Sunday Reader Question: Best Ways to Get to Australia Using Miles and Points

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TPG reader Ryan has Australia plans and wants to get the right credit cards to get his flight Down Under as cheaply as possible:

“I’m looking to book a flight to Sydney, Australia, in the coming months, and rather than pay for it I’d like to use points. I am due for a new round of credit cards, but before signing up for any to get bonuses, I wanted to know which cards would be the best to apply for to get me to Sydney? I already have three with Chase, so I probably have one or two more left there, but am open to other lenders. I was thinking of the two Hawaiian Airlines cards, but wanted to get someone else’s opinion. I’m out of New York, but would pay for a flight to LA if it meant getting better rewards to Sydney.”

Australia awards can be among the hardest to book, though its far from impossible. As far as miles, I think the best strategy to get to Australia is to focus on US Airways, which charges only 110,000 miles for roundtrip award tickets in business class to the South Pacific/Australia, or 80,000 in economy or 140,000 in First. US Airways does not fly to Australia, but they are a Star Alliance airline, so you can redeem on partners like United (NYC-Los Angeles/San Francisco) to Sydney, Air Canada via Vancouver, or Air New Zealand from SFO or LAX via Auckland. US Airways will also let you route via Asia, so if you can snag availability, you could do the non-stop Newark-Singapore and then Singapore-Sydney (or via Tokyo on ANA). There are possibilities with Star Alliance.

With that in mind, here are a couple cards you could get to help you on your way, as well as a few options for the other alliances.

Star Alliance
US Airways
Barclay’s US Airways Mastercard: 40,000 miles after first purchase (10,000 more with balance transfers within the first 90 days, though they aren’t free). $89 annual fee, waived the first year.
Barclay’s US Airways Business Mastercard
: 25,000 miles after first purchase. $79 annual fee.

Starwood
Starwood American Express: 10,000 points after first purchase and 15,000 after $5,000 spend within 6 months. Starwood points transfer to US Airways at a 25% bonus per 20,000 transferred, so 20,000 Starpoints = 25,000 US Airways miles. Note: Make sure you are logged out of your Amex account, or else Amex will only show a 10,000-point sign-up bonus. It may be best to use a new browser if you can’t load the 25,000 bonus. $65 annual fee, waived the first year.
Starwood Business American Express: 10,000 points after first purchase and 15,000 after $5,000 spend within 6 months. $65 annual fee, waived the first year.

Other recommendations: Buy US Airways miles on the cheap. They frequently run 100% mileage purchase promotions (the last one ended June 30, 2012).

United
United MileagePlus is also another viable Star Alliance option, charging 80,000 miles for economy, 135,000 for business and 160,000 for first.

The United Explorer  card now comes with up to 65,000 miles (log into your Mileage plus account to see what offer you get). $95 annual fee waived the first year.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly at 1:1 ratio to United, so the best way to rack up those points would be to get the Sapphire Preferred 40,000 point sign-up bonus and the Ink Bold 50,000. You can get both on the same day using only 1 credit pull so with those two applications you’d have more than enough points for a roundtrip in economy! Just make sure you can hit the spend requirements on each card ($13,000 total) so you don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Oneworld
American teams up with Australia’s main carrier Qantas and they fly to Sydney from Dallas and Los Angeles non-stop. You can redeem AA at the following levels: 75,000 economy, 125,000 business and 145,000 for rirst. Qantas availability will be added to AA.com in the near future is now available on AA.com, but if the availability isn’t there for what you need, you can set Expertflyer alerts to email you when/if Qantas releases space on your dates of travel.

British Airways is also a partner, but it will cost more in terms of miles and fees. From Los Angeles to Sydney, economy is 100,000, business is 200,000 and first a whopping 300,000 Avios. The good thing is that Avios are among the easiest airline currencies to rack up- you can get up to 100,000 just from the current Chase British Airways Visa card and BA is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express and they often run transfer promos of up to 50%.

SkyTeam
Delta flies non-stop to Sydney from LA and also teams up with V Australia. Check out this post for more on maximizing Delta awards to Australia. If this is the option you like then the cards to consider would be the Amex Delta SkyMiles Gold card with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 SkyMiles when you spend $500 within 3 months and an annual fee of $95 waived for the first year.

Since Amex Membership Rewards is also a 1:1 transfer partner with Delta (hopefully there will be a transfer bonus soon!), you could also consider getting the Premier Rewards Gold card, with a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points and the $175 annual fee waived for the first year, or the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card that currently offers a 50,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $1,000 within 3 months, though the $475 annual fee is pretty expensive.

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