbai|
|Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong) to Delhi & Mumbai||British Airways (London) to Delhi & Mumbai||Turkish Airlines (Istanbul) to Delhi & Mumbai|
|SWISS (Zurich) to Delhi & Mumbai||China Airlines (Taipei) to Delhi||Lufthansa (Frankfurt/Munich) to Delhi & Mumbai|
|Korean Air via Seoul to Delhi & Mumbai||KLM (Amsterdam) to Delhi & Mumbai||Japan Airlines (Tokyo) to Mumbai|
|Finnair (Helsinki) to Delhi & Mumbai||China Eastern (Shanghai) to Delhi||El Al (Tel Aviv) to Mumbai|
|Air France/JOON (Paris) to Delhi/Mumbai||Air China (Beijing) to Delhi & Mumbai||Aeroflot (Moscow) to Delhi|
The list above is not meant to be exhaustive; there are simply too many routes that can emerge from 1-stop itineraries. However, we listed the notable airlines that can provide a comfortable, luxurious inflight experience.
Again, since you have so many options for flights, the key is to have a lot of the 4 major transferable rewards points: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy points.
As always, flexibility is key. India is known for fuel surcharges, so be wary of those also.
Let’s start by digging into your nonstop flight options. Then, we’ll examine some ways to construct 2-in-1 vacations utilizing routing rules and connecting flights!
Air Canada Aeroplan
Now that we’ve provided the background for options to India, let’s dig directly into booking options! We’re going to start with Air Canada Aeroplan.
For all Air Canada and partner flights, the redemption costs will be as follows:
|Award Redemption Costs to Fly to India With Aeroplan|
|Cabin Class||Aeroplan Miles Cost||Taxes & Fees|
|Economy||100,000||Variable (Depends on carrier)|
|Business||150,000||Variable (Depends on carrier)|
|First||210,000||Variable (Depends on carrier)|
While the cost of redeeming awards with points is the same no matter which carrier you choose to fly on, taxes and fees will be the factor that changes with airlines.
When booking with Air Canada Aeroplan, your taxes and fees will be highest flying on Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian Air, Asiana Air, and All Nippon Airways.
Hot Tip: For those interested in a straight-shot flight to India, some worthwhile nonstop redemptions are with Air India and United Airlines. (I generally do not suggest booking Air Canada’s business class with Aeroplan due to the $634-$867 you’ll pay in fuel surcharges.)
If you do decide to fly on Air Canada’s business class, you can depart from either Toronto (YYZ) or Vancouver (YVR) to Delhi (DEL).
There are 2 United Airlines flights from Newark (EWR) that can get you to Mumbai (BOM) or Delhi (DEL).
Of course, their airline products are not very well reviewed, so keep that in mind if you decide to fly on Air India.
For those interested in flying superior airline products and who don’t mind connecting flights, look into SWISS Air, Turkish Airlines, Air China, or Singapore Airlines. You’ll have to connect in their hubs of Zurich, Istanbul, Beijing, or Singapore (respectively), but it might be worth it to fly a solid business class product with few surcharges.
Hot Tip: If you’re fine paying ~$680-$800 in fuel surcharges, you might want to look into ANA, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, or Air Canada.
Here are some great example routes you can take:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Zurich (ZRH) – Istanbul (IST) – Delhi (DEL) on SWISS Air, Turkish Air, and Air India business class for 75,000 miles one-way
- Newark (EWR) – Mumbai (BOM) nonstop on United Airlines business class for 150,000 miles round-trip
- Chicago (ORD) – Delhi (DEL) nonstop on Air India First Class for 210,000 miles round-trip
- New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) – Mumbai (BOM) on Air China Business Class for 150,000 miles round-trip
Earning Aeroplan Miles
Amex points transfer to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio, but you can transfer 60,000 Marriott points to receive 20,000 Aeroplan miles plus a 5,000-mile bonus. This brings the Marriott to Aeroplan ratio to 2.4:1.
Amex has a number of personal and business cards that earn Membership Rewards points to choose from, making it easy to accumulate the necessary points.
Recommended Amex Cards (Personal)
|The Platinum Card® from American Express - There's currently a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months. This is our favorite card for getting into 1,200+ airport lounges worldwide (including Priority Pass) and we get about $1,500+ in value from the card every year. |
Plus, get up to $200 in Uber credits annually ($15 per month and a $20 bonus in December) — and up to $200 in annual credit for airline incidental charges (e.g. baggage fees). For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, click here.
|American Express® Gold Card - We love using this card as it earns 4x points at restaurants worldwide and 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x). There's no better card in our opinion if you eat out and/or shop at supermarkets regularly.|
With a welcome bonus of 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in your first 3 months and a $100 airfare credit per year, for many this is an easy addition to your wallet. For rates and fees of the Gold Card, click here.
If you’re a business owner, we would recommend taking a look at the numerous American Express business cards that earn Amex points, as well as come with numerous travel benefits.
United Airlines MileagePlus
Here’s the reason we like United MileagePlus: very low to no fuel surcharges across the board.
Getting to India can be a tall order; planning a trip to India without fuel surcharges can quickly become a logistical nightmare.
|Award Redemption Costs to Fly to India With United MileagePlus|
|Cabin Class||United Miles Cost||Taxes & Fees|
Actually, United’s economy cost is very reasonable; it’s competitive with the best award costs for India.
The main draws of using this booking method are twofold: low surcharges with all partners, plus a transfer partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
With the recent removal of Korean Air as an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, though, your booking options are now somewhat limited.
Hot Tip: United Airlines makes award bookings very easy, even on Star Alliance partners. You can do everything online, your taxes and fees will be very low, and best of all the process is simple!
Earning United Airlines MileagePlus Miles
Lastly, you have the option of boosting your United miles with Marriott points. For every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer to United, you’ll get 27,500 United miles!
Recommended Chase Cards (Personal)
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card - This is our favorite starter travel rewards card which has a 60,000 point sign up bonus (highest ever) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. |
The current bonus is worth $750 in travel purchases (e.g. flights, hotels, car rentals and with no blackout dates) when you redeem your points through Chase's travel portal which is easy to use. You could enjoy several round-trip flights or hotel stays with that 60k bonus.
|Chase Sapphire Reserve® - Consider this premium card if you want to get into a lot of airport lounges. The current sign up bonus is 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. You'll also get a $300 travel credit per year which wipes away a big chunk of the $450 annual fee.|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited® - A simple, no annual fee card that earns you 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Just know that you won't get any travel benefits or the ability to earn bonus points with this card.|
Recommended Chase Cards (Business)
|Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card - This is our #1 recommended business card and comes with a whopping 80,000 sign up bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. This 80,000 bonus is worth $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel purchases (e.g flights, hotels, car rentals). Earn lots of points by leveraging bonus categories, and also - if you pay for your cell phone bill with this card, you can get up to $600 in insurance coverage.|
|Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card - earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. In addition, get up to 5% cash back on a range of business expenses. A simple, $0 annual fee card.|
Avianca Vuela LifeMiles
Avianca Vuela is a Star Alliance partner. If all you care about is being able to fly to India on Star Alliance airlines and you also have a lot of Citi ThankYou points, Avianca Vuela is your best bet.
As noted above, you’ll have the choice of traveling nonstop on United, Air India, or Air Canada, though 1-stop flights open up lots of options.
The economy and business award costs are actually extremely reasonable. The other factor that puts Avianca Vuela near the top of our list is the fact that it doesn’t pass on any fuel surcharges, minimizing your out-of-pocket cost.
Here’s the award chart for the flights we’re looking at:
|Cabin Class||Avianca LifeMiles Cost||Taxes & Fees|
Here are some example routes you can book with Avianca LifeMiles:
- Houston (IAH) – Newark (EWR) – Delhi (DEL) on United Airlines Business Class
- San Francisco (SFO) – Delhi (DEL) on Air India Business Class
- Toronto (YYZ) – Delhi (DEL) on Air Canada Business Class
To book Star Alliance partners with LifeMiles, follow these steps:
- Visit the Avianca Vuela website
- Click on “LifeMiles” in the bottom right corner of Avianca’s homepage
- Once you’re on the LifeMiles page, hover over “Use” and click on “Airlines”
- Enter your desired destination and travel dates and hit “continue.” The next screen shows availability and costs for those dates, as well as for 2 days before and after
- Select your flight
Hot Tip: You won’t be paying any fuel surcharges by booking with LifeMiles. This is an awesome way to avoid fuel surcharges on long flights to India!
Earning Avianca Vuela LifeMiles
You can earn LifeMiles miles directly by applying for the Banco Popular co-branded card.
It’s also possible to transfer Marriott points if you need to top off your LifeMiles balance.
Another method to consider is purchasing LifeMiles. They have periodic sales providing up to 150% bonus miles, so hold out for one of those before pulling the trigger.
Hot Tip: Check out our additional post on the Best Ways to Earn Lots of Avianca LifeMiles!
Recommended Citi Cards
|CREDIT CARD||CARD INFO|
|Citi ThankYou® Premier Card|
|Citi Prestige® Card|
All Nippon Airways Mileage Club
We’re big fans of ANA, but unfortunately, ANA’s competitive redemption rates are counteracted by the fuel surcharges they impose on routes to India (particularly nonstop flights).
Still, it’s worth discussing if you are comfortable paying $600-$800 in fuel surcharges in return for saving points.
If you fly on Air India, you will be paying every penny of those fuel surcharges. If flying on United or Air Canada, you won’t be responsible for most of the fuel surcharges.
You can book connecting flights on ANA metal as follows: (L = Low Season, R = Regular Season, H = High Season)
ANA does not operate nonstop flights to India from North America. If you’re fine with that and want to fly in ANA business class, your redemption prices will be very reasonable. Just be cautious of the ~$400-$500 in taxes and fees you’ll have to pay.
Here’s the award chart for Star Alliance flights we’re looking at:
|Cabin Class||ANA Miles Cost||Taxes & Fees|
|Economy||80,000||Variable (depends on carrier)|
|Business||136,000||Variable (depends on carrier)|
|First||240,000||Variable (depends on carrier)|
As far as miles costs go, the economy and business class redemptions are extremely reasonable. Taxes and fees will most likely be the determining factor here, and they vary from carrier to carrier.
Hot Tip: If you are open to taking connecting flights, you’ll be able to experience business class products such as ANA, Air China, SWISS Air, or Turkish Airlines with little (or no) fuel surcharges.
Here’s how to book awards with ANA miles:
- Visit ANA’s website
- Choose “ANA Mileage Club”
- Choose “International” then “Award Reservation”
- Log into your account
- Enter your desired route and dates
- Choose your desired class of travel
- Choose your flights
- Reserve your flight and pay for an applicable taxes and fees.
Earning ANA Miles
Amex points transfer to ANA at a 1:1 ratio. There are a number of personal and business Amex cards to choose from that earn Membership Rewards points, making it easy to accumulate the necessary points.
Recommended Marriott Cards
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Card - earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Get automatic silver elite status each account anniversary year; and a free night award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.|
|Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card - earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. A solid card for business owners who will get complimentary Marriott Bonvoy silver elite status. Annual fee is $125. For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Business Card, click here.|
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Alaska Airlines, though not in any airline alliances, is a partner with many luxury carriers like Cathay Pacific and Emirates Airlines.
There are a handful of ways you can fly to India using Alaska Airlines partners, but we’ll focus on Cathay Pacific and Emirates here.
Technically you can use British Airways, Korean Air, or Finnair in addition to Cathay Pacific and Emirates, but they’re generally not favorable due to either award costs or huge fuel surcharges.
Let’s dive into Cathay Pacific followed by Emirates.
For 62,500 miles one-way in business class or 70,000 miles one-way in first class, you can fly on Cathay Pacific to India with a free stopover in Hong Kong.
When flying from Hong Kong to India, be sure to book flights aboard the 747-400 aircraft, not the a330-300!
Here’s the full award chart for Cathay Pacific booked with Alaska Airlines miles:
It’s well known that Cathay Pacific is a sweet spot for redeeming Alaska miles.
As far as Emirates goes, you’ll be able to fly in their first class for 150,000 Alaska miles one-way, or in business for 82,500 Alaska miles one-way. See below for the complete award chart for Emirates:
It’ll cost a lot of Alaska miles to fly on Emirates to India, but it might be worth it. In fact, it’s possible to fly the entire way to India in the famous A380 suites!
Note that you won’t be able to access the Emirates first and business class lounges in Dubai unless you book with Emirates’ Skywards Miles, unfortunately.
Follow these instructions to use your Alaska Miles to book Emirates awards:
- Go to Alaska’s website
- Search for your desired route (make sure you select “Use Miles”)
- Select your desired flight and “Add To Cart”
- Login to your Alaska Mileage Plan account
- Pay the necessary taxes/fees and complete your Emirates booking
Hot Tip: Searching award availability for Emirates is easy enough — you can do it on Alaska’s website. You will need to search British Airways for Cathay Pacific award availability and call Alaska Air to book.
Here are some examples of great awards to India:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Dubai (DXB) – Mumbai (BOM) one-way for 150,000 Alaska miles + ~$19 in taxes and fees on Emirates A380 First Class Suites
- Boston (BOS) – Hong Kong (HKG) – Delhi/Mumbai (DEL/BOM) round-trip for 140,000 miles + ~$19 in taxes and fees on Cathay Pacific first class
- Chicago (ORD) – Hong Kong (HKG) – Delhi/Mumbai (DEL/BOM) one-way for 62,500 miles + ~$19 in taxes and fees on Cathay Pacific business class
- New York City (JFK) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT) – Delhi (DEL) one-way for 85,000 miles + ~$30 in taxes and fees on 22 total hours on Japan Airlines business class
Earning Alaska Mileage Plan Miles
Although the main disadvantage of Alaska Airlines miles is the lack of transfer partners, you can transfer Marriott points and earn Alaska miles directly by signing up for the Bank of America co-branded credit cards.
You can also purchase Alaska miles. You’re limited to 60,000 miles per transaction, but you can buy as many total miles as you want.
Alaska Airlines often offers discounts of up to 40% on purchased miles, so do look to buy miles at those times.
Recommended Alaska Cards
|ALASKA CREDIT CARD||BENEFITS & INFO|
|Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card|
American Airlines AAdvantage
|Cabin Class||Award Cost||Taxes & Fees|
|Economy||80,000||$40-$160 (except British Airways & Iberia)|
|Business||140,000||$40-$160 (except British Airways & Iberia)|
|First||230,000||$40-$160 (except British Airways & Iberia)|
There are a few restrictions that American places on travel to the Indian Subcontinent, as shown in the image taken from the American Airlines website below:
This means that if you fly across the Pacific Ocean, you can only do it through Hong Kong, either on Cathay Pacific or American Airlines. After that, you can really only fly on Cathay Pacific or Jet Airways on the leg from Hong Kong to India.
Otherwise, you have to fly other partners across the Atlantic Ocean.
The best way to book using AA miles is by searching for award availability on British Airways and calling AA to book:
- Visit British Airways and log in
- Select your route, travel dates, and class of service
- Note the flight number, date, and time
- Call American Airlines (800-882-8880)
- Ask them to search for first/business class award space on the desired airline
- You might have to provide the flight number
- Provide all necessary info to complete the booking
Here are some examples of great awards to India using AA miles:
- New York City (JFK) – Abu Dhabi (AUH) – Delhi (DEL) one-way for 115,000 AA miles + ~$20 in taxes & fees in Etihad First Class Apartments and 787 first class
- Los Angeles (LAX) – London (LHR) – Mumbai (BOM) round-trip for 140,000 AA miles + ~$160 in taxes & fees in American Airlines business class and Jet Airways Premiere business class
- San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (HKG) – Chennai/Mumbai (MAA/BOM) round-trip for 140,000 AA miles + ~$160 in taxes & fees in Cathay Pacific first class on the 777 and 747. Be sure to book the second segment on a 747 ONLY!
Hot Tip: Cathay Pacific and Etihad Airways might operate different planes on the same routes. For example, flying Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Delhi can be in an A321, A330, or 787. You want to fly first class on the 787. The same is true for Cathay Pacific’s regional flights, except you want to fly on the 747 for the best first class flight. Be sure to check which airplane you’re flying before booking!
Earning American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
Earning AA miles is made easy by the variety of co-branded credit cards offered by both Barclays and Citibank.
First, you can apply for the Barclays Aviator Red Card, since Barclays is more “sensitive” to hard inquiries and newly opened accounts than Citi. If possible, apply for the Barclays Aviator Red Business card after that.
Using Citi’s AA cards is also a great way to earn hundreds of thousands of miles.
If your AA miles are not enough, you can top off your balance with Marriott points. However, using them here is definitely not your best bet, and I wouldn’t recommend transferring from Marriott unless you have a specific redemption in mind.
It can take up to 2 business days to transfer Marriott points to AA.
Recommended AA Cards
|AMERICAN AIRLINES CARDS||CARD INFO|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®|
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Generally speaking, SkyTeam awards are very expensive, and India isn’t necessarily a focus city for the SkyTeam airlines.
That being said, if flying on a specific SkyTeam airline such as Air France or China Airlines is high on your priority list, chances are you’re going to be booking with Air France/KLM Flying Blue.
We’ll discuss Flying Blue first.
As you might already know, Flying Blue took away their award chart and replaced it with a calculator and variable pricing. Generally speaking, the prices for round-trip awards from America will be somewhere around the following:
With this chart in mind, I definitely wouldn’t book first class (!) — that seems like a great way to throw away all your points.
You will almost always be responsible for paying for fuel surcharges in full, which is what makes this program even less valuable, with some notable exceptions.
Here are some example routes you can take to avoid $1,000+ in fuel surcharges:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Shanghai (PVG) – Delhi (DEL) for 170,000 Flying Blue Miles plus $20 in taxes & fees on Delta One Suites on the A350 and China Eastern business class on the A330
- New York City (JFK) – Taipei (TPE) – Delhi (DEL) for 170,000 Flying Blue Miles plus ~$250-$300 in taxes & fees on China Airlines business class.
Another added benefit is that American Express and Citi sometimes offer transfer bonuses of up to 35% to Flying Blue. This means that 170,000 miles will only cost ~125,926 points round-trip. This can help squeeze additional value from your points.
You can search for award availability through Air France/KLM and book awards completely online.
- Go to the Air France Flying Blue website
- In the top right corner, click My Account and log in with your Username and Password.
- After logging in and being returned to the homepage, click Use Your Miles.
- Type in your airport information, dates, number of passengers, and class type.
- For flexible dates, you can also search on an award availability calendar by clicking this link and selecting the checkbox underneath Dates that says You are looking for a flight around these dates.
- Select your flights and pay for any taxes and fees.
Hot Tip: Be careful of “phantom availability” for partners! Call Flying Blue and confirm availability before transferring your points!
Don’t want to use your Flying Blue miles on a trip to India? Check out some other of the best ways to redeem Air France/KLM Flying Blue miles for max value.
Earning Air France/KLM Flying Blue Miles
Similar to Singapore Airlines, there are plenty of ways to earn lots of Flying Blue miles. They are fortunately a transfer partner with all of the 4 major points systems: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Marriott, and Citi ThankYou Points.
Other Options to Fly to India
There are several other frequent flyer options to fly to India, including Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, or Japan Airlines. We did not include these in our main analysis for one or more of the following reasons:
- High fuel surcharges
- High award redemption rates
- Lack of transfer partners
- Unattractive flights/subpar airline options
For example, Korean Air charges 170,000 miles for round-trip business class, but you’ll have to pay huge fuel surcharges. On top of that, Korean Air was recently removed as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, bringing your transfer options down to only Marriott.
There are plenty of ways to fly to India with points and miles. Although your options for flying nonstop are limited to Air Canada, United, and Air India for American or Canadian flights, you can construct some pretty cool itineraries if you have some flexibility.
For example, you can fly on Cathay Pacific to stop over in Hong Kong with Alaska Airlines. You can also fly in Emirates First Class Suites aboard the A380 all the way to Mumbai!
Be sure to seriously consider adding stopovers in other countries to get the most bang for your buck.
There’s a lot of value to be had when flying to India, especially when you fly there with points and miles!
Featured Image: Courtesy of The Telegraph