Getting to India for less

There are still plenty of bargains to be had out there in the miles and points game, but India ain’t one of them. Coughing up your hard earned miles and cash to be crammed into coach for such a long flight seems like a terrible idea. Thankfully, a man with a handsome mustache has some tricks on how you can get there in style for fewer miles than you might normally pay.

AA Award Chart
AAdvantage Awards to India

The AAdvantage award chart has the Indian subcontinent at 67,500 miles for business class and 90,000 for first class each way. That is the second most expensive U.S. based award on their entire award chart!

To make matters worse, they specify that awards to the Indian subcontinent must route over the Atlantic ocean. That means that they will attempt to route you through London on British Airways, which carries huge fees; $763 in fees on a one-way first class fare from New York to New Delhi! Barf!

Award surcharges and fees to India
Award surcharges and fees to India

You could always try and find seats on Qatar airways via Doha to avoid the surcharges and fees that British Airways imposes, but they are pretty stingy on releasing premium cabin awards. So unless you have tons of flexibility and are traveling solo, you’ll want a different option.

Getting To India For Less

So let’s look at a way to get to India without burning through all of your miles and tapping into our 401k to pay the ridiculous surcharges.

The first place you might be tempted to look is at other airlines’ award charts. That’s a good idea, except that they all charge more than American Airlines.

United business class award prices
United business class award prices

United awards run between 70,000 and 80,000 each way for a business class Saver Award, depending on whether the trans-Atlantic segment is on United or a partner airline.

United first class award prices
United first class award prices

First class Saver awards to India are about as common a sighting as conjoined twin unicorns and will set you back 140,000 miles each way.

I may not be a mathematician but I feel fairly confident in my assessment that 140,000 miles is more than 90,000 miles. So we can see that United is too expensive miles-wise and AAdvantage awards have hilarious amounts of fees tacked onto their awards. So is it time to give up on our dream of getting “Delhi belly” at the Taj Mahal?

AA Partner Award Chart
AA Partner Award Chart (Old Graphic)

To add a little perspective to the 90k/67.5k India award pricing, it only cost me 67.5k miles to fly first class on JAL to Bangkok (via Tokyo) two days ago and it would have been only 55k to do it in Business class (but they don’t serve caviar in Business class!).  That’s a premium of 22.5k miles one way or 45k miles roundtrip (25k difference for Business on a round trip).  I value my AA miles highly and 45k is nearly enough for a one way business class ticket from NYC to Japan, so if at all possible I will do what I can to keep those miles in my account.   That means that it’s time to do a little sleuthing on the AAdvantage partner award chart to see if there might be a way to get there for less.

Through a quick little check of the award chart I see that the Asia 2 region (which includes SE Asia) includes Sri Lanka.  For those of you like myself who are geographically challenged, Sri Lanka is an island just off the SE coast of India.  The distance between Sri Lanka and India is only about 20 miles at its nearest, so by traveling just a little bit out of the way I can get my trip to India for the Asia 2 award price of 67.5k each way for first class or 55k for business.  Now we’re talking!

Cathay Pacific First Class Cabin
Another Trip In Cathay Pacific First? I can live with that.

Now seeing as I can fly nonstop on Cathay Pacific between NYC and Hong Kong, I usually choose Hong Kong as my connecting city in Asia.  From Hong Kong Cathay runs daily flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka via Bangkok.  Time to head out to check award space.

As luck would have it, there is plenty of First and Business award space between NYC and Hong Kong for my dates as well as Hong Kong to Colombo in business class.  So I am feeling good about getting to Sri Lanka on my beloved CX First Class and going from Hong Kong to Colombo in Business sounds not bad at all.  Now I just need to figure how to fly those last few miles and do so without needlessly decimating my miles balance.

Avios To The Rescue

This type of short flight is where British Airways Avios distance based awards really shine.  If I wanted to use my AA miles to cross over into India I would be looking at spending 22.5k miles each way just for economy, that’s 45k round trip.  The distance between Colombo and Chennai, a decent sized city in India from which I could start my India adventure, is a mere 425 miles.

Using Avios for a flight betweeen Colombo and Chennai.
Using Avios for a flight betweeen Colombo and Chennai.

Avios would allow me to cross over into India for 4500 each way in coach or 9000 in business class.  Considering that the taxes and fees come out to $90 for the one way flight or $111 for round trip, regardless of whether it’s in business or coach, I am going to book it round trip to minimize fees.

Round trip itineraries save on taxes and fees.
Round trip itineraries save on taxes and fees.

So I would have to spend 9000 Avios and $101 in taxes and fees to get from Sri Lanka to India and back.  That’s a whole lot better than 45k AA miles for that short flight.

So all together I am looking at spending 135k AA miles and 9k Avios to get to India and back, in Cathay Pacific First and Business classes with a quick flight in coach to get me from Sri Lanka to India.  That is 36k less miles than it would have been if I had booked the award straight to India in first class using the AA region based awards alone.

By combining a sweet spot in the region based awards of the AAdvantage program with the distance based awards of the Avios program I can really make the most of my miles and fly with a level of comfort that I would never be able to afford without them.

Hit me up with all your questions and comments!

If you’ve already got all the miles and just need some help finding space and booking the award, I have an award booking service that will get you all squared away. Find out more about it here.