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Fifth Freedom Flights: What They Are and How To Book Them [2024]

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Juan Ruiz
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Juan Ruiz

Senior Editor & Content Contributor

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Juan has extensive experience in writing and editing content related to credit cards, loyalty programs, and travel. He has been honing his expertise in this field for over a decade. His work has been ...
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Chris Dong

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Chris is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud aviation geek and transit nerd). Formerly full time ...
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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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If you’ve heard the term “fifth freedom flight,” you might have scratched your head and wondered what it meant.

Fifth freedom flights transport passengers between 2 countries other than the airline’s home country. These routes are permitted as long as the aircraft starts or ends in the airline’s home base country.

Let’s dig further into fifth freedom flights to see why they’re such an intriguing occurrence in the world of aviation — and how you can fly them.

How Do Fifth Freedom Flights Work?

A fifth freedom flight refers to a scenario where an airline from 1 country has the privilege to operate flights between 2 other countries and transport passengers and cargo between them.

To operate a fifth freedom flight, an airline must obtain approval from all 3 civil aviation authorities or countries involved. This ensures that these unique routes can be flown in compliance with regulations.

For example, one of the most popular fifth freedom routes for U.S. travelers is operated by UAE-based Emirates from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP). The airline takes off from its hub at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and flies to Milan before proceeding to New York.

Emirates has been flying this route for over a decade, transporting nearly 2 million passengers and thousands of pounds of cargo.

Why Do Airlines Operate Fifth Freedom Flights?

There are several reasons why airlines apply for and operate fifth freedom flights. 

Firstly, these unique flights allow an airline to operate from its home country to another country, where it can unload passengers and cargo. After arriving, it can pick up new passengers and cargo before continuing to a third country.

Rather than being idle, waiting for their turnaround flight back to their home country, they can make the most of their time and add a route to a third country. This boosts revenue and eliminates the need to park their aircraft overnight in the second country.

Furthermore, several airlines offer fifth freedom flights to destinations that may not have enough demand to justify dedicated flight service. As an illustration, Emirates recently announced a new fifth freedom flight between Miami and Bogotá, Colombia.

The airline will fly from its hub in Dubai directly to Miami before continuing onward to Bogotá before returning via Miami back to its home base in the UAE.

In addition to the need for refueling and the inability to fly directly from Dubai to Bogotá, this opportunity allows the airline to accommodate local passengers and transport cargo.

Rather than grounding its Boeing 777-300ER at Miami International Airport (MIA) overnight, the airline can maximize its passenger capacity by operating a short flight to Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport and returning to Miami for its Dubai-bound flight.

At Upgraded Points, we have a strong appreciation for fifth freedom flights because they allow passengers to fly on airlines they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. These are a few of the most well-traveled fifth freedom routes operated by various international airlines.

Singapore Airlines — New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA)

Singapore Airlines is widely recognized as one of the top airlines globally, renowned for its exceptional premium-cabin offerings.

Singapore BUSINESS CLASS SEAT 777 300er
Singapore’s impressive business class seat on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Image Credit: Ehsan Haque

The Singapore-based airline operates flights from New York (JFK) to Frankfurt (FRA), continuing to its home airport in Singapore (SIN). Passengers flying between the U.S. and Europe can enjoy the airline’s exceptional service, choose their meals with the Book the Cook program, and enjoy a luxurious, lie-flat experience in a premium cabin.

How To Book: Traveling from New York to Frankfurt in Singapore Airlines’ impressive business class can be done for 81,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles, or you have the option to use Air Canada’s Aeroplan program and book it for as few as 60,000 Aeroplan points.

Singapore Airlines JFK FRA Aeroplan Screenshot
You can book Singapore Airlines business class on this fifth freedom flight between New York and Frankfurt for 60,000 Aeroplan points. Image Credit: Aeroplan

The carrier also operates a fifth freedom route between Houston (IAH) and Manchester (MAN) in northern England.

Hot Tip:

KrisFlyer miles can be transferred from American Express Membership RewardsCapital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards (all at a rate of 1:1) and Marriott Bonvoy at a transfer rate of 3:1 with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. You can also transfer from Amex, Bilt, Capital One, and Chase to Aeroplan at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

Numerous Star Alliance Airlines — São Paulo (GRU) to Buenos Aires (EZE)

One of our top picks for the quirkiest fifth freedom flights is operated by Ethiopian Airlines and several other Star Alliance airlines — none of which are based in South America — which fly between Buenos Aires (EZE) in Argentina and São Paulo (GRU) in Brazil.

Although it takes just under 3 hours to fly between the 2 metropolitan cities, there is intense competition for this route because 4 Star Alliance airlines — Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, and Swiss International Air Lines — have also been granted permission to operate this fifth freedom route.

How To Book: Despite the competition, cash fares for this route are extremely competitive and start at $131 one-way.

Ethiopean GRU EZE Screenshot Google Flights
Fares are competitive amongst the Star Alliance carriers. Image Credit: Google Flights

Fortunately, you have the flexibility to choose your preferred airline and can book for as few as 10,000 Aeroplan points, as all of the partners can be booked through Aeroplan.

Aeroplan GRU EZE Award Rates
Using Aeroplan points, you can choose between 4 Star Alliance airlines on this route. Image Credit: Aeroplan
Hot Tip:

You can use transferable points to redeem flights with the world’s biggest airline alliance, Star Alliance. Read our guide on the best ways to search for Star Alliance award availability!

Air France — Los Angeles (LAX) to Tahiti (PPT)

France’s flag carrier — Air France — offers flights from Los Angeles to the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. The airline runs an unusual route that takes off from Paris (CDG), travels via Los Angeles (LAX), and then departs to Tahiti (PPT).

InterContinental Resort Tahiti
Air France operates a fifth freedom flight between Los Angeles and Tahiti. Image Credit: InterContinental Resort Tahiti

Passengers flying this route can enjoy French cuisine and complimentary Champagne in all cabins on their way to paradise.

How To Book: You can enjoy a lie-flat seat in business class for as few as 77,000 Flying Blue miles and $206 in taxes and fees. If you don’t need all the extras, you can fly this route for as few as 27,500 Flying Blue miles in Air France’s economy class.

Air France Tahiti LAX Flying Blue Screenshot
Fly Air France to Tahiti from Los Angeles for as few as 77,000 miles in business class. Image Credit: Air France

It should be noted that it’s incredibly easy to earn Flying Blue miles because the program is a transfer partner with all major programs, including Amex, Bilt, Capital One, Citi, Chase, and Marriott Bonvoy. Make sure to keep an eye out for transfer bonuses to make your points go even further.

Emirates — Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH)

Earlier in this post, we demonstrated how fifth freedom flights worked using an example of Emirates flying from New York (JFK) to Milan (MXP). That isn’t the only New York-area service the airline offers to Europe.

Emirates also flies a popular fifth freedom route from Newark (EWR) to Athens (ATH). It is the only non-U.S. carrier flying from the New York City area to Athens. This overnight flight to Greece lasts 9 hours and 10 minutes and is operated by an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER in a 3-cabin configuration.

business class cabin on boeing 777 300er emirates
You can fly Emirates’ fifth freedom flight from Newark to Greece. Image Credit: Emirates

How To Book: This route can easily be booked using the Emirates Skywards loyalty program, with rates starting at 38,750 Skywards miles in economy, 87,000 miles in business class, and 102,000 miles for first class.

British Airways — Nassau to Grand Cayman

A trip to the Caribbean is just a short flight away for most of the U.S. East Coast. British Airways, the U.K. flag carrier, offers a 5x weekly flight between 2 sought-after vacation spots — the Bahamas and Grand Cayman.

That means you can plan a weeklong trip to the Caribbean and explore multiple island nations instead of just 1. One of the great things about this flight between Nassau (NAS) and Grand Cayman (GCM) is that award redemptions are often a great value.

British Airways Avios NAS GCM Screenshot
Hop around the Caribbean with British Airways at great rates. Image Credit: British Airways

How To Book: For a mere 9,250 British Airways Avios and a minimal $1 in taxes and fees, you can island-hop in the Caribbean.

Final Thoughts

Fifth freedom flights provide travelers with the opportunity to explore an airline that doesn’t typically operate in their region. These rare chances to fly these routes are highly sought after by AvGeeks.

Airlines often choose to fly fifth freedom routes to make the most of their time on the ground while traveling to a region different from their own. This allows them to transport passengers and cargo while en route to or from their home country.

From our perspective, we appreciate the advantages that fifth freedom flights offer passengers and airlines, making them a win-win for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are they called fifth freedom flights?

The term fifth freedom was coined by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations. The fifth freedom refers to the right or privilege that one state grants to another government regarding scheduled international air services. This allows the second state to land and board passengers or cargo from or to a third state within the territory of the first state.

 

 

 

Do airlines need permission to fly over countries?

Flight permits are necessary authorizations that aircraft must obtain in order to fly over, land, or make a technical stop in the airspace of any country. Flight permits are subject to regulations in every country.

 

 

 

 

What are freedoms of the air?

The freedoms of the air, also called the 5 freedoms of air transport, are a set of commercial aviation rights granting a country’s airlines the privilege to enter and land in another country’s airspace.

What is the meaning of fifth freedom routes?

Fifth freedom flights enable foreign airlines to offer services between 2 countries that are not their home bases.

 

 

 

 

Juan Ruiz's image

About Juan Ruiz

Juan has extensive experience in writing and editing content related to credit cards, loyalty programs, and travel. He has been honing his expertise in this field for over a decade. His work has been featured in various prestigious publications, such as USA Today, CNN Underscored, Forbes and The Points Guy. Juan is the visionary behind JetBetter, a premier award booking concierge service.

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