How to get to Australia in the high season

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.


Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. Hi Ben,

    Always interesting reading your ideas on getting too/from Australia, given i live here in Aus.

    As i’m sure you know earning points/status in Australia can be bloody expensive and quite limited. Could you one day do a blog post with some thoughts on how Australians can best earn status/points and what programs are best.

    Currently pooling points in QFF and DJs Velocity program. I noted when i recently stayed at the Hilton the option to award the points to a Virgin Atlantic program instead. Is there any creative options that are better than any other. Maybe Singapore’s Krisflyer program?

    PS keep up the good blog posts as always 😉


  2. Oops – just to add to my first post!

    You always mention transferring points between different credit card programs and FF programs, however they’re generally all US based. Makes complete sense give you live in the US! But are you aware of similar options for us down in Australia?

    Cheers again!

  3. Totally unrelated to this post, but figured it’s worth shot: I once read on some other blog that you like to bring the airline crew chocolates. I really like that idea and I would like to show appreciation to the crew also, but I’m not sure what is appropriate. Can you tell me a little more about this? What kind of chocolates, brand and size? Enough for the entire crew in one box or individual sized ones? And how do you know how many to bring? Who do you give it to?
    Thanks so much, and keep on blogging. I really find your posts informative and entertaining!

  4. You can actually get sq c normally sometimes between Sin and Syd. Mostly 333, but sometimes 77w

  5. @ Troy — Sure, I’d be happy to make a post about that. The challenge with the points game outside the US is that the credit card sign-up bonuses aren’t nearly as lucrative, and that’s one of the primary ways to earn points in the US.

    If you’re purely looking at earning miles that can be redeemed for premium cabin travel, I think your best bet is to purchase US Airways miles when they have a sale.

    But I’ll have more info on that in another post. 🙂

  6. @ BBTBphile — As they say it’s the thought that counts, so there are a million ways to do it.

    I think the key is to make sure it’s packaged/sealed, since otherwise there would obviously be “safety” issues.

    If it’s a small crew I’ll usually bring individual boxes of chocolate for each of them so they can take them home. On larger planes I’ll either bring a big box of chocolate for the crew to share or just give them to the flight attendants working my cabin.

    I’ll typically give them to either the flight attendant serving me or the purser to distribute.

  7. Hi @James or Lucky,

    My parents plan to go to Sydney in December. This is my first time to explore NYC Sydney trip (reward or paid). I found delta ticket costs $1900+ and AA costs $2900. Delta reward flight costs 100K miles and AA reward flight costs 75K miles. I have enough points with Delta and AA only.

    Could you advise a cost-effective round-trip flight (economy class only) preferably in Dec 2012 or in Jan 2013 from NY City to Sydney, AU? One-or-two stop transfers are fine. I can use reward miles (AA or Delta) or pay the ticket, whichever is more beneficial. Any advice will be highly aprpeciated.

  8. About a month ago I was finding a lot of December coach availability on Qantas from LAX to SYD, through the Qantas website. Are those allowed to be booked with AA miles? I’ve always assumed it’s only business or first class that’s hard to book.

  9. @ rick — They sure are, and Qantas coach award availability is excellent. It’s business and first class award availability that isn’t. I should have mentioned that, sorry!

  10. Historically, does Qantas release more premium seats on LAX-SYD route closer to departure if they are still open?

  11. Thanks for clearing that up. Btw, I also saw some biz class availability from Brisbane to LAX. That’s one alternative that’s not too far out of the way.

  12. @ rick — If you saw space on the route that’s great! They used to be very generous about releasing space on that route, though since cutting the Auckland service I’ve found much less availability on it.

  13. I recently solved this problem very … creatively.

    Currently flying in late December / returning a bit into Jan:
    NYC > HKG > SYD on CX and QF in F,
    SYD > BKK > FRA > TLV on TG and LH in F (and C, but i’ll hopefully be able to bump up close-in)
    TLV -> EWR via IST (hopefully will be able to go direct, on waitlist…)

    When I first book there was some limited return direct from Sydney but that quickly dried up. For a while I had SYD -> TYO -> EWR, and then the SYD-TYO space disappeared. THEN i found a pretty OK connection from SYD->BKK->TYO->EWR which would’ve been worth it for the massage…

    It was fun puzzle, but i didn’t actually comit to a return until i decided that i need to visit family / spend a week in tel aviv at some point. A random search on popped up award space and bam i booked it through.

  14. What we did was use a OW distance based award with AA miles instead. As you say, getting to SYD was easy, but getting home was only going to be in Y (we flew J) and I didn’t see value in 100k each for J one way and Y return. So for 150k we extended to PER and then up to HKG and back to JFK.

    AA miles are quite nice in this regard.

  15. I think Air Tahiti Nui only flies their metal to Auckland – they codeshare with Qantas on flights from there to SYD, MEL and BNE

  16. I’ll also second the first poster (Troy) and say I would be interested in an Australia specific post. I will be moving there in October! Slightly devastated that my miles earning ability will decline significantly without all the credit cards sign ups.

  17. Thanks Ben! Will look forward to it..

    The other issue besides smaller credit card bonus’s is the way our credit system works, changing cards regularly pretty much destroys your credit rating.

    Also the credit rating system here is the complete opposite of the US whereby they take whatever credit limits you have and assume they’re maxed completely and base you rating from that, so you have to limit how many cards you have and how much!

  18. Sigh…looks like my goal of getting to NZ/Australia from Chicago at the end of December is gonna be more complicated than I thought. Once I find availability for each segment, is there a way to book it as one itinerary on (and therefore qualify as just one award ticket) or do I have to call in? Sorry for the newbie question!

  19. @ Kevin — In theory you should be able to book online by using the “multi-city” tool. However, if the routing is too complicated United’s website might not be able to price it, and you’ll have to call.

  20. Don’t forget the South America option if you are forced to combine awards. LAN might get you home via SCL or LIM. If you can get to LIM on a standard award then that opens up the possibility of using an Anytime Award for only 35k.

  21. Thank you for the tips, Lucky. Actually, I snagged Qantas F class seats about 2 weeks ago. I was extremely lucky! Now I will try these different routes for returning to the US you suggested. Wish me luck. Thanks again!

  22. @ James — Snagged it two weeks ago? Wow, you’re the luckiest guy in the world. Would bet someone canceled minutes or hours before you booked.

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