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Saudia is a tough sell for many. Setting aside religious and political issues, the assumption of many travelers is that they are not allowed or not welcome to fly Saudia. It is more accurate to say most travelers are not welcome to Saudi Arabia, and getting even a transit visa is a pain.
It is possible to transit up to 18 hours without a visa. Travelers in such situations are not allowed to leave the airport, barring special circumstances and at the whim of immigration officials, so connections must be planned with that in mind. For instance the overnight flights to Riyadh and Jeddah from New York arrive in the afternoon with time to catch onward connections, however the returns leave in the wee hours in the morning so travelers are stuck overnighting in the airports.
Saudia has a fairly substantial network in the Middle East plus a fair presence in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Their award space is generally good in all classes, and can be checked on FlightStats (instructions). Note that FlightStats often needs to be coaxed to display specific flights; once a flight is displayed the availability is accurate. For Delta flyers, Saudia is a rare outlet for reasonable international awards since, like all partners, awards price out at the low level. As with other Delta partners, First Class is not available for award booking. Chances are this will be the agent’s first attempt to book Saudia: have all the info necessary, be clear and firm, and if necessary, hang up and try again.
For Memorial Day weekend I booked myself in business class outbound JFK – Riyadh – Dubai in business, inbound Dubai – Jeddah – JFK plus ‘free one way’ to Minneapolis at a later date, which priced at 100,000 SkyMiles splitting the difference between 80,000 economy and 120,000 business. My wife was in business all the way. Both tickets added only $69.80 in taxes and fees. This is the first time I have willingly booked myself in business: I needed the rest since that day I flew Shanghai – Tokyo – JFK – Riyadh and then foolishly drove myself around Riyadh.
How is the Saudia experience? Quite nice. The flight attendants are mostly Filipino women with a few Arab men overseeing things.
The 777-200 business class seat is not lay-flat, it is sleeper style. Seating is 2-3-2 and the person in the middle of the 3 needs a rope ladder to get out without disturbing the aisles.
Food starts with a sweet date and Arabic coffee and rolls through large portions of tasty Arabic and Western dishes.
Iin-flight entertainment system was broken most of the flight. In a brief uptime I saw the Mecca Pointer, French verison, leading there and to Paradise.
There are plenty of interesting local touches yet I succumbed to the eat and sleep temptation of business class and did not fully explore until the economy return.