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Up until this week, I had never been to Australia, which I know is hard for some people to believe since it seems like I’m constantly traveling. A visit has been on my to-do list for a while, but finally I decided to pull the trigger and take advantage of US Airway’s generous Australia awards (80,000 miles roundtrip for coach, 110,000 miles for business class and 140,000 miles for first class) this past fall. I’m currently writing this post form the Westin Melbourne and I can firmly say that I love Australia so far after only ~48 hours here! But more on that later – here’s how I booked the trip and where I plan to go over the next 10 days.
First Class for Less than $2,000 Roundtrip
I frequently purchase US Airways miles when they’re 1.1 cents apiece, so my first class roundtrip flight down under and back will end up costing me less than $2,000 when all is said and done. Not bad considering first class flights can go for more than $20,000. To boot, US Airways has extremely generous routing rules so I’ll actually be traveling around the world flying in premium cabins on United, Thai and Air Canada.
Total trip cost Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne (return in November): Melbourne-Bangkok-Zurich-Toronto-Los Angeles for first/business class 140,000 US Airways Dividend Miles and $126.
HUCA (Hang Up, Call Again…and again…and again…)
You cannot book most international partner awards at usairways.com, so you need to call Dividend Miles at 1-800-428-4322 and have agents price out the award. I highly recommend doing your own research in advance and finding saver award availability at United.com and wiring down the flight numbers and calling in. Even then, many phone reps will give you challenges and the standard “nope, no availability,” so if you get a terrible rep, hang up and call again. I actually had to make some last-minute changes during the snow storm last week and couldn’t get through to any agent at US Airways- and even tried going to the US Airways counter at LAX, where I was rebuffed and told I had to call to make any changes. Luckily, I was able to call American Airlines Executive Platinum line where a smart agent was able to direct connect to a ticketing agent at US Airways and essentially help me “cut the line”. I’m hopeful the merged carrier will take American Airlines’ culture of customer service over US Airways’!
Originally I booked a business class roundtrip via Taipei because that was the only availability, but routing via Asia drastically increases the travel time and I wanted to maximize my time down under. For example, LAX-Taipei-Sydney is 11,310 miles vs 7,488 nonstop – a 51% increase in miles flown (plus you have to factor in transfer times).
When January rolled around, I saw on united.com that United had released a good amount of non-stop LAX and San Francisco to Sydney/Melbourne award seats, so I decided to rebook in first class, even though it required 30,000 additional miles. Considering I bought these miles at 1.1 cents a piece, that was like paying $330 extra to fly in first class on most legs of what will be a 25,900-mile award ticket- a no-brainer since first class seats are generally much more spacious and every inch of pitch counts when you’re 6’7″! To pay for my new award outright would cost me a whopping $18,560.90!
At the time I was rebooking my Australia trip, I got invited to attend some meetings in Hawaii where a portion of my travel will be reimbursed. Since US Airways awards are roundtrip only and can’t be changed once you take the first leg, I ended up booking my return from Australia for November and I’m going to route through Bangkok/Zurich on the return to make the trip “around the world” and try out some new airlines.
Not only am I excited to get to spend a few days in Hawaii after a whirlwind week and a half in Australia but I’ll also get to fly a new airline, plus since I paid for that ticket in business class ($2,500) I’ll also earn AAdvantage miles and EQMs, which I need to re-qualify for Executive Platinum this year.
So basically, I’ll be making a trip back down under this November on a different ticket (hopefully routing through the South Pacific to sneak in some scuba diving) and to visit New Zealand, which I just didn’t have enough time for on this trip.
During our time in Australia, TPG Managing Editor Eric and I will be spending time in Melbourne, Hamilton Island and Sydney. We’ll be flying on Jetstar from Melbourne to Hamilton Island which is just under two hours in the air and costs $235.50 AUD ($211 USD) per person. After spending 3 days on Hamilton Island (and diving the Great Barrier Reef) we’ll head over to Sydney for the remainder of the trip. We booked Hamilton Island to Sydney on Virgin Australia in economy for $219 USD per person.
Throughout our travels we’ll be writing up reviews on our flights, the delicious restaurants we dine at and luxurious hotels we stay in so make sure you check back for additions to our Australia Series and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @thepointsguy / @EricRosenLA) for real-time updates!