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Australia is one of the toughest places to get to with miles, especially if you want to fly in first or business class. With tickets often approaching $2,000 even for economy class, finding a way to make your miles work can save you a lot.
The good news is, major U.S. airlines American, Delta and United all fly there, and if that doesn’t work, partner airlines from all three alliances — StarAlliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam — will help you get there.
The U.S. is served by these nonstop flights to Australia, most out of Los Angeles:
- American, Delta, United, Qantas and Virgin Australia fly from Los Angeles to Sydney
- United and Qantas fly to Melbourne
- Qantas and Virgin Australia fly to Brisbane
- United and Qantas fly from San Francisco to Sydney
- Qantas also flies to Sydney from Dallas
It’s quite easy to find economy award space with United MileagePlus®, American AAdvantage® and Delta Skymiles®.
United probably has the most consistent availability, and unlike the other two, it’s the only awards program with an excursionist perk that allows a free extra one-way flight while you’re in the region.
- Economy: 40,000 miles one way
United flies to Sydney nonstop from Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It also flies nonstop from Melbourne to Los Angeles. In terms of availability, it’s pretty good in economy class.
With United, you also get a free one-way flight in the region you’re traveling to when you book a round-trip award thanks to the excursion perk. You can fly on Air New Zealand, which is a partner of United, without paying for any additional miles. For example, you could go from Los Angeles to Auckland/Auckland to Sydney (free)/Sydney to Los Angeles (or anywhere else in the U.S.).
Check out the itinerary below:
- Economy: 40,000 miles one way
American only flies direct to Sydney and only from Los Angeles, but its AAdvantage partner Qantas is a powerhouse that has more U.S. to Australia routes than any other airline. Qantas flies from Los Angeles to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and from San Francisco and Dallas to Sydney. Flights from Chicago and San Francisco to Brisbane are set to launch in 2020.
Availability is quite good in economy class. But business and first class availability is more challenging to get and you need fairly open flight dates to grab a seat.
Delta and its partner Virgin Australia fly nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney. Virgin Australia also flies to Brisbane and Melbourne direct.
Availability is quite good in economy class, but Delta may charge more than other U.S. airlines. Since there’s no official award chart, the miles you need for award travel changes based on availability.
A trip from Los Angeles to Sydney in October, for example, can cost between 40,000 to 56,500 one way depending on your dates of travel.
(The miles in the chart above are for roundtrip flights.)
Unlike United and American, Delta tends to have better availability around the holidays, though January is just as bad as with the other programs – then, things get better for February onward.
First and business class awards
We’ll cover the following options:
- Nonstop flights
- Connecting via New Zealand
- Connecting via Asia
- Using ANA to save miles
- Other ways: Alaska miles, Fiji or Hawaii
Getting a nonstop flight is not always easy, but not impossible. You will have a better chance of snatching a premium class award if you fly solo, but if you are super flexible, you can grab two seats sometimes.
- Business: 80,000 miles one way (90,000 on partners)
You will have the best shot at getting a couple of premium class 80,000 mile award seats with United by booking months in advance. Otherwise, the direct flights will cost you 200,000 miles. Look at the calendar view when searching flights so you can search many different travel itineraries at once. Make sure you search for flexible dates, nonstop flights and business class, just like in the screenshot below. United flies from Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco to Sydney and from Los Angeles to Melbourne.
Here’s availability a month from now:
Here’s expanded availability for 80,000-mile flights months later:
Do keep in mind that any patterns you see right now may change when you get to search for your award, but as things stand now, United is one of the best bets for nonstop business class awards to Australia.
- Business: 80,000 miles one way
- First: 110,000 miles one way
If you really want to fly Qantas first class, AAdvantage might be your ticket. However, in order to snatch a MileSAAver seat in first (and business too, for that matter) you have to be extremely flexible or/and extremely lucky, especially for multiple seats. Qantas seats are notoriously hard to come by.
Things get marginally better for solo travelers. You may be able to find a first-class seat on American and even a unicorn Qantas First Class award from time to time.
- Business: 200,000 miles+ one way
Delta has fairly open award availability for flights between Los Angeles and Sydney, but there is a catch. Back in the day when Delta published its award chart, this flight cost 80,000 miles one way. Then Delta removed the chart in favor of “dynamic pricing,” which often means more miles for its own flights and those on partner Virgin Australia.
Now 282,500–305,000 miles one way is the lowest you can find over the next few months for Delta’s international business class, Delta One.
There’s also the premium economy class, Delta Premium Select, which is positioned between Delta One and the main cabin on the A350. This option may be a more affordable upgraded experience starting at 74,000 miles each way.
Delta has a very nice business class product. Chairs in Delta One recline fully to a flatbed and you get to choose from an assortment of complementary drinks.Virgin Australia business class is another high-quality product that has flat beds, turn-down service and a bar. It gets rave reviews from travelers but Virgin seats can be hard to come by depending on your dates. You can search for availability on the Delta website.
There are several reasons you might want to use connecting flights. First, your preferred nonstop may not be available. Second, you may want to utilize a free stopover policy offered by some reward programs. Third and fourth, you might want to use a better airline or save miles.
Connecting via New Zealand
Make the most of your trip to the South Pacific with a stopover in New Zealand. You can fly from the U.S. to New Zealand for a bit of sightseeing and then use Air New Zealand to connect to Australia returning to the U.S. on United.
Your trip from New Zealand to Australia in this itinerary would be free if you take advantage of United’s excursion perk. To access the excursion perk, go to United.com, search by award travel and enter a multi-city trip. The stopover has to be in the same region as your destination to get the 0-mile deal.
- Air New Zealand also flies to Auckland from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver and Honolulu.
- United also flies from San Francisco to Auckland, and also sometimes releases award seats in business class at reasonable prices.
Here’s what United is offering:
Once you get to New Zealand, award flights to Australia on Air New Zealand are plentiful.
American Airlines also flies to New Zealand from Los Angeles, and also makes business class award space available from time to time. Connections onward to Australia are easy on Qantas.
Here’s an example of American’s availability on Qantas from Auckland to Sydney:
Connecting via Asia
Connecting in Asia may almost double your time in the air, but it isn’t too bad when you are able to relax in a comfortable business-class seat, take a nap, catch a movie or work in comfort. Routing your flight via Asia is impossible with American without paying for two awards (due to the American stringent routing rules).
United, however, has more relaxed routing rules and no fuel surcharges, so all you need to concern yourself with is finding availability.
Connecting in China might benefit you if you live on the East Coast (remember, direct flights between Australia and the U.S. are from the West Coast, Dallas and Houston). The total travel time from the East Coast to Asia and Asia to the South Pacific is not much longer than the time it takes to head West for a transfer light down under.
United.com may show options via Asia by default like this one via Beijing, but unfortunately, if United.com doesn’t show a set of flights by default you can not manually stitch them together into one award.
For example, if you see space on a flight from New York to Beijing, then see space on a separate set of flights from Beijing to Sydney that’s not showing all at once on United.com (like above), you can’t book it without paying separately for a New York to Seoul award and a Seoul to Sydney award. That takes away some options with more stops that United.com tends to ignore.
Using ANA to save miles
If you’re fine with connecting flights and want to save miles, you can use ANA Mileage Club and pay just 120,000 miles roundtrip to Australia in business class on any Star Alliance airline. Getting ANA miles is relatively easy, as it’s a partner with the American Express Membership Rewards® and Marriott Bonvoy, and you can transfer points from either.
ANA adds fuel surcharges to some of its partners, but not to its own awards or flights on United, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, and Air China, as long as you’re booking a basic roundtrip to and from the U.S.
Note, however, that for complex itineraries including stopovers in Asia, you will be hit with fuel surcharges in most cases, even on ANA’s own flights.
Here is an award flight to Australia with a stopover in New Zealand using ANA miles.
Keep in mind that this is an award for two people. As you can see, the mile cost is only 75,000 per person, and since there is no fuel surcharge, you only pay 32,200 JPY, or about $300 in taxes and fees for two passengers.
ANA rules also allow you to have a stopover in Asia. In the example below, you can make a stopover in China, all for the same 75,000 miles per person.
You will fly from Los Angeles to Beijing and Sydney on Air China. Even though ANA doesn’t add fuel surcharges to Air China round-trip travel, in this multi-city award case, you will be hit with a fuel surcharge. Fortunately, it’s quite small, just 17,830 JPY or $170 per person.
Other ways: Alaska miles, Fiji or Hawaii
The Alaska MileagePlan award chart to Australia offers terrific values.
You can earn Alaska Airlines miles by using one of its co-branded credit card — Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® card. Finding a premium class award seat using Alaska Mileage Plans miles is not easy. The same issue with not being able to get Qantas first or business on American also applies here: By the time Alaska makes partners flights available to its members, they’ve usually been snatched.
Cathay Pacific offers a terrific value, not only because the award redemption levels are lower than American, but also because Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t prohibit flying to Australia via Asia.
Alaska Mileage Plan also allows stopovers on one-way travel, which is an incredibly rare and precious benefit for a frequent flyer program.
You can book Fiji Airways flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Fiji and Sydney using American AAdvantage or Alaska MileagePlan miles (with Alaska offering a cheaper option of 82,500 for the whole trip and allowing a free stopover in Fiji).
You might want a Fiji business class award in two instances: if you want a stopover in Nadi (Alaska gives you a free stopover), or if you want to avoid routing via Asia.
A Fiji business-class cabin is beautiful and the seats are comfortable, but they are angle-flat.
You can get to Australia from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines flights to Sydney and Brisbane using American AAdvantage miles or Hawaiian’s own miles. An award from the mainland U.S. using Hawaiian’s own miles will cost at least 105,000 miles one way in business class, but an award just from Honolulu to Australia can cost as little as 65,000 miles in business, which is a decent deal.
With American AAdvantage. an award will cost 65,000 miles in business class one way and you can see availability on the AA.com website.
Hawaiian has installed new lie-flat seats in its premium cabin available on A330 flights between Honolulu and Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.
Hawaiian business class availability from Honolulu to Brisbane, Auckland or Sydney is hard to find.
You might be better off booking a U.S. to Hawaii award using another airline or mileage program, or just buying a ticket in cash, then using AAdvantage for the Honolulu–Australia portion of the trip.