Hacking Award Travel to the Middle East, India, and Africa on All 60 Routes

In the past four segments, we looked at how to become more efficient at searching for awards seats to Europe, Asia, Down Under and South America. Now we turn our attention to the last set of destinations, some of which are the furthest from home in the Middle East, India and Africa.

Part 1 of 5 - Hacking Award Seats to Europe - All 403 Routes

Part 2 of 5 - Hacking Award Seats to Asia - All 177 Routes

Part 3 of 5 - Hacking Award Seats to Down Under - All 31 Routes

Part 4 of 5 - Hacking Award Seats to South America - All 132 Routes

The Middle East, India and Africa are unique regions. With hubs spread out across a much larger geography, you’re a little more constrained with using your miles to fly the exact product you want, and there will often be a lot of backtracking intra-region. But there are a lot of fascinating destinations served by a good number of carriers, ranging from “get’s you there” to super-luxury. Below are a few observations of the market that you should keep in mind when booking award tickets.

Non-alliance Carriers Dominate the Market

Non-Alliance Partners have a large share of the market - adding some complexity and flexibility to award bookings.

Non-Alliance Partners have a large share of the market - adding some complexity and flexibility to award bookings.

This is the land of non-alliance partners, with 21 routes direct to North America on Etihad and Emirates, accounting for 35% of all flights. Your miles can be fantastic value if you want to maximize your time on nice products, where Etihad and Qatar partner with American and Emirates partners with Alaska. I can’t imagine a 12 hour flight on United to Dubai could compete with Emirates, but that’s really the reality you’ll face if you want to get there in one hop using UA miles. Drew has a great series on understanding / reading the tea leaves of United’s Routing Rules if you want to get more adventurous with trying different products while hopping around Africa to the Middle East. Tahsir also reviewed the First Class experience last October if you want to get a peek at what you’re in for.

Not Your Average Economics

Many of these carriers are also directly owned by the government of the sponsoring country, or have distorted economics available (e.g. cheap fuel, low cost of labor) and so can offer much more lift on routes that other carriers can’t justify. Just look at what routes that Emirates currently operates A380s and where they plan to deploy future orders. Consider that Etihad might have noticed it has a lot of unused space that it reclaimed when designing the new Residence class above first. Typically seat availability is quite good on all the Gulf carriers. Furthermore, many African carriers also may not be able to completely fill planes, meaning more awards up for grabs, though keep in mind flights schedule are likely to be a few times per week instead of daily. Don’t discount the products though, Lucky, Parag from Frequent Traveler University and I have all flown the Ethiopian 787’s and they are perfectly comfortable, with attentive service and good food. South African and Kenya Air also get reliably good reviews.

Connections can make or break it

For many people traveling to these regions, given they are some of the farthest from the US, connecting times are incredibly important. Nobody wants to spend 8 hours overnight in an airport (even if it is Changi — speaking from experience), even if the Gulf Carriers are constantly engaging in one-upmanship on the lounge and premium passenger care front.

Here are links to Excel and Google Drive versions of the dataset:

Google Drive - Award Route Database to Middle East, India and Africa

Excel - Award Route Database to Middle East, India and Africa

I will be combining these soon into a master database to make it easier to plan trips and to write scripts to mine for more information.

Ok, so what’s there to know for getting award seats to this region?

Culture Is Key

Cities in North America with cultural connections are going to be your best bet. New York, Toronto, Chicago and DC boast vibrant African, Indian and Middle Eastern communities and therefore offer the most flight options. Given the presence of non-aligned carriers, they tend to be the least hub-captive and most competitive markets.

Connect at a Hub and Get out of the Airport

Have some tea at the Burj Al Arab or explore the old city of Dubai (Deira)

Have some tea at the Burj Al Arab or explore the old city of Dubai (Deira)

The Gulf Carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) have made it their goal to be connecting mega-hubs in the region. And fully 45% of the flights (27 out of 60) go through one of those three airports. So they are probably the most logical bets to start your search, though be aware of onward connecting times. The cool thing about all three airports is the fact that you could easily spend a few hours in Abu Dhabi or Dubai (I’ve heard Doha is a bit less interesting) and connect to your flight in the evening or the following day. It can certainly be worthwhile to leave the airport.

Johannesburg and Lagos, because of their size and importance to certain industries also have a few more flight options than most hubs in the region and may provide a useful alternative.

Look at Every Partner Award Chart

JAL Distance Based Award Chart

JAL and ANA have some great sweet spots on their award charts, particularly for intra-region travel

Because Etihad and Emirates don’t belong to an alliance, it’s far less intuitive to predict who they partner with. Be sure to look at all options as a distance-based award on one partner may make more sense than a region-based award on another. Specifically, JAL and ANA have transfer options from AMEX and SPG that may make more sense than burning a ton of AA or AS miles.

North America

  • New York - JFK
  • Toronto - YYZ
  • Washington, DC - IAD
  • Chicago - ORD

Middle East, India, and Africa

  • Dubai - DXB
  • Abu Dhabi - AUH
  • Johannesburg - JNB
  • Lagos - LOS
  • Doha - DOH

Housekeeping and Metrics

Lastly, I added an additional metric that accounts not only for how hub captive a city is, but also how much lift comes out of the city. For instance, even though ATL is very hub-captive, it should be awarded a few extra points over a smaller city with more alliance balance because it does have a lot of capacity to Europe, even factoring in competition. I’ve added this to the other documents as well and will be combining them over the next week with a post on overall award search strategies.

Let me know if this matches your overall experiences in the comments below. Particularly interested in which carriers have prioritized efficient connections to India and South Africa.

6 Responses to “Hacking Award Travel to the Middle East, India, and Africa on All 60 Routes”

  1. what about tel aviv?

    • Included in the Europe section since originally the issue was finding space to Europe. If I were to do it over, I would have put it in the Middle East section, though note that Air France considers Israel as part of Europe.

  2. Having been waiting for this one specifically for India. Thanks.

  3. Thanks Eric for all the hard work! These series have been extremely useful and I’m def keeping all the information for future redemptions. any chance you could do some more cross region analysis. for example Europe to Asia i would guess would be the next most common redemption after TATL and TPAC.


    • Europe-Asia is a fairly common redemption, and there are some fantastic carriers that fly those routes. I generally have had far less of a problem redeeming or finding space, because the programs of European and Asian carriers are far less generous and tack on huge surcharges (so the value prop is considerably less than US flyers). Curious how you’d structure it, since you could do some inventive connections in the Middle East or backtrack considerably (Vladviostok being in Europe and all)

      • Hi Eric,
        I’m based in Asia (north asia) actually so would love to see all the combos i can toy with between asia and europe since that would open up all sorts of RTW itineraries for everyone. I have United, AA and US air miles so i’m open to any *A or OW flights. thanks for the great work!

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