Best Ways To Use Amex Membership Rewards Points To Fly To The Middle East And India [2018]

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Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia & New Zealand
Middle East & India
Africa
South America
Caribbean, Central America, & Mexico


With few non-stop flights from the U.S. to the Middle East and India, these destinations aren’t exactly a strong point for Membership Rewards. That being said, there are still some fun ways to book awards that I think you should know.

If you’re willing to connect (often in Europe), there are a number of options for award flights — just keep an eye on fuel surcharges that many programs will pass on to you!

Earn Membership Rewards Points

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to use Membership Rewards points to fly to the Middle East and India.

Air Canada Aeroplan

Often, we find that Aeroplan is the best option for one-way Star Alliance awards for those with Membership Rewards points. If you’re flying to India, we can safely say this is the case, but if you’re flying to the Middle East, you’ll want to consider Singapore KrisFlyer (discussed below).

One advantage of using Aeroplan miles is that you’ll have several ways to avoid surcharges which are often quite steep when flying through Europe. You won’t have to pay surcharges when you book awards on the following airlines:

  • Air India
  • Brussels Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss Air
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Additionally, LOT Polish Airlines can be a solid choice as the surcharges required aren’t terrible.

If you’re booking a round-trip award, you can include 2 stopovers or 1 stopover plus an open jaw which would allow you to see multiple destinations — maybe even a stop in Europe on your way.

Aeroplan award rates

Aeroplan uses a region-based award chart. The Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent are considered separate regions and have different redemption rates, but it’s pretty simple. Here are the one-way redemption rates for each region:

Class of ServiceU.S. to/from Middle EastU.S. to/from Indian Subcontinent
Economy40,00 miles50,000 miles
Business82,500 miles75,000 miles
First115,000 miles105,000 miles

If you want to include stopovers, you’ll need to book a round-trip which is simply double the mileage requirement of a one-way award. As you can see in the example below, an award on Swiss Air does not include surcharges and the total taxes/fees are more than reasonable.

How to book with Aeroplan miles

Searching with Aeroplan is generally pretty simple. The only caveat to that is that the online search can struggle with itineraries that have connections. If you don’t find award space or you search with United and see a better option, don’t hesitate to call Aeroplan (1-800-361-5373). There’s a small C$30 (~$24) phone booking fee but it can easily be worth it.

If you generally search for Star Alliance award space with United, it’s not a bad idea to check with Aeroplan as it often offers more award space on Air Canada flights to its own members. With Air Canada flights to Delhi/Mumbai, this could come in handy.

Assuming you find the route you want online, you can go ahead and book there. Otherwise, you can complete the booking over the phone. Aeroplan won’t hold award space for you but transfers from Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio) are generally instant so it shouldn’t be an issue.

Air France-KLM Flying Blue

Flying Blue could be an option, but you’ll really want to keep an eye on fuel surcharges.

You can keep the surcharges lower if you can find award space on Delta for the transatlantic segment to Amsterdam (AMS) or Paris (CDG) but a connection on KLM or Air France to the Middle East or India will still come with some hefty surcharges.

Unfortunately, Flying Blue no longer allows stopovers so you won’t be able to squeeze in a stop in Europe on your way.

Flying Blue award rates

With the relaunch of the Flying Blue program on June 1, 2018, it has kind of thrown out its region-based chart in favor of awards based on origin and destination — and variable award pricing not unlike Delta.

If you’re booking awards to either the Middle East or India, you can expect economy and business class awards to be pretty similar, though there are some outliers. Here are some one-way examples:

RouteEconomy ClassBusiness Class
New York (JFK) to Dubai (DXB)34,000 miles85,000 miles
Los Angeles (LAX) to Dubai (DXB)43,500 miles85,000 miles
Atlanta (ATL) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)39,000 miles96,500 miles
Los Angeles (LAX) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)45,500 miles96,500 miles
New York (JFK) to Delhi (DEL)34,000 miles85,000 miles
Los Angeles (LAX) to Delhi (DEL)34,000 miles85,000 miles

As you can see, it’s not easy to predict what saver level will be with Flying Blue. If you’re curious about a specific origin/destination pair, I suggest using the Flying Blue miles price estimator to see what redemption rate you’ll want to find.

Flying Blue JFK-DXB Example

I also wanted to call attention to one other redemption to the Middle East. You can fly one-way to Tel Aviv (TLV) for 53,000 miles in business class while economy rates vary from 25,000 to 29,000 miles. I also discussed this in our piece on the best ways to use Membership Rewards to fly to Europe as Flying Blue has long-included Israel in its European region.

The biggest advantage, however, is that Flying Blue makes more saver-level award space available to their own members. If you’re looking for four business class seats, it may be worth paying the fuel surcharges to have access to the extra award space.

How to book with Flying Blue miles

You can use either Air France or KLM’s sites to search and book online. Sadly, Flying Blue made the frustrating decision to remove the ability to run a calendar search so you’ll have to search one day at a time.

Once you find award space, you can transfer Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. While some phone reps will say it’s not possible, I’ve been able to put awards on hold for 48 hours which can come in handy if you’re worried that award space might vanish while you wait for miles to post. You can reach Flying Blue at (1 800 375 8723).

At times, people have had issues with the U.S. call center and have found one of the European centers — open 24/7 for English speakers — have been more helpful.

Given the historical problems with “fraud prevention”, we would always recommend calling Flying Blue to hold your award before transferring points, and then ticketing the award over the phone using a credit card in the account holder’s name.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

As with other regions, ANA Mileage Club is an excellent choice for round-trip awards — and awards must be booked round-trip — whether you’re booking flights on ANA or a Star Alliance partner. While round-trip is required, the ability to include a stopover and an open jaw on your journey can help you stretch your miles a bit more to see additional destinations.

Previously, you could redeem Mileage Club miles on Etihad flights but ANA suspended the ability to do so on pretty much all the routes you’d want to fly. In theory, it’s a temporary suspension but it’s been in place since December 2017 and there’s no indication of that changing.

Make sure you check the surcharges when booking with ANA Mileage Club as they often pass them onto you with award bookings — many of which will include a connection in Europe. Some won’t be too bad, but you can avoid them entirely by booking flights on:

  • Air Canada
  • Air New Zealand
  • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • United (except for flights to Asia)

ANA Mileage Club award rates

Using ANA Mileage Club miles can be a great way to use as few miles as possible when booking awards to the Middle East and India. It uses a region-based award chart with the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent in separate regions. Here are the round-trip redemption rates for Star Alliance bookings to each:

U.S. to/from Middle EastU.S. to/from India
Economy65,000 miles80,000 miles
Business104,000 miles136,000 miles
First195,000 miles240,000 miles

As you can see, the round-trip redemption rates are better than Aeroplan except when booking first class awards to  India.

You can also book award flights to the Indian Subcontinent on ANA at even better rates if you’d like to connect (maybe stopover) in Japan. These are the low/regular/high season redemption rates on ANA:

Low SeasonRegular SeasonHigh Season
Economy55,000 miles65,000 miles70,000 miles
Business100,000 miles110,000 miles115,000 miles
First195,000 miles195,000 miles210,000 miles

As always with ANA Mileage Club, keep an eye on those surcharges.

How to book with Mileage Club miles

I’ve included first class redemption rates but ANA does not currently operate an aircraft with a first class cabin to India. If the flights you want are on ANA, though, you will have access to more award space when using Mileage Club miles than other Star Alliance programs.

If you’re looking for Star Alliance awards, I’d suggest searching on United’s site as it allows you to see a 2-month calendar of availability and you can run one-way searches. You can then run a search on ANA once you’ve found the dates you want and complete your booking.

If United isn’t showing ANA space, you can run round-trip searches on ANA’s site to see if any space is available only to Mileage Club. Just keep in mind that ANA also shows waitlisted award space and there’s no guarantee it clears.

You can transfer Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. These transfers generally process within 2 to 3 days. ANA will not hold award space while you transfer points, so consider that in your decision.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta uses a region-based award chart — even if it’s hidden — that can be useful when booking SkyTeam awards to the Middle East and, just maybe, India if you’re trying to avoid some surcharges.

Keep in mind that Delta does not allow stopovers on awards so it’s tough to squeeze out any extra fun out of your Membership Rewards points.

Delta SkyMiles award rates

Delta’s redemption rates to the Middle East are comparable to what you’ll find with Air France-KLM Flying Blue. If you’re booking awards to India, Flying Blue will likely be a better option for you. These are the one-way redemption rates from the U.S. to both the Middle East and India:

EconomyBusiness
Delta Award - Middle East35,000 miles84,000 miles
Partner Award - Middle East42,500 miles85,000 miles
Delta Award - India40,000 miles96,000 miles
Partner Award - India50,000 miles120,000 miles

Outside of a flight from JFK to TLV, Delta doesn’t operate flights to the Middle East or India. However, you will get the Delta award rate if the transatlantic segment is on Delta.

Delta SkyMiles JFK-DXB Example

Speaking of the Delta flight to TLV, if you can book it with Flying Blue miles, you’ll save a ton of Membership Rewards points so give that a check first.

How to book with Delta SkyMiles

If you can find saver award space, you can easily search online and book. Delta also has a flexible date search function that allows you to see awards space within 3 days of your selected date. You can also use a 5-week calendar search if your dates are flexible.

When you’ve found award space, you can transfer Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio) and it should process almost instantly. As with other U.S. carriers, Amex imposes a small excise tax on transfers to Delta but it’s more annoying than prohibitive.

Other options to consider

Emirates Skywards – if taxes/fees don’t bother you and you want a chauffeur

If you want to use Membership Rewards to fly Emirates to the Middle East or India, you should expect to use a big chunk of points and pay some hefty surcharges.

Surcharges on one-way business and first class awards will clear $800 while round-trip awards will exceed $1,700. Here are a few examples of one-way and round-trip awards:

RouteBusiness One-WayBusiness Round-TripFirst One-WayFirst Round-Trip
JFK-DXB100,000 miles145,000 miles136,250 miles217,500 miles
LAX-DXB113,750 miles155,000 miles165,000 miles247,500 miles
JFK-DEL110,000 miles160,000 miles150,000 miles240,000 miles
LAX-DEL117,500 miles165,000 miles160,000 miles255,000 miles

Membership Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio and process almost instantly. You can search and book on Emirates’ site. Personally, this wouldn’t be my first choice but it’s an option if you want a luxury experience complete with a great inflight bar and chauffeur service to/from the airport.

Etihad Guest – fly Royal Air Maroc

Etihad’s redemption rates on its own flights are quite poor, but you could book business or first class awards from several U.S. airports if you want chauffeur service in Abu Dhabi. However, the award option I do find interesting is with its partner Royal Air Maroc.

Now, be forewarned, this might take a few phone calls to get it done. You can fly business class from JFK or IAD and connect in Casablanca (CMN) on your way to Beirut (BEY) or Doha (DOH) for 44,000 miles one-way — economy class would be 22,000 miles one-way. In fact, if you fly to Doha, both flights will be on a Boeing 787 with lie-flat seats.

As with all partner awards, you’ll need to call Etihad (1-877-690-0767) to book. Membership Rewards transfers to Etihad Guest (1:1 ratio) are generally instant so you can book quickly.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer – Star Alliance to the Middle East

Singapore KrisFlyer is an interesting one. The redemption rates to India aren’t competitive with ANA Mileage Club or Air Canada Aeroplan. However, if you want a one-way Star Alliance award to the Middle East, it might be an option for you.

Aeroplan is still a better option for economy at 40,000 miles vs 45,000 KrisFlyer miles. If you’re booking business or first class, though, Singapore Airlines has better redemption rates at 69,000 miles and 90,000 miles, respectively.

If you want to fly Singapore Airlines, specifically, to India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives or Bangladesh, it won’t be cheap but you can do it. From the east coast and Houston, economy is 55,000 miles one-way, business class is 110,000 miles and first class is 145,000 miles.

From the west coast, it’s a bit better but still steep. Economy is 46,000 miles, business class is 98,000 miles and first class is 138,000 miles.

You can search and book on Singapore Airlines’ site. On occasion, I’ve seen award space show on United but not Singapore’s site but been able to call KrisFlyer to book over the phone. Make sure you check the surcharges as you will be responsible for them and they can be quite steep.

Transfers from Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio) generally process within 24 hours. Stopovers are free on round-trip saver awards and $100 on one-way saver awards.

Bottom line

Membership Rewards won’t provide a ton of great non-stop redemption options, but there are still plenty of ways to fly to the Middle East and India. Using Flying Blue to fly to Israel is still a great redemption, while Aeroplan provides a great option for one-way Star Alliance awards to India.

If award space is there on the dates you need it, ANA Mileage Club is also a great way to go for round-trip bookings as well. As always, it will come down to availability.

How have you used American Express points to India or the Middle East?

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Comments

  1. Thanks a lot for the above information, Spencer. This is really helpful.
    I’m looking to book a trip to India for my wife and I, and was looking at various options to get the best award rate across Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.
    Would you be providing similar info related to Ultimate Rewards as well for award flights to India? It’ll be really helpful to us. Thanks!

  2. Is there a way to search star alliance award availability and not see the airlines you may not want to take?

  3. Thanks a lot Spencer. Also – I am evaluating Cathay as a potential airline to fly to India. Wouldn’t you think you missed Cathay in the above analysis? Thanks!

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