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

by on July 1, 2012 · 32 comments

in American, Barclays, British Airways, Credit Cards, Delta, Qantas, star alliance, Starwood, Sunday Reader Questions, United, US Airways, Virgin Australia

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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 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 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.

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 in the near future is now available on, 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%.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Debbie Schroeder

    American added the ability to see Qantas award seats a few days ago; it’s been great being able to see what’s available without having to call.

  • Jon

    Brian – Ink Bold spend is now $10K, so $13K total spend for Ink Bold and Sapphire Preferred.

  • elsie

    One of the flights on Qantas has a tag from LAXto JFK, so it is possible actually board a Qantas flight in New York.

  • PJ

    thought United 60K ( 50K plus 3K for adding an AU) was extended to June 30 ; hope you are right and many people would be happy

  • PJ

    indeed and after you spend 10K and 3K you get 60K min on INK bokd and 42.8 K on SPPHIRE which is worth more than 1.5 K in my mind.. 10 % OFF Minimum if your spend is 1 % rebate ALL the time still a whopping 11 % off

  • PJ

    do u mean you can see availability the way we see all domestic flights ?

  • thepointsguy

    Good catch- updated

  • thepointsguy

    Perfect timing! Updated the post

  • Mike

    This post is severely lacking a discussion on availability. Just saying it’s difficult, but not un-doable, isn’t enough.

  • thepointsguy

    There are many different factors that go into availability- such as origin and class of service, but in general I think Star Alliance has the most, then Oneworld then Delta. and have calendars that show availability so its easy to search on your own and then decide which works for your specific itinerary.

  • pk

    Do you know if the United flights LAX-SYD generally have lie-flat business class seats?

  • Joel

    Can you use United miles to book on Star Alliance (i.e., Air Canada and Air New Zealand)?

  • thepointsguy

    Yes- they even pull up on

  • Debbie Schroeder

    @PJ Yep, check the Redeem AAdvantage Miles box and you can bring up availability. Note, if there is no availability it will show the dates as grayed out.

  • Debbie Schroeder

    @TPG, :) I wish they would have it opened it up last week before I booked my award ticket. But I can still change the dates, provided there are seats available. :)

  • Mwwalk

    Which of these options has the highest fuel surcharges? Does AA charge for Quantas? Delta for V Australia? US airways for ANA or others?

  • thepointsguy

    AA and United have the lowest. Delta the highest on V Australia, followed by British Airways

  • Moeeee

    Could we use aa search for BA awards for AU?

  • thrashsoundly

    Qantas awards in F are hard to come by now, but will soon be more scarce as the aircraft are overhauled with the new J class. After the fleet conversion the only aircraft that will still have F are the current A380s as all the new ones will have the new configuration.

  • Phoceana7216

    I’m in Australia now going back to the USA on Friday on a economy frequent flyer ticket on Delta, and they have HEAPS of availability now. I think it’s because it’s winter in Australia.

  • PJ

    how did you get your delta miles? the old fashioned way you fly it ? how much fees and how many miles required for the low season ?

  • Phoceana7216

    For economy class, I used 100,000 skymiles and paid under $130 in taxes and fees round-trip to SYD. I actually got 90% of the miles flying defunct Northwest Airlines and earned them over a period of ten years. In summer it was impossible to find any economy seats, but now that it’s winter, it’s been much easier.

  • matt_pierson

    How many of these carriers offer the option to use miles to upgrade after paying in cash? I know US Air would be a 40k mileage upgrade from an economy ticket (, but not sure if/what other options exist. Given issues with award availability, could it make more sense to go this route?

  • Slava Lysenko

    Thank you! Very timely post as I’m starting to plan next grand vacation:) You blog is very interesting and very informative

  • austin

    If I use my 40,000 US Airways miles, can I get a one-way to Sydney on United? Thanks!

  • Pingback: US Airways 50% Miles Transfer Bonus Until July 31, 2012 – Worth It? | The Points Guy()

  • EDF

    I am tryieng to get availability for August-June-July business class award tickets on Quantas using my AAdvantage miles for my family 5 ppl, and its practically impossible flying out of JFK (through LAX or SFO) any suggestions?

  • EDF

    I am tryieng to get availability for August-June-July business class award tickets on Quantas using my AAdvantage miles for my family 5 ppl, and its practically impossible flying out of JFK (through LAX or SFO) any suggestions?

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  • Eric W.

    I’d like to book a flight from NYC > Christchurch using AA points, but there is limited availability in business / first class. However, when I search for individual strings of the trip (e.g., NYC > LAX or LAX > Sydney or Sydney > Christchurch) I get better results. Will AA allow me to book one award ticket for multiple flights that aren’t all within the same class? For instance, I’m OK doing the NYC > LAX portion and the SYD > CHC portion in economy, but would like to book the LAX > SYD in business / first. Is this possible, or do all tickets have to be within the same class?

  • thepointsguy

    You can book legs in different classes but it’ll price at the business class level- if business does open up on the coach legs you can call and change for free to business

  • SM

    I’m completely new on points topic, and I’m looking for a little advice. I have around 800K points in Membership Rewards in Amex. And I have a trip to NZ the upcoming year around August (2014). I’ve been reading the site a bit and I’m wondering if I can transfer my points to purchase a roundtrip ticket, and if possible get lodging too. Based on your opinion, are my points possibly enough for both or just airfare? I’m thinking my stay will be around 15 days. I appreciate your response. I’ve been saving my points just for that. Thanks

  • Michael Ferraro

    Planning a trip (2 adults) (Mar-Apr 2015) to Australia & New Zealand – want to book ticket and then upgrade with miles. Have 125k Chase, 50K each USAir, 20K each United trying to figure out best way to end up in business class for the round trip. With all the partners and different rules it’s tough. I did get us a trip to Peru on Delta last year w/ upgrade to BClass, but it wasn’t easy. Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

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