Award Space On United’s New 787-9 To Melbourne!

Earlier in the week United announced that they would be launching nonstop 787-9 service between Los Angeles and Melbourne. The 787-9 is the “stretched out” Dreamliner, and United is one of the launch customers for the aircraft.

The new service will commence as of October 26, 2014, for the westbound flight, and as of October 28 for the eastbound flight.

The flight will operate with the following schedule:

UA98 Los Angeles to Melbourne departing 10:30PM arriving 8:15AM (+2 days)
UA99 Melbourne to Los Angeles departing 10:15AM arriving 6:50AM

Anyway, what’s worth noting about this new flight is that United is releasing a ton of saver award space on it, in both economy and BusinessFirst. Getting to Australia in December and January is typically one of the toughest award tickets out there, though right now United has released a ton of award seats on the new route, even for groups of four to six passengers. I don’t expect this will last, so if it interests you jump on this ASAP.

For example, here’s the calendar for award space between Los Angeles and Melbourne when searching for four award seats in December and January:

Los Angeles - Melbourne Award Availability

As you can see, in December and early January about 16 flights have at least four BusinessFirst award seats (the dates marked in green). There’s even more award space in economy class (both the dates marked in green and the dates marked in yellow have economy class award space).

And just to make sure it’s not some crazy glitch, Aeroplan’s website shows the award space as well:

Los Angeles - Melbourne Christmas Award space

For what it’s worth, United’s 787-9s will have 48 fully flat BusinessFirst seats, spread across eight rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. Here’s the seatmap:


So if you’re looking to redeem miles to Australia over Christmas or New Years, it doesn’t get better than this. Here are the best options for redeeming miles on the new flight:

United MileagePlus:

  • 80,000 miles for the roundtrip in economy
  • 140,000 miles for the roundtrip in business class (160,000 if using partners)
  • one-way trips can be booked for half the roundtrip price

US Airways Dividend Miles:

  • 80,000 miles for the roundtrip in economy
  • 110,000 miles for the roundtrip in business class

Air Canada Aeroplan:

  • 80,000 miles for the roundtrip in economy
  • 160,000 miles for the roundtrip in business class
  • one-way trips can be booked for half the roundtrip price

Avianca Lifemiles:

  • 80,000 miles for the roundtrip in economy
  • 135,000 miles for the roundtrip in business class
  • one-way trips can be booked for half the roundtrip price

Ultimately I’d say the single best value would be redeeming 110,000 US Airways miles for a roundtrip ticket on the new flight, as it’s the lowest redemption cost and they exit the Star Alliance as of March 30, 2014. Furthermore, US Airways allows 72 hour no obligation courtesy holds, so you can easily hold the flights now if you need a bit of time to finalize.

Melbourne is a great city and very “livable,” in my opinion, though this is a great option even if you want to go elsewhere in Australia. British Airways Avios can efficiently be used for travel on Qantas to just about anywhere in Australia.

Melbourne skyline from the Park Hyatt Melbourne

(Tip of the hat to @pvtejasvi)

Filed Under: Awards, United
  1. @ Lakshmi — I’d say a center aisle seat is probably ideal so that you have no one trying to step over you.

  2. @lucky wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to include this in a US award to North Asia for 90,000 miles? Very tempting….

  3. @ Angel Miras — Sure, if you can get an agent to price it that way, though that will be tough in my opinion.

  4. @ Teja — THANK YOU for the heads up! I think lots of people will be enjoying a warm December in Australia thanks to you. 🙂

  5. Tried to book this with US Dividend Miles. Agent said they can’t get the space because of the note on the United page showing “Subject to receipt of government operating authority.”

    Is this a HUCA situation?

  6. Thanks, Lucky. I did call again, and the agent seemed more inclined than the previous one to try and help me. Unfortunately he gave me the same answer about the pending receipt of gov’t approval. The agent recommended I keep checking back.

    FWIW, I checked the ANA site and they don’t have flights 98/99 listed. They are still showing UA 839/840 (with no availability).

  7. Thanks Lucky! I’m trying to get there from NYC. Would I be able to book an American flight to LA and then a United Flight to MEL using US Airways miles? Also, does US allow open jaw award booking? NYC – MEL – STL for 110k? If anyone would know this, it’d be you 🙂

  8. Thanks for the info Ben. Just changed a booking that was taking me SEA-SFO-LHR (UA F) LHR-MEL (QF F w/AA miles) to SEA-LAX-MEL in just 23 hrs compared to god knows what on my previous booking, guess I’ll wait to try QF F another time. EK F on the way home though! Does anybody have any ideas what the best seats will be in BF for a couple? I chose 2A/2B since I like the window and wanted some space form the galley. This saved me so many miles!

  9. @ Kyle — Hah, both itineraries sound fun, but the new one does sound much more direct. I’d say 2A & 2B are a great choice. Any aisle and window combo aside from the bulkhead or last row seem equally good to me.

  10. @ Jason — For what it’s worth the ANA website consistently takes forever to add new flights, so I wouldn’t read too much into that specifically.

  11. Just a quick note: the flight timings in the USA Today article aren’t 100% correct as one of the six weekly flights seems the timings shuffled a bit to allow for weekly checks of the 787 at LAX.

    Here’s an extract from our article at AusBT which has all the details:

    * On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, flight UA99 will depart Melbourne at 11.15am to reach Los Angeles at 6.50am the same day.

    * On Saturdays, however, UA99 will leave Melbourne at 3.15pm and arrive at Los Angeles at 10.50am.

    * If you’re flying in from stateside UA98 will be wheels-up from LAX at 10.30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, arriving in Melbourne at 9.15am two days later.

    * On Thursdays UA98 will shift its schedule one hour earlier, leaving Los Angeles at 9.30pm to reach Melbourne at 8.15am.

  12. What is irritates me is that there is zero F avail on the SEA-LAX sectors…that and I’ve been on hold for 30 min with AA trying to get my miles reinstated. Why can’t they get with the program and do it online like everyone else??

  13. Duly noted re: ANA site. I’ll keep trying with the US award desk but I suspect the issue will persist. The second agent put me on a brief hold after I had gave him the flight info. He said the flights weren’t loaded into his system but he could see them on the United site. That’s when he called out the pending government approval.

    If anyone has any success using Dividend Miles, please let me know!

  14. @ Kyle — I realize it’s not very convenient, but worst case scenario US Airways always has plenty of first class award space via Phoenix.

  15. @ Brit44 — Also an option for sure, but transfers can take about two days, and I wouldn’t count on the space sticking around.

  16. @ AC — That’s a good point. Probably some tradeoff between extra space vs. being close to the galley and lavs, so really comes down to individual preferences I think.

  17. It looks like the flight to MEL is +2 days according to It is a 15:45 min flight from LAX. Looks like nothing available on the return until 1/6?

  18. Took advantage of BF Saver Award for my family of 4 for new years. Thanks for the post Lucky, as I wouldn’t have thought to look today!

  19. Trying to book saver awards in economy through Aeroplan, but the agent is saying she sees the award, but can’t book it. She says it’s happening to several dates around my desired date as well. I don’t think it’s phantom because it’s showing up on and as well. Any ideas?

  20. May be a HUCA situation, although I can only find the way out anyway on .bomb but US is saying they can’t see the UA availability; response was that UA was pulling availability from US since they were leaving *A…. What are your thoughts – HUCA or UA really is blocking? Both seem reasonable.

  21. Lucky

    How could I get to new zealand on same award ticket? Award space on Air New Zealand between the two (MEL / any new zealand airport) are very scarce…

  22. @ Jeremy — Hmmm, I’d maybe try hanging up and calling again, or otherwise waiting a few hours? The award space is fresh in the system, so could be that there’s a bit of a delay.

  23. @ Olympichockeygold — Yeah, Air New Zealand is the way to go if it’s available. Space is limited so it’s not ideal, obviously. Otherwise if Qantas has space, the cost of redeeming American miles or British Airways Avios on the route is very reasonable.

  24. I am posting a couple of suggestions,from Sydney.Apply for entry visa a couple of weeks prior to departure date. The airlines won’t check you in without it.Cost is $18. If you buy a separate ticket, allow at least 3 hrs for transit. It takes an hour to clear immigration/ custom and claim baggage, around 30 minutes without claiming baggage.

    @Lucky: Can you shed light on traveling on separate tickets, one within the alliance and one outside the alliance. In case you miss the connecting flight due to previous flight delay, what are the options? What happens if the airline notified you the night before departure that the flight would be moved back two hours, and when you got to the airport it was delayed for another two and half hours? Do you have recourse and who to contact? The award booking was on USMD and revenue ticket was on LAN. Both airlines claimed that if aircraft arrived in the country though still in the air(not boarding) within half an hour of intended arrival time, it is not considered late. Thanks

  25. @ globetrotter — Technically if your connecting ticket is on a different, non-alliance airline then it’s your responsibility. That being said, in my experience the airlines try to be accommodating/reasonable in the case of inbound flight delays. They’ll usually just rebook you on the next available flight.

    But “technically” it’s not something they take responsibility for.

  26. Lucky, a bit of constructive criticism: Maybe a pic or 2 of the type of seat/cabin people should expect on this plane, just so they know what to expect and what to compare to the seats of other airlines…

  27. Dudes, it’s Melbourne!! Perhaps the most boring and ridiculously expensive hole on earth, nothing happens, it’s a nightmare, and it’s cold for 9 months of the year, but it does have a brown river running through the middle of it and it does have alleyways which they all think is cool LOL but it doesn’t have a harbour, it doesn’t have what Sydney has, it just pretends and wishes

  28. I did a 7 day farelock for this RT for 4 passengers for $59.98 while I mull over and try to piece together a plan for this.

  29. Quick question. I put 3 tickets on hold. If I go ahead with the booking, what if I need to cancel? It looks like it is $200 per ticket for a total of $600. Is there a way to avoid that fee? Thanks

  30. @ lucky – tried aeroplan again this morning, but still unsuccessful. They claimed that the schedule wasn’t finalized, so cannot be booked even though the award space shows up. They told me to call again in the next few days. Sounds like the “Subject to receipt of government operating authority” may be the actual cause of this.

  31. Just booked two Business Class Seats with US Airways miles this morning. Called first thing this morning for flights in November, and then decided that a December trip would work out better. Called back and was able to change the dates. Thanks Lucky!

  32. @ Ted — Correct, through MileagePlus the fee would be $200 per person. If you don’t have status the only way to cancel for free would be if there’s a major schedule change, which frankly is unlikely to happen.

  33. @ lucky – finally successful at booking on aeroplan. looks like other star alliance partners are able to properly book now.

  34. Still waiting……..2.5 hours Anyone have a better phone number than the standard reservation number at US Airline?? Anyone have any luck getting this booked with Dividend Miles yet

  35. I think the Aeroplan points you say might not be right according to the picture. Maybe 180k for one way and 360k return for J/F which is quite a lot of AP, non?

  36. @ Aeroman380 — It’s 80K one-way in business class. The screenshot is for four passengers one-way. Sorry for any confusion.

  37. @Ben

    I’m interested in going to Australia, but not during the peak summer months. I either want to go in November or April. I’ve got a tentative two-week trip booked for Nov, which is all I really can afford to get away from work.

    If I go in April, I could go for three weeks. So question: take the bird in hand or take my chances and see what happens with April inventory? I actually do want to see Australia.

  38. lucky or anyone else. i’m curious do you see this dreamliner flight as high end travel, or is it simply a comfortable way to get to australia. given it is still united i’m guessing the service, etc will be ok, but not great. your thoughts?

  39. @ Dan — That’s a toughie. I’d probably go with the November sure bet in your shoes. Then again if you’re flexible on dates in April I’m sure you can find space then as well.

  40. @ Ted — Definitely just a comfortable fully flat product in a market that’s typically tough to find award space in. But hardly a “luxurious” product.

  41. seems I waited too long and cant find return space for 2. I booked Avianca one way and bought down the miles at 1.5 cents in the 3 class product to Sydney.
    This got me thinking: 160k UA miles, if it could be done is worth how much? Similarly what’s the Avianca worth?
    So I went to the AMEX IAP which has never seemed to work out and priced out the lie flat business elite product at 2 for $8200. So, 320,000 miles versus buying makes the miles worth slightly over 2.5 cents per mile, assuming you can get space. It also doesn’t take into account the extremely valuable skymiles or the totally worthless crossover starpoints. I guess the point is I can actually get a nice business elite layout 5 across seat—and can book whatever day I want, for not all that much more than the value of the miles I would spend. Delta was the cheapest way via the IAP. so, assume the miles –320k are worth 1.5 to 2 cents split the difference and value it at $5400+ mileage, status and starpoints–maybe $5700? $6000? . For $2200 ( a lot less if you value the miles more) I can cut through all the BS and travel whenever I want.
    No worrying about finding a return, change fees, etc. Fully refundable and cancellable. Is this a reasonable proposition to those who know Delta’s fully flat Business Elite seat ?

  42. and yes there is some sarcasm in my post, but I forgot about the 24,600 Amex rewards for buying the tickets (3 x airfare), which I value at a minimum of 2 cents. That’s roughly 500.
    Summary is in my mind it costs me no more than $1700 more. Arguably, there are people like us who get at least 3 cents in value out of every mile, many times much more. At that rate the miles are worth quite a but more than buying the tickets.
    I don’t think I’ve gotten less than 2.5 cents in value in quite some time. Comments?

  43. @lucky

    There is a third option: While I hate wasting money, I do consider redeposit fees to be a form of self insurance. I can always ticket the November trip, and then pay $200 if the April dates open up or if I want to scrap it altogether.

  44. @traderprofit

    I think I follow your logic, and it sounds reasonable. I am just not familiar with Amex IAP, and in my brief online research of it I was unable to price any tickets. Assuming all your numbers are correct (and I have no reason to doubt them), I would agree your incremental cost would be about $1,700. (Understanding you’d have to purchase the base price of the ticket that the points represent in addition to the $1,700.) As always, these values are in the eye of the beholder.

    That math aside, I find that whole valuation a bit of a moot point. If I am following you correctly, you can purchase a biz seat for $4,100 (x2 for $8,200)? If that’s true, economy is currently going for about $2,200 around Christmas and New Year. Buying it outright sounds like a deal in and of itself. If I am understanding that correctly, I say just buy them!

  45. @ traderprofit — That’s not unreasonable at all. Are you sure about the fare, though? In my experience the American Express international airfare program only applies to full fare tickets, and full fare business class between Los Angeles and Sydney is $15,000+. So is the $8,100 maybe a per person quote after factoring in the “free” companion?

    The only fare I see for around $8,000 roundtrip is an “I” fare, which is discounted business class.

  46. @lucky, @IPG, I called the AMEX program twice to verify it (and only didn’t book it because I didn’t have my card number with me).
    They quoted Delta at $7200 for the first ticket, and taxes on the second at about 900.
    The alternative was Air New Zealand at $12000+ for one ticket.
    I am going to book it tomorrow night so I will let you know what happens. I do now relize I can’t use the Amex rewards card to pay for it, so it’s only 1x the fare in membership rewards miles, but still, I value miles over 2.5 cents. The last time I got less than 3 cents was using Starpoints for an actual hotel stay and that was close to 3 cents.
    If this works, I’ll have to cancel the Avianca booking and the 60% mileage buydown (I paid 1.5 cts or about 1800 to buy down the miles for 2 one ways). Lucky, is there anything in Avianca’s program that would prevent them from refunding any of the money I paid except the $50 fee?

    I do have to admit I called on a lark, because I have called so many times and it has been MORE expensive than buying a ticket.

  47. @Lucky–
    So I called Amex and got them to give IAP my card number and I am booked . 2 people for $8247 which includes 2×39 nonrefundable amex fees.
    Here is the scoop: IAP typically books into I or D class on all airlines. The rules of those fares do not necessarily correspond to the contractual deal AMEX has with the airline. So, you may be looking online at a nonrefundable fare that AMEX contractually has as refundable.
    The gentleman I spoke with did say this was one of the best deals he had ever seen, and that he had booked thousands of them.
    So, what is showing as the cheapest $7250 fare is actually refundable under Delta’s contract with AMEX and then I have to pay the taxes on the second ticket. The benefit here is if for some reason the fare gets cheaper I can rebook. Now I really am stuck finding something to do with my US Air miles before the 31st of March, and I need to make sure I get a full refund on the Avianca ticket and mileage buydown, although I’d be happy to keep those miles at 1.5 cents.
    @Lucky, it’s a lucky find. I guess knowing the fare rules are contractually different for AMEX means I need to check every time I go somewhere.

  48. Lucky,
    Using US Airways miles,would it be possible to do an open jaw and stopover such as PHL-LAX (on US airways stopover) -MEL (on United), then HKG-LAX (on Eva, stopover) -PHL (on US Airways)? If open jaw or stopover are not allowed, is it at least possible to do a round trip PHL-LAX-MEL (US Airways, then United) using 110k miles?

  49. @ Dave Op — You’re only allowed a stopover OR an open jaw, but not both. PHL-LAX-MEL roundtrip would be fine, and you could still add a stopover or an open jaw… just not both.

  50. @ traderprofit — That is a really great business class fare, well done! With Avianca you should get the taxes refunded minus the $50 change fee. In terms of the money you spent to “buy up” on miles, the total miles will be redeposited in your account, rather than getting a cash refund for the mileage purchase.

  51. @lucky, I’m starting to look at options for a late Oct-early Nov trip using US airways award. This might be a good option for the return leg, but I want to make sure my basic itinerary concept should work. I want to do ATL-stopover-NZ-ATL. Can I do that as something like ATL-FRA-BKK(stop)-AKL or CHC(dest)-MEL-LAX-ATL? That should really price as 120k for business but might be priced at 110k with luck?
    And then I assume it’s not possible to do a stopover at Samui or Phuket instead of BKK, right? I’ll have to add on a separate award or rev ticket for those flights?

  52. @ Autolycus — The stopover would indeed have to be at a Star Alliance hub. Typically you can’t route to Australia/New Zealand via Europe and Asia (though going just via Asia is fine). That being said, I’ve certainly done it before, so with patience it’s not impossible.

    Other than that the itinerary looks good.

  53. Thanks for the heads-up on this. Was able to easily book a couple of the business class seats DEN to MEL and return using the USAir miles. Will miss the departure of USAir from the Star Alliance as I always seemed to find good value in their program for business cabin travel.

  54. Thanks lucky. You’re incredibly helpful with all of your US Airways info–and hilarious with your stories of geographic incompetence!
    Am I better off trying without specifically mentioning FRA at first and just seeing if that’s what they find for ATL-BKK–it’s the only thing shows for ATL-BKK.
    Also, any good airlines to search that doesn’t have but that US will book in business? Is Singapore business bookable within Asia/NZ or is it all blocked by USAirways?
    Thanks again for all the great info!

  55. @ Autolycus — Only one I can think of is LOT, but that’s not really helpful in this case. Singapore does sometimes release business class space to Australia, though they tightened up recently so for the most part won’t be available.

    I would tell the agent “I’d like to travel to New Zealand and found some flights that should be available. Can I maybe give them to you one by one?”

    Usually does the trick for me…

  56. Awesome! Thanks. I would happily pay for pointspros to do it, but I’m interested in the challenge. My mind may change after 1 or 2 calls to US Airways though. 🙂

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