This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Travel Hacking Dictionary

I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard about Fifth Freedom Flights before I attended the first PointU in Vancouver so I imagine a lot of my readers might be in the same boat.

Since hearing about Fifth Freedom Flights, I have been on the lookout for them because they represent excellent value and a unique experience all rolled up into one.

What is a Fifth Freedom Flight?

Think back to all the flights you have ever been on in your life.  First think of the origin and the destination.  Got one?

Now think of the carrier that serviced that route.

In almost all cases, that carrier’s country of origin is either the country you are departing from or the country you are going to.

For example, if you were to fly from Canada to Switzerland, you will fly with either Air Canada (Canadian based) or Swiss (Switzerland based).

A Fifth Freedom Flight allows for a carrier that is based in neither the origin or the destination to service the route.

As an example, I flew a Fifth Freedom Flight from Hanoi to Bangkok on Qatar Airways.  Qatar is obviously based out of Qatar in the Middle East but through a Fifth Freedom Flight was able to fly between Vietnam and Thailand.

What Does It Matter?

Well, if you are an AV Geek, the fact that you fly a foreign carrier in a country they don’t normally operate in is cool enough but for the common traveler you should care because often times, the route is serviced by a wide-body jet rather than a narrowbody.

In my example above (HAN-BKK), the Qatar flight is serviced by a 777 when other airlines that fly the route opt for the smaller A330.  If you think about it, Hanoi and Bangkok are only 617 miles apart so it’s an incredibly short distance to operate a large widebody jet.

The other reason that this matter is that you often get to experience an excellent hard and soft product.  I recall that on the short HAN-BKK flight with Qatar, we were provided with a hot meal and a small amenity kit … in economy!  This is definitely outside the norm.

Another HUGE reason why these routes are important is that the Fifth Freedom leg is often heavily discounted.

Have you ever wanted to experience the Emirates First Class shower on the A380?

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Maybe look to fly the Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG) route for the relatively cheap cost of $915.

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Why Do They Fly It

Airlines fly Fifth Freedom Routes because it sometimes makes more sense for the airline to reposition a flight to another city rather than going home.

In my earlier example, the Qatar flight goes from Hanoi (HAN) to Bangkok (BKK) to Doha (DOH).  Doha is where Qatar Airways is based so rather than have two flights (DOH-HAN-DOH and DOH-BKK-DOH), it makes more sense for Qatar to fly a Fifth Freedom Route.  I assume that this because the loads from Bangkok to Doha are low as are the loads from Hanoi to Doha, but when you combine the two loads, you can justify a flight to service both markets.

Canadian Applications

There are currently two Fifth Freedom Flights that operate out of Canada.  They are:

  • Toronto (YYZ) to Amsterdam (AMS) on Jet Airways
  • Vancouver (YVR) to New York (JFK) on Cathay Pacific

The routes from Toronto to Amsterdam with Jet Airways is not all that exciting because quite honestly, Jet is not a very well regarded airline.  However, Cathay is an airline that exemplifies service and quality.  Think caviar and Krug in First Class.

A lot of people don’t actually realize that you can take Cathay from Vancouver to New York so loads tend to be low which means that award availability tends to be high.  In fact, if you really wanted to get the most out of your First Class experience, you could book YVR-JFK-HKG on a one way flight in Cathay Pacific’s First Class for 70,000 Alaskan Miles, which would be the same number of points as YVR-HKG.  This route would be 21 hours in First Class, which may seem crazy to some but you would certainly get your money’s worth in flight time.

For a list of current Fifth Freedom Flights, refer to FlyPointyEnd’s List.

Update – 11/29/16

Thanks to reader Rohan, we now have another interesting airline/route to add to the Canadian Fifth Freedom list and it sure is interesting.

Air China flies a route from Beijing (PEK) – Montreal (YUL) – Havana (HAV).  The second italicized portion is the Fifth Freedom Route.

On its surface, this is a very peculiar flight in that it seems strange that a Chinese carrier would be servicing a North America to Cuba route but if you dig in a big more, it makes senses.  There has always been a lot of vacation traffic from Canada to Cuba and this route works to service that demand and if I’m right, it’s the only widebody jet servicing Havana.  Air China uses the 777-300ER to service this route, which is a pretty cool way to get to Havana.

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Jayce is the founder of PointsNerd, and avid traveller and a teacher by nature. He prides himself on flattening the learning curve through step-by-step guides because everyone needs to start somewhere.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I think that there’s another one in Canada.
    Air China flies Beijing – Montreal – Havana. The YUL – HAV leg is bookable on CA879 I believe.

    Hope that adds to the list! 🙂

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