Previously, I wrote about how trekking in Nepal was one of the most memorable travel experiences I ever had. I then wrote about how you could use United miles to book the ultimate mountain adventure that would allow you to see both Kilimanjaro and Everest in one awesome trip.
Nepal and the trek to Everest Base Camp Series
But what is the best way to get to Nepal with airline miles?
Having the ultimate trekking adventure in Nepal is easy with airline miles.
United miles on Star Alliance are the cheapest and most convenient way to get to Nepal. American’s Oneworld partners have numerous connections to Kathmandu, but American charges 10,00o more miles than other carriers. Delta miles are not a great option because its Skyteam partners only fly to Kathmandu a few times per week.
Alternatively, we may be able to save some miles by flying into Bangkok first and then paying cash for a flight to Kathmandu. But more on that later.
United miles on Star Alliance
United miles are the best option to get to Nepal because it is easy to travel on United’s Star Alliance partners both through Europe on Turkish Airlines and through Asia on Thai Airways.
Award availability is good on both Turkish and Thai and award flights can be easily booked online, which cannot be done with Delta and American when going to Nepal.
United’s flexible routing and stop-over rules also allow you to create some really spectacular flights, such as a flight that would take you to Everest, Kilimanjaro, and India’s Far North on one trip.
|Turkish Airlines||Istanbul||4x per week|
|Air China||Lhasa||3x per week|
|Air China||Chengdu||1x per week|
Being able to connect through Istanbul is a major plus for travelers coming from the East Coast of the United States since flying through Europe would be quicker than flying through Asia.
It also opens up some great stop-over possibilities through Europe. That gives you the chance to recharge your batteries in a major European city after a few weeks spent roughing it in the Himalayan mountains!
Delta miles on Skyteam
We can use Delta miles to book flights into Kathmandu on Korean Air from Seoul, China Eastern from Kunming, or China Southern from Guangzhou.
However, Delta miles are not a good option to get to Nepal because Delta’s Skyteam partners only fly to Kathmandu a few times per week, which may make finding flights that fit your schedule difficult
|Korean Air||Seoul||2x per week|
|China Eastern||Kunming||3x per week|
|China Southern||Guangzhou||4x per week|
Korean Air has good award availability from the United States to Seoul, gets good reviews for its Business class cabins, and does not impose fuel surcharges on award flights. Unfortunately, Korean Air only flies from Seoul to Kathmandu twice a week.
China Southern has more frequent flights to Nepal, with 4 weekly flights from its hub of Guangzhou to Kathmandu. China Southern has good award availability and has what looks like a very nice Business class product. However, China Southern makes you pay a fuel surcharge of ~$170 each way or ~$340 round-trip on award flights from the United States.
American miles on Oneworld
American miles are a decent-but-not great option for getting to Nepal.
There are numerous and frequent connections to Kathmandu on Dragonair (Cathay Pacific’s local subsidiary) from Hong Kong, Etihad from Abu Dhabi, and Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur.
Unfortunately, American charges 10,000 more miles for award flights to Nepal than other airlines. (90k in Economy versus 80k for United and Delta)
However, we can save some American miles by flying into Bangkok instead and paying for a flight to Kathmandu with cash. (more on that in the Alternatives section below)
|Dragonair (Cathay Pacific)||Hong Kong||4x per week|
|Etihad Airways||Abu Dhabi||Everyday|
|Malaysia Airlines||Kuala Lumpur||Everyday|
An interesting option is to use your American miles to book a flight on Etihad Airways, connecting through Abu Dhabi.
Flying on Etihad can be a good option for travelers who want to try out a new airline experience or who are flying from the East Coast of the US or Europe.
Unfortunately, Etihad is a non-Oneworld partner with American Airlines, which means that you have to jump through a few more hoops in order to book an Etihad flight with American miles.
First you have to search for available award seats on Etihad’s web site. To do this, check out One Mile at a Time’s detailed guide on finding Etihad award availability. After finding award availability, you have to call American in order to book the flight.
Note: Qatar Airways is joining Oneworld in early 2014. Qatar flies from its hub in Doha to Kathmandu, which should give you another option to use American miles to get to Nepal.
Now that Malaysia Airlines is an official member of the Oneworld alliance, the easiest option to get to Kathmandu using American miles is to fly through Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysia Airlines flies daily flights to Kathmandu. (Cathay Pacific / Dragonair only flies to Kathmandu 4x a week)
We can get to Nepal with less airline miles by flying into Bangkok first or have more choice with airlines by flying into New Delhi.
Fly into Bangkok
We can save some miles by flying into Bangkok with an award ticket and then purchasing a flight to Kathmandu with cash. Bangkok is home to many of Asia’s budget carriers and is the easiest place in Asia to find onward flights to Nepal.
For example, it would only take 70,000 American miles to fly into Bangkok instead of 90,000 miles to fly into Kathmandu. We could then buy a round-trip flight between Bangkok and Kathmandu for $320 on a budget carrier.
We are paying $320 to save those 20,000 American miles. That means that we are effectively “buying” those saved miles at a rate of 1.6 cents per mile. That makes sense for a lot of people since you can often find award redemptions that would get you much better value than 1.6 cents per mile.
However, if you are cash-poor and points-rich, then paying the extra miles can make sense so that you can put the money you saved towards more travel! $300 is a lot of money in a country where you are only paying $25-50 per day in living costs!
Fly into New Delhi
Flying into India first does not save you miles since India and Nepal are usually classified in the same region, but it may be more convenient considering that there are many more connections with many more airlines into New Delhi than into Kathmandu.
From New Delhi, you can either buy a paid flight to Kathmandu on one of India’s budget carriers for ~$160 round-trip or take the scenic route by traveling overland via trains and buses.
Nepal is an awesome travel destination and it is easy to get there with airline miles. United miles are the cheapest and most convenient way to get to Kathmandu. American charges more to get to Nepal and Delta’s partners have infrequent flights to Nepal. We can save some miles by booking an award flight into Bangkok instead and then paying cash for a flight to Nepal.
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