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Y’all, we did it. We found premium cabin award space to and from Australia for next spring for our family without going through Asia, splitting up the group, taking crazy routings, paying fuel surcharges, or really doing anything fancy at all (other than flying to/from Australia in business class which by itself is insanely fancy). After three years or more of wanting to book this trip, I’m just in some kind of shock that we did it.
Premium Cabin Award Options from Australia:
Not only did we do it, but we actually had several choices to pick from on the return including the United 777 from Sydney – LAX, the United 787-9 from Melbourne – LAX, and even the Air Canada 777 from Sydney – Vancouver. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out what kind of weird vortex I am in that had multiple award options on our travel dates in business class. That’s not even counting the Virgin Australia flight from Sydney – LAX…if only I hadn’t shunned Delta miles all these years.
Okay, backing up. A few days ago I found United Global First availability next year for my family from Los Angeles to Sydney, then connecting on to Auckland on Air New Zealand. At 80,000 United miles + $19 in taxes each I grabbed those seats like there was no tomorrow (which there probably wasn’t for that availability). I had no clue how we would get back, how long we would stay, if we would bring our then 8 month old, where all we would go, etc. I didn’t care. I have been at this game long enough to know when that sort of availability crosses your computer screen you grab it, say thank you, and figure the rest out later.
In the days since I booked those flights, I have been somewhat obsessively looking at ways to get back home at the conclusion of the trip. Truthfully, I was considering just taking the straight shot home from Auckland – Houston on Air New Zealand (route launches later this year), even though I’m sure the only award availability that will ever display on that flight will be economy unless lightning truly strikes. However, I know my husband would never want to fly that far in economy (and I didn’t really want to either), so that really wasn’t a great plan.
Not All Airline Alliances Have Equal Award Availability to/from Australia:
There was absolutely nothing available for all of us in business class via One World even though I would love to use up some of my big pile of American Airlines miles for this trip. If I routed through Asia on two different awards, or did something similarly ridiculous considering limited vacation days and traveling with kids then perhaps I could have made something work with my AA miles, but that was really less ideal than just flying a more direct route home in coach.
I mentioned that there was availability via business class Virgin Australia for 80,000 Delta miles each, but I didn’t have 240k Delta miles at the ready, so that wasn’t a great plan. However, it was a great lesson to truly never totally ignore a program because you never know when you will really regret that decision. I could have transferred some Amex Membership Reward points to Delta to get closer to that mark, but that still wasn’t totally ideal since I have other plans for those points.
That brings us back to Star Alliance. Along with Virgin Australia they seem to consistently have the best premium cabin award availability to and from Australia, most commonly on United operated flights out of San Francisco and Los Angeles. United does not offer the best business or first class service in the sky, but they offer lie-flat beds, and that’s what I care about far more than any other premium cabin amenity.
Read this post for tips on finding premium cabin availability to Australia or New Zealand.
Selecting the Best Routing and Aircraft from Australia:
Since I miraculously had multiple options, I was very torn between business class on the United 787-9 out of Melbourne or the United 777 out of Sydney. The timing with flights in/out of Vancouver and back to Houston on the Air Canada flight makes that one a no-go for logistical reasons (since I had the luxury of being picky). I would prefer the business class seats and flight experience on the 787-9, but I really want to at least overnight in Sydney considering we are spending the vast majority of our time in New Zealand, so at least for now that routing has won out. Really, I’m thrilled at any of the options considering how hard it is to secure premium cabin award space to and from Australia with a family – especially if you don’t have last minute travel flexibility.
I share my excitement over this booking both because I can’t really contain it anyway, but also to give encouragement that this sort of thing really is possible with a family. This is not just some that only single-work-for-yourself-have-infinite-flexibility folks can do. Granted, it took years for me to save up the miles, wait for the right timing in our lives, and find the award availability, but we eventually got there. I didn’t work on this non-stop for years, but off and on it would pop back on my radar and it wasn’t until today that it all came together. In the end it cost 150,000 United miles round trip per person to fly the long segments in a mix of United first and business class. Those miles didn’t grow on trees for us, and it will take a long time to replace them, but they were used in exactly the manner I would have hoped.
How to Earn Enough Miles to go to Australia and New Zealand in Business Class:
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If you were looking to start building miles toward a similar trip, I would advise looking at either Delta miles and American Express Membership Reward points to fly on Virgin Australia (though I hardly trust Delta to keep their non-existent award chart constant at 80k), or to do what I did and start building your United and Chase Ultimate Reward point bonuses way up. To do that efficiently you want to pounce on credit card sign-ups when they are increased such as the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card that is currently at 50,000 miles (+5,000 more with authorized user purchase – read this for more details and potentially even better offer), the Ink Plus Business Card that is up to 60,000 points from the regular 50,000, and even the Ink Cash® Business Credit Card that is temporarily increased from 20k to the current 30,000 point level until May 25th. The points from the Ink Cash can transfer to United and other Ultimate Reward partners if you also have the Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
By picking up a couple of those cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements you can quickly catapult to a six figure mileage balance and then you are well on your way to having what you need. By using the cards for everyday spending you can get the rest of the way there before too long. If you are traveling with a partner, remember that they can do the same (and sometimes you can even refer them to earn more miles).
There is still always the chance that life will decide this trip doesn’t make sense and we will have to cancel, but hopefully this will be the time we finally get to head to Australia and New Zealand. In premium cabins. With kid(s). On miles. Exhale. Scream. Smile.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.