Deciding How To Fly From Australia Back To The US…

Filed Under: Travel

Fairly soon I’ll be embarking on my journey in the Etihad Residence, which takes me from Cairo to Abu Dhabi to Sydney.

A bit over a week ago I asked you guys how I should get to Cairo, with the choices between Etihad’s new business class, Turkish business class, and Saudia first class. Based on the feedback you guys provided, I ended up booking Etihad’s 787 Business Studio, since I figured it would make an interesting comparison to Emirates’ A380 business class, which I recently reviewed.

I have separate plans to fly Saudia roundtrip from the US to the Middle East, so stay tuned for that. But for a one-way, this seemed like the most practical option.

My flight in the Etihad Residence will take me as far as Sydney, and I’ve been trying to decide how I should get back to the US from there, given that I have to be back in the US no later than three days after arriving in Sydney. My original plan was to try and review Virgin Australia’s new business class, which is a great use of Virgin America Elevate points, especially given that the Elevate program will be discontinued at the end of the year.


The catch is that Virgin Australia only makes business class award seats available to partner airlines at most a week out (the dates below that list 115,000 Delta SkyMiles as the price are those with Virgin Australia business class award space). I certainly could wait that long if I needed to, though ideally I’d book a bit further out than that.


So I started looking at some other creative options for getting out of Australia. Vietnam Airlines has been on my radar for a while, and has tons of award availability out of Sydney. For example, you can fly from Sydney to Seoul Incheon or Shanghai on a combination of their 787 and A350, both of which I’d like to try, given that they have different business class products.


If I flew to Seoul Incheon, I could try Asiana business class, given that I’ve flown Asiana first class, Korean first class, and Korean business class.


Or if I flew to Shanghai, I could try China Eastern first class, given what a unique experience I had in China Eastern business class.

What do you guys think — should I wait for Virgin Australia business class award availability to open up, or try a combination of Vietnam Airlines and another airline to get back to the US?

  1. My vote is to take advantage of the VIrgin Australia on elevate points. This is such a good deal, is going away next year, and I’m curious to get comments on the inflight bar.

  2. @ Jon — Already have plans to fly that in a few months between Los Angeles and Honolulu. 🙂

  3. Definitely Virgin, their business class suite has been highly regarded as one of the best and I would love to hear your opinion on it. Great choice on Etihad, though and I think you’ll be pleased as I have heard many amazing things about their reimagined business class experience. I will be flying with them soon in Biz class to New York and I am really looking forward to it!!

  4. It’s disappointing VA only releases space a week out. Extremely tough/risky to plan if you have a 9-5. The price is right, though.

  5. I think Virgin is the best choice here. Most of your readers would rather see a review of a product that at least seems somewhat available between Australia and the US, as opposed to a review of an airline that still isn’t allowed to fly to the US. That said, are Skyteam reservations booked through Korean (assuming that’s how you do it) refundable? I only ask because I know they aren’t on Delta, even for Diamonds. If they are, I would hold the SYD-HAN-PVG route and fly China Southern F as a back-up if you can’t get Virgin.

    Also, if you can get a stopover, in Hanoi, I would HIGHLY recommend it. The city itself is fascinating and quite beautiful, in its own way (highly recommend checking out their museums about the Vietnam War and the totally insane Ho Chi Minh museum), the food and the people are awesome, and the Sofitel Legend Metropole: is one of the coolest and best historic hotels I have ever stayed in (DO NOT stay in the Opera Wing, the historic wing is a must. I was there for only two days (I wish I had more), but its a great city.

  6. Also, regarding the Sofitel Metropole, in my experience they treat Amex FHR reservations very well. I was upgraded to a grand luxury room in the historic wing. While the room itself was somewhat small, it was beautifully designed and furnished with a GIANT balcony overlooking the beautiful courtyard and great little features like Hermes toiletries.

  7. Vietnam for me! They have been on my radar too with some great fares! Definitely want to try both their 787 and A350 product!

  8. I’m doing Air Canada SYD-YVR-LAX. Super easy to book with miles and more direct than Vietnam or Singapore. Not the most exciting option, but getting home sooner was higher priority on my way home.

  9. Why not AA. Lots of confirmable biz space with an upgrade. Only a little saaver biz fairs. That takes a bit more luck

  10. Don’t ask me. I thought 24 hours of flying from SYD to SFO via SIN and HKG was a good idea last year. Too bad you just reviewed SQ2!

  11. Agree with the others, wait for VA.

    The bar is phenomenal, a great time to meet fellow passengers, especially on the way back to the US as it’s a day flight.

  12. Wait for Virgin, try Vietnam (in which case continue on with Asiana), or try AirAsia X to KUL.

  13. Definitely Virgin. Would be a much better review given that more of your readers have a better chance of flying Virgin than say Vietnam

  14. I’d like to see a virgin review. Note though that when I tried to book this award through VX, the agent said they needed 72 hours to ticket the award. I would check that.

    Another option that is less swanky but interesting would be Jetstar business class to HNL.

  15. Fine, I’ll be in the minority: definitely Vietnam Airlines to PVG and then China Eastern first back to LAX.


    Maybe it’s time to give China Southern first another go; a then-and-now comparison would be very interesting.

  16. News came out today that the new Jeddah airport will be operational by the first quarter of 2018, and it will be operated by the Changi airport group. If you intend to travel through Jeddah, I’d say wait till opens up.

    Not sure if you had any luck with the transit visa though, if not, then you may give “Saudi Tourism” a shot. It’s a government agency that aims to open up the tourism industry in the Kingdom, they may be able to offer some assistance.

    Here are some links:

    Safe travels!

  17. Not QF, For sure!

    We just flew SYD-SFO on 747. Old plane, ancient seats, poor food and wines. Awful!!!

  18. QANTAS A380 to Dallas please!!! And then maybe you can finally give us a Virgin America review from DAL to LAX or something

  19. Try Air NewZealand and the Air NZ lounge with a stop over in Auckland. Otherwise UA which is direct into SF or LAX but remember to ask for pyjamas / then bed pad / then pillow as you cannot expect them all to come as a package!!! Please do your review on the FAs or do I expect too much in the way of hospitality. Also in Sydney you have a choice of two Lounges Singapore and Air New Zealand or just use the best AMEX.
    Otherwise just go Virgin.

  20. Try Air Niugini biz class SYD-POM-NRT. Then come back to the US on Hawaiian in their new biz class product.

  21. “….I asked you guys how I should get to Cairo…”

    Seriously, Ben/Lucky? Is that how you speak to women?

  22. Hi Lucky, I’ like to see you go the Asian route. Many many moons ago, North West were in the Australian market for a minute and they used to have a flight that went Sydney Osaka New York. It was the quickest easiest flight into the US ever with just two long sectors, a two second transfer in Osaka and immigration in NYC not LAX. Great for sleeping, great for everything.

    I’ve never had a standout Vietnam experience in the air but it is a wonderful destination to visit, so interesting and as others have said, Metropole in Hanoi is divine, service is great and so reminiscent of another time.

    As you have a time constraint, I’d b looking at the Asian product with the best connections as I think increasingly its a terrific way into the US, especially if you are not wedded to QF status credits which sadly at some times of the year I am

  23. Virgin Australia – 1000%. You will not regret it. Their product ‘The Business’ is just stunning & with the spectacular VA service is truly a flight you’ll remember & talk about!

  24. Ben – when was the last time you flew Air New Zealand? Might see if you can find a connection through Auckland.

  25. How about China Airline from Sydney to TPE. Then EVA Hello Kitty J to Haneda. Then JAL first class back to SFO?

  26. I flying back thru Fiji on Fiji Biz using 80k AA miles…………if I hadn’t stupidly transferred all my Virgin points to Alaska with a bonus I’d be on the Virgin flight……….

  27. Hold on till the last minute. There’s always something out of Australia on points at the last minute even if you have reposition from SYD to get it.

    Some interesting ones to try would be Air Calin and Phillipene Airlines. You could also try Garuda Business class or any number of lesser Chinese airlines. For giggles you could try the Jetstar Goldcoast-Wuhan flight.

  28. Lucky I think you should wait for Virgin Australia as they have a fantastic business class product that would be great to compare to Other airlines and you haven’t flown them yet.

  29. Have a quick stop over in Hawaiia, there are several options Sydney to HNL and even more HNL to mainland. Would love to hear your reviews of lounges I actually frequent! & HNL itself

  30. I fly from Sydney to LA and back 3x a year for the past 15 years, here are some of the more unusual routes I have done: On AirCalin fly Sydney to Noumea to Papeete. Then fly Hawaiian from Pappette to Honolulu then to the U.S. You get 3 very different South Pacific Islands that way. But if you want to fly nonstop from Sydney to LA, the best airline is Virgin in business class. You get reverse herringbone seats along with a very good soft product.

  31. I also vote Virgin. I’ve been thinking about booking that for a while and would love a review!

  32. Fly to Honolulu and spend 3 nights in Four Seasons Oahu. Hawaiian Airlines Business Class is really cheap miles. United to EWR is 22.5k miles, pay $100 for upgrade to premium economy. Enjoy!

  33. Virgin Australia.

    Keen to hear the review.

    Velocity Frequent Flyer has earlier access to availability, maybe you could set up an account with a dummy Aussie address. It’s super easy to transfer points over, even KrisFlyer points as you know.

    If you were going in July then the new MEL-HKG route would also be an option if you wanted to travel on an Asian carrier afterwards.

  34. It’s not a peak period in Australia at the moment so I reckon award space will probably open up out of Sydney or Brisbane.

    Would be sweet if you had any domestic flight legs or Aussie hotel reviews mixed in though.

  35. I see everyone saying wait for Virgin, and I agree – technically you can just hotel hop around Sydney should nothing open up. That said, I’d hold in Vietnam as a backup option, or hop to Melbourne and take Cathay Pacific’s A350, rerouting to San Francisco on Singapore’s 777-300ER first class.

  36. Please wait for Virgin and if that doesn’t work out, try Air New Zealand. Very few people would travel from Aus to LAX via Vietnam so either of these would be preferable. I’d say Qantas as well but you have already reviewed J class with them.

  37. +30

    Wait for Virgin Australia

    Would love to see review their new Business Studio seats and service.

    As someone else stated you could always setup a Virgin Australia Velocity account and transfer from Krisfluer to it and book now. Albeit at a lot more points.

  38. Please, please review Virgin Australia for those of us who are currently disenchanted with QF. Air New Zealand would also be considered an excellent option.

  39. Another vote for VA. Something I’d be interested in reading, definitely. I want to know how they compare against Qantas F ( I realise it’s not apple to apple, but it should at least set the bar for how good an Australian airline can be when they’re putting their A-game). It’s a shame they don’t fly to LHR where I’m based..

  40. Air New Zealand, but not on a NZ700 flight number from Australia (A320 economy only)

  41. I fly VA business domestically and it’s excellent. I’d love to see how you think it stacks to the other providers

  42. I think Vietnam would be interesting and a good value for Skymiles. At the very least your getting a solid hard product (which you think business class is all about) and could have a surprisingly nice/exotic soft product. Though I also wouldn’t be surprised if you had a china eastern-esque experience. Either way it should be interesting. Besides, there’s enough Virgin Australia reviews already.

  43. Henry may be right Australia-Asia is one of the remaining relative sweet spots of the Skymiles program.

  44. Don’t fly. Take a cruise ship and report that on your blog. Pethaps from Melbourne to LA via the Pacific Island? I am sure Ford would enjoy that too.

  45. I suppose it depends on your tolerance to waiting until a week out. If your ‘inner planner’ can stomach it, I’d wait for VA. Otherwise, Vietnam via Seoul Asiana might be a good read. If you want to try something different, why not SYD-CGK on Garuda Indonesia, CGK-KUL on KLM, KUL-ICN on Korean, and ICN-LAX on Asiana. (Hey, its nothing if not creative).

  46. Lucky, isn’t it time for one of those rare times you fly Economy back home? Like UA Economy mid-seat row would be an interesting report 😉
    Otherwise book something to secure your trip home and then wait for VA!

  47. Virgin is the way to go. Keep in mind that even if the SYD flight doesn’t open up, there are also flights out of BNE and MEL so you should be able to find something.

  48. @Lucky – seems like you already have gotten more suggestions than I can even count, but my 2 cents, I recently had the pleasure of flying both Vietnam Air business on the B787 as well as Asiana Biz and both were excellent. Vietnam was a shorter flight (HAN to NRT) but still solid, although the Hanoi airport provided little in terms of amenities if you are planning on staying in the airport for your layover. The lounge was small, basic and very overcrowded, and given how cheap everything in Vietnam was, I actually preferred to wander down to the main terminal for a Cafe Sua Da and Bahn Mi than take advantage of the lounge offerings. Inchon on the other hand is definitely world class. I do not think you can go wrong with this option. Only other thought, and I guess it depends on the timing of the rollout of updated A330s, but Qantas is putting in their new BizClass on these planes to SIN, HKG, BKK, Manila, Jakarta and Shanghai if there is another airline you were interested in trying out that flies from one of those cities back to the states.

  49. @Lucky – I echo the idea for flying Hawaiian for their new business class experience. On the international flights there are new blankets, pillows and a mattress topper to go along with the new lie flat seat. Not to mention, the international onboard service, which is a different menu and flow of service. Waiting to fly it on a domestic sector will not get you the full experience. You’ll get the seat and entertainment, but you’ll get the domestic service on the new serviceware and domestic pillows/blankets.

  50. Fly Virgin AU A330 SYD > MEL.

    Let me show you and Ford around Melbourne (P.S, I use a wheelchair so you can sit on my knee to save you guys walking or run away from me if I am a weirdo).

    Air NZ MEL > AKL > PPT (787)

    PPT > IPC > SCL on LATAM (787)

    And you could invite me along seeing I gave you such a nice electric wheelchair tour of Melbourne ♿ ️

    And I could write a lovely trip report from a cripples point of view How could you say no? ♥️

  51. Like @Chris_H said why not Air Canada via YVR? AC offers a solid business class product and you can take advantage of US Pre-Clearance at YVR although that may not really matter for you if you’re part of other programs like NEXUS or GE.

  52. Virgin 100% Kinda surprised you haven’t already don’t this and written about it…

  53. I’ll be the minority and say try Vietnam Airlines and Asiana.
    But if you wanna be more adventurous , do SCOOT Airlines biz class SYD- SIN, then Vietnam To INCHEON, then Asiana.

  54. Definitely wait for Virgin. They will re-start flying from Australia to Hong Kong from middle of this year, starting with Melbourne, with the same “The Business” products, so would really like to get your take on it.

  55. N, there is still a year before the flight starts. The planes haven’t even started to be manufactured yet.

  56. While you could do Vietnam Airlines, it’s a product that differs from your usual coverage of going for aspirational products (it’s a value airline offering). Virgin Australia would be a better fit for your usual coverage, and will have more hits too (which I know it important to you).

    I think the other mooted alternatives are even less interesting to the general audience of your blog (although a small proportion do want to see you do more “hardship” flights, lol, but that’s not so much about the interest in the airline as much as wanting to laugh when reading your report).

    I’d recommend you book a back-up you can cancel without harsh penalty, but seek to do the Virgin Australia flight ex-Aus. There are more opportunities to take Vietnam Air, with its larger route network, compared to Virgin Australia International, and there is good alignment in flying an Australian flag carrier out of the Sydney.

  57. How about Virgin Australia from MEL-HKG, and take Hong Kong Airlines from HKG to Vancouver? Their fare should be quite reasonable I believe.

  58. Would be interested in a Vietnam J review on 787. Flew Ankor Wat to Hanoi on a 320 in J and was not impressed.

  59. Hey Lucky, love the website! I want to solicit your advice on which business/first class product you would recommend from an availability perspective for travel to Australia. Plenty of Alaska, AA miles; as well Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards point. Thanks!

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