Fifth-freedom routes are a unique quirk of aviation that gives North American travelers a chance to experience superior planes and service, often at a fraction of the cost. Have you ever booked a trip from the U.S. to Europe only to realize that your flight was operated by an Asian or Middle Eastern airline? If so, there's a good chance that you've stumbled across a fifth-freedom flight.

Technically speaking, a fifth-freedom flight is operated by a carrier between two countries, neither of which is the airline's home base. These routes are typically part of the service connecting those markets to the carrier's home country. For example, Emirates flies an Airbus A380 between Christchurch International Airport (CHC) in New Zealand and Sydney Airport (SYD) in Australia, with the same flight continuing from SYD to Dubai International Airport (DXB).

There are several reasons an airline can choose to do this. Range (Dubai to Sydney is already a 14-hour flight), gaining traffic in a new market and improving aircraft utilization are a few possible reasons.

Many fifth-freedom routes are operating worldwide, but here are some of the best for North American travelers to consider, plus how to book them using points and miles.

Fly from New York to Milan and Athens, Greece, with Emirates

Emirates' first class is one of the most aspirational bucket-list experiences you can imagine. Luckily, you don't have to go to Dubai to experience it.

Emirates operates two fifth-freedom routes from the New York area to Europe, including from New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Athens International Airport (ATH) in Greece. The Milan flight is operated by the Airbus A380, which has an onboard bar and showers, while the Athens flight is operated by the Boeing 777. Both flights continue to Dubai after making the stop in Europe.

Related: A review of Emirates business class on the Airbus A380 from New York to Milan

Additionally, Emirates offers service from DXB to Mexico City International Airport (MEX). Given the length of this flight and the elevation of MEX, the flight stops at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) in both directions, meaning another fifth-freedom route. This is the only North American fifth-freedom route that Emirates flies without a first-class cabin — the Boeing 777-200LR that's used to operate this route stops at business class.

Another exciting addition to the Emirates route network is the new fifth-freedom hop from Miami International Airport (MIA) to El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogota, Colombia, operated by a Boeing 777. The plane offers a first-class cabin, making this route a great way to try out the legendary Emirates experience on a short flight.

You can check out our guide for a full walk-through of the best ways to book awards on Emirates, but generally speaking, you'll want to concentrate your efforts around two currencies: Emirates' own Skywards program and Air Canada Aeroplan. Both are transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles and Marriott Bonvoy.

For an example of what to expect for pricing, here are the redemption rates for Emirates flights from JFK to MXP:

Emirates Skywards17,500 miles plus $5487,000 miles plus $106102,000 miles plus $106
Air Canada Aeroplan40,000 points plus $52100,000 points plus $52Unavailable at the time of searching

Fly from the US to Europe or Asia with Singapore Airlines

Until Singapore relaunched the world's longest flight from Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to EWR, the airline had a good excuse for its large number of North American fifth-freedom routes. Except for the Airbus A350-900ULR, most aircraft can't reach the majority of U.S. cities from Singapore without a fuel stop along the way. While the carrier has made a few changes to its transpacific routes over the years, Singapore operates the following fifth-freedom routes from the U.S.:

  • JFK to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) on the Boeing 777-300ER
  • Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Manchester Airport (MAN) in the United Kingdom on the Airbus A350
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Tokyo's Narita International Airport (NRT) on the Boeing 777-300ER

If you're looking to fly in economy, you can choose Star Alliance partners with which to book, including United MileagePlus and Aeroplan. If you're looking to fly up front, Singapore doesn't release premium cabin award space to its partners, so you'll have to book through the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program.

Related: The best websites to search for Star Alliance award availability

Fortunately, these miles are easy to earn since KrisFlyer is a partner of all five major transferable points currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, Capital One and Marriott Bonvoy.

One-way saver awards cost the following amounts:

RouteEconomyPremium economyBusinessFirst
U.S. to Europe25,000 miles52,000 miles81,000 miles97,000 miles
U.S. to Tokyo38,500 miles73,000 miles103,500 miles120,500 miles

Remember that booking through Krisflyer allows you to waitlist for awards if your desired flight and/or class of service isn't available at the time of booking.

Fly from Los Angeles or Seattle to Paris with Air Tahiti Nui

Connecting French Polynesia to actual France, this fifth-freedom option involves flying from LAX or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on Air Tahiti Nui's Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

According to American Airlines' partner award chart, if you want to fly Air Tahiti Nui to Paris, mileage rates start from 30,000 miles in economy, 40,000 miles in premium economy and 57,500 miles in business class.

Fly from Newark or Washington, DC, to Togo with Ethiopian Airlines

Unfortunately, Ethiopian Airlines no longer flies between LAX and Dublin Airport (DUB), but it still offers a fifth-freedom flight out of EWR and Dulles International Airport (IAD) near Washington, D.C., to Lome—Tokoin International Airport (LFW) in Togo.

As a Star Alliance carrier, you can book this flight to West Africa with points and miles. If you go through Aeroplan, you'll need just 40,000 points for economy or 70,000 points for business class, a solid deal for an almost 10-hour flight.

How to earn points and miles to book fifth-freedom flights

It's easy to earn points and miles to transfer to the above programs to book fifth-freedom flights. Amex, Capital One and Chase points all transfer to Air Canada Aeroplan and Singapore KrisFlyer at a 1:1 rate.

Here are some of the best cards available right now that offer generous welcome bonuses:

Related: Credit card transfer partners: Guide to transferring points and miles to airlines and hotels

Bottom line

Fifth-freedom routes aren't just appealing to the AvGeeks out there. Under the right circumstances, they can represent a unique value for North American travelers. The foreign carriers operating them can provide a much better inflight experience than their American counterparts, even in economy.

If traveling from New York to Frankfurt, why would you ever cram into an older Boeing 767 from United Airlines or Delta Air Lines when Singapore Airlines flies a shiny and spacious Airbus A380 on the same route?

Don't limit yourself when planning your next trip. Instead, consider redeeming your hard-earned points and miles on one of these unusual routes.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

2024-06-20T21:22:02Z dg43tfdfdgfd