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Using Miles For My First Trip to Australia: Melbourne, Hamilton Island and Sydney Here I Come

by on February 15, 2014 · 34 comments

in Australia, Trip Reports, United, US Airways

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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 stop in Melbourne: Desgraves St to see what Melbourne's coffee scene is all about

First stop in Melbourne: Degraves St to see what Melbourne’s coffee scene is all about

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).

United Global First seat 1a on the 747 in the nose of the plane

United Global First seat 1a on the 747 in the nose of the plane

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!

Hawaii Meeting
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.

HA-header_535x160

I’ll be returning from Sydney on Hawaiian Airlines for a quick business trip in Honolulu.

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.

Intra-Australia Flights

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 8.14.17 PM

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!

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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  • Jennifer Purdon

    I did the same thing 3 years ago. I really enjoyed United First Class on such long flights. Hamilton Island is fantastic! The weather was crappy when I was there, but I still had a good time there. Don’t miss the chane to hold a koala bear, you can only do that in Queensland. Diving was better up in Cairns, but that was due to weather issues. In Sydney I fell in love with the opera house. I took a behind the scenes tour during the day, then caught a show at night. Really cool if you’re in to architecture. Enjoy your time, I can’t wait to hear all about it!

  • Jonathan Sha

    Jetstar? That’s cruel!! Why not treat yourself with something better form Qantas? ;)

  • thepointsguy

    Awesome!!! I’m only in Hamilton for 3 days before Sydney, but can’t wait

  • thepointsguy

    The price (and flight time) was right! I’m sure I’ll survive :-)

  • Jason

    Can’t wait to read the rest of your trip report. A couple months ago I booked a trip for this Sept going to the same places (Sydney, Melbourne, and Hamilton) using AA miles. The hardest part is going to be waiting for Sept to get here!

  • OzFamilyTravels

    Qantas only fly to Hammo from Cairns and its a Dash8, so its Virgin or Jetstar. Enjoy, its a great place and where we got married. Actually we are headed over there this weekend

  • BCF

    TPG – how awesome! I was in 1A on SFO-SYD I believe the same day or day after you flew via LAX. I’m sure you guys are super busy but would be cool to meet up in SYD. I’ll be at the Park Hyatt the 22/23rd. @bradleycfox

  • Joe

    Headed to Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra in July staying mostly at Park Hyatts and a couple days at Sydney Hilton. Will be interesting to see your trip.

  • shay peleg

    Now if only united first class wasn’t business class disguised

  • Jennifer Purdon

    Oh it isn’t, Shay, at least on the Australia route. Config is 1X2X1 with each seat being a lay-flat pod. It was as good as Virgin Atlantic 1st class!

  • shay peleg

    So the same as delta business class? I am referring to the soft product mostly

  • Scott

    My boyfriend and I just spent new years in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, and Adelaide. We fell in love with the country and the people! Stayed at both the Hilton and Sheraton in Sydney – highly recommend the Sheraton especially if you have club access. I never like Sheratons in the US but this is the nicest Sheraton we have ever stayed at including Champagne, White, and Red wines and full oyster bar (among many other things) for happy hour. Its also right on the park and walking distance to all the fun bars! Hope you guys have a blast!

  • Muerl

    While its true that is an amazingly beautiful flight. And dirt cheep on avios.

    If you happen to be in Cairns anyway atleast.

  • Shayna

    When do you get to Hawaii? My husband and I would love to take you to dinner! We are long time fans! Email me at Shayna.mora@gmail.com!

  • Thomas Webster

    You seem to be skipping the best city – Brisbane.

  • JakePB

    Hey Brian, fun and informative post! Will you pay for your “cash” tickets with the Barclays card, so you can pay with their points?

  • rick b

    the seat didn’t make for a very comfortable bed, at least not any better than biz, and food was the same as biz. So with the exception of a little extra space, it is almost the same as biz.

  • rick b

    Are you still in Melbourne? Check out the penguin colony at St Kilda pier, they come out right after sunset. If you have more time, grab a car and drive down the great scenic road to the 12 Apostles, and check out Healesville animal sanctuary.

  • Alex

    I’m actually headed to Sydney as a 40th bday to myself in March :) I paid for the ticket bc it will be the start of my mileage runs ;) what a way to net almost 19k eqm!!

  • Nelson

    As a Melbournian, I would like to welcome you to Melbourne! the most awesome city in Australia! Next time gives us a heads up. Hope you enjoy/ed your stay.

  • thepointsguy

    Had a blast.. can’t wait to return!

  • thepointsguy

    Hopefully you get upgraded! But if not, it’s still worth it!

  • thepointsguy

    I paid with Sapphire Preferred so I bank the 2x, but I could have paid with Arrival and used those points.. just wanted to pad my UR account instead!

  • thepointsguy

    Brizzy/BrisVegas is on the to-do list for my next visit!

  • thepointsguy

    Will let you know- its a one night stop with meetings so TBD on my free time (if any!). But thanks for the offer

  • thepointsguy

    What did you think? I slept like a baby in 1k!

  • thepointsguy

    In Hammo now and it is BEAUTIFUL! Will be worth your wait for sure

  • Alex

    I find some econ tickets in the upper deck economy of the a380. So it’s all good. Got a friend that works for Qantas. Going to see if I can get a hook up lol

  • Ozdunk

    The Jetstar flight will be 3 hours, Queensland is an hour behind, no daylight savings there.

  • BCF

    I wish I could say the same. :) I enjoyed the seat, and service was great – plus I got on the flight deck… But even with ample booze and meds I might have slept 3 hours. I think it was a combination of excitement for first true int’l F trip and the guy in 1k randomly screaming ;). I’d definitely recommend the product though – if using miles!
    Cheers!

  • bob

    I can’t seem to find any solid info, but can you use miles to book a one way to australia and pay for the other? I have around 40k US air miles and would love to lessen the blow of a flight to Australia Im planning to make in June.

  • JWBlack305

    Is there no award availability for Intra-Australia flights? Noticed you paid cash for both flights?

  • Muerl

    Most JQ flights can’t be booked with AA miles. And Delta doesn’t allow one ways. QED

  • Eugene

    Which carrier are you flying for the Taipei-Sydney leg in your previous reservation? Assuming using US Airways miles, I see only China Airlines fly this route non-stop …

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