Yesterday, SriLankan Airlines joined the oneworld alliance, becoming the first airline from the Indian subcontinent to join a major alliance (there are reports Air India may join Star Alliance, but that saga has been going on and on like an unedited Bollywood movie). That means you can use several oneworld currencies like AAdvantage and Avios on SriLankan Airlines.
This is some great news for several reasons. Colombo has been the site of some very cheap fares in recent years, usually for passengers departing Colombo. Even if you were making a trip to the area (like India, the Maldives, or Southeast Asia), certain fares out of Colombo were just too good to pass up. Having SriLankan join an alliance helps, especially since it allows people to use British Airways Avios on their shorter flights.
It also opens up the Indian subcontinent to those with American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios, at least for the time being. I live on the west coast and book award trips to India for myself and my family to see my extended family. One of the frustrating aspects of American Airlines’ award chart is that they don’t allow members to fly from the USA to India via Asia, even though it’s the same distance as going via Europe.
However, Sri Lanka is considered Asia Zone 2 by American, putting it in the same category as Hong Kong. If you have both American AAdvantage miles and British Airways Avios, you could redeem American miles from the USA to Colombo (CMB), then redeem Avios from Colombo to India. Even though these are separate tickets, you are protected by oneworld policy (update: this is no longer the case):
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement.
From my understanding, if you hold an AAdvantage ticket on Cathay Pacific and are connecting to a British Airways Avios ticket on SriLankan, you should be protected since every airline involved (ticketing and operating) are involved in oneworld.
Slightly off-topic, many people at FTU Seattle asked me what miles I recommend to get to India, and for those on the west coast, I suggested Alaska Airlines, because they allow you to redeem Cathay Pacific all the way to India on one award, unlike American Airlines. They’re also partners with Emirates, which gives you a strong carrier on the other side.
Back on topic, SriLankan’s route network isn’t extensive – you can see a list of destinations on Wikipedia – but there are several destinations which are new to oneworld.
British Airways took a couple of days, but you can finally see SriLankan Airlines availability on the website. There are very mild fuel surcharges on regional flights, about $5, but you do have to pay any taxes/fees involved with international travel. In general, taxes seem to be much higher departing Colombo than arriving there (of course, it also depends on your origin city and what taxes their country charges). Some sample bookings:
The Maldives are only about 500 miles away from Colombo, so you can book that route for only 4,500 Avios. Keep in mind that other oneworld airlines fly this route, like British Airways, but SriLankan has flights almost daily.
Destinations in South India, like Bangalore, Trivandrum, Chennai, and Cochin, are only 4500 Avios from Colombo:
Destinations like Mumbai cost 7,500 Avios from Colombo:
Routes from Colombo to Delhi would cost 10,000 Avios.
Great for reaching the subcontinent, but not so great for regional travel
These routes are great if you have Colombo as an origin or destination, or if you have Colombo as the transit point for two separate tickets, but they’re not so great if you’re trying to get between two points on the subcontinent. Because of that, I’m still waiting on an airline like Air India or Jet Airways to join an alliance, but I’m not holding my breath. Until then, I’ll still pay for those domestic India fares (see this Rapid Travel Chai guide on booking domestic India flights).