Success! Securing Business Class Award Availability from Australia!

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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:

1Not 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.

Business Class Award Australia

Green means premium cabin award availability!

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:

Some of the credit card offers mentioned below have expired. 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Kudos to you. We’re on Quantas Business to SYD out there, but stuck in coach coming back. It doesn’t help that the time of year we *HAVE* to go is around the holidays. I can thank my sister who’s getting married for that one…

    I’m still unable to find any award flights to/from NZ that time of year, so, NZ is out of the plan. But thankfully living in Colorado, most of that stuff is accessible to me year around anyway.

  2. There are 5 of us, so award availability of any sort is always a challenge, but I just this week scored 5 tickets in coach from IAD-JFK-JNB to South Africa on SouthAfrican Airways using 40,000 United miles each and return on Delta JNB-ATL-IAD for 60,000 miles each, for spring break 2016. That is a lot of miles, and with 5 we are never going in Business or First, but I’m pretty excited about taking the African Safari I’ve always dreamed of! Definitely still on the “high” I can tell you are feeling.

  3. How did you book a ticket for your yet-to-be-born infant? Or are you planning to take her as a lap child if she comes with? We are going to Maui next January and are expecting a baby this August and I wasn’t able to book a ticket for him (as I don’t have his birth day yet), so he is coming as lap child. Is there another way?

    • If she comes she will be a lap child added later. I have heard some limited success stories of booking before they are born, but for an international trip with passports and such that would be tough.

      • Don’t forget that many airlines charge lap children 10% of the adult paid fare for the class you’re traveling in. Better make sure it doesn’t apply in this case, or that you can use 10% miles instead of 10% money (not always allowed), or resign yourself to $1,000 plus to take the baby.

        • Yes, it will be 10% fare for a lap child. Hers will be the priciest ticket of the four and won’t come with her own seat.

          • Same boat for us. Isn’t that ironic??? I’ll be paying $680 to have my 6mo old daughter fly with us to Sydney and $180 to fly back. I’d MUCH rather pay the points + taxes as those are cheaper…

  4. Another option is to use Virgin Atlantic points to fly Virgin Australia. Since the beginning of the year, these flights have had no fuel surcharges and I believe their cost is 192,000 points.

    They transfer from all 4 major currencies as well, which makes it easy to accumulate and they have a 90k offer (which I think is still alive) on a highly churnable card.

      • Glad to help! Virgin Atlantic points have been kind of written off but they’re actually slowly but surely becoming more and more useful. They are also very useful for domestic Virgin Australia flights.

  5. Do you have expanded award availability in premium cabins due to your 1K status? Do you see these flights available for a family w/out UA status?

    • Return bought from husband’s silver account. I think even those with just united card get same availability access.

  6. Congratulations on the premium award booking. I’m hoping to visit Australia or New Zealand in the next few years. I have enough AA miles for a business award, but I like having another option. After debating on whether to build DL or UA miles, I have decided to focus on UA.

    • Yeah AA just was no good in premium cabin for multiple seats needed in advance in my experience…unless you get very lucky or do some “advanced” holding via BA and releasing or similar. Too much work and steps for me.

  7. Congrats. You have found the white buffalo 🙂 Though, as you say, there are options. Just not always ideal and sadly almost never on Qantas.

    But it’s also a good reminder in our hobby to be open to different cities/ideas. I booked business class to Sydney via Asia on Oneworld mostly in CX with one return leg to HKG on QF (Booked in Biz with Dividend Miles pre-merger). And, start-to-finish it might actually take me less time to get to Australia than it was last January when I had a flight down on Delta direct from North America. The joys of being in a regional airport city as I had MSN-ATL-LAX-SYD routing plus lengthy layovers. So, depending upon location, always good to remember that it’s possible routing via Asia might not add much more time, and might save time. And let you fly on some nice Asian airlines.

  8. You’re taking an 8 month old on your lap for 15 hours in a premium cabin? Yikes.
    You are a trooper.
    Hope you have undertanding cabin mates.

    • @ Geoff – My wife and I are taking twins (they will be 10 months then) in F from EWR-LIH next Jan on Us Airways – obviously domestic first is nothing to sneeze at, but I’m praying that they are quiet for most of the way. Bringing our 4 year old also, who we brought in first to OGG when she was 10 months, but luckily she was a great flyer and only cried maybe 10 minutes the entire trip flying. I’m a little nervous about it, and still contemplating looking for a 4th seat to open up so we can at least bring 1 carseat with us on the plane.

    • Geoff, TBD. I hope to. That would be a long time away, and potentially really too long even if we if roped in two sets of grandparents to share the duties. However, if she is a very, very fussy 8 months old then I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone (including ourselves). Hopefully she is within normal limits and it isn’t too big of a deal for anyone.

      • Interesting. Whie it is certainly none of my business(unless I were seated next to you:), at 8 months old I’m not sure that we would take him/her. Easy for a father to say, eh?
        In all seriousness, he/she wil remember none of it. OTOH, Little C and you two will be taking a quasi-trip of a lifetime IN STYLE. Yoi will most certainly remember it.
        You are all young. Take the newest one to Disney in 4 or 5 years THEN take her/him to to the end of the earth:)
        In any event, best of luck. Hope the newest is healthy, happy and ready to travel.

        • We’ll see. It’s just too far to go for a quick trip and potentially too long to be gone and expect anyone else to take care of your kid. Plus, we would probably have issues being gone from her for that long. Again, we’ll see, but clearly bringing her wouldn’t be about her remembering the trip. It would be because it was the best solution for everyone given the available choices.

        • Wife and I have to do the the same thing…only with a 6mo old. And it’s not like we have an option either. Any family that WOULD be behind to watch her is going to be in Australia anyway (sister’s wedding). So yeah…it’ll be a fun experience, but at least we have nicer seats to deal with it in.

          • I understand your conundrum. I wasn’t away overnight from my first child until she was 5. In retrospect, it was definitely past due, but it’s hard to take the plunge the first time.
            If it was me, I don’t think I’d want to leave the baby at home, though. Even if it is going to cost $1000 and even if I had willing grandparents.
            But you’ll know what to do when the time comes. Very excited for you and your trip!!! And for the hope it gives the rest of us. 🙂

        • Jesus, people like to rain on a parade, huh?

          She has literally found the unicorn in the awards / points game, but everyone just wants to give her crap for hopefully taking her infant with her?

          Sheesh.

    • Attitudes like this are so upsetting (especially considering this is a family travel site). Summer and her family do not have to put their trips/life on hold just because their child might annoy other passengers in an airplane. At 8 months old, the baby will likely be very well behaved and she also won’t care where she is just so long as she’s with her mom (and the rest of her family). Honestly, the most annoying passengers I’ve ever encountered in the air were all adults. We recently took a 9-hour non-stop flight from ORD-OGG (after a 45 min connecting flight and 3 hour layover all beginning at 6am thanks to a United schedule change) with my 6 year old and 18 month old. They both did awesome on the flight and had a fabulous time on vacation. Will the little one remember it? No, I can’t imagine he will. He also won’t remember going to the park or grocery store yesterday, but does that mean I should just stay at home with him until he’s old enough to remember anything and sit still/quiet at all times in public (which could never happen based on most adults I see)? On vacation he learned new words, saw new things and had some cool experiences that will stay with him regardless of if he specifically remembers being there. He also flew to Maui at 6 months old, London at 9 months and will be going to London again in June at 20 months (to visit his grandparents) in addition to a few smaller flights he’s taken in between. We want to go away and share these experiences as a family. He’d be devastated if we left him home with a sitter (even grandparents), as would we.

  9. So you have a flight going from LAX to SYD to AKL? And to come home, you are coming back from SYD to LAX. Do you have to book a separate flight to get from AKL to SYD? What are you using to book that?

  10. Well done. Was able to book 4 biz class tickets (my wife and I plus 2 friends) to Australia, nz just this past April – may. We did have to route through Incheon but from Seattle not that big of a deal and returned Syd – lax on United. Persistence pays off and it can be done.

  11. i just recently booked two RT biz class seats to Australia via LAX on Virgin for 160K DL miles plus minimal fees. I had zero DL miles, but fortunately I had a stash of MR points that immediately transferred. There were many days in February and March of 2016 that had as many as 7 (yes, seven) biz class seats available for awards. I was lucky enough to get the exact dates I was looking for.

  12. can i recommend dont bother flying to auckland, get a ticket into the south island and tour the south island, its one of the most scenic places on earth

  13. GREAT POST. Congrats! I just booked for this Christmas/NYE as well from LAX and have to say, I’m super excited too! Not as direct as you, but award seats nonetheless. Kudos.

  14. Congratulations!

    I’ve been traveling to Australia in some capacity yearly since 1998. I’ve flown all the UA aircrafts over those years (747, 777, 787, etc.) in every cabin.

    My partner and I scored biz seats on the 787-900 over Xmas & NYE to Melbourne. Without a doubt, hands down the best experience ever. While admittedly I have not flown an Asian airline for a true world class comparison, I found these TPAC flights to be the best I have ever experienced for a UA flight.

  15. The funny part of all this is the half-buried reference to “single-work-for-yourself-have-infinite-flexibility folks.” I love their blogs, I truly do, but you have a point, especially for me. So I’m still laughing . . . kind of.

    Also, I wouldn’t worry about travelling with an 8-month-old. (Milk is key!) It’s when they get older that the going gets tougher. As you know.

  16. Curious….did you check Cathay Pacific availability? I know you said you didn’t want to go through Asia, but they seem to have Biz award seats available on the dates I have been checking. We aren’t planning to go until June 2016, but like you I check award availability every day. Just so I’m prepared. 🙂

    I plan to use up some of my Delta miles for one leg on Virgin Australia and hopefully use AA miles on CX via Hong Kong (with a stopover for a day) on the other.

  17. Having gone through this, I would definitely recommend leaving your 8 month old with your grandparents. She won’t remember any of it and it’s your guilt for not being with her that is misguided. Since she won’t remember any of it, you should not feel guilty. Besides, you are overlooking the great bonding time she will have with the grandparents.

    But the real reason I advice not taking an infant is that it will take up so much energy from a trip you can truly enjoy with your husband and C. This could be C’s last trip with her parents alone and that is invaluable.

    (An aside: Disturbing premium passengers for 15 hours is a possibility that cannot be ignored. While your adorable infant might be a perfect child in regular settings, placing it for 15 hours in a restricted space seems akin to asking for trouble. And how horrible it would be if you ruined everyone else’s flight…)

    • Of course the baby will be fine assuming food issues are a-okay leaving her in the US……. However, I would not expect grandparents to jump for joy at this opportunity, nor would I want to be separated from my young baby for a long amount of time, but to each his/her own. Of course the baby won’t “remember” the trip.

          • Wow, I don’t think I’d even consider going 12 days without an 8 mo old. I’d miss her too much for sure. That says nothing about what other people should or shouldn’t do. Just that I can say with almost total certainty that I wouldn’t/couldn’t do it.

  18. I am currently stockpiling miles for a very similar trip. The plan right now is to fly down via Tokyo, hopefully in SQ Suites, with a stop there, then continue onto AKL via SYD with another stop using AA or AS miles, then return via Fiji on Fiji Air with AS miles. I figure I won’t mind the angled-flat seats on Fiji as much on a daytime trip. But I am trying to stockpile transferrable miles as a backup in case there’s no availability on my preferred routes/dates.

    The challenge is we want to book over Xmas/NYE to take advantage of the holiday time off and using vacation days from 2 calendar years to make a longer trip. Here’s hoping I also see miracle space open up!

  19. Last week I completed our spring break booking to Australia. Our family of 4 are flying business class from Milwaukee WI to Gladstone(through Brisbane) on american/quantas for 62500 american miles. I booked coach tickets from Sydney to Mke on United for 40000 United miles each.(on April 2) The business class tickets you show above are gone. We are also thrilled!

  20. My wife and I went to Australia last year (using AA points) and looooooved it. Hope you have a great time.

  21. I agree with @Sarah and am disappointed but unsurprised by some of the other comments. A nursing 8-month old infant’s happiest spot is to be with Mommy, and with a good baby carrier, not take away from a family experience. I’ve done multiple trans-Pacific trips alone with my young kids and in all those hundreds of hours of flight time, only one child cried for max 10 minutes…we’ve also gone through a cancelled flight at NRT after flying in from LAX. Even though my kids were exhausted – undoubtedly harder on little bodies who need more sleep – they held it together while I witnessed several adults having meltdowns & tantrums with the gate agents. Children can be better behaved than entitled adults.

  22. While on vacation at Kona in March, I managed to snag one 1st- class ticket one-way to Australia/New Zealand for Late Jan 2016. Using UA miles, it was PHX-LAX-ICH-SYD on a combo of UA and Air Asia metal including one of their A380’s. Then when I got back I found a return in Biz from AKL-YVR-PHX on Air Canada. This was more difficult because I had snagged a timeshare through an exchange in Queenstown, NZ and had to work around the specific dates for the stay in Queenstown. Then came what I had thought at the time was dreaded news, there was a schedule change by UA for the PHX-LAX segment and I would miss my connection. I thought my only choice would be to fly into LAX the night before but I called up UA and asked if they could do something to open up space on one of their flights from LAX-SYD and they said yes but in Biz class. I couldn’t believe it and I took it. They saved me at least 5 hours of flight time and more than that in actual time. Instead of having to leave on a Tuesday morning to get to SYD by Thursday morning, I will leave Tuesday evening and still get there Thursday morning. I plan on staying in SYD 2 nights and then purchasing a ticket to flight from SYD to ZQN for my week in the timeshare. Then I will purchase a ticket from ZQN-AKL and stay in AKL for a few days before heading back. I later called UA up again and got the 10k difference in points for the LAX-SYD for going from 1st to BIZ refunded. I can’t wait.

  23. We traveled with a 4 month old MSP-SDQ. No problems. She did not make a peep. You travel enough to know what’s likely to happen and to be prepared. We (the three homeschooling kiddo’s and I) are also heading to Australia and NZ next year so please keep posting about what you are going to do/see in NZ!!

  24. Yes, this is a parenting blog but that doesn’t give parents carte blanche to be inconsiderate to other paying customers.

    My recent flight DFW-HKG was ruined by a toddler in business class who would not pipe down. The parents were apologetic and said “this never happened before” but that did me no good.

    If Mommy’s child can be quit for 15 hours, great. But if she may throw tantrums/scream, like the kid who ruined my flight, than I think she should reconsider.

    Tiny children have a right to fly business and first but they don’t have a right to ruin anyone else’s flights.

    • This is always, always, always a hot topic. I mean on the level of religion, politics, etc. I don’t like to hear screaming kids either, but what I would want from a family flying with a young child in any cabin is for them to do their best. I only get really irritated when I see the caregivers not doing their best to influence the child’s behavior on-board. That thankfully doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The problem, in my view, isn’t a crying young child. The problem comes in when the parents don’t do everything they can to plan for it and address it. My kid may scream on board. She’s a baby. However, I know for sure that we will do everything we can to comfort her, which in turn helps everyone. The other passengers should have ear plugs, noise canceling headphones, etc. for the periods of time that she might not be totally silent.

      The noise I hate the most in the world is loud snoring. On an airplane I am around it quite a bit in very close proximity. I could say it is rude for someone who knowingly snores loudly to sit in a premium cabin and disturb all of those around them. However, even though that noise makes my own blood boil, it is on me to have noise cancelling devices, not on the loud snorer to stay awake, sit in the back, or stay home so they don’t “ruin business and first class customers flights”. Some people snore loudly. Some people talk loudly. Some people smell. Some babies cry. Even up front, airplanes are public transportation and all you can really hope for is that everyone does their best.

  25. Well said but you really can’t equate a tantruming baby with snoring, can you?

    I just don’t get it — (and this comes from someone who has twins!). Traveling with an eight month child in business class is inconsiderate if they misbehave. If someone is paying a high premium to be comfortable, why ruin their trip? If you must bring your screaming baby, then I say sit in coach where the “expectation of a comfortable flight” is much less.

    I do want to point out that I dislike chatty-Cathy’s and smelly passengers too, but usually I’m in my pod and can ignore them, something I can’t do when there’s a baby screaming next to me, even with my Bose on.

    • Michael, for me snoring is worse than a tantruming baby (assuming the baby isn’t mine). The baby will probably stop. The snoring will likely continue off and on for hours. We all have things that bother us more, and that noise just gets me. Again though, we just have to disagree a bit. I think bringing an 8 month old is inconsiderate only if you don’t plan to do everything you can to make them (and in turn and the other passengers) comfortable.

      • The sound of the airplane engines covers up most snoring, so it’s not much of an issue. Plus I wear noise cancelling headphones to block out more noise.

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