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How to get to Australia with miles

by on Mon October 24, 2016 • 1 Comment
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australia-1296727_960_720

Australia is one of the toughest places to get with miles especially if you want to fly in First or Business Class, and with tickets often approaching $2,000 even for Economy Class, finding a way to make your miles work can save you a lot.

The good news is all the major U.S. airlines fly there, and if that doesn’t work, partner airlines from all three alliances will help you get there.

The U.S. is served by these nonstop flights to Australia, most out of Los Angeles:

  • American, Delta, United, Qantas, and Virgin Australia fly from LA to Sydney.
  • United and Qantas fly to Melbourne.
  • Qantas and Virgin Australia fly to Brisbane.
  • United and Qantas fly from San Francisco to Sydney.
  • Qantas also flies to Sydney from Dallas.

Economy Class

It’s quite easy to find economy award space with United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage, and Delta Skymiles.

United probably has the most consistent availability, and unlike the other two, it’s the only program that allows a free extra flight while you’re there.

United MileagePlus

  • Economy: 40,000 miles one way

United flies to Sydney and Melbourne from Los Angeles. In terms of availability, it’s pretty good in Economy Class, but the Sydney route tends to be slightly better.

UA LAX-SYD Y

With United you also get a free one way flight in the region you’re traveling to when you book a roundtrip award. So you could for example book a flight from Auckland to Sydney on its partner Air New Zealand whenever you’d like while you’re down there for no additional miles, like this option Los Angeles – Auckland / Auckland – Sydney (free) / Sydney – Los Angeles (or anywhere else in the U.S.).

laxaklsyd

American AAdvantage

  • Economy: 40,000 miles one way

American only flies to Sydney and only from Los Angeles, but its AAdvantage partner Qantas is a powerhouse that has more U.S.-Australia routes than any other airline. Qantas flies from LA to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and from San Francisco and Dallas to Sydney.

QF MAP

via GCMap.com

Availability is quite good in Economy Class, and at times even better than United’s, to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. But Business and First Class availability is rare.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta and its partner Virgin Australia fly nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney. Virgin Australia also flies between LA and Brisbane.

Availability is quite good in Economy Class, but Delta charges more, and sometimes much more than other U.S. airlines. Since Delta removed its official award chart, we can only go by experience, which is around 45,000 miles one way for flights priced at the lowest level.

Unlike United and American, Delta tends to have better availability around the holidays, though January is as bad as with the other programs – then, things get better for February onward.

First and Business Class Awards

We’ll cover the following options:

  • Nonstop flights
  • Connecting via New Zealand
  • Connecting via Asia
  • Using ANA to save miles
  • Other ways: Alaska miles, Fiji, or Hawaii

Nonstop Flights

Getting them is not easy, but not impossible. You will have a better chance of snatching a premium class award if you fly solo, but if you are super-flexible, you can grab two seats, sometimes.

United MileagePlus

  • Business: 70,000 miles one way (80,000 on partners)

You have the best chance to get a couple of premium class award seats with United, and at 70,000 miles this is the cheapest option, too. Make sure you search flexible dates, non-stop, business class, just like in the screenshot below. United flies from LAX and SFO to SYD and from LAX to MEL.

UA BIZ 3

Do keep in mind that any patterns you see right now may change when you get to search for your award, but as things stand now, United is your best bet for nonstop business class awards to Australia.

American AAdvantage

  • Business: 80,000 miles one way
  • First: 100,000-110,000 miles one way

If really want to fly in Qantas First Class, AAdvantage might be your ticket. However, in order to snatch a seat in First (and Business too, for that matter) you have to be extremely flexible or/and extremely lucky. Qantas loads awards about 3 weeks before American lets you access them. By that time, most premium class seats get snatched by Qantas Frequent Flyer members.

Things get marginally better for solo travelers, and this is where you can find American’s own First Class and even that Unicorn-quality Qantas First Class award from time to time.

AA LAX-SYD F

 

Delta SkyMiles

  • Business: 100,000 miles+ one way.  

Delta has spotty business class award availability for flights between LA and Sydney, but there is a catch. Back in a day when Delta published its award chart, this flight cost 80,000 miles one way. Then Delta removed the chart in favor of “dynamic pricing,” which means more miles for its own flights and those on partner Virgin Australia.

Now 100 – 110,000 miles one way is the lowest you can find.

DL LAX-SYD J 110K

Delta has a very nice business class product, and Virgin Australia is even nicer, but Virgin seats are very hard to come by. They generally open up about 2 weeks prior to departure, so if you’re flexible and can confirm late, you can enjoy their product with SkyMiles.

Connecting Flights

There are several reasons you might want to use connecting flights. First, your preferred nonstop might not be available. Second, you may want to utilize a free stopover policy offered by some FF programs. Third and fourth, you might want to use a better airline or save miles.

Connecting via New Zealand

It used to be impossible to get an Air New Zealand business class award seat because it didn’t share premium inventory with partners. However, recently Air New Zealand has opened up some availability several months in advance from time to time.

You can fly from the U.S. to New Zealand, have a stopover for as long as you want, then connect to Australia and return back to the U.S. on United. That would cost you more miles (United charges 10,000 miles more for this route on a partner airline), but you will get to explore another fascinating destination.

  • Air New Zealand files to Auckland from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Honolulu.
  • United also flies from San Francisco to Auckland, and also sometimes releases award seats in business class at reasonable prices.

Once you get to New Zealand, award flights to Australia on Air New Zealand are plentiful.

American Airlines also flies to New Zealand from Los Angeles, and also makes business class award space available from time to time. Connections onward to Australia are easy on Qantas.

Connecting via Asia

Connecting in Asia might almost double your time in the air, but it isn’t too bad when you are able to relax in a comfortable business class seat, take a nap, catch a movie or work in comfort. Routing you flight via Asia is impossible with American without paying for two awards (due to the American stringent routing rules).

United, however, has more relaxed routing rules and no surcharges, so all you need to concern yourself with is finding availability.

Connecting in China might benefit you if you live on the East Coast (remember, all flights between Australia and the U.S. are from the West Coast and Dallas), since the travel time is not much longer than heading West.

United.com will show options via Asia by default like this one via Seoul, but unfortunately if United.com doesn’t show a set of flights by default you can no longer manually stitch them together into one award.

jfksyd

For example if you see space on a flight from New York to Seoul, then see space on a separate set of flights from Seoul to Sydney that’s not showing all at once on United.com, you can’t book it without paying separately for a New York to Seoul award and a Seoul to Sydney award. That takes away some options with more stops that United.com tends to ignore.

Using ANA to Save Miles

If you’re OK with connecting flights and want to save miles, you can use ANA Mileage Club and pay just 120,000 miles roundtrip to Australia in Business Class on any Star Alliance airline.

Getting ANA miles is relatively easy, as it’s a partner with the Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs, and you can transfer points from either.

ANA adds fuel surcharges to some of its partners, but not to its own awards, or flights on United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, and Air China, as long as you’re booking a basic roundtrip to and from the U.S.

Note, however, that for complex itineraries including stopovers in Asia, you will be hit with fuel surcharges in most cases, even on ANA’s own flights, but they’re pretty reasonable, usually well under $500 roundtrip.

Here is an award flight to Australia with a stopover in New Zealand using ANA miles.

Keep in mind that this is an award for two people. As you can see, the mile cost is only 120,000 per person, and since there is no fuel surcharge, you only pay $156 taxes per passenger.

You would also have to get between Sydney and Melbourne on your own, but as we showed above, it’s just a short, 4,500 Avios flight.

ANA LAX-AKL-SYD-MEL-LAX

ANA rules also allow you to fly via Asia to Australia or via Australia to Asia, so you can have a stopover anywhere in Asia. In the example below, you can make a stopover in China, all for the same 120,000 miles.

ANA LAX-PEK-SYD-MEL-LAX

You will fly LAX-PEK-SYD on Air China. Even though ANA doesn’t add fuel surcharges to Air China round trip travel, in this multi-city award case you will be hit with a fuel surcharge. Fortunately, it’s quite small, just $168 per person.

Other ways: Alaska miles, Fiji, or Hawaii

The Alaska MileagePlan award chart to Australia offers terrific values.

ALASKA AUSTRALIA CHART

Unfortunately, getting Alaska Mileage Plan miles is not easy, and neither is finding a premium class award. The same issue with not being able to get Qantas first or business on American also applies here: by the time Alaska makes partners flights available to its members, they’ve usually been snatched.

Cathay Pacific awards are easier to get, and if you have Alaska miles (available via sign up bonuses with personal or business Bank of America Alaska cards) you can get a terrific value out of them, not only because the levels are much lower than on American, but also because Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t prohibit flying to Australia via Asia.

Alaska Mileage Plan also allows stopovers on one-way travel, which is an incredibly rare and precious benefit for a frequent flyer program.

fijibusinessclass

Fiji

You can book Fiji Airways flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco – Fiji – Sydney using American AAdvantage or Alaska MileagePlan miles (with Alaska option being considerably cheaper at 55,000 miles one way and allowing a free stopover in Fiji).

You might want a Fiji Business Class award in two instances: if you want a stopover in Nadi (Alaska gives you a free stopover) or if you want to avoid routing via Asia.

A Fiji business class cabin is beautiful and the seats are comfortable, but they are angle-flat.

Hawaiian

You can get to Australia from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines flights to Sydney and Brisbane using American AAdvantage miles or Hawaiian’s own miles. An award from the mainland U.S. using Hawaiian’s own miles will cost 105,000 miles one way in Business Class, but an award just from Honolulu to Australia will cost 65,000 miles in Business, which is a decent deal.

With American AAdvantage you can only book Hawaiian Airlines flights for the portion of your journey between Honolulu and Australia since AAdvantage miles aren’t valid for flights from the Mainland U.S. on Hawaiian Airlines anymore. An award will cost 65,000 miles in Business Class one way and you can see availability on the AA.com website.

hnlbne

Hawaiian is installing new lie-flat seats on its long haul planes and plans to retrofit all of them by the beginning of 2018. Theoretically, it might become possible to fly in a new seat all the way from the East Coast to Australia, although availability is another matter.

Hawaiian Business Class awards are generally available from Honolulu to Brisbane or Auckland (there is almost no nonstop availability to Sydney), but getting from the Mainland U.S. to Hawaii in First Class at the lowest saver level prices is a challenge.

You might be better off booking a U.S. to Hawaii award using another airline or mileage program, or just buying a ticket in cash, then using AAdvantage or Hawaiian Miles for the Honolulu – Australia portion of the trip.

 

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One thought on “How to get to Australia with miles

  1. Jon Z

    “Unfortunately, getting Alaska Mileage Plan miles is not easy, and neither is finding a premium class award. The same issue with not being able to get Qantas first or business on American also applies here: by the time Alaska makes partners flights available to its members, they’ve usually been snatched.

    Cathay Pacific awards are easier to get, and if you have Alaska miles (available via sign up bonuses with personal or business Bank of America Alaska cards) you can get a terrific value out of them, not only because the levels are much lower than on American, but also because Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t prohibit flying to Australia via Asia.”

    I’m leaving both statements up in their entirety because they give an incorrect impression. Having just booked business class to/from Australia/New Zealand, including examining all of the other options listed in the article, Alaska miles were really easy to get (now slightly harder) and availability on Cathay Pacific is fantastic, especially for business class. A more accurate summation of Alaska would be:

    Alaska miles can be obtained through the Amex/Starwood Preferred Guest personal/business Cards, Marriott Cards, and Bank of America Alaska personal/business cards. The Bank of America cards can be churned (obtained more than once). One can also credit flight miles with American and Delta to their Alaska account. Alaska also has the most accurate and quickest-to- post online shopping portal.

    Alaska partners with Qantas, American, Delta. Korean, and Fiji, but availability will be very limited in business or first class — enough so that it’s unlikely to find even one seat except at 11 months out or within two weeks of travel. In contrast, Cathay Pacific has *many* flights with two or more business class seats flying from YVR/SFO/LAX, including multiple flights per day. Yes, you have to connect in HKG, but you can have a stopover there (we booked our for 3 days). Even better, Cathay flies to the following cities in OZ/NZ: PER/ADL/MEL/SYD/BNE/CNS/AKL. Some might also want to end their award ticket at Bali (DPS) and then pay cash for cheap onward flight to the OZ destinations, thereby effectively getting another stopover. All folks have to do is call the Alaska Mileage Plan Reservation line to book with some of the best agents in the business.

    Reply

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