What Is A Fifth Freedom Flight?

Fifth freedom flights have always interested me, and I’ve made a point to fly as many of these flights as possible over the past several years.

Some have been interesting, like flying New York to Frankfurt on Singapore Airlines with the “First Lady” of Zimbabwe. Others have been terrifying… you may recall my experience on Royal Jordanian from Bangkok to Hong Kong.

What’s a “fifth freedom” flight?

A “fifth freedom” flight is one where an airline from one country has the right to fly between two different countries. An example of this is India’s Jet Airways, which operates fifth freedom flights between Toronto and Brussels.

These aren’t to be confused with “second freedom” flights, which allow an airline the right to stop for maintenance or fuel without disembarking passengers or cargo.

An example of this would be Ethiopian Airlines’ Addis Ababa to Washington Dulles flight, which makes a refueling stop in Rome where passengers and cargo don’t get off the aircraft. Oddly enough, there’s an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Rome departing about 90 minutes after the Washington flight. You’d think they could acquire fifth freedom rights and optimize their schedule on that one.

Jet-Airways-Business-Class-A330-01
Jet Airways A330 in Toronto

Why should you care?

Because fifth freedom routes are awesome! They allow you to try different airlines than you normally might, and they often operate an aircraft nicer than what usually serves a market.

Flying Manchester to Munich? Singapore Airlines operates a 777-300ER on the route, which features their fantastic first class and business class products. Definitely preferable to flying Lufthansa’s intra-Europe business class, which is just economy seating with the middle blocked.

Amol at HackMyTrip wrote an interesting post about fifth freedom routes in 2012, which includes a comprehensive list if you’re interested.

Some useful fifth freedom routes 

While Qatar Airways’ flight between Baku and Tbilisi might not be my idea of a useful fifth freedom route, some make for good award redemptions. Keep in mind this is all totally subjective. 😉

Cathay Pacific: New York to Vancouver

I most recently took this flight in March, and it’s hands down my favorite way to get between coasts. It’s part of a New York to Hong Kong flight that stops in Vancouver.

The flight may be timed terribly (it’s a redeye in both directions), but no other North American route offers you Krug as a pre-departure beverage in first class. First class passengers departing JFK also get access to BA’s pre-flight dining, for what it’s worth.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class
Cathay Pacific first class 777-300ER

Business class is still a great value, with reverse herringbone seats that are slightly nicer than what American offers as first class on their A321T aircraft.

First class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 32,500 AAdvantage miles + taxes/fees
  • 37,500 British Airways Avios + taxes/surcharges/fees
  • 35,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles + taxes/fees

Business class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 25,000 AAdvantage miles + taxes/fees
  • 25,000 British Airways Avios + taxes/surcharges/fees
  • 25,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles + taxes/fees

Korean Air: Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Getting between the US and Brazil is pretty tough on award tickets, especially in first class. With TAM removing first class, only American, Korean Air, and United offer first class products between the US and Brazil. United rarely has saver award space, and American almost never does, even if a cabin is entirely empty.

Korean Air first class is quite a step ahead of American or United, and they release a ton of first class award space on the route. Business class award space on the route is rather hard to come by.

It’s a great use of Chase Ultimate Rewards, as SkyPass is a transfer partner. I wrote about booking SkyPass awards and I reviewed this flight back in April.

First class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 70,000 Korean Air SkyPass miles + taxes/surcharges

Korean Air offers the nicest product to Brazil from the US.

Korean-Air-First-Class
Korean Air first class 777-300ER

Singapore Airlines: New York to Frankfurt

Singapore has five fifth freedom routes from North America that originate and terminate in Singapore. These include:

While Singapore’s KrisFlyer program isn’t especially lucrative for long-haul Star Alliance awards, you pay a much lower rate for redemptions purely on Singapore Airlines vs. on partner carriers.

Once you factor in the 15% discount that KrisFlyer provides for booking awards online, you can book Singapore Suites for only 57,375 KrisFlyer miles on New York to Frankfurt. You’re booking the transatlantic leg of SQ25 (SIN-FRA-JFK) or SQ26 (JFK-FRA-SIN), which often has saver award space on the shorter leg.

What was recently written about as unattainable really isn’t, especially when you consider this costs fewer American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points than a “traditional” business class award redemption to Europe (United, I’m looking at you). It’s important to keep in mind that you can only book long-haul premium cabin awards on Singapore through their own program.

Suites Class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 57,375 KrisFlyer miles + taxes/surcharges 

Singapore-Suites-2
Singapore Suites Class A380

Business class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 48,875 KrisFlyer miles + taxes/surcharges

Singapore-Business-Class
Singapore business class A380

Both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer at a 1:1 ratio. The transfers aren’t instant but are relatively fast — I’ve found them to process in under a day coming from both programs.

Air France: Los Angeles to Papeete

My favorite part about booking awards on these flights is hearing Delta reservation agents pronounce Papeete as “Pop-eat.” 😀

While it’s not a stunning product (it has angled flat seats), it’s a great way of getting between North America and Tahiti. No airline offers fully lie-flat seats on the route, and it’s a market with limited service.

I find that award space comes and goes on this route. Sometimes I can find a decent amount of space, and other times I can count on one hand the number of award seats found through an entire schedule.

Business class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 60,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles + taxes/fees
  • 75,000 Air France Flying Blue miles + taxes/surcharges
  • 80,000 Delta SkyMiles + taxes (one-way awards starting January 1st, 2015)

Booking through Alaska is definitely the best value on this route. Theoretically it only costs 50,000 Starpoints for a one-way award redemption when you factor in the 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 transferred points.

American Express Membership Rewards points transfer instantly at a 1:1 ratio to Air France Flying Blue and to Delta SkyMiles. Starting on January 1,2015, Delta will be limiting Membership Rewards transfers to 250,000 points per calendar year, which is something to keep in mind.

Air France limits Flying Blue redemptions to 10 months prior to departure, whereas Alaska and Delta both have access to Air France space ~11 months out. You’re going to get better access to award space through a partner program, which is opposite of the trends we’ve been seeing lately. Close in, Air France tends to provide more award seats to their own members though.

Air-France-First-Class-1
Air France first class A380

LAN Chile: Auckland to Sydney

While there’s plenty of award space on Qantas between Auckland and Sydney, I find this super fascinating. It’s part of LAN’s Santiago to Sydney service, which stops in Auckland, and there’s a good amount of award space on the tag flight.

There may not be anything too interesting about this route, but when you can fly an A340 with lie flat seats in business class vs. a Qantas 737, it’s a pretty good deal. Keep in mind that Air New Zealand doesn’t release much business class award space to partner programs anymore, so your only other option with a lie-flat seat is on Emirates, which also serves this route using an A380.

Business class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 17,500 American AAdvantage miles + taxes/fees
  • 20,000 British Airways Avios + taxes

On that note, I’d also like to point out LAN Chile’s 787 service between Madrid and Frankfurt. It’s part of a direct flight from Santiago to Frankfurt, but you can book just the Madrid to Frankfurt portion. Considering the domestic equipment that operates that route on Iberia or Lufthansa, I’d much rather take LAN’s 787 with fully flat seats in business class.

LAN-Business-Class
LAN business class 767

Ethiopian Airlines: Los Angeles to Dublin

As I wrote about earlier this month, Ethiopian Airlines is starting service between Los Angeles and Dublin in June 2015.

Why is this important? It’s the only Star Alliance business award space from the West Coast to Europe consistently available in advance. It’s also the first transatlantic 787 service from Los Angeles and a new airline for LAX.

While award space isn’t as plentiful as it was when the flight loaded, I do want to try this service in at least one direction, if for no reason other than the novelty of it. Besides, who doesn’t want to say they flew Ethiopian Airlines for their summer trip to Europe? 😉

Business class can be booked for (one-way):

  • 70,000 United MileagePlus miles + taxes/fees
  • 45,000 Aeroplan miles + taxes (no surcharges on Ethiopian)
  • 63,000 LifeMiles + taxes

American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. This is most likely how I’ll book this for myself.

ethiopian-airlines-lax-dub-awardspace
Ethiopian Airlines award space bookable through Aeroplan

Ethiopian-Business-Class-787-03
Ethiopian business class 787

Bottom line

I know there are plenty more useful fifth freedom routes out there, and many others are attainable on miles, but these are some of my favorites.

There’s something so exciting about seeing an Ethiopian Airlines flight on the departures board in Bangkok headed to Kuala Lumpur. I always wonder who the passengers are on those flights, how the crews feel about operating those flights, where they layover, etc.

And if nothing else it adds a bit of flair to markets that might not otherwise be all that exciting.

Have you flown any fifth freedom routes? What are your favorites?

Comments

  1. Awesome post, love these geeky ones. I had no idea that LAN flew Auckland-SYD. I have a trip planned there next fall. Should definitely try it out.

  2. I just flew SIN-DPS on KLM. Originally I was going to be on QR but they canceled the route so I had to take KL instead. Only 4 pax in C. Cost about US$300 one way. Hard product is way behind the times though. I’d hate to have to fly that from AMS to SIN. Food was pretty bad too. But I still got a Delft house.

    Took the Emirates HKG-BKK flight in F a couple of years ago for about US$650 one way. And BKK-SIN on CX last year.

    I agree that these flights are worth looking out for though.

  3. Air France also has a MVD-EZE route which I’ve been looking into, especially since award space is wide open and AF operates an (I believe) 777 on this route.

  4. i have a slightly related question… I am booked on SQ F JFK-FRA and then a revenue coach ticket FRA-VIE… i know SQ will interline my bags… but will they also allow me to use the lounge in FRA as an arriving passenger before I board my flight to Vienna?
    thanks.

  5. @ Lantean — If you show your inbound Singapore Suites boarding pass they should let you into the Lufthansa lounge based on a connecting same day Star Alliance ticket, as far as I know.

  6. Wow, I had no idea about the MAN to MUC flight. Do they serve a full meal on there? Availabiliy is pretty good for next summer and I’m looking to book award tickets home from Europe. Only 164 GBP in taxes for that flight and 56K miles (2 people).

    If you can drink enough champagne it’d pay for itself.

  7. Great post, and I learned something. I had thought that Tahiti, like Martinique, was just as much a part of France as Hawaii is of the United States. So not much of a “fifth freedom” route, really. But it turns out that Tahiti is really more like Guam or Puerto Rico than Hawaii. Maybe it does then count after all?

  8. @Lucky – LAX-PPT on AF is not a fifth freedom route as French Polynesia is technically part of France.

  9. Among my favourites are Emirates’s SYD/MEL/BNE-AKL. And if I’m right, LH has a flight to KUL through BKK. Uzbekistan also has a route from KUL-AKL. And Emirates also has flights between SYD and BKK, MEL-KUL and BNE-HKG, which all continue to DXB

  10. You might also want to add two flights with Turkish Airlines on their B777. TK15 from GRU to EZE and a return flight TK16 EZE to GRU for just 20,000 Unite miles each way plus taxes. Quite surprisingly their equipment stays barely 2 hours in Buenos Aires before they get back to Brazil.

  11. China Airlines uses alot of that, used to fly KIX-JFK, but that has ended just recently as they’re doing direct flight now. Also they have NRT-HNL, BKK-AMS, DEL-FCO (I think?)

  12. Not sure this one is on top of any list, but a few days ago I learned that AF flies between MIA-PAP (Haiti).

  13. My wife and I flew LAN from SYD to AKL in J last month and really liked it. It was pretty weird being welcomed onboard with “Bienvenido” and “Buenos Dias” on a flight between two English speaking countries. The seats were also way better than the Qantas J seats on the old 747 we arrived on from JNB.

  14. @Umesh, how do you even book that leg? I see it popping up on Kayak, but I can’t for the life of me input EZE on Air France’s website, which doesn’t recognize it as an option! (It does recognize MVD.)

  15. @Umesh– I see I can book it if I choose Argentina as my country of residence. It lets me book business, but not La Premiere. Wouldn’t the 777 be equipped with La Premiere to begin with?

  16. I had flown on LH First class – SIN-KUL couple years back… though the flight was short, it was amazing to have that space 🙂

  17. Norwegian has had transatlantic service from LA to CPH (and perhaps OSL and ARN) for more than a year.

  18. The best 5th freedom flight is SAO PAULO- BARCELONA , i read the other day in another blog that you can book suites in singapore airlines without fuel surcharges

  19. We booked a Qatar flight from BKK-HAN for 9k Avios one way in Biz class. It was such a great flight (albeit short) but it gave us a chance to experience Qatar. Definitely would like to experience a long haul in biz with Qatar soon – IAH to Doha.

  20. They are awesome routes.. Took advantage of them quite a few times. HackMyTrip and AwardsandTravel has some good description on them.

  21. Ben…. That pic of the Jet A330 is not taken in Brussels. I’ll give you a chance to correct the location before I let the truth out

  22. Lucky just letting you know that China Airlines also flies between SYD and AKL. Too bad its an A333 and not a 773 with new seats!

  23. Air France is rolling out fully flat business class seats on their new 777s so eventually the LAX-PPT route will have a fully flat biz class seat.
    I flew Dubai-Cairo on Singapore Airlines on their 777 and it was great. Sadly they suspended the flight as of Sept 30th.
    LAN plans to replace its a340s once they receive their new 787-9 next year so hopefully the AKL-SYD flight will get the 787!
    I haven’t tried it yet but I plan to fly Garuda’s LGW-AMS fifth freedom flight next month!

  24. I think BKK-HKG is the most operated “fifth freedom” route, given that Kenya Airways, Emirates, Royal Jordanian, Sri Lankan and Ethiopian all fly this route. Also, many airlines fly CMB-MLE, including Korean Air, China Eastern, Emirates and British Airways.

  25. I learnt a new term this morning “Fifth Freedom Flights” thanks to Ben, though I was aware of such flights as i am planning a trip to Australia next summer and was looking at options between SIN-MEL as SIN is the nearest transit option to get to Aus from where I live. Apart from Singapore and Qantas this route has Emirates daily service. The fares are at least 20% less than SQ and Qantas. Though SQ flies an A380 EK is on a 777. But still this is a good option due to great fares and also the thrill of connecting on EK from somewhere other than DXB! EK also flies SIN – BNE. So I am looking at SIN-MEL BNE-SIN. Lincoln had posted EK flies BNE-HKG, no they do not. It’s only BNE-SIN-DXB.

  26. just for the record Air India has fifth freedom flights between MEL – SYD as they operate DEL – MEL – SYD – DEL and also between FCO – MXP as they fly DEL – FCO – MXP – DEL. Both these flights are on 787. These flights alternate so one can fly SYD-MEL and MXP-FCO too.

  27. For the record, Ethiopian’s LA – Dublin service is NOT the first transatlantic 787 service out of LAX. Norwegian’s been flying Dreamliners out of LAX to Europe for months.

  28. @RB: UA has several intra-Asia flights, out of NRT and HKG. NRT used to be a hub, with flights to several major cities, but as far as I know that’s been cut down to NRT-SIN and NRT-ICN. Out of Hong Kong, UA flies HKG-SIN and HKG-SGN… unless they’ve cut more flights while I wasn’t paying attention. 🙁

  29. @Lucky,

    On the LAX-Papeete route, I believe you can also redeem Skypass (Korean Air) miles for AF flight. It’s only 90k for business class r/t plus surcharges & taxes. That would make it a worthwhile alternative to the ones listed above.

  30. Lucky, I just want to say that Emirates operates daily flights from BNE, SYD and MEL to AKL. Emirates even puts the A380 on route SYD and AKL.

  31. I don’t think AA does it anymore, but there was a time when they flew GRU-GIG on a 772 and EZE-MVD on 767. Sometimes the JFK crew would work down to GRU, layover for 24 hours, work the short hop to GIG, layover for he day (hotel on beach), worked back to GRU, another 24 hours then back to JFK. The EZE-MVD flight was covered by EZE foreign crew. I think those days are gone. There was also a summer a few years ago that AA offered a LHR-BRU flight on a 767. Certainly not as cool as some of these other routes, but looking at US carriers and what was.

  32. I’ve tried roundtrips with QR and TK in GRU-EZE. These airlines are way better than the A330 and A320 that JJ flies.

    And the best one I’ve taken is GRU-BCN with Singapore. 😛

  33. LAN used to fly Toronto->JFK on an A340, flew that twice as a much much nicer option than Delta/AA/US on a CR7 or E175

  34. LAN used to fly Toronto->JFK on an A340, flew that twice as a much much nicer option than Delta/AA/US on a CR7 or E175

  35. Thanks for the correction. Wasn’t sure which flights from EK to BNE and MEL went through which cities. Last time I checked there was a KUL and a HKG departure/arrival.

  36. QR flew SIN DPS a while back, dont know now, also AF CGK SIN. KL and LH fly CGK KUL, KLM DXB BAH, surprised you didnt mention GA AMS LGW.

  37. Oh and UA and DL flySIN NRT, along with UA on SIN HKG.

    @Lincoln, MEL and BNE go thru SIN, flew them last year.

  38. This is great article. I am
    Also intrugued where the crew stays during the layover etc. Av geeks!

    BTW i have taken egypt air from BOM- KL which flies from cairo to sharjah. Was the worst star alliance flight! Another one is cathay which flies from
    Sharjah-dubai-BoM- Bkk- hkg!

  39. Great article Ben. I learnt the awesome value to GRU from LAX on Korean, plus FRA to MAD & SYD to AKL on LAN, thanks.

    I also recently flew a round trip on TK GRU-EZE & EZE-SCL on AC all in Business for 40k. Air Canada’s 767 & Turkish A340 were better planes & service than anything coming out of Aerolineas Argentinas. I understand that TK recently switched planes in the route to a 777, which IMO is a better choice!

  40. My favorite fifth freedom route is Sydney to Auckland and back on Emirates. Qantas on this route is nice, but has a domestic business class, as apposed to Emirates’ international business class and first class.

  41. I just searched MAN-MUC, and Singapore Airlines Business Class is $200 cheaper than Lufthansa Business.

  42. Have flown Ethiopian’s Hong Kong – Bangkok by 2012, when their Hong Kong – Bangkok – Addis Ababa still existed..
    Others were things like CX’s Vancouver – New York, DL’s Tokyo Narita – Shanghai (probably ur last one to choose lol). Would really like to try out Ethiopian’s LA – Dublin and Air China’s Montreal – Havana one.

  43. @AJ and @Joey: I just flew Lan SYD-AKL on Monday. Now operated on their 789, with a pretty nice Business Class cabin. I was supposed to head back to SYD the same way but the Lan flight was running 4+ hours late. I would have missed my connection, so I transferred to a pretty crappy Qantas 737. I’ve had coach seats with more legroom than the biz on that plane…

  44. Living in South America, you have ( or had) many opportunities with 5th freedom flights. I can think of GRU-Eze both with Turkish 777-300 and Qatar 777-300, GIG- Eze with Emirates, Air France EZE-MVD, GRU-BCN with Singapore, EZE-SCL with KLM. In the past, the choice was much wider: AA between GRU-ASU, Swissair and BA between GRU and EZE, Ethiopian between GRU and Lome, almost all flights between Argentina and Europe with Aerolineas stopped at GIG, AF between GIG-EZE-SCL, JAL between GRU and JFK, among many others.

  45. Ethiopian isn’t the only airline- Norwegian Airlines also fly transatlantic from LAX to London and Oslo with a 787. It would be great if at some point if you could review it.

  46. I am on Ethiopian ARN-VIE-ADD this Friday. Would I need to disembark in Vienna? Or is passport control etc. done in Stockholm?

    Also – a “snack” is served on the ARN-VIE leg, and then there is breakfast on the VIE-ADD leg. The journey is 9 hours and 15 minutes. Will that “snack” be a meal, or should I bring my own food? I am travelling C-class – so hopefully there is a snack bar or something.

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