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The US dollar continues to do well on the international currency market, and while that seems to have sent American travelers to Europe in droves this summer, the Old World isn’t the only place where you can make out better than a currency trader with an inside source at the IMF. TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at another place where you can get bang for your buck these days: Australia. 

See some of Australia's most famous sights, including mystical Uluru in the Red Centre.
See some of Australia’s most famous sights, including mystical Uluru in the Red Centre.

The high season for summer travel has come to an end, but the US dollar is still going strong. With the low season upon us, it’s a great time to travel and make those greenbacks stretch even farther. Although this past summer’s big travel news seemed to deal with how well the US dollar was doing against the euro, that’s not the only currency it’s been besting — both Australia’s and New Zealand’s dollars are slumping in comparison to ours as well.

The US dollar is going strong against the Aussie one.
The US dollar is going strong against the Aussie dollar.

In fact, according to XE.com, the Australian dollar is currently at what must be one of its lowest points in years compared with the US dollar — just 0.6935 US dollars to 1 Aussie dollar.

So if you’ve been contemplating a trip Down Under, now might just be the right time to save big — especially because summer is still to come! Start counting those dead presidents, Andrew Jacksons, Benjis and C-notes and get ready to to take a trip to Oz.

Last time I was there, I saw a double rainbow over the Opera House from the Four Seasons hotel.
Last time I was in Sydney, I saw a double rainbow over the Opera House from the Four Seasons hotel. Photo by Eric Rosen.

Flight Options

Getting to Australia from the US presents a great opportunity to book awards with a variety of points and miles currencies rather than spending cash. Though airfares are generally down thanks to falling oil prices, those from the US to Australia haven’t budged much. The lowest economy fares I could find during the next several months are hovering around the $1,100 mark from San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD); from other cities, they’re averaging $1,600. Business class costs about $6,000.

Time for a stroll along Sydney Harbour and past its famous bridge.
Time for a stroll along Sydney Harbour and past its famous bridge. Photo by Eric Rosen.

Although premium awards can be very tough to track down on routes to Australia, if you’re willing to fly economy and your schedule has some flexibility, you’ll find a decent amount of availability and plenty of award options in any of the three major alliances, as well as on non-alliance carriers. The following are some of the best:

Air Canada

US flyers might forget about this carrier from our neighbor to the north, but Air Canada can be a great option for travelers looking to make it to Australia. Not only is it part of the Star Alliance, meaning you can use a variety of miles (including United’s) to fly it, but it also flies to both Sydney and Brisbane from its hub in Vancouver.

Air Canada flies to Australia from Vancouver
Air Canada flies to Australia from Vancouver.

Aeroplan, Air Canada’s mileage program, will charge you:

  • 40,000 miles each way in economy
  • 80,000 in business class
  • 110,000 in first class

The good news is that Aeroplan is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards if you have a card like the Platinum Card or the Premier Rewards Gold. The bad news is that taxes and fuel surcharges on Air Canada’s own international flights can be very expensive. The airline’s also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, and for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000-point bonus, meaning the transfer ratio is effectively 1:1.25 if you plan strategically.

AC YVR SYD econ roundtrip

Here’s a sample round-trip economy award from Vancouver to Sydney later in September. As you can see, it’s 80,000 miles … and nearly $650 in taxes and fees! Still, it’s an option.

Air New Zealand

Another Star Alliance carrier you might forget about is Air New Zealand, New Zealand’s national airline, which can actually be a great choice to get to Australia. Not only does it fly to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Honolulu (HNL) and Vancouver (YVR), but it will launch nonstop service from Auckland (AKL) to Houston (IAH) starting in December.

Connect to several airports in Australia via Air New Zealand's hub in Auckland.
Connect to several airports in Australia via Air New Zealand’s hub in Auckland.

From Auckland (AKL), you can connect to various Australian hubs, including Sydney (SYD), Brisbane (BNE), Melbourne (MEL) and even Perth (PER).

The one catch is that Air New Zealand does not release business-class awards to partners, so you won’t be able to book a premium seat using your miles. Not only that, but award availability right now seems to be extremely tight — one might even say non-existent. I’m not sure if there’s a glitch with Star Alliance, but if and when it comes back online, your best bet to experience Air New Zealand is to use United miles. It’ll cost you 40,000 miles each way in economy.

American Airlines is launching service to Sydney on December 17, 2015, on their flagship aircraft, the Boeing 777-300ER.
American Airlines is launching service to Sydney on December 17, 2015, on its flagship aircraft, the Boeing 777-300ER.

American Airlines

American Airlines made news back in June with the announcement that it would launch a daily flight from LAX to SYD starting December 17, 2015. It’ll fly the route with one of its newest planes, the 777-300ER, with its latest first and business classes. The new flight means one more way to use your Oneworld miles to fly to Australia, and this happens to be a good one — especially if you want to fly economy.

American's business class aboard its 777-300ER
American’s business class aboard its 777-300ER is the airline’s latest.

When you search for awards from LAX-SYD on AA.com, you’ll pull up not only American’s own award availability, but also that of its partner, Qantas, so you have a lot of choices. You’ll find little to no saver-level availability in premium classes in January-December (typically high season down there), but there’s economy saver-level availability nearly every day.

AA LAX SYD avail

And here’s a sample round-trip itinerary on American’s own flights in February for 75,000 miles and $101.90.

AA LAX SYD award

The introduction of American’s own flights on this route mean you can book higher-level awards. Granted, you’ll need to use more miles — a lot more, in some cases — but it’s still an option.

American will charge you the following miles round-trip for saver awards:

  • 75,000 miles in economy
  • 125,000 in business
  • 145,000 in first class

American is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, and for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000-point bonus, meaning the transfer ratio is effectively 1:1.25 if you plan strategically.

You could also use Alaska miles, though that chart isn’t yet up on Alaska’s site. Theoretically, Alaska will charge you the same amount of miles it does for Qantas on these routes: 85,000 for economy, 110,000 for business class and 140,000 for first class round-trip.

1024px-Delta_Air_Lines_B767-300_N130DL
Delta flies to Sydney from Los Angeles daily.

Delta

Delta currently flies a daily route from LAX to SYD aboard a 777-200LR. By searching Delta, you can see not only its award availability during a period of five weeks, but also availability on its non-alliance partner, Virgin Australia.

Here’s a look at award availability from LAX-SYD in economy – lots of open days:

DL LAX SYD avail

Here’s a day when redemptions on both Delta and Virgin Australia are at the saver level:

SYD LAX Dl vs VA

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of saver-level business availability in the near-term:

DL LAX SYD bus avail

And when it does open up with a few dates in March-April, and then more in May-June, most of the awards at the saver level seem to be on Virgin Australia. Still, you can sometimes luck out with an award on Delta, and if you’re willing to spend more miles, you can always book a higher-level award.

DL LAX SYD award

Though it stopped publishing award charts, Delta requires:

  • 100,000 miles round-trip for economy
  • 160,000 for business at the saver level

Delta is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian flies to Sydney from its hub in Honolulu. (Photo courtesy of Eric Salard via Flickr.)

Hawaiian Airlines

This wouldn’t be my top choice, simply because you’ll have to stop in Honolulu (HNL) on the way. But if you’re coming from the East Coast, that might not be such a bad option. Hawaiian flies to HNL from:

  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • New York (JFK)
  • Oakland (OAK)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Portland, OR (PDX)
  • Sacramento (SMF)
  • San Diego (SAN)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)

From there, you can connect to SYD. To get from the mainland US to Australia, Hawaiian will charge you:

  • 120,000 miles roundtrip in economy
  • 210,000 in first class

Unfortunately, Hawaiian and American limited their frequent-flyer partnership as of September 1, so you can no longer use AA miles for non-intra-island flights on the airline. However, if you need to top up your Hawaiian account, know that it’s a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Qantas operates flights to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne from Los Angeles.
Qantas operates flights to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne from Los Angeles.

Qantas

Qantas is the largest carrier in Australia and currently flies from Melbourne (once daily), Sydney (twice daily) and Brisbane (once daily) to Los Angeles, as well as from Sydney to Dallas (once daily). Starting December 18, it’ll also launch flights from Sydney to San Francisco starting at five times per week and bumping up to six times per week in February.

Qantas is a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards if you have a card like the Prestige or ThankYou Premier, so you can always transfer points into its Frequent Flyer program from there. But it’ll cost you 96,000 miles roundtrip in economy, 192,000 in business and a whopping 288,000 in first class.

Check Qantas's new SFO-SYD route for business class availability. Photo by Eric Rosen.
Check Qantas’s new SFO-SYD route for business class availability. Photo by Eric Rosen.

Instead, use your American Airlines miles instead at a rate of 75,000/125,000/145,000 for economy/business/first, respectively. You can also use Alaska miles at a rate of 85,000/110,000/140,000.

You can fly non-stop to Melbourne on Qantas as well. Photo by Eric Rosen.
You can fly nonstop to Melbourne on Qantas, as well. Photo by Eric Rosen.

I’d suggest using AA.com to search for awards. Here are examples of dates where flights from Los Angeles to Brisbane are available in economy:

AA QF LAX BNE dates

And here are the airline’s flights from Los Angeles (both flights) and San Francisco, as well as American’s LAX-SYD flight, all of which are available in economy:

AA QF LAX SFO SYD

Finally, here’s an award from San Francisco-Sydney in business class on Qantas:

QF SFO SYD bus

So you have a lot of options here.

United will fly only its 787-9 Dreamliners to Australia beginning in 2016.
United will fly only its 787-9 Dreamliners to Australia beginning in March 2016.

United

United operates a few useful flights for getting to Australia. It flies daily from both LAX and SFO to SYD, and operates a daily flight from LAX-Melbourne (MEL). Although the MEL flight is aboard a 787-9, the others are aboard 777-200s, which will shift to additional 787-9s in March.

If wine's your thing, head to South Australia's Barossa region to try great vintages like those made at Torbreck. Photo by Eric Rosen.
If wine’s your thing, head to South Australia’s Barossa region to try great vintages like those made at Torbreck. Photo by Eric Rosen.

For awards on its own flights, United will charge you the following miles each way:

  • 40,000 in economy
  • 70,000 in business
  • 80,000 in first

Once the 787-9s take over the Australian routes, though, there will be no more first-class cabins on the airline’s flights to Australia. Still, United offers decent award availability on its LAX-SYD route, especially in economy:

United LAX SYD

As well as its SFO-SYD route:

United SFO SYD

Availability on its LAX-MEL route is a little tighter:

United LAX MEL

If you want to score a business-class award on any of these flights, your best bet is to book either very far in advance, or to be flexible enough to see what opens up the week before you travel, since these routes all seem to see business-class seats become available within a few days of travel.

United is a 2:1 transfer partner of SPG, but a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus.

Head to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary to get up close and personal with Australia's marsupials. Photo by Eric Rosen.
Head to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary outside Melbourne to get up close and personal with Aussie marsupials — like I did!

Virgin Australia

Though not part of any alliance, and limiting its own frequent-flyer scheme to residents of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, Virgin Australia can still be a great choice for getting to Oz. That’s because it’s a non-alliance partner with Delta, and its award availability tends to be pretty decent.

Virgin Australia flies to LA from both Sydney and Brisbane.
Virgin Australia flies to LA from both Sydney and Brisbane.

The airline flies from LAX to SYD and Brisbane (BNE), and is currently refitting its 777-300ER aircraft, which it flies on these routes, with a snazzy new business-class seat. Your best bet for searching awards is Delta.com, and then you can use either Delta SkyMiles — or better yet, Virgin America points — to book it.

Delta will charge you 50,000 miles each way in economy, like on this itinerary:

LAX SYD Dl vs Va

Notice that this is 10,000 less than Delta’s charging for its own flight!

You could also spend 80,000 miles each way in business class, as in this sample flight for LAX-BNE:

DL LAX BNE Sep 14 bus

As with economy, sometimes you get a better option using your Delta miles on Virgin flights since they price at the saver level. Check out these two flights I pulled up for LAX-SYD:

DL LAX SYD award

The Virgin one is less than half the mileage!

As I mentioned, though, now that Virgin America has dropped fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia awards, Elevate points might be the best option overall for booking Virgin Australia awards from the US to Australia.

Here are the one-way Elevate requirements in miles and taxes/fees:

Virgin American Virgin Australia rt

And here are the Elevate round-trip numbers:

Virgin America Virgin Australia rt

So if you have the Elevate points and can get their agents to find award seats, this can be a fantastic redemption.

Note that Delta and Virgin America are both Amex transfer partners, and Delta is also a transfer partner of SPG.

shutterstock_242938093
Head to Rottnest Island in Western Australia to take a selfie with a quokka. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Further reading: Our Australia posts

Aside from these airline/award options, we have much more Australia content on the site, so be sure to check out our past posts:

Miles and Points

Flight Reviews

Hotel Reviews

General Travel

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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