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Finding award tickets to Australia from North America can be one of the hardest travel redemptions out there, even though Qantas, Virgin Australia, United, Delta, Air Canada and Hawaiian Airlines all fly there. To get on those non-stops from the mainland, if you’ve got American miles, you’re pretty much stuck searching for Qantas availability, with United you’ve got United and Air Canada (although flying Air New Zealand via Auckland is an alternative) and those with SkyMiles can either fly Delta or Virgin Australia non-stop from Los Angeles to various Australian destinations, or Hawaiian via Honolulu.
Delta flies Los Angeles to Sydney, but finding low-level award space is nearly impossible on Delta’s own flights, and a lot of that low-level inventory seems to open up in the weeks before departure, which isn’t much good to those travelers looking to plan a detailed trip Down Under ahead of time. On the plus side, Delta flies their new 777LRs on this route, which feature individual entertainment systems in coach and fully lie-flat beds in BusinessElite, so it’s a pretty nice way to fly.
In my opinion, though, the best way to get a low level award to Sydney/Melbourne is via Virgin Australia, whose award availability you can now search on Delta.com. Virgin Australia flies 777-300ER’s daily from LAX to Sydney and from LAX to Melbourne on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays and LAX-Brisbane on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and Delta recently added Virgin Australia availability to their online award booking engine so finding space is relatively easy to do online.
Delta’s award requirements to fly from North America to Australia.
Flying to Australia on Virgin requires 100,000 SkyMiles roundtrip for economy and 150,000 SkyMiles roundtrip for business (Virgin doesn’t have first class).
The one major drawback in the past, however, has always been that Virgin Australia charges astronomical fuel surcharges in the range of $500-$700 – even for coach redemptions, so you could be looking at spending 100,000 miles and $500 on top of that to get to Oz in economy.
However, over the weekend, the award availability for Virgin flights on Delta.com was pricing out without the fuel surcharges and just taxes on the tickets instead in the $120-$160 range, a much better value. There’s no word yet on whether this is a permanent development or a glitch, but if you’re been thinking of using your SkyMiles for an Australia redemption and were considering Virgin, book it as soon as possible. Especially because low-level availability is pretty good even for October – there were several days showing it going in each direction – and for November-March as well.
I looked up a few sample itineraries, and here is some of the availability and pricing I found in the coming months.
LAX-Brisbane in business on Virgin for 150,000 miles and $135 in taxes/fees. A steal!
Only $135 in taxes/fees since Delta isn’t charging a fuel surcharge when redeeming on Virgin Australia presently. Get in on it while you can!
Here’s another sample itinerary on the LAX-Melbourne route in business on Virgin for 150,000 miles and $112 in taxes/fees. Bargain!
I was also able to find several LAX-SYD awards in business on Virgin for 150,000 miles and $129 in taxes/fees.
For comparison, if you have Virgin America Elevate points, you can also redeem them for flights to Australia at the following levels:
Virgin America requires 45,000 points and $749 roundtrip in coach, 60,000 points and $790 in premium economy, and 80,000 points and $849 in taxes and fees for business. While the point requirements are ostensibly lower, remember, you only earn 5 Elevate points per dollar spent on Virgin (unless you have the Virgin credit card, where you’ll earn 8 points), so to even get to the coach redemption, you’d need to have spent $9,000 on Virgin America, and then you’ll still have to shell out $749 on top of that. The one plus is that you can redeem for premium economy, which isn’t a possibility with Delta. Amex points transfer to Virgin America at a 2:1 ratio, so it would take 160,000 Amex points plus $849 for a business class roundtrip.
Remember, you can actually also use SkyMiles to fly Delta from Los Angeles to Sydney, so I thought I’d take a quick look and compare the two services.
Virgin Australia flies 777-300ER’s on this route. The business-class cabin has 30 lie-flat seats total in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration. Row 5 is quite special since it’s on it’s own behind the minibar area and the seats here can be curtained off to make a little mini-cabin. The bright purple seats have 77 inches in pitch, are 23 inches wide (which is pretty wide by comparison). In the bed position, they recline to fully lie-flat, though only 6 feet 2 inches in length, so the taller travelers might feel a bit cramped.
Virgin Australia 777 Business Class.
Seats also feature privacy screens between seats as well as laptop power, a USB slot and a moveable reading lamp plus individual 12.1-inch in-flight entertainment screens. The business-class menu is designed by Aussie celebrity chef Luke Mangan. The bar area behind the main business-class cabin is pretty cool, with stools where guests can enjoy snacks or even meals, and help themselves to drinks and nibbles. The plane also has a special ceiling designed to look like the Australian night sky, complete with LED-light constellations. Bottom line, it looks like a really nice product and a lot of fun to fly.
Delta flies 777-200LR’s on this route. I took the same plane from Tokyo to New York last summer and really enjoyed the BusinessElite product.
The BusinessElite section is split into a larger front cabin and a smaller cabin behind, with a total of 45 seats laid out in a 45-degree herringbone configuration. Seats have 78 inches in pitch, are 20 inches wide, and recline to fully flat beds that come with comfy duvets and full-size pillows. Each has its own entertainment screen, laptop power and USB port as well as a small reading lamp.
The menu is designed by the Food Network’s chef Michele Bernstein, and the wine list has been selected by sommelier Andrea Robinson. I had a great experience on my Asia flight, but when I go to Australia, I’ll be more curious to try Virgin Australia’s business class since it’s new to me and looks like a really fun, quintessentially Aussie experience. Plus availability at the lowest award levels is much better than Delta!