Why Am I Still Not Booking A Flight to Australia?

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I have wanted to use airline miles to go to Australia and New Zealand for years. And years. And years. I fact, this was my goal redemption with the US Airways miles I was earning back during the big US Airways Grand Slam promotion years ago… that many of you probably don’t even remember because it has been so long and that promotion and frequent flyer program no longer even exist. I’ve had some great trips with my miles since then, so I’m not complaining, but Australia and New Zealand have eluded me.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

We once had a trip to Sydney and then onto various points in New Zealand just about 100% booked in first and business class on miles and in some great hotels on points, but we canceled the whole thing a few weeks before departure because it ultimately just wasn’t the right time to go. Our littlest was sleeping terribly, she had some health issues we were working through, she was too young to just leave behind, and the trip started to loom like a chore rather than the amazing opportunity that it is.

That canceled trip was close to a year and a half ago, but in that time I haven’t even penciled in when we might again set our sights on Australia. I’ve got travel plans outlined into 2020, but Australia and New Zealand are noticeably completely absent from that list despite the reality that all of us would probably love being there.


When United announced their new (surprising) nonstop route from Houston to Sydney that will kick-off in January, there were many hours when four lie-flat business class saver awards were available from my home airport to Sydney. That just doesn’t happen very often to Australia regardless of your US departure city, so you would have thought I would have booked those seats from my home airport faster than I click on Amazon Subscribe and Save coupons, but I didn’t. I didn’t book anything. I didn’t put anything on hold. I wrote about the great availability knowing it would disappear (and it did), but I didn’t grab anything for us.


As I’ve reflected on why I didn’t book flights to Syndey when I had the chance, and why I wasn’t sad when the opportunity window closed, I’ve realized there isn’t one reason why Australia and New Zealand aren’t in serious contention as destinations for us for us right now, there are several. I frequently write about how and why we are going various places, but this time I’ll talk a bit about why we aren’t going somewhere that on the surface sounds pretty fabulous.

First, while we have healthier than average frequent flyer accounts, at 140,000 miles per person for a round trip United business class saver award, over half a million miles spent on one trip for our family would be a substantial hit to our United account balances. I don’t manufacture our spending or frequently purchase large quantities of miles, so re-earning over 1/2 a million miles would be a long term process that has only gotten harder since the miles were earned the first time. Would one trip really be worth spending that many miles? I don’t know.

Second, and probably even more importantly, the flight from Houston to Sydney is scheduled at 17 hours and 30 minutes in length. SEVENTEEN HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES IN AN AIRPLANE SEAT. As I was thinking through the reasons why I didn’t hop on these awards when they were available, I was actually flying home on a United operated flight from New York to Houston. That flight is about three and a half hours long, and by the time it is over I am pretty much always ready to say adios to the plane.

If instead of just flying from Newark to Houston I was flying the same length of time as it would take to get to Sydney, it would be roughly the same as making close to three round trips in the air from New York to Houston. Oh heck no. That sounds completely miserable. Even more so if kids are involved. No, just no.

This will sound very uncool from a ‘traveler’, but 17 hours and 30 minutes in the air sounds like punishment, even if it is in a lie-flat seat. I mean, I know most people who are lucky enough to travel from Australia to the US and vice versa aren’t even in lie flat seats, but I can’t imagine signing up to do that flight in economy unless I was getting paid handsomely or it was an emergency situation. I’m sure it is all worth it when you get there, but I would dread that flight for quite a long time leading up to departure, even if we were using miles to sit up front.

My longest nonstop flight to date has been Narita to Houston at 11 hours and 45 minutes, and while maybe 17 hours and 30 minutes doesn’t sound that different to some, it sounds a heck of a lot different to me. That said, I could be totally making a mountain out of a mole hill and the flight that spans over multiple calendar days thanks to cruising over the international date line may just fly by (pun intended), but it also might not. In my mind, that is just an intimidating amount of time to be stuck on an airplane.

Flight length aside we have a (bad) habit of making trips too short. This is often at least in part because we need to get back to work. This is more acutely accurate in Josh’s case, but also true for me as it is virtually impossible for me to work much when traveling with two small kids. We could put aside my work issues with some planning, but I wouldn’t want to go to Australia and/or New Zealand if we weren’t going to be on the ground at least a week, and even that is on the short side. Once you add in travel time, that puts you at probably close to a week and a half you would need to be away from work at a minimum, and with Josh’s job situation that just isn’t realistic at the moment, especially factoring in the time zone difference.

Which brings me to the reality that the reason why I didn’t book those awards to Australia is that it clearly just still isn’t the right time for us to plan that big of a trip. It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t feel right. And so it probably just isn’t right. As cool as being in Australia or New Zealand sounds, in our relatively normal family lifestyle with two young girls, it just is the square peg that doesn’t yet fit.

In the meantime, we have plenty of other adventures we are looking forward to such as swimming in the Bahamas, skiing in Canada and Colorado, building sandcastles in Grand Cayman, and exploring cities, castles, and mountains in Europe. We are lucky that we are still able to explore beyond the confines of our own neighborhood, city, state, and even country, but some places are just still outside our radius. I guess we just still haven’t just haven’t grown into an Australian sized adventure. So, we will keep it sitting on the shelf, waiting for us to grow bigger, to get braver, to push our limits a bit more…to find a way to sit for seventeen hours and thirty minutes without going mad.




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  1. Meh, my wife and I went to Melbourne for 2 nights and Sydney for 4 nights and flew right back. Actually flew all the way west on back to back Etihad apartments. At 14.5 or so hours each flight with a seat and a couch it wasn’t so bad lol.

  2. I JUST came back from New Zealand and Australia and I can say 100% that it is worth the long flight. I booked Air New Zealand business routing IAH-LAX-AKL going there for 70,000 United miles when award space opened up early this year with a AKL-SYD in Air New Zealand business stopover and Air New Zealand economy return routing SYD-AKL-IAH for 40,000 United miles. On the day of departure, I noticed United business saver award space available from SYD-LAX on United Polaris and LAX-IAH in economy, so I called customer service and they just charged the difference of 30,000 United miles with no change fees! So, I got to experience Air New Zealand Business and United Polaris Business all in one trip on 13+ hour flights each. Both countries are absolutely beautiful, and very different, with so much to offer!

  3. I flew DFW-SYD which is just under 17 hours. It wasn’t too bad in Qantas F but I can’t imagine doing that with a kid under 10 or so (although C is a whole lot more well-traveled than most her age). As wonderful as it was, it was a very long flight even for an adult. I think you’re being smart about this. You definitely want time on the ground there so if you’re not going to be able to take 2 weeks’ time in total, I’d wait until you can.

  4. For those who pay in cash and will likely be in economy, the best way to get to Australia or NewZealand from US (west coast) continues to be Hawaiian Airlines … here is why:

    – Take a morning flight ~5-6 hours from WestCoast – HNL. Easy to do sitting in whatever seat.
    – Couple hours break in Honolulu airport for lunch.
    – Take the second 8-9 hours flight from HNL – Auckland etc. Perfectly doable since you shouldn’t still be tired after the earlier flight and lunch break, just entertain yourself with your tablet etc.
    – Arrive at night (around 10pm). Go to bed at some hotel near airport.
    – Wake up refreshed and ready for your vacation!

    This is far better than all the late night flights which leave LAX etc, arriving in the morning, where your whole day is in a zombie state.

    • Fiji (NAN) is also a great intermediary between LAX and NZ, and Fiji Airways is often the cheapest. Also, if you’re aiming for the South Island, you can catch a direct flight from NAN to Christchurch, without having to connect in AKL.

  5. Definitely harder for those who have to redeem miles for 4+ people. A US-Australia/SE Asia ticket nowadays is around 150-180K miles in J so you need 600K-720K miles for four tickets (if you’re able to find space). If you don’t MS or buy miles then getting enough miles to cover these flights is super difficult. You then have to consider hotel costs which can get out of hand especially if the hotels have a strict policy on the # of guests in the room.

    • Completely agree.. Im trying to rack my brains trying to book US-SE Asia for 4 people.. Want at least 2 biz and 2 fc.. Award avail is diff and we would blow close to 400k for all for us.. But 18 hrs in economy is not cutting it with me anymore.. Been doing it for so many yrs but as they say with age ( ahem) its just tough.. Also the reason i got into this hobby..just started in May and its like a race for time in collecting all the points in under 5 months when avail opens up.. Ughh..

  6. Although the flights are long, US to NZ isn’t all that painful. LAX-AKL is ‘only’ 12 hours. As you say that’s a lot more reasonable than 17 from IAH-SYD, especially with kiddos. The flights also tend to be overnight flights – they leave LAX around 11pm, arriving in Auckland early morning. As they tend to synch up with the nighttime hours you are accustomed to, there’s a good chance you and kiddos will get some good sleep on the plane. If you can sleep on the plane for even a few hours, 12 hours feels much shorter…at least that’s what I’m telling everyone I know since I’m moving to NZ next week, and I desperately want people to visit!

  7. New Zealand and Australia are awesome with little kids. Nice people, beautiful scenery, and some of the best playgrounds I’ve ever seen. We flew OAK-HNL (overnight), HNL-AKL, CHC-SYD, SYD-HNL (overnight), HNL-OAK with a 4 year old and an infant a while back. That was definitely the way to go.

    As always, thanks for being realistic. So many bloggers act like miles are unlimited, and you’re absolutely right about long flights with kids. I do wonder if anything beyond coach class is wasted on little kids. They don’t need the room and an iPad looks the same no matter where your seat is.

  8. I have flown LAX-SYD and ORD-AUH, both of which are about 15.5 hours, in economy. While I do it alone and don’t have any kids near me, I am a bigger guy at 6’1″ or so and broad shoulders. I know the idea of that long in an economy seat feels torturous, but it actually isn’t as awful as I expected it to be. Load up a tablet with the Godfather trilogy or something and you’re practically there.

    • Not with kids.. Believe me in 3 in a row seat.. Both my kids seat.. with me and since they cant sleep reclined they sleep on my lap.. Yes it is torture.. Hubby gets to sit on his own in the next aisle and worry about himself.. If my girls had to go bathroom, then im up even sleeping..Hence my attempts to get biz or fc.. Last time i did it im ready to pull my hairs..

      • Yes, that part of it I can see. I am probably jaded by reading several blogs with people having night sweats over the idea of flying any distance in economy, let alone a 15+ hour flight. But, yeah, kids would definitely change the equation. They’re hard enough to deal with on the ground 🙂

  9. I dunno, I booked SQ suites the long way just so we could get a lot of bang for the miles. We couldve done a simple trip to TNR from the U.S, but we’re longhauling. Checking out of a hotel on a Thursday and wont check in to our next hotel until Sunday. Lots of flying in between.
    Just grabbed the AA cards so we can score EY F U.S-SYD next year.

  10. Made me smile when you mentioned US Air grand slam..back in the day…
    Got whole bunch of miles from that and my last use of US Air miles was YYZ-PVG-AKL-NAN. That was back to back 13 hr flights with an overnight in PVG. That was something we will never repeat. So yeah, I see your point.

  11. I flew SFO-SYD in May, 15 hours flight and in business class. Spent half the flight sleeping and resting which made the flight feel quicker. My parents have flown Qantas DFW-SYD flight, 16 hours, and in economy. They felt it wasn’t too bad and liked the Airbus A380. Australia and New Zealand are beautiful countries, well worth the long flights.

  12. Classic Rookie Mistake- trying to do Australia and New Zealand in one trip.

    Fly all over the place-see nothing. So American.

  13. I flew ATL>DOH>HYD (India) and back in ten days last summer. 24 hours total one way including a four hour stop in Doha…. It was brutal but totally doable, oddly, even in economy. Watched lots of movies, slept good after a sleeping pill… Ha!

    Having said that, I wouldn’t consider taking my two girls at this point, though. At nine and seven, they are phenomenal travelers and did well two years ago on our ATL>SFO>LIH>SAN>ATL, but those were split up nicely with overnights in California. Seventeen hours in one go-around would be reeeeally tough with kids.

  14. Gosh, a very American perspective! I mean Aussies have to fly 24 hours in a plane to get to Europe. And yet we go in droves and don’t complain about long flights. It’s just expected – to see what the world has to offer. You can get there for free in business class and it’s still too much to get your head around? If Aussies had your take – we’d never go anywhere

    • That reminds me of when I was in grad school at NYU and one of my best friends there was from Perth. She had infinitely more people come visit and stay with her than any of the rest of us who were largely from the US. They would stop for several days and sleep on her floor in NYC on a much larger and longer trip often through Europe and on to other parts of the US. My friends from the US were lucky if they could get up to NYC once for two nights while I was there. I think there must just be a very different expectation and structure around travel when you grow up in Australia…at least for those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. It is sort of fascinating!

      • You’re 100% correct. There is a very different expectation and indeed more emphasis on travel in Australia. I live in the US now, but as a young 23 year old I took 6 weeks off work (mr role was junior) and went around the world for 6 weeks alone. It’s just what we do. We are no richer than Americans – but we put more emphasis on travel, where as americans put more emphasis on “things”

        The average Aussie at 25 lives in a humble unit, perhaps has beat up car – but has been around the world twice and to 10-15 countries. The average American at 25 has a nice car, a 60 inch TV – but has been to Cancun.

        Now I live here – 10 years on – I still struggle with the idea that taking vacation is really frowned upon here. I’ve learned to tell my boss “I’m heading out of town for a few days” rather than “I’m going to Rio for a week” as it just seems to earn you resentment and doesn’t help you career. It’s almost frowned upon. In Australia your boss would want you to go for 4 weeks and see all your photos when you get back. In the US – they never even ask how your trip was. It’s really sad to me.

        I understand the work culture – it’s just what it is. But when you get to Australia – you will see business gets done, the economy is strong, living standards are even higher than the US – but people work less vacation more and are happier. Yet business and the economy doesn’t suffer. So I’m not sure why it’s like this in the US.

        • “The average American at 25 has a nice car, a 60 inch TV – but has been to Cancun.” – Yep, that just about sums up most Americans well into their 30s!
          My mother is British, so I grew up in household that flew to London twice a year. To this day I’m astonished that the majority of my wife’s family has traveled as far north as….Seattle and as far west as…Austin (to visit us).

  15. “SEVENTEEN HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES IN AN AIRPLANE SEAT” Well, add to that it is on United 🙁 No matter how good their seat may be it is still 17:30 with United service. No tks!!!!

  16. We had a similar dilemma since we’re having our first kid in February. We don’t want to slow down travel just because of a kid (and will of course use your blog to the fullest!!) but the prospect of baby’s first long haul flight being 17 hours when we don’t know how he’ll handle that yet didn’t sound great. Hard to let all those business seats go when we’ve been looking for space out of IAH that works with our schedule for a couple years!!

  17. Wife and I (no kids) visited Australia and New Zealand last Oct/Nov. Amazing trip, especially with all the unique and amazing animals/marsupials (Australia) and birds/penguins (NZ) there. We were able to use AA points to enjoy Qantas A380 First, which was a real treat (and obviously a helluva lot better than flying for endless hours in Economy).

    For anyone planning to visit Sydney, sign up (9-12 months in advance) for the Hyatt Visa card. Wife and I both did, and were able to enjoy a total of four nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney. Would have been impossible to afford/enjoy the experience otherwise. I understand the 2x free night certificates (per Visa account) has been replaced by bonus points, but even getting 3 free nights on points (with two Visa cards) would be special. Sydney Harbor and Opera House, Taronga Zoo, etc. are memorable.

    Those visiting New Zealand, do check out the South Island and especially Queenstown. It’s heavily oriented towards tourists and still lovely/excellent. If you can, try The Turret Bed and Breakfast in Queenstown… twas funny to discover the owners are an American expat couple. It was also my first and only experience so far driving a rental car on the left side of the road. (Traffic in Queenstown is fairly genteel and the two-lane roads and rotaries are a good place for a U.S. newbie to try driving on the “wrong” 🙂 side of the road.)

    The distance to Down Under and long flight times are definitely worth considering for those with children, so kudos for waiting until the time/opportunity is right.

  18. You are correct that 4 domestic trips (skiing, Hawaii, beach, etc…) will be so much more enjoyable to young kids than a single AUS/NZ trip. And that fact outweighs the social media coolness of a vacation down under.

    The value proposition may change during the occasional $600 fare war or $200 error fare to AUS/NZ.

    This is also what makes he SW companion pass so helpful, especially for families of 4. “Free flights” to Florida, California, Denver, vegas, Caribbean, Mexico, and so!

    Nice post

  19. We are tentatively planning on taking our kids to Australia the summer of 2019, and are building up miles for that in case we don’t find a cheap fare before then. I agree with you – 17 hours is too long with little kids. Our kids are 6 and 9 (will be 8 and 10 that summer) and I think they’re just now ready for that kind of flying – at least, without all of us being miserable. They have done several 10 hour flights to Europe and have done okay, but their first one was last year when they were 5 and 7. I wouldn’t do it with a toddler – that’s just me.

  20. Summer, you should consider combining a trip to Hawaii with a trip to Sydney/Australia or Auckland/New Zealand. I routed my brother that way for a trip to Queenstown, NZ and it definitely broke up the flight times. He had an overnight in HNL but you could stay a few days and then continue on. I think it’s about 10.5 hours from HNL to SYD so that’s considerably better. I also agree with others that you should choose Australia or New Zealand but not both. There’s plenty to see in both countries; don’t try to do both in one trip.

  21. The longest non-stop flight I have done is EWR to HKG (16 hours).
    If you count short connections, we have connected from JFK to Saigon. About 22 hours with connections. (Short time on the ground)
    1. There is no substitute for being there.
    2. We travel as a family, so I’ve done this with 2 kids in two.
    3. Business or first class makes a serious difference on longer trips.
    4. consider shouldering holidays to maximize days away.
    5. Widebodies are nicer than narrowbody aircraft, and many Asian star alliance partners are vastly superior to their american counterparts.

    While the Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands are nice getaways none of them are in the league of Sydney, Auckland or Singapore.

  22. Hi Summer! I applaud your decision to wait. We’ve traveled the world with our kids (now 18 and 22). Most recently, we flew DFW – HKG nonstop on AA’s 777-300ER in F and J. It was a 16.5 hour ride and our longest flight ever, but it literally flew by. While AA’s F can’t compare with CX or SQ, it’s arguably the best AA has to offer. Knowing access to CX’s Wing and Pier First Class lounges in HKG were awaiting our arrival probably didn’t hurt. And Australia / New Zealand…what’s not to love? Favorable exchange rate, beautiful sights, cosmopolitan melting pot and KOALAS!

    So why wait? When our kids were much younger, we took them to London, Paris, all over Asia and if not for the pictures, they’d remember little of it. Back then, we all flew J and to them, the seat was a bed. But again, they have little recollection of it. The experience was lost on them. Did we have a great time seeing the sights? Absolutely. Would it have been more prudent to take these trips as they got older? Absolutely.

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