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Redeeming Miles for India (Non-Alliance)

Continuing this mini-series on getting back to the Motherland, I bring you Part 4: Using Free Agents to get to India!

General Information about “Free Agents,” as it pertains to travel to India

I’ve talked about the 3 alliances, but not every airline belongs to one. The most useful example is Alaska Airlines. In addition, there are some airlines that do belong to alliances, but also have out-of-alliance partners that go to India. I’ll keep those a surprise for later in the post 😉

The Various Free Agents

1) Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines is like that loose girl at the club: she dances with everybody – you, your friends, your enemies. We can use that to our advantage!

For our purposes, Alaska’s main partners are Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Korean Air, and Emirates. You’ll notice that the blue colored airlines are in Skyteam and the green colored airlines are in OneWorld – Alaska is partners with all of them!

  • Routings:The route you take depends on which partner you book!
    • Air France/KLM: 80,000 miles in coach or 120,000 miles in business, roundtrip. The availability for these seats is the same availability as I described for Delta awards (it’s also the same price). You will connect in either Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS). I’d rather get rid of my Delta miles if I could book this route, but if you have Alaska miles, it can be an option.
    • British Airways: 100K miles in coach/120K in premium economy/140K in business/160K in first. You still have to pay fuel surcharges 😦. However, these mileage prices are the same or better than those of British Airways’ own Avios program. With Avios, Los Angeles to Mumbai via London in first class is 150K one-way. With Alaska Airlines, the same trip is 160K round-trip. You would need to spend $30,000 on the Chase BA Visa card to get near that price, by getting the 2-for-1 voucher.
    • Cathay Pacific: From North America to India, it is 100K coach/125K business/140K first. Compare this to AA’s price, which was 115K coach/170K business/225K first via Hong Kong. Again, more huge savings by using Alaska miles rather than AA miles. This is a fantastic deal if you want to fly Cathay Pacific, particularly in business or first class.
    • Delta Air Lines: Theoretically, this is 80,000 miles in coach and 120,000 miles in business, but if you can’t book this on Delta, you can’t book it with Alaska. This is a useless partner for our purposes.
    • Korean Air: This is 100,000 miles in coach or 140,000 miles in business, which is actually 20,000 miles more expensive than with Delta. The same restrictions about blackout dates that I talked about in the last post still apply. Overall, not a good deal, considering that Delta miles could be used for this deal at a lower rate.
    • Emirates: This is actually unknown at this time. Alaska just recently became partners with Emirates. They currently have an agreement for earning miles (in fact, I just signed up for an Alaska mileage account since I’m flying Emirates soon). However, a mileage redemption agreement isn’t expected until the end of the year. If this turns out to be a very fruitful arrangement, I will post an update. For comparison sake, Emirates charges 85K/170K/255K for West Coast USA to India through their program (which isn’t redemption friendly in my opinion).
  • How many partners?: When booking an international award, Alaska allows you to use Alaska Airlines to get to the international gateway + only one partner. That means you can either fly Alaska + Air France/KLM or Alaska + Delta, but not Delta + Air France/KLM, even if the other airlines are alliance partners. This means that you’d want to be in a city that has service on Alaska or the partner airline.
  • Round-Trip Only, over the phone: Alaska only allows you to book round-trip flights. Because of the amount of partners they have, you must book over-the-phone by calling the partner desk (1-800-307-6912) between 5am and midnight Pacific Time. 
  • Fuel Surcharges/Blackout Dates: Only BA charges fuel surcharges. Only Korean Air has blackout dates.
  • One stopover or open-jaw: This is a good benefit.
  • Award fees: In addition to the $25 phone booking fee, you’ll have to pay $100 for any changes to the award.
  • Holding awards: No, you must ticket instantly, but there is a 24-hour grace period in which you can cancel.
  • Earning Miles: As of now, Alaska is only partners with Starwood, where you get 25,000 Alaska miles for every 20,000 SPG points transfer. Credit card wise, Bank of America offers an Alaska Airlines Visa that offers up to 40,000 miles on signup bonus. This is known to be churnable, meaning you can apply for it multiple times. Lastly, if you fly Alaska’s partners, especially American Airlines and Delta domestically, but don’t fly one airline enough to obtain decent elite status, you can credit miles to Alaska. You can earn Alaska miles on flights with American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, LAN, Qantas, Air France/KLM, Delta, Korean Air, and Emirates. Their program is a great place for non-frequent flyers to credit miles toward, since you won’t end up with multiple accounts with small numbers of miles in them. If you fly 25,000 miles total per year on just Alaska’s partners, you can actually attain Alaska elite status (which gives you a small number of benefits on AA and Delta).

2) Jet Airways

Jet Airways is actually one of India’s national carriers. They are partners with American Airlines, Delta Skymiles, and United Airlines. I can’t find any way of finding award availability online, so you have to call in for availability (which is often scarce). If you’re curious, I find calling American to be the best, as they can access Jet Airways’ award system the quickest (my favorite airline, Delta, is often the slowest). Jet Airways flies from New York and Toronto to India via Brussels.

3) Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways, based in Doha, is partners with United Airlines. You have to call in to book this award. Qatar flies from Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, and Washington DC, to Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai, and Trivandrum.

4) Etihad

Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi and is partners with American Airlines. The great things about this partnership are that Etihad flies trans-Atlantic (meaning you’ll pay the lowest possible amount of AA miles) and Etihad doesn’t charge fuel surcharges! Etihad currently flies from Chicago and New York to Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Mumbai, and Trivandrum.

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