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What are the best miles for flying to India?

by on Mon June 23, 2014 • 66 Comments

Using miles to India

Air India is joining Star Alliance very soon – on July 11th.

That’s great news for United flyers and Chase Ultimate Rewards cardholders because you’ll now have an additional airline to use your miles on for long flights to India. Flights can be expensive and it’s a long journey so this is a great destination to consider using your miles.

But what are your options for getting to India with miles? Here is’s guide to which are best.

There are only two airlines with nonstop service to India from the United States: United and Air India.

Jet Airways is an Indian airline that serves the United States, but its flights stop in Brussels along the way. Delta also flies to Delhi and Mumbai, but its flights stop in Amsterdam.

For Economy class, consider United MileagePlus

If you’re willing to connect, United MileagePlus miles already have good access to awards in  Economy class for 70,000 miles roundtrip if you fly with its partners Lufthansa or Austrian Airlines via Europe.

For nonstop trips United’s own flights from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai are a bad deal for using miles to India, with almost no seats available at the Saver level, meaning you’ll pay 170,000 miles roundtrip in Economy Class.

United miles to India

But the addition of Air India looks promising for nonstop award availability with United miles.

Air India flies to India nonstop from the following U.S. airports:

  • Chicago O’Hare (to Delhi)
  • Newark Liberty (to Mumbai)
  • New York JFK (to Delhi)

And the award picture looks good if you plan ahead.

Air India’s nonstop flights have at least one seat available in Business and Economy Class on most days next January for example. If you’re looking for First Class, the Chicago to Delhi route has availability most days next year.Air India availability

While you can’t yet book Air India flights with United miles (that won’t happen until at least July), you can check availability by creating a frequent flyer account at Air India.

Then you can login here to see which flights have award seats open. These could potentially be available for booking with Star Alliance partner miles come July.

As for closer in booking, this summer is pretty grim for Business or First Class, though there are a few days with seats, which is more than we can ever say for United’s own flights.

But for Economy Class there are many options. Most days in August are available from Newark and Chicago, while Chicago also has most days in July available for awards.

Air India award availability

Even dates ahead of Diwali in October have good availability.

Diwali Avail

And flying back there over the Christmas holidays is also possible with miles:

Christmas Avail

While Air India doesn’t release a lot of seats on each flight (it works out to 1 or 2 at a time), they seem to be good about releasing them on a large number of flights so it’s easy to find a flight that works in Economy Class.

Are there cheaper Business / First Class options?

United miles are very expensive for partner flights like Air India’s in Business and First Class.

You’ll end up paying 160,000 miles for Business Class and an usurious 280,000 miles for First Class on partners like Air India with United miles.

A way around this is with the Avianca / Taca LifeMiles program, which is part of the Star Alliance, letting you book United, Lufthansa, Austrian, and eventually Air India flights.

They’ll get you there for 135,000 miles in Business and 180,000 miles in First Class. You can buy up to 150,000 LifeMiles a year directly, and they often offer 2 for 1 promotions that let you buy them for about 1.5 cents each. That means you can get a Business Class ticket for about $2,000, which is a great deal versus the $10,000 cost of nonstop Business Class tickets to India.

There’s also a 40,000 mile signon bonus for the LifeMiles credit card that gets you even closer.

American AAdvantage miles can be a great deal

AAdvantage miles are easier to earn than LifeMiles, and will get you to India for the following prices:

  • Business Class: 135,000 miles
  • First Class: 180,000 miles

etihad business classWhile British Airways flights are the default you’ll see when you search for awards to India using American’s website, that’s not the option you’ll want to use, as they are burdened by taxes and fuel surcharges on Business and First Class tickets of over $1,500.

Instead, you’ll want to take advantage of American’s partnerships with Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, where you can book award flights without big surcharges.

Etihad has outstanding premium class award availability on its flights out of New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C to its hub in Abu Dhabi. From there you can fly to most major cities in India.

And yes, that even includes its flights out of Los Angeles, a city that’s notoriously tough to get premium cabin award seats on long haul flights. You’ll eventually be able to fly in its luxurious new ‘Business Studio’ seats that are as nice as many airlines’ First Class seats, but it’s already a top quality lie flat ride.


You can check availability directly on Etihad’s website using this link. Any seat that shows availability in the ‘Guest Business’ or ‘Guest First’ column is available for booking with your AAdvantage miles over the phone. You can ignore the mileage prices that display on Etihad’s site…you won’t pay those when using your AAdvantage miles.

Qatar Airways also has a lot of availability from its hub in Doha to cities in India.

The challenge is availability from the United States to Doha is sparse. Qatar serves New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Miami from the U.S. Their Economy Class availability is more reliable, so it’s a good alternative to United miles for getting to India.

You can check Qatar availability by logging into the British Airways website and doing an award search there.

Delta SkyMiles might get you there

Delta’s partner Saudia Airlines has good award availability in Business Class on its flights from Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles. The challenge is the flights are ‘dry’ – they serve no alcohol, and you transit Jeddah, a rough airport for dealing with connections.

But they’ll get you there for 140,000 miles roundtrip and no nasty fuel surcharges.




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66 thoughts on What are the best miles for flying to India?

  1. Pierce

    I have 102,500 points on my Amex Platinum card and about 60,000 United miles. I have a trip for 3 of us from Houston to Mumbai in November coming up. What is the best way for me to utilize that?

    Thank you for your help.


      @Pierce – You’ll need about 80,000 United miles to get a full roundtrip to Mumbai, so perhaps wait on that for another time.

      Fares are pretty reasonable – about $800 roundtrip. So would say just book the most convenient flight with the Amex travel site using your Amex points – if it’s an $800 flight should cost you about 80,000 points, and you’ll probably earn miles for the flight because it’s like a cash, not award ticket when you book directly with Amex.

  2. Sriram

    I have 90k points in AA and 130k in chase points. Should I transfer chase points to aa or should I transfer them somewhere else like United, etc. I would like to transfer is to aa so I accumulate everything in one place for easy family trip, at the same I feel it’s challenging to book award flights on aa partners without incurring high taxes, visibility to award flights, etc, please advise


      @Sriram – Unfortunately you can’t transfer Chase points to AA. One thing to consider with your AA miles is looking at Etihad and Qatar flights to India. They don’t show on the AA website, but here is info on how to find and book them:

      As for your Chase points, if you’re okay flying Air India, lots of options with United miles.

      1. Sriram

        Thanks a lot for your response. How about transferring to British airways and then accesing AA, Qatar etc. Also what is a better option in terms of award travel availability,ease of booking, better value, etc – star alliance or one world


          @Sriram – Generally Star Alliance has more readily available space in Economy Class. AA to India is worthwhile for the Qatar / Etihad partnership, which is quite useful, but you don’t have any good fallback options via Europe if those are sold out without dealing with BA.

  3. betsy

    what is best way to use my american express points for a round trip business class tkt from NY (Newark or JFK, Newark preferred) to New Delhi


      @betsy –

      First check for NYC-DEL – you might see awards for 140k miles roundtrip (70k each way + $160 or so) though most flights will be out of JFK. If that’s the case, then you can transfer your points to Delta to complete the booking. Just make sure you click on the date you want to see the exact flight and price, because the calendar sometimes displays the wrong price.

      If you are okay with Air India, they have good availability for 150k Aeroplan miles roundtrip with minimal taxes / fees (less than $100). From Newark they fly to Mumabi, so you’d have a connection to Delhi.

      Otherwise, from JFK they fly nonstop to Delhi.

      You can search for this on and if you see seats on days that work, you can trasnfer your points using these instructions:

      If you don’t like Air India, Turkish Airlines, also a partner with Aeroplan, also has decent availability out of JFK via Istanbul.

      Just be aware that some other options you see on like Lufthansa and Air Canada have very high surcharges.

  4. sam

    I have to travel late December to AMD from PDX or SEA. I have 110k AAdvantage miles, 104k amex points and about 75k chase ultimate rewards points. What airlines should be the best option for me to transfer points to so I could get free round trip award tickets out of all these miles. I would consider myself a noob and would appreciate any help I can get.

    Thank you so much


      @sam – They’re all about 80k – 85k points roundtrip (40k – 45k one way). Your main options are:

      AA miles flying Etihad or Qatar (no transfer of miles required)
      Chase points transfer to United miles flying Air India, United, Lufthansa, others

      There are lots of seats San Francisco to Ahmedabad on Etihad via AA miles in late December. The challenge is getting flights from SEA/PDX to SFO with miles availability at the lowest price. Some awards are open SEA – SJC / OAK, or at odd times to SFO that require an overnight stay. Just Call them up on 800 882 8880 and ask to check the SFO-AMD on Etihad first, then try to figure out if they have any availability from SEA / PDX on Alaska that can connect to the Etihad flights. Alaska flights are bookable with AA miles if award space is available.

      1. sam

        Thank you so much for answering my question. So the only way to check for availability is by calling AA phone number correct? I didn’t find any award flights on their website at for SFO to AMD.


  5. KP

    What would you recommend for roundtrip ORD-AMD for 2 adults (ideally business) for late Nov to early Dec?

    Between the 2 of us, we have about 130K Chase freedom points, 106K Amex points, and maybe 36K Alaska points.

  6. Atul

    I have about 105K Amex membership rewards and 46K United miles.
    I need to cancel my Amex plat in august and i do not have travel lined up at this time. However In future i would like to use them for

    1) first choice Qatar (ord-doh-nag and back).
    2) Air India (ORD- DEL/BOM-NAG)

    Where do you suggest I should hoard these points united / AA/Qatar??

  7. raj

    Hi, I have 30K AA miles and plan on applying for a Citi Plat Select Per Card in the next couple of months. So, expecting to have around 80K AA miles after meeting min spend. I would like to know if flying on Business/First class would suffice with these miles one-way from BOS to HYD.

    I normally decide my travel plans to India in a month..latest in 2 weeks. What does the availability of award tickets looks like for my situation?

    Thanks much!

  8. Parth

    Hi, This is a great article. and some amazing comments did answer some of my questions.
    I have a few things I am still confused about.

    I would like to get a card that will let me redeem miles for a one way or a return economy ticket on the following options: ORD – AMD, JFK – AMD in early Dec 2016.

    I did some homework on what cards might be affordable in terms of the annual fee and the bonus they offer and some cards that I read aren’t as valuable as they seem. After the study I have narrowed my list to these:

    1. Chase Sapphire Preferred® card
    2. Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Card
    3. British Airways Visa Signature® card

    I am also open to other options.

    I am looking to spend less than 150$ on annual fees. My job does not require me to travel as much and I have taken an average of 5 domestic return trips in the US on Southwest in the last 3 years and do not expect that number to change drastically this year either.



      @Parth – If you’re willing to fly Air India, 40,000 United miles will get you there one way from JFK or ORD – so the Sapphire is a good choice for that. You can always pay cash for the way back if you don’t have enough miles, since most of the time a one way ticket from AMD is half the cost of a round trip (and sometimes less, as tickets from AMD can be cheaper than those starting in the US).

      AA miles via Qatar is also an option, also for 40,000 miles one way. So you could in theory get both the Sapphire and AA cards, and have enough from each intro bonus for a roundtrip – one way with Air India, Lufthansa, or United, and another with Qatar.

      The catch is Qatar tends to be a bit more stingy about award space than Air India, so keep that in mind.

      1. Parth

        Thank you for your insight.

        I applied for the Chase Card last night and am waiting to hear from them via US postal mail (which I believe is a very outdated method in today’s age :/)

        I liked the fact that they award 2x points for dining out. Since my monthly expense on eating out is probably going to be equal to if not more that on travel. Sapphire made sense. I think for all first timers like myself, Sapphire is a good choice esp for people who eat out regularly.

        I’ve always flown Emirates, but I can give AI a shot. I hear they have shorter flying times too 🙂

        Thank you again for the help.

        – Parth

  9. Hassib

    Great post. I had 2 questions I was hoping you could answer:
    I am trying to fly to Hyderabad,India next January or February with my wife. I really wanted to experience Business Class on the longer leg of the flight (if there is a layover somewhere). I don’t have any points that can help me with international flights ( I recently got the southwest Companion Pass so I am set within the US). So my questions are

    1) Out of all that was mentioned in the post, for someone who will be starting fresh, where is the best place to start earning points for travel to India? Hoping to earn the points and book the tickets for early next year.

    2) Do you think it is worth it to pay for an economy ticket and use points to upgrade to business class? I saw that a lot of airlines let you do that but is it worth it?

    I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Thank you!


      @Hassib – United and Delta miles are your best bet right now.

      Start with the Chase Sapphire, and then work on other Ultimate Rewards cards or the United cards. You’ll need 80k miles per person for a one way Business Class ticket, so 160k miles total.

      At the same time, work on Amex Membership Rewards / Delta points. Especially if you can get yourself to Chicago or New York, Delta’s partner Virgin Atlantic has great availability to Delhi for 70k miles one way, so you’ll need 140k total to get you 2 one way tickets. Then you can buy a cheap flight to Hyderabad.

      See if you’re targeted for any big Amex Platinum or Gold offers here:

      And try to have both you and your wife apply for and use cards individually, sharing your spending to hit requirements.

      Paying Economy and upgrading will probably be a $2,000 per person exercise, so generally not worth it.

      1. Hassib

        Wow great, thanks! Exactly the type of answer I’ve been looking for.
        My wife and I will definitely both try to accumulate points in parallel. Hopefully we can both accumulate enough to buy round trip business class award tickets for ourselves 🙂

        Yeah, after more research I realized it’s just so much of a headache to upgrade from economy to Business, not to mention I’d still be paying lots of money AND points. Might as well get some more points and get an outright award ticket!

        Thanks again!

      2. Hassib

        Some of the flights via Delta are Multiple Cabins. So essentially I’d be paying business class miles but only be flying business class half the way I believe. Is there a way to work around that? or does it just depend on what’s available?


          @Hassib – It depends on what’s available. Though double check – sometimes it says ‘multiple cabins’ but the cabins are both Business. You’ll see it listed when you hover or click on the cabin detail.


          @Kabir – Unfortunate change – Delta would price those earlier this year as a through fare. Now it’s likely aligned with the policy using Virgin miles which is to price each segment separately.


      @NB – The only good deal with points on Emirates is if you have Alaska MileagePlan miles, which unless you’re an enthusiast / hobbyist can be niche.

      It’s 42,500 miles one way in Economy, 72,500 in Business, and 90,000 in First.

  10. Socrates


    Thank you for all the great info in this post. I generally travel to India with my wife and kid at least once every two years and would like fly in business class or first class. My wife and I have excellent credit history and will soon have a total of about 400K points in Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards. Can you please recommend a good strategy to accomplish our goal? Thanks in advance.


      @Socrates – If the amounts are about even across the two programs, consider looking on for award seats on any Star Alliance carrier like Lufthansa, United, or Air India (which you can book using United miles via Ultimate Rewards, and using Aeroplan or ANA miles via Membership Rewards). It will cost you less than 200,000 miles roundtrip for each ticket, though with the Membership Rewards side you will end up paying some fuel surcharges, though well worth it for such a long journey in business class.

      So you should already be there for your next trip.

      After that, consider repeating the strategies you used for your first 400k. How did you earn those?

      1. Socrates

        Thanks for the advice. As for how I am earning my points: my wife was recently approved for Amex (personal) Platinum for 100K membership rewards and I expect to receive those this month. I was approved for CSP and Chase Ink Plus in December and expect to earn about 120K ultimate rewards between the two. I have pre-approved offers from Amex personal Platinum for 100K and Amex business platinum for 150K points. So I expect to get about 250K from those two. Later this quarter, I am going to apply for CSP and Chase Ink Plus for my wife…at least that’s the plan. So I hope to have about 550K points in total by Jun-July of this year. I don’t know if I can repeat the above strategies as I have heard Amex gives out the sign up bonus offers only once per card per customer. Any advice on what points I should focus on and how I can earn those points in the long term is much appreciated.


          @Socrates – That’s a really impressive haul – congratulations on that. For future deals consider For future cards Delta offers as they come up to compliment your Amex points and consider United offers as they come up to compliment your United points. Then consider diversifying to AA, since you can use AA miles to fly on Etihad and Qatar.

          From a program focus perspective, Amex to Delta should serve you fine this year. They recently raised a bunch of award prices but kept India intact at 140,000 miles roundtrip in Business Class, so that will be a good option since it sounds like you’ll have 350k Amex points to play with.

  11. Arman

    can you help me to find seats from Lhr to Bom business class using AA award in Etihad airline only on 19 February 2016. I saw some seats are open under guest business on date that I am trying to book. But when I call american airline reservation to make award booking they are not finding any open seat on those days or month of feb 2016. On eithad search tool for guest business award Ishwoing open seats every day. Why american airline not seeing those open seat. Is Etihad search tool to find award seats for american airline is not accurate ?


      @Arman – Try getting on Skype and calling this line in Australia – +61-2-91011948. They seem to be able to see some things US agents can’t at the moment.

  12. Arman patel


    I have 305k BA miles . Is there any way I can fly Ord to Bom using BA miles in business class without paying lots of BA fess. I don’t mind to brake down trip to or from Europe.thanks in advance.

  13. Aman

    I have 80k delta points, 40k Amex points, 60k citi premier points, 165k SPG points. What will be the best way to book a round trip from NY to Mumbai

  14. Rurik

    I’m trying to get 2 rountrip tickets from JFK to Jeddah Dec 24 and Returning Jan 2 on saudia how can I find award space?


      @Rurik – shows all available Saudia award space. So do a search there for a flight and select ‘Show price in miles.’

      Unfortunately nothing is available on those dates at the moment.

  15. Charles

    Hey! I’m traveling to India in mid December (the high season for India) and looking for the best way to fly business or first using award miles. I am premier platinum on United and have 190k miles. I have 77k reward points through my chase sapphire preferred card and another 140k thank you points through my citi premier card. Any suggestions on what my best option might be? I’d like to avoid United and Air India if possible… Happy to open a new credit card if it means getting bonus points to splurge on a nicer airline 🙂 Thanks!!

  16. JGJ

    Am I understanding things correctly that I could also use Flying Blue miles to book a Delta flight, US to India return, for 80,000 miles and around $125?

    Does this seem like a good deal? a good way to use Flying Blue miles?

    Thank you so much for your help with this!


      @JGJ – It’s possible if you can find availability. Cash tickets often run around $1,500 so not a terrible use of the miles. Try poking around for dates on to see if you can find seats on reasonable days.

  17. Sam

    I have a very good credit score and I am looking at the travel credit cards for international travel. I am really confused between Chase sapphire preferred, BarclayCard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture.
    I see in the comments above that you have also listed these cards.

    Can you please provide a comparison amongst these. Do points on any of these cards provide elite status on any airline program/alliances ?


      @Sam – None of the cards will earn you elite status or elite qualifying points directly.

      The Arrival Plus and Venture are almost identical. They earn points you can use like cash to offset travel purchases from your credit card statement. You just buy tickets on the card, and use points to remove some or all of the cost. Every point is worth one cent, so 10,000 points = $100. And they earn 2x points per dollar you spend.

      The Sapphire Preferred earns a different kind of points. It has an option to buy tickets on most airlines using the Chase site. But it also has an option to transfer the points to several airline mile programs, including United MileagePlus, British Airways Executive Club, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Singapore KrisFlyer, and Korean SkyPass.

      So you can turn the points into real airline miles and combine with the miles you might already have.

      The catch is real airline miles don’t earn status. They just get you award flights.

      If you want status benefits Delta and American have cards that can earn you some points toward qualification. You can see a summary here

  18. Ram

    I have 60k Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Can I make use of them to get elite status in any particular airline program or alliance and what benefits does that give me.



      @Ram – Unfortunately elite status is earned via miles flown rather than miles transferred in. However you could use the points to buy tickets on a carrier via the Chase website, and the ticket will earn elite qualifying miles according to the rules of your program. 60k points is worth $750 in flights.

      So for example you could buy a $700 ticket on United with your Chase points and it would earn miles toward elite status according to the fare type you bought.

      However if you transferred points to United MileagePlus you would not earn any elite credit for that flight. It would be a standard award ticket in that case.

  19. Pritpal

    Hi, I want a credit card that I can use once a year to book a return economy flight to India. I live in Seattle, WA and I don’t mind having flights with halt through Europe – British, Lufthansa, KLM etc or Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

    What would be the best option of the credit card for me ?


      @Pritpal – United miles will be your best bet to start. And the most flexible way to start with them is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, as it earns points you can transfer to United as well as other airlines.

      It takes 40k miles one way for a flight to India with Lufthansa, Air India, United, or other partners.

      You also have the options to use your Chase Sapphire points like cash and 40k points are worth $500 toward a flight on any airline.

      An interesting thing about India is one way flights are usually just half the price of the cheapest roundtrip. That makes it easy to use points for one direction and to pay cash in the other direction.

      1. Pritpal

        Few questions here :-
        1) Are points accumulated using Chase Sapphire preferred transferrrable to any Airline alliance.
        2) I have ~18k points from chase freedom. Are they equivalent to points earned through Chase Sapphire.
        3) Does it matter whether I apply for chase freedom visa or mastercard ?


          @Pritpal – You can combine the points with Freedom you already have with the Sapphire points any time. The Sapphire points are transferable to United MileagePlus, British Airways Avios, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Singapore KrisFlyer, Korean SkyPass, and Southwest Rapid Rewards. You would then use the points according to the rules and prices of the program you choose to transfer.

          Alternatively like the Freedom you can use the points like cash to buy flights on the Chase website with any airline. With the Sapphire your points are worth a bit more than the Freedom – at 1.25 cents per point.

          1. Pritpal

            Can I use these points to but tickets on any other website also, because, generally I like to use to find the flights and the website to buy it from ?
            That website may not necessarily be the airline website. It could be a 3rd party.


            @Pritpal – These points can only buy via the Chase website which often, but not always matches fares you’ll see on other sites. If you want to be able to buy on any site the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture are basic double miles cards that let you use the points by erasing travel purchases from your statement – so they can be made anywhere.

            The downside is you don’t have an option to transfer points into real airlines miles with United and the others Chase participates with.

  20. ram saladi

    I have tons of points from American express and a visa credit card .Can you suggest the best way to use them to fly international possibly to India. Thanks



      @ram – If you’re willing to fly Air India, they have pretty wide award availability. With Amex points you can book them by transferring to Aeroplan miles (150k roundtrip in Business, 100k in Economy), or if you want to save points but go through a bit more cumbersome booking process, transfer to ANA miles and pay 70k roundtrip in Economy and 110k roundtrip in Business.

      You can check availability on with an account, or on Whatever shows up as a ‘Saver’ award on is bookable with Aeroplan or ANA miles.

      ANA makes you call on the phone to book. And transfers to ANA aren’t instant, they take up to a few days. But if you’re willing to gamble a bit they can get you some really good point prices to India.

  21. Kamal Singh

    Dear Sir/ Ma’am,
    I am Holding jet privledge membership in Jet airways I would like to use my air miles for travel within India via. jet air lines or etihad
    Can you please suggest me, the ways or procedures to use my jet airways miles for availing


  22. Sam

    I joined AI FF program 2 yrs back. Now I am just short of 1k air India miles to make a redemption within India. How do I get those extra miles?


      @Sam – Next time you fly United or another Air India Star Alliance partner, credit it to your Air India account. That’s the easiest way from the U.S.

      1. Sam

        Thanks! I have a weird overseas routing coming up. US-China-Thailand-US with Thai and UA carriers. Should I be putting my UA FF number at the time of boarding for all these segments? This is award travel. Can I earn miles on these?


          @Sam – Unfortunately you won’t earn miles for award travel. But next time you have even a really short hop with United on a paid ticket that can count.

    1. milecards

      @nitin – Unfortunately no, you can’t merge them together. Separately, to become a Gold member you need to fly that many miles during a single year period of January – December. It is not based on the miles in your account.

  23. Akhil shrivastava

    Dear Sir/ Ma’am,
    I am Holding Gold membership with united airlines. I would like to use my air miles for travel within India via. Air india airlines.
    Can you please suggest me, the ways or procedures to use my united air miles for availing the air india domestic flights.


    1. MileCards

      @Akhil – You’ll need to wait until July 11th. At that date you can then call UA to request Air India flights with your miles.


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