After years of drama, Indian flag carrier Air India has formally partnered with Star Alliance and becomes the first Indian carrier to join a global air alliance. I remember all too well how the drama unfolded in 2011 while I was working at Star Alliance and am relieved that the bitter controversy is now history and heartened over the progress Air India has made over the last three years. The carrier still faces many hurdles to make it competitive (and solvent), but it adds a much-needed Asian subcontinent partner to Star Alliance and opens up many more award destinations for point holders.
Air India serves 23 countries, with 32 international and 51 domestic destinations. It has a fleet of 95 aircraft including the B747, B777, B787, A319, A320, A321, and A330. All Star Alliance flights depart from the same terminals in Mumbai (Terminal 2) and Delhi (Terminal 3) making connections seamless…if you can get through immigration quickly.
Air India has three cabins of service, economy, business, and first class, and award space is already searchable online using the Aeroplan, ANA, and Avianca websites.
What I’ve found is that Air India is not releasing more than one premium cabin seat per flight, but if you traveling solo, many flights have seats available. I have not booked a trip yet for myself or a client, so it may be a bit like Thai Airways – in which premium cabin inventory is often replenished in real-time. Economy class space is not so generous this summer (again, one seat per flight), but gets better as you move further back on the calendar.
For those with American Express or Aeroplan points, there is no fuel surcharge on Air India award flights. For example, I checked space from Delhi to Chicago and both first and economy class taxes come out to about $75, which is only Indian and U.S. government taxes–
Air India operates the following routes to the USA:
- Chicago to Delhi
- Newark to Mumbai
- New York to Delhi
all flights are operated by Boeing 777-300ERs featuring:
- 4 first class seats
- 35 business class seats
- 303 economy class seats
I have heard many horror stories about Air India, not just read online, but personal accounts from business colleagues who fly often, so I am looking forward to giving Air India a shot and seeing what service is like.
If you are traveling between the USA and India, note the cost of one-way award travel using Aeroplan, LIfeMiles, and United, noting that all three programs do not impose fuel surcharges on Air India flights:
|Air Canada Aeroplan||50,000||75,000||105,000|
More destinations and more award availability is always positive news.
If you are trying to reach Asia this summer on a frequent flyer award, flying through India is now a valid option (and a nice stopover, even in the heat) and another way to use your points at the saver level. With so little award space on the North American, European, and Asian carriers, this is a boon to those traveling solo.
Air India serves:
- Hong Kong
- Malé (another way to get to the Maldives!)
While routing via India is generally not permitted to reach Europe, Air India serves a handful of cities in Europe including:
- Moscow (starting next week)
Air India serves both Melbourne and Sydney, with daily direct service to Melbourne on the Boeing 787 and alternating direct service to Sydney and tag flights between Melbourne and Sydney. While United does not allow routing from New York or Chicago via Delhi to Australia, Aeroplan theoretically would (despite the routing far exceeding the MPM) if Air India published a routing from New York or Chicago to Australia via India. At this time, AI is not allowed to sell tickets from the USA to Australia, so that remains only a future potential, but still something to keep in mind.
Air India has a great Middle East route network, serving the following destinations:
- Abu Dhabi
- Kuwait City
Air India serves 51 domestic destinations within India.
Africa and South America
The carrier does not fly to South America or Africa.
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India is now open to easy frequent flyer redemptions and lounge access for Star Alliance Gold members traveling through – a positive day for Star Alliance!