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TPG reader Kyle messaged me to ask about upgrades on American Airlines:
“Do you think there will be a lot of upgrade availability on the the new American LAX-SYD route once it opens?”
American Airlines recently announced that it will fly nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney starting in December, 2015. While the new service is a welcome addition, I don’t expect there to be a lot of award or upgrade space. To explain why, it helps to look at the new Dallas-Hong Kong route, which is similar because it’s operated on the new premium 777W aircraft. American has been selling a lot of premium seats on that route, and it has been pretty popular and profitable, so I don’t suspect there will be much saver-level award space. However, if you’re willing to part with three times as many miles, there will most likely be availability at the premium level, and that might still be worthwhile.
Business-class tickets to Australia are expensive, and those flights are long. If you want to maximize your time on the ground, it may be worth the extra miles to arrive well rested after flying in a comfortable seat. One additional perk is that you’ll be able to book Anytime awards. AA hasn’t published redemption rates for Australia yet, but it’ll probably be similar to Asia Region 2 — 55,000 in business/67,500 in first for MileSAAver; 140,000 in business/180,000 in first for AAnytime Level 1; or 175,000 in business/210,000 in first for AAnytime Level 2.
I suspect upgrades will be held until the very last minute, which is a huge risk to take. You may be able to find upgrade availability on ExpertFlyer, but I wouldn’t expect much, especially right when the route opens at peak holiday travel times. Of course, I would love to be proven wrong! American, my Christmas wish this year is to have lots of low-level award and upgrade space available, but I won’t hold my breath.
Another option could be to upgrade from business to first — you probably won’t get much value out of upgrading to first class on a short flight like New York to London, but it might be worthwhile on a long flight to Sydney.
Qantas awards are difficult to come by, though you can get lucky on the routes from LAX to Brisbane or Melbourne, and you can include a domestic segment on Qantas from there. This might be a good opportunity to book economy tickets and upgrade using miles or American systemwide upgrades. For more ideas about booking awards to Australia, check out Eric Rosen’s post on How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Sydney.
Please share your experiences with upgrades and award space on routes like this in the comments below.
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