Why I Drained My United Account Today

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.

I have been talking about using miles to go to Australia and/or New Zealand since at least the US Airways Grand Slam in 2011.  However, in the years since, despite countless trips to many other amazing places, I still haven’t managed to make it to Australia or New Zealand.  Tight award availability in premium cabins for multiple seats has certainly been part of the problem, as has bad timing, unforeseen circumstances, and just simply putting it off in favor of closer destinations.

Still, I keep looking.  I keep checking award availability periodically just to see what is out there.  I’m sure many of you do the same for trips you keep on your “someday” list.  Usually there isn’t much premium cabin award availability to Australia or New Zealand, but every now and then I come across some availability that catches my interest.  I usually just let it go and hope someone else finds it that really wants it, but not today.

Read this post for tips on finding premium cabin availability to Australia or New Zealand

Today while browsing airline award availability the way many check the weather or news headlines I spotted three United Global First awards to Sydney next March, connecting to an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland.  Those awards ring in at a very hefty 80,000 United miles each way, and booking three of them would virtually knock out my United balance, but I didn’t care.  I can always transfer more miles to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards if I need to, but I can’t create award availability out of thin air.  There are no fuel surcharges, and taxes were around just $19/each, so our of pocket costs were low, even though the mileage cost was pretty high.

First Class Award to Australia

I had always assumed we would be more than comfortable enough in business class to Australia, but since there was just a 10,000 mile difference between business and first class, I decided to pull the trigger on the three first class tickets.

First Class Seats to Australia

In truth, I can’t promise we will keep these tickets and take the flight.  We still need to book award flights home, decide if we would bring our then 8 month old, and who knows if the dates will end up working, but still…. For now I was able to book three first class awards to Australia and New Zealand for my family.  For now I can dream about what it would be like to actually board that 777 in Los Angeles and head out over the Pacific the way I have wanted to for so many years.

Research pretty consistently says that the best part of the trip is often the anticipation and planning process, and in this case I have to say I am getting plenty of enjoyment out of simply having the award tickets booked.  In fact, I think that is when you know you have made the right call, and why I am glad we have slimmed down our travel schedule to the point that it is possible to really focus on individual trips instead of being in constant motion planning tons of trips all at once.

Perhaps next March we will head Down Under in style, or perhaps life will get in the way between now and then and it won’t work out.  Either way, for today I’m sitting on the top of the world knowing the tickets are mine.


The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Mark – you got it wrong – it’s the anticipation that’s the fun part and the planning process is part of that, too. Personally, I like knowing I’ve got some trip I’m looking forward to all locked up in advance.

  2. Good for you! How very exciting!! Way to be persistent 🙂

    And I agree – love the planning process just as much as the trip itself.

  3. I hope you get to go! Australia, specifically Sydney (along with Coogee and Bondi Beach) is my favorite place in the world!

  4. The thrill of obtaining such a difficult award is always fun. I had to cancel a trip in first class to visit my niece who was studying abroad in Australia but as you well know sometimes life circumstances get in the way.

    I agree I always need to have a trip on the horizon.

  5. New Zealand is one of the most gorgeous places on earth!! Hope you’re able to make a “go” of the trip (though your 8 month old might need to go again later to fully appreciate the wonder).

  6. Since you’ve been planning this so long and it qualifies as a dream trip, for god’s sake don’t waste it by spending too much time in Sydney, a few days is enough. Just go to New Zealand…and start with the south island, and don’t look back. Spend as much time as you can there instead. It’ll blow your mind.

  7. Sounds like a fun trip, hope it works out and you can go. Last year I managed 2 trips to Australia and I’m looking forward to 2 trips to New Zealand later this year with my SkyMiles.

  8. Nicely done. MrsMJ says we will have to sail to Australia because she refuses to sit on an airplane that long, no matter the class of service. Will look forward to reading the trip report.

  9. Mommy Points – great that you had the guts to pull the trigger on a dream trip. I am hoping this trip works out as planned. Since you mentioned the possibility of bringing your then 8-month daughter as a lap child, wouldn’t paying cash price for her would be astronomical? I remember you having a post where you described the cost for an infant on an award ticket ranging something between 10% and up (depending on the carrier) of the cash price for the same ticket? Since you are traveling in first class, wouldn’t it be at least $900-$1000 to bring the baby along?

  10. Great move, MP. As far as I am concerned anytime you can have even a dream prospective booking to Australia/New Zealand, then that is a win. Australia and New Zealand are pretty much the primary reason I got into the hobby. Am already booked to go back again in January after burning a bunch of USAirways miles to route via Asia.

    Hope it works out and you find great return flight options and have a fantastic time.

  11. “Today while browsing airline award availability the way many check the weather or news headlines”

    Lol. Glad I am not the only one who does this! You travelled with your other while she was young, right? Will an 8 month old be fine to travel that long/far?

    • The baby will be fine. It is very stressful though for a mom to endure. By 8 months old babies are on the go… Very exciting! We are planning Australia 2016. We’ll probably watch for deals though since 5 passengers on awards is a challenge.

  12. Very exciting! Congratulations on the booking and hopefully it’ll work out for you next year.

    I took my family to Australia by happenstance a couple of years ago, and that was (and still is) the trip of a lifetime. We have since traveled to other places, but Sydney still holds a special place in our hearts. For a long time, Australia was always a far fetched dream destination to me (one of those “someday, we’ll get to it if we can get to it because it’s so so far away, and I can’t imagine so many hours in economy…and a revenue ticket isn’t cheap either x 5 ppl …so I don’t think it was ever going to happen” type of destination.) At least until miles and points come into play…

    Fortunately, all the stars aligned at time (and fortunately, this is well before the devaluation we’ve been seeing over the years), so we got the seats that we wanted and the schedule worked out beautifully. Behind the scenes, there was obviously a lot of planning (spread over a year so it wasn’t overwhelming in any way, including periodically checking for upgraded space) but the anticipation was half the fun. Everyone was just so looking forward to trip. And given no one at the time in my family (except for me) had flown international premium seats at the time, it was just a delightful experience for all of them and they just raved about the experience (and the trip itself).

    The way I see it, there’s no point stocking up on the miles …they’re meant to be used. Every time I wipe out my miles for a big trip, I get nervous for a moment at how pathetic my account balance looks, but then I always think it’s the best possible use (else I wouldn’t have booked it). And if you think about it, 80000 for a first class seat is still a major steal, no matter how you look at it. 🙂

    Good luck and I hope it works out for you and family next March!

  13. I’ve been living in Wellington, NZ for the past six months, and my husband and I have had a chance to do a bunch of travel in the area (we’re here for work, but kiwis get much better vacation benefits than we do in the US!). While Australia is wonderful, I would recommend spending more time in NZ than Australia. The south island is particularly beautiful, from bottom to top, and it’s accessible in the way that you’ve said in the past that many European trips are. Though we don’t yet have kids, there are families everywhere: from the markets, to the national parks, and the vineyards. I hope you’re able to go!

  14. So what happens if you decide NOT to go ? Will you lose such miles or be struck with a hefty penalty fees ?

    Is there any window of time you can just cancel at no cost (in miles or foregoing fees) ?


    • No penalty due to my status with United. We can just easily redeposit the miles if it doesn’t all work out. Very, very nice perk of Platinum status with United.

  15. I am glad you pulled the trigger to get those tickets booked! We went to Australia last year (Feb). From Houston to Cairns, door to door, we spent 33 hours. I often heard people say it’s just too far. I used to think that too but you know, it’s always going to be far and won’t get any closer ever! 😉 we did bite the bullets and bought 2 R/T premium economy tickets on Qantas (over $7000) but the trip was worth it. Hope you will get to go next year.

  16. That’s awesome! So glad you were able to do that, and I sincerely hope that the trip works out for you.

    I saw this article on Facebook, and had a mini panic attack thinking you were dumping your United miles for another (bad) reason, lol. It wasn’t so long ago that I saw the terrible news about Club Carlson on your blog…

    PS…I am going to use my CC points this summer, and the bright side of things is that IHG Rewards may work even better in the long run for me because of them being an Ultimate Rewards partner. And it’s because of people like you that I’m now able to figure stuff like that out. Thanks for all you do! And Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Ihg pts aren’t that valuable… Don’t transfer from UR. “Buy” them on the cheap via the ihg trick… I’d google it.

      • Definitely this. If you’re really concerned, buy them using the trick and then reimburse yourself with the UR points at a penny each, and you’ll effectively be transferring at a 7:10 ratio instead of 1:1.

  17. i figure i’ll get stoned by the crowd for this but… my first thought was about the excited person who also landed the same special global first flight to NZ/OZ after years of saving miles (ie: the normal 99% non-points people). and then having a crying 8 month old baby in first turning their dream flight into anything but. unless your immigrating or it’s an emergency-ish trip, taking an 8 month old on a plane is a rather self absorbed act imo. if you must, do it in economy- where everyone is already prepared for hours of misery and should have prepared with ambien, alcohol and noise cancelling headphones to render themselves catatonic for as long as possible without the need for a medical emergency diversion). i’ve been the ‘tortured’ in both cabins by strong lunged babies. in economy, i thought ‘figures. awesome’. in first, my excitement went from a 10 to a 1 and thought ‘well, so much for enjoying my super rare shot at luxury’.

    • you are making so many assumptions here, but really at the end of the day the 8 month old has just as much right to be there as the family who has saved for years.

    • Had the same thoughts. But I’m a guy. And don’t have children. So kept the thoughts to my self. Ha. Perhaps first class will be solely them?

    • Abby,
      You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Your scenario of 14-15 hours of crying babies, in any class of service, could be used by our intelligence services as a most severe form of torture to extract vital information from our country’s enemies. That we pay ($ or miles) for this nightmarish experience with no possibility of relief of any kind or place on an aircraft is total folly. IMHO, compassion for, and consideration of others no longer matter in our society, only our “rights”.

  18. I had a good looking guy hit on me by commiserating that there would be babies on the flight….. Um…it was my first flight sans kids in years so I laughed it off. Babies are part of life. -a good part!!!

  19. Amazing! I hope you end up getting to go! I COMPLETELY agree about the anticipation of a trip. It gets me through the long months of work and obligations and general adult responsibilities until I can get away again and travel 🙂

  20. Just do it! If you can. You’ll enjoy 2-3 days in Sydney but don’t overstay. Relax in Royal Botanic Garden. Visit Taronga ZOO. See Blue Mountains. During Sparkling Shiraz. Watch Southern Cross. Go to a performance, anything, at Sydney Opera House. Jump the ditch and enjoy NZ. No matter how long you come for it will be too short 🙁

  21. MP – so glad you found the tickets.. . Hope it works out.
    It cracks me up, though, that you’re so excited about this and you don’t even have tickets back yet. Talk about being laid back and comfortable with this game!
    I’m sure you’ll make the right decision on whether to bring baby girl or not. I think it would be fine either way, although pricey to bring her, obviously. I know I’d have a hard time walking out the door leaving her with the grandparents, but once I’m on my way then I enjoy the freedom of having baby in good hands that aren’t mine.

  22. Happy Mother’s Day, MP! Looks like you will enjoy today very much as well as the next year of planning. We went to Australia and New Zealand on United / Air New Zealand this March and I agree with the commenters above that New Zealand is where I would recommend spending more time. The scenery is much more dramatic and distinctive there. The highlight of the whole trip for me though was in Australia. We took a one day horse trek at Lovick’s High Country Adventure near Mansfield, Victoria. It is only about a 2 hour drive from Melbourne, but we decided to drive the 8 hours from Sydney instead. The Lovicks are the local people involved in making the 1982 movie The Man from Snowy River, which is the inspiration for many to want to visit Australia. Check out the movie, it is rated PG but very kid friendly. It is a very beautiful area and sitting on the veranda in the evening taking in the view from our cottage at Blue Gum Ridge was the most uniquely relaxing part of the trip. Hope you can find a reasonable return home, but you can always fly coach with a night’s layover in Hawaii!

  23. We were fortunate enough to go to Australia and New Zealand this past January on United award. Please try to include Kangaroo Island (overnight) in Australia, and Rotorua (glowworm cave), Hobbiton, and Milford Sound in New Zealand while you’re there.

    What a great trip. You’ll just love it.

  24. You should look at using Virgin Atlantic miles on V Austrailia for the return. You get to LAX for about 90k per person. While that sounds expensive don’t forget these are often mileage bonuses for Amex for VS transfers. There are also no longer fuel surcharges. The BofA VS credit card earns 1.5 miles per dollar plus a 90k bonus after $15k spend. I think both VS miles and the BofA card are under rated by the blogs.

    • That option via Delta miles would be just 80k. First time in my life I’ve been wishing I had more Delta miles – ha!

      • Very true, and Delta would let you tack on the domestic segment for free. but there are significant downsides to Delta:
        1) Adding on the domestic F segment can be exceedingly difficult as I have learned. You cannot book mixed cabins online and ‘nice’ agents who will do his are getting difficult to find. On top of that connections are limited to 24 hours.
        2) Who knows if 80k will last. What’s an award chart?
        3) VS miles are much easier to earn. You can transfer them from Amex, UR, Thank you Rewards, and SPG. I would say that 90k VS miles are significantly easier to earn than 80k Delta miles.
        4)There are 4 different banks that you can leverage sign up bonus for to get VS miles. For Delta there is only 1.

  25. Fantastic trip planning. I had fortunately booked my family trip to Australia once during Christmas break with 5 Biz seat DFW-SYD. What I found was that the return premium tickets were much hard to find than the outbound. Again we fortunately snapped 5 Singapore A380 Biz in return via SIN due to Singapore Airline reservation glitch. One advise is to setup ExpertFlyer to keep track Qantas Biz in return. I had noticed that Qantas used to release 2 seats per day when days approach if Biz space is wide open.

  26. Abby raised an interesting issue. We flew to OZ in business class and there were 3 infants aged two or less in the row in front of us. They didn’t cry as much as they shreiked every 60-90 seconds or so for the whole 14 hour flight. I wrote to the airline, whose reply was so “too bad for you” that they didn’t even bother cutting and pasting an ‘all our customers matter’ boiler plate. Our subsequent trip to Australia was a different airline.

    Now some will say, as one post upthread did, that an infant that has the fare paid in one currency or another has every right to be in C or F. Others would say, as Abby did, that you are likely to ruin someone’s trip by putting an infant there.

    They’re both correct. Most (all?) airlines won’t touch this one so one can book an infant whereever they like. That said, neither an 8 month old nor his/her parents have much or any no control over when it will cry, scream, soil itself or otherwise make a disturbing fuss. Almost guaranteed to bother other passengers other than those who can ignore loud noises and dirty diaper smells.

    So it comes down to the parents’ decision based on their perception of civility. Do what you’re allowed to do, or do something else so as not to impose on others.

    • It’s a complex issue with no one right answer. I’ve flown in premium cabins bothered by other infants as well. I’ve so been bothered by adults. I would personally not want to fly long haul with my 8 month old if they are exceptionally fussy (as C was), but if we luck out with a happy baby we’ll see.

  27. Price aside, and if you have a pretty easy going baby, I’d say go for it! Plus, medical care is good in Oz/NZ. I’ve done many a trans-Pacific long haul with my kids and 9 months is a great time because they still sleep a lot but aren’t trying to walk. My kids rarely fussed, mostly because they were happy nursing. This means that sometimes I barely moved the entire flight but they certainly did not bother other passengers. My 12mo loved Australia – lots of family-friendly activities.

  28. Weird, I already have two seats on what I believe is the exact same flight, looking at the seat map. I noticed there were all 8 GF seats open for awards when I booked, which makes me think it was some sort of glitch. Anyway, I’m in 2H and 2K.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *