Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
A “big trip” that has been our radar for years now is a trip to Australia and New Zealand. It’s the type of far-away destination that we didn’t realize was a realistic family vacation choice for our budget until we were fully immersed in the world of miles, but ever since then it has been toward the top of the destinations we discuss every year, and yet we still haven’t been.
The timing was bad for us when United loaded the new 787-9 flight form Los Angeles to Melbourne into their schedule last year and it had wide-open availability for a bit, we weren’t able to pull the trigger while US Airways was still in Star Alliance with decent partner business class availability at just 110,000 miles round trip, and we even missed a mistake fare or two. It’s not the type of trip we can impulsively add to the calendar for many reasons, not the least of which is that my husband has only had two weeks of vacation per year for the last several years (up to three weeks now – woohoo!), and we just haven’t been able to make such a big trip work with the other things we also had planned.
However, I think the timing is now right to start planning a trip down under for roughly a year from now. As you likely know, the other side of the world has seasons opposite of this side of the world, so our winter is their summer and vice versa. That means that going in January is pretty much perfect, if you can pull it off.
Way too Far for Coach:
The Qantas operated flight from Dallas to Sydney is currently the world’s longest commercial flight at around 17 hours one-way, so Australia is well over our distance threshold for coach seats. This means we have the daunting task of finding three premium cabin seats on what is essentially the toughest route for award availability in the world…especially for more than two people. I don’t just mean the DFW – SYD flight is the toughest flight for award availability (though it may be!), but I mean going from the US to Australia in general is very tough in premium cabin award seats.
If you also need more than two seats, and you want to do a similar trip, you better have flexibility, patience, persistence, and preferably miles in different programs so you can take the routing that the availability gods present. I’ve read plenty about award availability to Australia, built several “pretend” trips to Australia that we didn’t take, and have been watching availability like a hawk pretty recently. Here are some things to be aware of if you want to fly your family on miles in a premium cabin to Australia.
General Tips for Searching for Award Space to Australia:
While I’m not an Australian award booking expert, and every airline is a little different, there are a few basic tips that will help with your search.
- Be as flexible as possible with routings, dates, carriers, etc. If you go in with one specific date and routing you want, you will likely be disappointed.
- You are going to have better results look for one or two seats than three or more. If your family is willing to split up and take different flights, or sit in different cabins, that will help.
- Coach awards are pretty easy to secure, so if coach is your thing then you won’t have a huge problem.
- Search the over-water segment by itself. Often this segment will be originating on the west coast in a city like LAX, so search something like LAX-SYD or YVR-SYD or LAX-MEL instead of worrying about searching from your actual city. You can worry about getting yourself from Houston to the West Coast later.
- Along those lines, learn what the routes are to search within the alliance that you want to fly so that you know what segments to search. Remember partners as they will likely be key with getting to Australia!
- Book as far in advance as the schedule goes (roughly 11 months), or very close-in if you have that flexibility.
- This may be the time to use an award booking service, as they are much more experienced with finding award space to Australia than you or I will ever be!
Using US Airways Miles to Australia:
- 110,000 miles round trip in business class, 140,000 in first class, must book as a round trip. This will change when the program merges with AAdvantage this year.
- Can have a stopover or open-jaw, in select cities (including Sydney and Melbourne).
- Very good deal for booking premium cabin awards to Australia (and my #1 preference), but lighting may have to strike to be able to book the whole trip at once as a round trip.
- Member of oneworld, also partners other airlines such as Hawaiian that can help get you to Australia with some days with availability going through Honolulu with 3+ seats, though not in a very good premium cabin seat.
- May have better success routing through Asia on oneworld partners than directly to Australia.
- You have to search partner availability elsewhere (like on AA’s site) and call US Airways to book.
Using United Miles to Australia:
- 140,000 miles round trip in business class (United operated), 180,000 miles round trip in first class (United operated)
- 160,000 miles round trip in business class (Star Alliance partner operated), 260,000 miles round trip in first class (Star Alliance partner operated)
- Can have one stopover and two open-jaws on one award.
- Can book one-way for 1/2 the price of a round trip and can search and book many partners online.
- Close-in availability often opens up, if you have real flexibility.
- Relatively decent availability for 3 seats if you have flexibility both on United operated flights, as well as on Star Alliance partner flights with no fuel surcharges, but the partner prices are especially high. Availability also can be pretty good for a period of time and then dry up for months on end. The LAX – MEL flight does have 3+ award seats sometimes, and that would likely be the flight we targeted as it is a comparatively palatable 140,000 miles each round trip. The Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Sydney does sometimes have 3+ seats as well in business class, and would also be a nice option though it is 10,000 additional miles each way over the United flight.
- If you have the time, the best play with United may be to have two trips in one, and vacation in Asia on the way to/from Australia as you can have a free stopover and award availability to Asia can be easier than directly to Australia or New Zealand. There are lots of options there, but specifically Asiana has very good availability for 3+ seats in a premium cabin via Seoul.
Using American Airlines Miles to Australia:
- 125,000 miles round trip in business class, 145,000 round trip in first class on oneworld partners.
- Can book one-way for half the price of a round trip.
- Can search partners like Qantas and Hawaiian online.
- Great deal for Qantas operated flights, but availability for 3+ seats is on one flight in a premium cabin is very, very tough. You may be slightly better off looking for one first class and two business class seats, but even that is very tough. Very tough. Did I mention very tough?
- Part of the problem using AA miles to get to Australia is that Qantas loads award availability for booking into their system roughly 3 weeks before the AA schedule opens and the awards get picked over before AA members can ever touch them. You can see that availability is usually there in those 3 weeks that AA members can’t grab it by looking via British Airways. You could book using British Airways Avios, but it will cost you a tremendous number of miles and fuel surcharges. However, British Airways may help you with a “trick” to book using AA miles that View From the Wing outlines here. As an example, here are two first class seats on December 21st from DFW – SYD on Qantas that you could book now with Avios, but that you cannot book yet with AA miles as the schedule is still too far out.
- If you need 3 seats, here are 3 seats available right now using British Airways Avios on December 31st from LAX – Brisbane in Business Class on Qantas for next year that again you can’t book yet with AA miles (and likely never will be able to).
- Look as far out as the American schedule goes if you want to snag Qantas operated flights, and grab something if you see it. It is unlikely to be more than 2 seats at once, but you never know.
Delta Miles to Australia:
- This is actually one of the very best uses of Delta miles out there as you can fly partner Virgin Australia for 160,000 miles round trip in business class with no fuel surcharges.
- This is the easiest premium cabin award to get to Australia, and there is even often availability for 3 or more seats in business class.
- You can book the award online and can book one-way for half the price of a round trip.
- Use the flexible dates search feature to quickly spot available days.
- Search from LAX to SYD or LAX to BNE – again, don’t worry as much about flying directly from your actual city.
- Also good availability to Sydney going through Seoul on Korean in business class for multiple people.
Our Plan to Get to Australia:
Sadly Delta miles have not been our earning focus, so we aren’t sitting on enough Delta miles right now to fly Virgin Australia even though that would clearly be the easiest way to secure three award seats. If I were starting over right now planning a trip to Australia for a family, that would be my strategy (though things can always change in the future, so no guarantees Virgin Australia availability remains fantastic). I think using United miles will be the easiest route for us, especially if we have some date flexibility, even though I don’t love the prices they charge for awards to Australia.
My preference is to use 110,000 US Airways miles each, but I’d prefer not to route through Asia given time constraints, so it will require an act of God to get three premium cabin seats to Australia using US miles going directly from the US.
In other words, I’m staying flexible and checking pretty much every day as we approach when the booking window will open for January 2016. I’ll keep you posted as we hopefully make some booking progress with this big award!
If you have used miles to get your family to Australia, I’d love to hear what you did!