With most overland routes into India (except from Nepal) effectively blocked by closed or trouble-prone borders, the only practicable way of getting to India is by plane. There are numerous nonstop services from the UK, plus a few from North America and one from Australia. Most of these arrive at either Delhi or Mumbai, although there are also nonstop flights from the UK into Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru.
Fares worldwide always depend on the season, with the highest being roughly from November to March, when the weather in India is best; fares drop during the shoulder seasons – April to May and August to early October – and you’ll get the best prices during the low season, June and July. The most expensive fares of all are those coinciding with Diwali in October/November, when demand peaks as Indian emigrants travel home for holidays with their families.
For Goa or Kerala, you may find it cheaper to pick up a bargain package deal from a tour operator. Indian law prohibits the sale of flight-only tickets by charter companies, but operators sometimes get around this by tacking budget “bunk-house” accommodation to their tickets, which (if it exists at all) travellers ditch on arrival. Note also that the Indian government places a restriction of 28 days on the period of time a charter ticket can cover. If you wish to stay in the country for longer than that, you technically have to take a scheduled flight. Nor is it possible to fly in on a charter and out on a scheduled flight, or vice versa.
Lots of operators run package holidays to India, covering activities ranging from trekking and wildlife-watching through to general sightseeing or just lying on the beach, not to mention more specialist-interest tours focusing on anything from steam locomotives to food. In addition, many companies can also arrange tailor-made tours where you plan your own itinerary. Specialist trips such as trekking and tailor-made tours do not necessarily work out a lot more expensive than organizing everything independently, especially if you want a degree of comfort. Tour operators pay a lot less for better-class hotels and flights than you would, plus they save you time and hassle by knowing the best hotels, routes and sights to feature. On the other hand, a typical package tour can rather isolate you from the country, shutting you off in air-conditioned hotels and cars.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
It takes between eight and eleven hours to fly from the UK direct to India. A number of carriers fly nonstop from London Heathrow to Delhi and Mumbai; these currently include Air India (w airindia.com), Jet Airways (w jetairways.com), Virgin Atlantic (w virgin-atlantic.com) and British Airways (w ba.com), who also fly nonstop to Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru. Numerous other European and Middle Eastern carriers offer one-stop services via their home city in Europe or the Gulf. From elsewhere in the UK and Ireland you’ll have to take an indirect flight, changing planes at either Heathrow or somewhere else in Europe, the Middle East or Asia. Both scheduled fares and flight-only charters usually start from around £500.
Flights from the US and Canada
India is on the other side of the planet from the US and Canada. If you live on the east coast it’s quicker to travel via Europe, while from the west coast it’s roughly the same distance (and price) whether you travel via Europe or the Pacific. There are currently nonstop flights from New York to Delhi and Mumbai on Air India and Continental (w continental.com), to Mumbai on Delta (w delta.com) and from Chicago to Delhi on American Airlines (w aa.com). Otherwise, you’ll probably stop over somewhere in Europe (most often London), the Gulf, or both. Nonstop flights take around 15–16 hours, with fares from New York to Mumbai/Delhi starting at around US$1250. There are currently no nonstop flights from the west coast; count on a minimum 22 hours’ travel time. Fares start at around US$1500.
There are also no nonstop flights from Canada to India – you’ll have to travel via a connecting city in the US, Europe or Asia with a minimum travel time of around 20 hours. Fares start at around Can$1100 from Toronto and Can$1200 from Vancouver.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
The only nonstop flight to India from either Australia or New Zealand at present is Qantas’s (w qantas.com.au) service from Sydney to Mumbai (with a flying time of around 13hr); otherwise, you’ll have to make at least one change of plane in a southeast Asian hub city (usually Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok). Fares start from around Aus$1700. Flying from New Zealand, the cheapest fares to India start at around NZ$2000 from Auckland; add on approximately NZ$200 for flights from Wellington or Christchurch.
If India is only one stop on a longer journey, you might want to consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. Some travel agents can sell you an “off-the-shelf” RTW ticket that will have you touching down in about half a dozen cities (Delhi and Mumbai feature on many itineraries); others will have to assemble one for you, which can be tailored to your needs but is apt to be more expensive. Prices start around £1700/US$2700 for a RTW ticket including India, valid for one year.