Finding Premium Cabin Award Seats to Australia for a Family

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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.

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As close as I’ve gotten to Qantas and Australia so far

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.

Using United Miles to Australia

  • 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.

Using Avios to Australia

  • 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).
Using American Miles to Australia

Business class for 3 on Qantas…using Avios.

  • 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.
Using Delta Miles to Australia

Business class for four to Australia

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I am booked on Qantas next month to Sydney on business class and on the return on premium economy. I used Alaska miles for both flights. This is my first trip to Australia.

    • Maury, awesome! I should have included Alaska mileage options, but hopefully this still gives a decent overview of popular options. I hope you have an amazing trip!

    • One option that Alaska has (and that AA and US are missing) is to book Premium Economy on Qantas for 47,500 miles each way. While not as luxe as J or F, my husband and I found the Premium Economy seats to be quite comfortable and the small cabin felt exclusive. We each slept a solid 7 hours on our overnight flight from LAX to BNE. Perhaps that would be an option to get everyone on the same flight, but not necessarily in the same cabin.

  2. Pssst…check AC YVR-SYD. Monday departures especially, Tuesday & Wednesdays too. 4 seats are often available. Decent product too.

  3. Hi,

    We were both in NYC for the parade, and now we’re both plotting to get to Australia. Except I need four seats. We are aiming for our summer and plan to go to northern Australia (plus Great Barrier Reef).

    We got lucky in one respect – months back my husband was targeted for the 150,000 Amex Platinum bonus and jumped on it, which gives us a head start on Delta miles (which I had otherwise been ignoring). We both just got the Business Reward Gold for another 100,000, and are cobbling together the rest from SPG points for a one-way to Australia. No guarantee the availability will be there in six months, of course.

    Also furiously saving for enough Chase points for transfer either through Singapore or United miles – four business class seats (forget first) in partner runs 640,000. (eek!)

    Finally saving enough AA for at least a one-way, assuming the US airways miles merge in time (maybe they won’t).

    It’s a tough slog but hang in there! I’m resigned about going through Asia if necessary one way – hoping to find a direct the other. Lucky had a great post about going to Australia via Singapore Krisflyer awhile back. I figure after this we’ll have lots of miles for our next trip, and booking anything else will seem easy in comparison.

  4. Cant wait to read more about your planning. My family of 4 is starting to plan a mega trip (maybe round the world)in 2016. The AUH-SYD on an A380 really intrigues me and always has good premium award space (2 in each premium cabin). Just not sure how many time zones our family can handle in about 2 weeks. In looking the LAX-MEL route, I didn’t find any availability on the 787 for 2 premium awards in all of 2015. Not only is it hard finding award space for 4, but then making sure its on a great plane. Like how great is the 777-200 that flies LAX-SYD? Also, how are you going to decide where to spend more time in Australia?

  5. Suggestion: book one-way when your departure date becomes available, then book the one-way return when it comes up later. I missed out on business class for my outbound flight in May AA/Qantas because I waited until the return was available to book the whole thing at once. (Obv only works if you can book a one-way award)

  6. Think you might want to check the weather in Oz in January as it is horrendously hot. Best months are likely November and March. December thru February you will have a lot of days over 100 degrees. Also it’s the wet season then up north, so you wouldn’t want to be planning on the Great Barrier Reef at that time as the humidity is awful.

    • I phrased the post about Australia, but really most of our time will be in New Zealand and January there doesn’t look terrible at all to us Texans. 😉 March is a back-up possibility for us because of spring break.

  7. I was able to pull off this year June 2014 for 4 Business class seats. My travel was: SFO-LAX-MEL(United) and SYD-YVR(Air Canada)-SFO(United). I used combination of US/United miles(2 each).

    As you said, its easily possible with United(last when I checked). Best of Luck.

  8. Holy Moly…yet another trip almost nearly in parallel to one of ours. I’m currently gearing up for booking my Aus/NZ trip as my little sister is getting married in Adeliade in December…

    It’s NOT easy finding seats. I thought I had a great insight on what to do that suddenly dried up thanks to Quantas NO LONGER appearing to release award space for upcoming days. I’m NOT excited to be flying to AUS with a 6mo old in economy. Ugh.

  9. A word from the wise….when considering routing, I can appreciate that J is always preferrable to Y. But don’t fly any circuitous routings to get those J seats. As someone who has traveled plenty with my kids for nearly a decade, I have come to experience that flying Y on a ninstop can be FAR better than flying multi stops in J especially if you hit a delay, miss a connection or have to ivernight somewhere.

    And lastly…I am not sure what makes it a no-go to fly Y for 17 hours. It’s the destination that counts. Once you’ve flown all the premium products you’ll notice that the need to fly J or F was mostly in your head. As long as you’re with the husband and child and in a spectacular location, how you got there is secondary IMO.

    • I totally agree that Y won’t kill you, and if that were the only feasible way to get there then that would have to be what we did, but I do not spend such a big part of my life collecting miles to not use them on search a long journey.

      • Ditto. I have the miles, and I’ve placed the time and effort into getting them. And I personally wouldn’t mind flying coach if it were just me. But I fear for my life trying to bring an infant in coach (even if we’re assigned a seat next to a bassinet).

        **IF** anybody has 200k avios they can “park” for the next 7 days, please contact me and I’ll gladly pay you the going rate for an award booking service. I can swing transferring 100k from my UR stash, but I’m never going to have a use for 200k in the upcoming year or two.

  10. So worth it to be able to sleep/rest in premium cabin. Flew LAX-SYD-MEL a few years ago. Was able to hit the ground running, driving all day along the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool.

  11. I hope that you are planning on staying in Australia for at least 2 weeks? Even though you will likely get good sleep in a premium cabin, your biological clock will probably take a few days to adjust. We blew a war chest of SkyMiles last year to fly VA biz from LAX to Melbourne and then returned via Brisbane. The flight time to Melbourne was 15h50m and the four of us easily slept 7-8 hours on the plane. We landed in the morning and mostly spent that first day exploring the St. Kilda neighborhood where our rental apartment was located. Our young girls went to bed at their normal time, around 8-ish, and my wife and I probably lasted another 90-120 minutes. Around 5AM everyone woke up. We actually used that to our advantage on the 2nd day by beating the traffic to drive along the “Great Ocean Road” (sort of like Australia’s version of the Pacific Coast Highway). I think the girls were finally time-zone adjusted by the 4th day. It’s a huge country (nearly same size as the US), so don’t forget to factor in generous travel times when planning your trip. Also be warned that road distances may look like “a short trip” by US standards, except you typically find it takes longer due to traffic and/or 2-way roads with low speed limits. Our trip was 3 weeks and we could have stayed longer. I’m actually thinking about returning, but possibly via stopover in Hawaii or Guam because we will likely have to fly coach. The flight duration from those islands to Australia is not too bad.

  12. My newbie question is that when you are trying to book a more difficult destination like Australia, do you wait for the return trip booking window day to open before searching. For example if my trip was going to be a Monday departure and Saturday return, do you wait until the booking window for the Saturday return is open? If I wait until then, won’t all the Monday departures be booked up? Or do you book each leg separately and have faith that the return will have availability?

  13. @Mommy Points – Have you considered connecting in Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui? Their new business class is pretty decent, as is award availability. I’ll be connecting through Asia this November myself, but I did consider Air Tahiti Nui and might go that route for my next trip out to the region.

  14. MP,

    Just returned in October used 160k x 2 Delta miles from NYC-LAX-SYD-CNS-SYD-AKL-PPT-BOB-LAX-NYC for us all in J or F, except obviously BOB. used 20k Avios for the CNS segment and 40k for the SYD to AKL. Best use of Delta miles that I could think of!!!

  15. My wife and I did a 23 day extended trip to Australia/NZ this past Aug/Sept. My wife attended a work Conference in Melbourne for 4 days, so that was the reason for going. As you have said, finding seats in business to Melbourne from the US was very difficult. What we ended up doing was going the LONG way there…via Shanghai. Used USAir miles right before the cutover to Oneworld for 110K each. First part was YYZ-PVG(23 hr stopover)-AKL-NAN. We went to Fiji for 4 days first. The AKL-NAN segment was in coach since AZ does not release business seats on that route. Purchased seats in coach on VA to MEL.

    When we left MEL, we flew to Adelaide for a three day excursion around that part of Australia-used 4500 Avios for that flight. When we left ADL, we headed towards Queenstown in NZ. Used the least miles for the longest trip ever. Used AA miles since Aussie/NZ is only 10k. Since I have the AA credit card, it was only 9K with a 22 hr stopover in Sydney. This was enough time to get seafood dinner at Doyle’s.(our third trip to Sydney).

    The return was AKL>PVG>YYZ. As a final thought,the long routing allowed us to set up the trip pretty easily. I dont regret doing the routing, but I dont think I would do it again. Back to back 14 hr flights are too much.

  16. was able to secure 4 biz class tix for a trip in March routing Seattle – Inchon – Sydney return via lax, was 150k points each (it is what it is). Looked everyday and actually booked 3 in biz class and 1 economy then another opened up and we secured that seat. It’s been on our bucket list for a long time, very excited.

  17. Since my SO only has 10 vacation days a year, we’re looking at booking a trip to NZ across the end of 2016/beginning of 2017 so we can make it really long and coincidentally have good weather. Looking to accumulate Delta miles this next year to hopefully book this time next year.

  18. I’m curious when you saw those available seats. Now and whenever I’ve looked, there are only business class seats available at the last minute on UA flights, so I wonder if you’re seeing more due to your status. For anyone with time to collect miles, I found you can get up to 9 (or more!) business class seats on Virgin Australia http://saverocity.com/miles4more/virgin-australia-business-class-seats/ and we had no problem getting 4 on the exact dates we wanted for Thanksgiving week. Can’t wait!

    • Kenny, Virgin Australia is certainly the easiest route for multi seats in premium cabin, but those United seats specifically I saw last week and have routinely seen similar on various spot checks.

          • I have a united mileage plus credit card. I don’t see JACK for availability unless I want to be routed through to Seoul (and then it’s wide open)

          • As Gabriel found, we don’t see what you do. That’s because we get XN space (expanded coach availability) but not IN (business space for status members only).

  19. SUCCESS!! I procured 2 biz class tickets to ADL via MEL in December on Quantas!! FYI, you won’t be able to do this booking online the second it becomes available. You’ll need to call in to make the reservation, and if you have ANY connecting flights after you land in Australia, you’ll need to put the award on hold until the connecting flights become available (which is generally 48 hours later thanks to the date change, etc).

    • Oh, I forgot to mention, if anybody is interested in 2 BIZ CLASS tickets on Quantas Dec 14th, post contact info here and I’ll let you know when I’m going to cancel my hold on those seats here shortly (better seats for my itinerary opened up this AM for Dec 16th). I’m subscribing to this post, so reply to this one, not the one above. Hopefully I can make someone’s day 🙂

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