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Australia is not the easiest place to get to on miles, but it’s entirely possible.
All three of the biggest U.S. airlines, American, United, and Delta, as well as two Australian carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia, fly between Australia and the U.S., and you can see strategies for getting down to Australia with miles here.
Once you get there, you are left with two choices to get around a country almost as wide as the U.S. – Qantas and Virgin Australia. Doesn’t sound like much, but these two carriers have quite a few U.S. based partners. And there are no fuel surcharges to worry about.
If you’re interested in Economy, the easiest good value option for most nonstop flights is using British Airways Avios for short and medium flights and American AAdvantage® for long flights, both on Qantas.
For flights in Business Class, you’ll want to use British Airways and American AAdvantage miles for flying on Qantas and Etihad Guest for Virgin Australia.
Now we’ll cover these and other options in detail and show you where to find and book the awards.
In this article
- Best Programs for Economy Class Awards
- Best Programs for Business Class Awards
- What about Qantas Miles?
- Virgin Australia alternatives
- Best options for Amex, Chase, and Citi points
- Final Thoughts
Best Programs for Economy Class Awards
British Airways Avios: Shorter flights
British Airways is a oneworld partner with Qantas and a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards™ and American Express Membership Rewards®.
British Airways awards start at 4,500 Avios for flights up to 650 miles in distance, which makes it the best choice on short hauls. Even if you’re transferring points from the Amex Membership Rewards® program at diluted 250:200 rate, you’ll still pay only 5,625 Amex points for a short flight.
To compare, the next best value is Etihad Guest miles for Virgin Australia, where redemption rates start at 6,900 miles for short flights.
Etihad Guest: Medium distance flights
British Airways Avios is also a good choice for medium haul flights, but not the best. For example, the flight between Sydney and Adelaide is 725 miles in distance. While it’s just a tad beyond the 4,500 Avios threshold, this flight belongs in a higher 651 – 1,151-mile distance bracket and costs 7,500 miles.
For a redemption like this, Etihad Guest, which is a partner with Virgin Australia, is a better option at 6,900 points. That’s at least 600 points less than British Airways, and sometimes more than that if you’re transferring points from the Amex Mileage Rewards® program at a higher transfer rate.
Etihad Guest charges route by route using this chart, but it’s closely tied to distance:
- Short haul (i.e. Sydney – Melbourne): 6,900 points Economy, 13,800 points Business
- Medium haul (i.e. Melbourne – Perth): 10,900 points Economy, 21,800 points Business
- Long haul (i.e. Sydney – Perth): 16,900 points Economy, 33,800 points Business
If you don’t have Amex or Citi points, AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios are your next best bet.
American AAdvantage® : Longer flights
American AAdvantage® has a flat 10,000-mile redemption rate for all flights within Australia on Qantas.
The break-even distance between American and British Airways is 1,152 miles, because British Airways charges 10,000 miles for 1,152 – 2,000-mile flights.
And for flights longer than 2,000 miles, American AAdvantage is a clear winner.
Best Programs for Business Class Awards
British Airways Avios: Shorter flights
British Business Class award rates work best for short flights since they are twice the Economy rates, rather than 3X times for longer flights. Consider a flight between Melbourne and Sydney.
The same flight would cost 13,800 Etihad miles and 20,000 American miles, so British Airways is a clear winner.
Etihad Guest: Medium distance flights
Just like with Economy awards, transferring points to the Etihad Guest program may yield slightly better results than using British Avios in Business Class. For example, a Sydney – Adelaide flight in Business will cost you 15,000 Avios
Yet, it costs only 13,800 miles if you go with Etihad.
American AAdvantage®: Longer flights
Most domestic Australia routes are relatively short, so you might not feel like you need a Business Class seat for a 1- or 2-hour flight. But there are moderately long flights in Australia, and the Qantas Business Class cabin aboard A330 is one of the best (if not the best) domestic Business Class cabins in the world.
For example, a transcontinental flight between Brisbane and Perth is 4h 43min long, just a few minutes shorter than the longest Australia domestic flight between Perth and the Gold Coast. This is a reasonably long flight and it might be worth paying a little extra to spend this time in comfort. Here is what it would cost you.
- 33,800 Etihad Guest miles
- 37,500 British Avios
- Only 20,000 American miles
In other words, American miles rule for a Business Class cabin on the longest domestic Australia flights. By the way, if you do fly on transcontinental routes (like Perth to Brisbane, Sydney, or Melbourne) make sure you get a new A330 with lie-flat seats. Qantas still uses old 737s here and there.
What about Qantas Miles?
Qantas is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou®, and while Etihad Guest for Virgin Australia flights is a better deal for ThankYou®points, if you can’t find award space on Virgin, it’s not a bad option for Economy Class awards on Qantas, which range from 8,000 – 18,000 miles one way.
Here is an example. A Melbourne – Sydney one-way flight will cost you:
- British Airways Avios: 4,500 Economy, 9,000 Business
- Etihad Miles: 6,900 Economy, 13,800 Business
- Qantas: 8,000 Economy, 16,000 Business
Business Class awards are less of a deal, at up to 36,000 miles one way for the longest flights.
Virgin Australia alternatives
If you want to book Virgin Australia flights without Etihad Guest miles you can transfer Amex or American points to Delta SkyMiles®, plus, most transferable point programs are partnered with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club or Singapore KrisFlyer, so converting your points to one of these programs is super easy.
Delta SkyMiles charges an exorbitant 22,500 miles in Economy and 40,000 in Business Class per one way domestic flight in Australia. Imagine paying almost as much for a 1.5-hour flight between Sydney and Melbourne in Economy as you would pay for flying in Business Class in the U.S.
The Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award chart is more reasonable (the values are per roundtrip, so divide by 2 for a oneway). But it’s still grossly overpriced compared to British, Etihad, or American.
Singapore KrisFlyer has a unique partnership with Virgin Australia. You can convert KrisFlyer miles into Velocity points at a rate of 1.35:1. Unfortunately, the Virgin Australia award chart is stingy to begin with. Here are one way prices.
And converting KrisFlyer miles would add the 35% premium to the already bad rates, so we don’t see it as a good value proposition.
Best options for Amex, Chase, and Citi points
American Express Membership Rewards®
You can transfer your points to British Airways (Qantas flights), Delta SkyMiles (Virgin flights), Etihad Guest (Virgin flights), Singapore KrisFlyer (Virgin flights), and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (Virgin flights) for booking domestic award flights in Australia, but the best airlines programs are British Airways Executive Club and Etihad Guest. The transfer rates are:
- British Airways: 250:200
- Etihad Guest: 1:1
Chase Ultimate Rewards®
You can use Chase points to transfer to British Airways (Qantas flights), Singapore KrisFlyer (Virgin Australia flights), and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (Virgin Australia flights), but British Airways Avios is the only one with reasonable prices, and it has great rates for short flights. The transfer rate is 1:1.
You can use Etihad Guest (Virgin Australia flights), Qantas (Qantas flights), Singapore (Virgin Australia flights), and Virgin Atlantic (Virgin Australia flights), with Etihad Guest being the best choice. The transfer rate is 1:1.
- Use British Airways Avios or American AAdvantage miles for flying on Qantas, and Etihad Guest miles for flying on Virgin Australia.
- Remember that using British Airways Avios is only advantageous on nonstop flights. If there is a connection, your redemption cost will usually be higher.
- Both AA.com and BA.com let you search for Qantas award space, but AA.com is much easier and more convenient. Both websites let you book Qantas award tickets online.
- You can also search the Qantas site, but flights available to Frequent Flyer members may not be always available to members of the partners’ programs.
- Use the Delta website to search Virgin Australia award space and call Etihad at 1-888-8-ETIHAD to book it. You can’t redeem Etihad miles for Virgin Australia online.
- Use British Airways Avios for ultra-short hauls and American miles for the longest flights. Check if Etihad miles aren’t better for anything in between.