Take Advantage of the Strong Dollar to Travel to Australia
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
And here’s a sample round-trip itinerary on American’s own flights in February for 75,000 miles and $101.90.
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.
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:
Here’s a day when redemptions on both Delta and Virgin Australia are at the saver level:
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of saver-level business availability in the near-term:
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.
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.
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 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 Citi Premier Card, 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.
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.
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:
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:
Finally, here’s an award from San Francisco-Sydney in business class on Qantas:
So you have a lot of options here.
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.
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:
As well as its SFO-SYD route:
Availability on its LAX-MEL route is a little tighter:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
And here are the Elevate round-trip numbers:
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.
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
- How to Use Airline Miles for Award Travel to Sydney
- Flying to Australia on Air New Zealand and United
- Flying to Australia on Delta and Virgin Australia
- Flying to Australia on Qantas
- Using Miles for my First Trip to Australia
- Flight Review: United GlobalFirst Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne
- Flight Review: Virgin Australia International Business Class LAX-MEL
- Flight Review: United 777-200 BusinessFirst SFO-Sydney
- American Airlines vs. Qantas: Which Airline to Fly to Australia
- Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Sydney City
- Hotel Review: Sheraton on the Park Sydney
- Hotel Review: Westin Melbourne
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