Sure, Air India may not be as luxurious as the likes of Singapore Airlines. But Air India flies modern Boeing 787 Dreamliners with perfectly comfortable lie-flat Business seats to Australia. And it’s the only airline offering direct flights between Australia and India. Air India also has something that few airlines can offer: wide open award availability!
Air India flies 3 times per week from Melbourne to Delhi, and 5 times per week from Sydney to Delhi. From Delhi, onward connections are available to most cities in India, as well as to the Middle East and Europe.
Most flights from Sydney or Melbourne to Delhi have two Economy award seats, and either 1 or 2 Business class awards available. We did not find any Air India flights to Australia with more than two award seats in either class of travel, but most flights did have at least one seat (and many had two) in each cabin.
Air India award availability is pretty good year-round. For example, the below screenshot from the United website shows that there is currently at least one Business class reward seat every single day that Air India will fly from Melbourne to Delhi next month except for one. (Remember that the route is only served three times per week; on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays).
If you are travelling during a busy period, however, it would pay to book further in advance. You can book Air India awards up to 330 days before departure.
How to book Air India award seats
As Air India is a member of Star Alliance, you can book award flights using miles with any other Star Alliance member. But the best value option appears to be using Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus miles.
With Thai Airways, all partner airline awards must be round-trip. But a round-trip ticket from Sydney or Melbourne to Delhi in Business class will cost you 127,000 Royal Orchid Plus miles + taxes. Unfortunately, this amount will increase to 105,000 miles one-way (double that to return) when the major Royal Orchid Plus devaluation kicks in from 1 October 2019. So make sure you book before then!
It’s possible to transfer points from Amex to Thai’s Royal Orchid Plus program. (If you are planning to do this, make sure you do so before the Amex devaluation on 15 April!) See here for a guide on redeeming Thai Airways miles: Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus Redemption Guide
United charges 70,000 MileagePlus miles one-way for Business, or 140,000 miles return. And Singapore Airlines currently charges 87,000 KrisFlyer miles each way. (Note that Singapore Airlines too has an upcoming devaluation and will increase this price to 100,000 miles each way on 16 April 2019).
The taxes on a round-trip Air India booking from Melbourne to Delhi come to $118.60. This amount includes a modest fuel surcharge of $2.10 in each direction, which is not payable if you book using United Mileage Plus miles.
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