Reader James H asked the following on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog, and since I figured other people might be in the same boat, I’ll answer it here:
It was amazing that I found 2 F Class award seats on Qantas from LAX to SYD for December. I booked them with AA miles one-way without hesitation but now finding the return flight is a challenge. If you could give me some tips as to creative routing where awards seats may be available, I would appreciate it. I have enough miles for both One World and Star Alliance.
First of all, congrats on snagging two first class seats on Qantas for December! You must’ve been dialing up American the minute the clock struck midnight 11 months out. Now comes the hard part.
Sydney to the US in December? Kim Kardashian has a better chance of staying married for more than six months than you have of finding a “simple” routing home. But if you’re willing to accept a more creative routing (which it sounds like you are) then it’s actually not that hard, especially since you have miles with both OneWorld and Star Alliance.
Using American AAdvantage miles you have very little chance of finding a nonstop flight between Australia and the US. Back in the day Auckland to Los Angeles used to have a fair bit of award space, though unfortunately Qantas recently cut that route. So you’ll have to focus on more creative routings.
There are only three other options using AAdvantage miles between the South Pacific and the US that don’t involve transiting another region — Air Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian Airlines.
Air Pacific has a pretty bad business class product from the looks of it, though does serve both Sydney and Los Angeles. If you can make the connections work then it’s probably worth it for the direct routing.
Air Tahiti Nui also flies to Sydney, though in December you don’t have great chances of finding award space between Sydney and Papeete or Papeete and Los Angeles, for that matter. The same goes for Hawaiian Airlines.
With that in mind it’s time to get creative, and while it’ll cost you some extra miles, it’s more likely than not the only way you’re going to make this work using OneWorld miles. Going through Asia will greatly improve award availability, though they’ll be priced as separate awards. If you do Australia to the US via Asia 2 you’d pay 90,000 AAdvantage miles in business class (35,000 from Australia to Asia 2 and 55,000 from Asia 2 to the US), or if you do Australia to the US via Asia 1 you’d pay 95,000 AAdvantage miles in business class (45,000 from Australia to Asia 1 and 50,000 from Asia 1 to the US).
JAL is very good about releasing award space from Sydney to Tokyo, for example, and getting from Japan to the US in December shouldn’t be an issue either.
There are tons of options going via Asia 2. Ideally Qantas would have space on their flights to either Singapore or Hong Kong, but otherwise they very frequently have space on their routes through Shanghai, Manila, etc.
At the end of the day, the mileage premium for going through Asia isn’t huge, it allows you a stopover in Asia if you’d like, and it allows you to experience some great airlines, so I kind of like it.
With Star Alliance the good news is that in most instances you’re allowed to fly from Australia to the US via Asia on a single award, so this will probably end up being the most economical option.
There are a few options to focus on:
- Asiana via Seoul Incheon. They have excellent award space on their Sydney to Seoul flight, and then you can either take their nonstop home or connect elsewhere.
- Fly Air New Zealand from Auckland to Shanghai, Osaka, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, and add segments between Sydney and Auckland and your Asia gateway and Los Angeles. Sadly they almost never release space between Auckland and the US nonstop anymore.
- Thai Airways via Bangkok. At the very least they’re great about releasing award space between Sydney and Bangkok, and then maybe you can take a different airline from Bangkok back to Los Angeles.
Always keep in mind that you can lock in a less ideal routing now, and there’s always a chance that within a few days of departure a more direct routing will open up. But since you’re looking at Australia in December I suspect availability will get worse before it gets better.