How to Get To Australia With Delta SkyMiles
Award travel to Australia from the US is generally among the hardest to book. Only Delta, United, Qantas, Hawaiian and V Australia fly from the US to Sydney (and Air Canada from Vancouver), so getting your preferred flights will usually take some time and research, but it can be done.
Delta partners with Hawaiian and V Australia, so you have two options for non-stop trips to Australia. You can also route through Hawaii and fly partner Hawaiian airlines, which could be a nice stopover, but otherwise it's out of the way and Hawaiian airlines does not have lie-flat seats if you are trying to go business class. Low level awards are 100,000 round-trip for coach and 150,000 round-trip for business class. Delta does not do one-way awards (at least not at half the price of a round-trip) and all partner awards are at the low level.
Delta flies Los Angeles to Sydney, but finding low-level award space is nearly impossible. In my experience Delta only releases low-level award space in the week or so leading up to departure. For example, I checked while writing this post and there were 4 days this week with low level space to Sydney and one day for a return of 1 week later. Going into September, everything was medium/high and the next return date with a low level award was a random date in April. Unfortunately since the majority of people plan their trips to Australia in advance, this method is useless for most. However, if you do book a Delta award at a higher tier, say 240/370k for mid/high tier business class, you can always pay to re-ticket it at the lower award tier if space does become available, as long as you change your flight more than 72 hours before departure (read more on that new annoying rule here). 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. I flew on that plane to Tokyo in June and really enjoyed the BusinessElite experience.
Flying via Hawaii on Hawaiian is pretty simple- just look up Hawaiian award availability on Expertflyer and then call Delta to get it booked.
The best way to get a low level award to Sydney/Melbourne is via V Australia. Delta announced this partnership over a year and a half ago, but some Delta ticketing agents still don't know it exists. Or some will say that you can only book a V Australia flight in conjunction with a Delta flight. False. If your rep sounds confused, you may want to hang up and try again to get a knowledgeable rep. Once you get one who knows what they are doing, you'll be surprised at what's available. That being said, I called Delta twice during the making of this post and both were well-trained and knew how to look up V Australia space quickly.
Before you spend time researching, I recommend calling to see if there's a chance your flights are available - you may be surprised. I recommend giving the Delta agent as much clarity as possible - ask them NOT to check Delta flights (because we know they won't be at the high level) and ask them to just search the transpacific segments on partner airline V Australia. If you task them with also finding your domestic segments as well, the chances that they will give you bad information increases. As with delta.com - it's always best to give it well defined one-leg segments to search.
V Australia flies daily from LAX to Sydney and from LAX to Melbourne on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays and LAX-Brisbane on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
If you don't have any luck with the phone rep, it's time to roll up your sleeves and do your own research. The first thing is you need to join Velocity Rewards, the frequent flyer program of V Australia (New member registration link). The program is technically only open to Australian/New Zealand residents, but I used the address of the Sydney Opera House and had no issues getting approved for an account and access to their award system. Get creative ;-)
Once logged in, go to Redeem awards -> V Australia -> Award search (direct link)
Okay, so here's the trick with Velocity - they discriminate award results if you start the search in the US! I was trying to find LAX-SYD/MEL/BNE availability and I was having no luck whatsoever. For months at a time, zero award seat availability - only thing showing was the Anytime awards which are not bookable with Delta miles. Their award chart is as follows - you need to search week by week to find the "low" economy awards, which price at 47,000 miles each way or business class at 79,000 - 94,400 each way.
I knew that V Australia has decent award space, so I tried it the other way around - starting in Sydney and lo and behold a bunch of options showed up. Since I was searching in reverse, it took me a little bit to figure out my potential trip, but within a couple minutes I saw that LAX-SYD was available on October 20 and SYD-LAX on Oct 24. I'm not actually taking this trip, but I wanted to do a dummy booking for the purpose of this post to show that booking these awards is indeed possible.
I called Delta and within 5 minutes had the ticket booked for 150,000 Skymiles and a whopping $620 in fees. On my e-receipt it showed a YQ (fuel surcharge) of $500. This fee is not added to Delta flights, so expect to pay that premium for V Australia. I also priced out a coach award while writing this post and the fees were exactly the same - $620. I say if it saves you over 50,000 miles to book V Australia over Delta (which it does in most cases), it makes sense to pay this surcharge. Some people prefer V Australia over Delta, so take that into account as well. I've never flown V Australia, but it's on my to-do list.
Original Miles: 150000 Total Tax: 622.40 USD XA 5.00 XY 7.00 YC 5.50 AU 49.40 WY 53.00 YQ 500.00 AY 2.50
So there you have it. You need to "sniff" out the low level awards on Velocity, but they can indeed be booked using Skymiles and a hefty co-pay.