How to use United MileagePlus miles for travel to Australia

I asked you guys what you’d like to read about, so this post is in response to a question posted there. I’ll address as many of the questions as I can in the coming weeks. Feel free to keep adding to the list and I’ll use it as a basis for future posts.

Reader Col wanted to know the following:

Tips on finding non-united premium award space to Australia. Seems that both AirNZ and AC have almost zero J space over the next year. Tricks? Timing?

As Col points out, using Star Alliance miles for nonstop business/first class travel between the US and Australia/New Zealand can be very difficult.

Air New Zealand releases virtually no business class award space on their nonstop flights between North America and Auckland. In the past they’d consistently release space 60 days before departure, though that’s not the case anymore, and I don’t remember the last time I saw an Air New Zealand nonstop business class award seat out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver.

As far as Air Canada goes, they are quite stingy with releasing business class award space on their Vancouver to Sydney route. That being said, it’s not impossible to find space on it. They occasionally release award seats 11 months out, though not in any consistent pattern. It’s much more common for them to release award space closer to departure, though even then they’re hardly generous.

United does fairly consistently release award space 11 months out and then again within a couple of weeks of departure, but you specifically note you’d like to avoid them, which I can understand.

So in practice the best way to get to Australia using United miles in a non-United premium cabin is by routing through Asia. There are a few options I consider to be pretty awesome:

Asiana through Seoul Incheon

Asiana operates a daily 777 between Seoul Incheon and Sydney. Availability is excellent, as you can see below (the dates in green have both coach and business class saver award space available on the nonstop), even in the high season. The flight is also timed well for US connections, so it’s not too grueling of a journey to make in a single day.

Air New Zealand via Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, or Hong Kong

While Air New Zealand is stingy about releasing award space on their US routes, they’re quite generous with releasing space on their Asia routes. While they’re stingy on their Hong Kong route, they release quite a bit of award space to Tokyo and Osaka, and a ton of award space to Shanghai.

For example, in the high season they have business class award space from Shanghai to Auckland almost every day.

Award availability out of Osaka isn’t quite as good, though still decent given that it’s the high season.

And while I’m not seeing much award space out of Tokyo in November and December, the route is fairly wide open the rest of the year.

One note of caution — be sure you book a 777 and not a 767, as those feature Air New Zealand’s regional business class seats, and they aren’t especially comfortable for a ~10 hour flight. However, their longhaul business class product is excellent with fully flat herringbone seats.

Air New Zealand BusinessPremier

Thai Airways via Bangkok

Thai Airways has amazing award availability between Bangkok and Australia/New Zealand. For example, take a look at award space between Bangkok and Sydney, which is operated by a three cabin aircraft (meaning you can redeem for first class on the route).

Thai Airways also offers service to Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth. Award space is also quite good on those routes, though generally Sydney has the best availability.

Thai Airways first class

Singapore Airlines via Singapore

Singapore Airlines only releases first and business class award space for their new first and business class products to those redeeming KrisFlyer miles, while those with partner Star Alliance miles don’t have access to that space. That being said, they do release business class award space on their old product, which they still fly on several of their routes to Australia and New Zealand. As a result, award space on Singapore Airlines is excellent. As you can see, almost every day in the peak season has nonstop business class award space between Singapore and Sydney.

Singapore Airlines also flies to Auckland, Adelaide, Brisbane, Christchurch, Melbourne, and Perth, and award space on those routes is unreal.

Unfortunately the hard product on their old product isn’t great, though you can’t compete with the service on Singapore, which is consistently top notch.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A330 business class

So I guess the short answer is that there’s no “easy” way to get award space on Air New Zealand or Air Canada direct from North America to Australia. But if you’re willing to route via Asia, there are some pretty cool options. Keep in mind that if booking through United you’re entitled to one stopover enroute, so you could break up the journey by stopping in Asia in one direction. You also get an open jaw, so can fly into one city in Australia and out of another.

Any questions/comments?

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. Thanks for the post Lucky. I fly Asiana business class quite often in and out of HNL, but it is always the angled flat seats, which are actually fine and i love Asiana’s food, service, and IFE. And they have tons of award availability all over Asia from here, which is usually tough in this market.

    But are the new flat bed seats going to be installed system wide?

  2. I didn’t know they let you route through Asia for a saver award to Australia. I’m guessing you have to call to book this award or can you book this online and will give you the saver availability in J for 135k each?

  3. @ Kent — It depends, sometimes will price it correctly (for example, New York to Seoul to Sydney often shows up as the suggested routing between New York and Sydney), while other times you have to call.

  4. @ Carl — I believe they’re eventually going to install it systemwide, though I’m not sure of the timeline.

    @ Roland @ work2fly — Thanks for the correction. I know in the past it was the flat bed product, but guess that’s not the case at the moment. Booo!

  5. I just looked the other day, so this is fresh in my mind.

    UA award rt travel is one destination, one stopover and TWO openjaws.

    . Two open jaws are permitted per roundtrip award. For example, you can fly from Newark to London and return from Paris to Washington Dulles.

    A stopover is permitted on roundtrip award travel only. One stopover is permitted, unless otherwise noted. Additional mileage may be required for Saver Awards within the mainland U.S., Alaska and Canada.

  6. This is the reason why when I decide to book my award flights to Australia that I will strongly consider using your services. See you at FTU.

  7. Thanks for this – quite timely as this is what I’ve spent the week doing -now to get the stopover/open jaw correct. found lots of asiana space but the angled seats were off putting –

  8. I was somehow extremely lucky (right place, right time) and secured a J class seat using United miles on Air NZ from YVR – AKL, which I flew a week ago. Amazing product!

  9. I have seen award space on AC but since it’s the only direct flight to Australia from Canada the seats go FAST! I have never seen a seat using NZ trust me I’ve searched.

  10. I am trying to book a round trip reward ticket in business class between Sydney & Auckland. On UA, it shows nothing business class of Air NZ. Any idea why? I also have some AA miles so want also try Qantas. The QF website shows a lot of reward seat in business class of QF bu AA said those are not bookable because they are operated by Qantas’s affiliate “Jet Connect”? How do I find reward business class seat between SYD and AKL? And do you have any idea what kind of business class LAN fly between AKL and SYD?

  11. @ Sean — Air New Zealand is pretty stingy with releasing space between Sydney and Auckland, which is probably why you’re not finding space.

    The best way to search Qantas award space available using AAdvantage miles is by using the American website.

    LAN’s product between Auckland and Sydney features fully flat beds, so is probably one of the better products operating the route.

  12. j across the ditch is mainly domestic businees seating with QF,ANZ,VA and affiliates. Best Emirates, Eithiad, LAN.

  13. Just booked an itinerary very similar to this a week ago. PHX-SFO-HNL (overnight), HNL-ICN-HKG (stopover), HKG-SIN-MEL (open jaw), SYD-ICN-NRT-LAX-PHX…135K in I class (Star Alliance Business). Yes, you can route through Asia and unfortunately, all legs on SQ, OZ and NH DO NOT have the fully flat beds. Still good availability for summer travel (I booked four in business), but SIN-SYD is tough, as is SYD-LAX. ExpertFlyer was an invaluable tool.

  14. Has anyone ever found LAN space on AKL-SYD in J that AA can book? I’m ticketed AKL-SYD-HKG on an AA F award in May. Given the obscenely early hour that I have to leave AKL, I’d really like LAN’s flat beds for that segment.

  15. @ Mitch — Yes, I’ve found it many times. Are you not able to find it to begin with, or you find it and American can’t book it?

  16. Hi Lucky I can’t find any LAN’s business seat between SYD and AKL. Do you see any in May on AA’s website?

  17. @ Sean — As Brian notes, LAN awards have to be booked by phone, while Qantas awards can be booked online. So you’ll first want to search LAN award space on and then call to ticket.

  18. Thank Lucky and Brian. I found there is one LAN business class on May. 31st from AKL to Sydney on Qantas but BA show nothing. Aren’t they supposed to have the same inventory? Does this mean I can call AA to book the award seat?

  19. @Lucky, @Shannon: I’ve just looked again on the BA site and can see some space way out near end of schedule, but nothing else. I think the problem with the LAN-operated AKL-SYD flight on the QF search engine is that it shows up under the QF code, and only QF can book that seat. Thus, it won’t show up on the BA search.

  20. @Mitch & @Lucky: I have the same problem like Shannon. I can’t find any space of LA’s business AKL-SYD on BA from May. 15th to 31st but found some on QF. The funny thing is AA show tons of QF flights AKL- SYD but BA show zero of these flights. I asked BA the reason they said those flights are not bookable as they are operated by Jet connect. If so, why AA can book those flights?

  21. @Mitch: What time do you think it will be proper to leave from downtown Auckland to catch LAN’s flight? Will lounge even be opened by the time I get to the airport?

  22. @Sean: I’ve read on the BA forum on FT that good phone agents can actually book the QF flights, it’s just that they won’t show online because they’re operated by JetConnect. I suspect that the BA call centre in the US has about one agent who can actually book those flights, however, so HUACA.

    My doing my first ex-AKL flight on 31 May, connecting to QF127 to HKG in F. I plan on staying as close to the airport as I can that night, since some of the downtown hotels are 45 minutes from the airport. The QF website says their AKL lounge opens at 0400 and has showers. I think I’ll stumble out of bed, dash to the airport to drop my bag, and then shower. Maybe a bit of brekkie at the AKL lounge, but then proper food once in the F lounge at SYD.

  23. @Mitch: Thanks for the info. I am planning to take the same flight LA801 on the same day and connect from Sydney to KUL. Maybe we will run into each other of the flight. I still have not seen any flight on BA so probably will just buy the ticket.

  24. MCO CLT SFO (routed that way on US with an overnight because the non stop MCO SFO has a really tight connection) KIX (on UA metal) SIN 5 nights SIN PER (last two flights on SQ) PER MEL AKL (Avios on QF) AKL ZQN AKL (paid on NZ) cruise SYD ICN HND (both on OZ) LAX (NH) IAH MCO (last legs on UA) All in business. 6 weeks of travel. It took me less than an hour in January to book it all. Is it a nightmare? Well, kind of but free is free and we have significant time in SIN, PER, AKL, ZQN and a 23 day cruise in the middle. I only am complaining about the return. However, a 26 hour layover (which they assured me is legal) in HND will be great. We also use our SFO and LAX layovers to see friends.

  25. Holy crap, I just hit the jackpot with 2 J seats on AC from YVR to SYD for next February. I was planning on routing via ICN and randomly stumbled across 2 open seats on the direct AC flight. Just proves that it pays to check back every day and hit every possible connection!

  26. Hi,

    I’m looking at getting an award from Australia to Hawaii – going via Asia is fine.

    Which United Star Alliance partners do that route? Really want the fully flat seats so who has them?

    I am also not clear on their award levels so how many points/miles is it from Australia to Hawaii in business and/or first class?


  27. @ Dale — United and Asiana fly between Hawaii and Asia, so they’d be your best options in Star Alliance. The cost using United miles should be 80,000 miles roundtrip in business class.

  28. @sean and @mitch

    AKL immigration normally opens around 0430, but sometimes not until 0500.

    The LA flight has poor on time performance – check if it left SCL reasonably on time before you go to bed. Anything more than an hour late departing means a bit longer sleep in.

  29. Is routing from North America through Europe and Asia to Australia “allowed”? EWR-FRA-BKK-SYD in F priced at 135k one way instead of 80k. If i’m in NYC, do I have to fly west to Australia?

  30. @ Kurt — It isn’t, unfortunately. You can transit Asia though not Europe enroute to Australia using MileagePlus miles.

  31. When you say UA allows transit via Asia en route to Australia using MileagePlus miles, does it refers to both north Asia (ICN, NRT, KIX, PEK, PVG, TPE) and Southeast Asia (HKG, BKK, SIN)? Can’t find it on Thanks!

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *