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While Sydney may be the first place that comes to mind when you think of cities to visit in Australia, Melbourne should be a close second. Although it lacks the iconic architectural jewels of its big brother Sydney, the capital of Victoria pulses with a dazzling array of culture, funky shops, innovative cuisine and vibrant nightlife — and if the city itself isn’t enough, you’re less than two hours away from one of the world’s greatest road trips. Here’s how to get to, stay in and get around Melbourne for less by using points and miles.
Melbourne Airport (MEL) is the second-busiest in the country, handling more than 23 million passengers annually — Sydney Airport (SYD) comes in at first with more than 25 million passing through it each year. But despite all this activity, nonstop flights from the US are rare and long: a 16-hour journey from Los Angeles (LAX) or an 11-hour ride from Honolulu (HNL). You’ll have to connect through these cities if you want connections within the States — and booking a nonstop flight from Honolulu with miles isn’t easy. Otherwise, various connections are available throughout Asia and the South Pacific. The good news is, wherever you’re coming from in the US, the redemption levels with American and United are about the same.
United’s nonstop flight from LAX can cost a lot or a huge lot, with differences in one-way Saver and Standard award redemptions of 40,000 to 85,000 Mileage Plus miles for economy and 70,000 to 175,000 for business or first (adding 10,000 to 20,000 when both business and first are offered).
Though American Airlines operates its own nonstop flight to Sydney, all routes to Melbourne from Los Angeles are codeshares on Qantas, with awards for 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in economy, 80,000 in business class and 110,000 in first class.
Virgin Australia added nonstop flights from LA back in April that you can book using Delta SkyMiles — Delta doesn’t publish an award chart, but a quick search showed one-way tickets from 45,000 SkyMiles in economy with no availability in business/first. Unlike other Virgin Australia flights, as of this writing, LAX-MEL is not bookable using Virgin America Elevate points. Hopefully, they will become available and be priced the same as the LAX-SYD route at 40,000 Elevate points round-trip.
Coming in from Hawaii? Jetstar has a nonstop flight from Honolulu that you can book with Qantas Points, but the carrier’s award calculator is not available to US residents through its website and putting in sample dates only showed one-way availability for 28,000 Qantas Points. Note that the same flights were not available for booking with AAdvantage miles. Another option would be to book this flight with Citi ThankYou points, but you’d have to call to book, and the cost would vary based on the cash price.
However you get there, keep in mind that Melbourne Airport is a fair distance from the city center. Your options are to spend a lot on a taxi or Uber ride into town, or to make things easy by hopping on the SkyBus for $19 Australian dollars (~$15) each way with free Wi-Fi to boot.
Where to Stay
One of the finest hotels in all of Australia — the five-star Park Hyatt Melbourne — can be yours for free by using your Two Free Nights Awards sign-up bonus with the Hyatt Visa Card — as long as you managed to sign up for the card prior to the recent changes on June 29, that is. If you’ve been a cardholder for over a year, Melbourne offers a fine use of your Free Anniversary Night Certificate as well with the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. A Category 4 property — the highest available for certificate redemption — additional nights at the 550-room hotel can be had for 15,000 World of Hyatt points.
97% of guests who stay at the Melbourne Marriott recommend it. At a rate of about $180 or 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, the Category 8 property offers 166 rooms and 19 suites over 10 floors.
The Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens is literally on Flagstaff Gardens, the oldest park in the city. This hotel, housed in a former police station, is just a few blocks from Etihad Stadium, a premier venue for sports and concerts. It can be booked for about $120 or 44,000 Club Carlson points per night.
The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Melbourne – Flinders Street is unsurprisingly on Flinders Street, the closest street to the Yarra River. The hotel features one of the most striking lobbies you’re likely to see in a DoubleTree and can be had for about $110 or 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Across the river, you’ll find the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf, which offers direct access to the convention center and a fantastic view of the award-winning design of the Webb Bridge. Rates start at about $150 or 60,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Budget redemptions at chain hotels can be hard to come by in Melbourne, so consider using Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a hotel. A quick search showed the City Tempo hotel — which has a high rating on TripAdvisor — available for just $105 or 6,480 Ultimate Rewards points per night.
Beyond the free tram zone in the city center, trains and buses go all over and use a myki card for payment — buy and fill it with value using your Chase Sapphire Reserve Card to get 3x Ultimate Rewards points for the travel purchase. Uber is also available if you’re in a hurry.
You probably won’t need a car if you’re staying in the city, but I urge you to rent one and drive along one of the most spectacular roads on earth. The Great Ocean Road hugs the coast and in about four hours, brings you to 12 Apostles, a stunning rock formation amidst the limestone cliffs. If you’re opposed to driving on the left side of the road, visit the Great Ocean Road as part of a day trip from Melbourne — Viator and other local tour companies offer great half- or full-day options so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
For animal lovers, it’s only an hour from the city to Moonlit Sanctuary, where you can feed a kangaroo and hug a koala. One hour more and you’re on the beaches of Phillip Island, where people sit on the bleachers at dusk to watch the Penguin Parade, where dozens of penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle toward their homes along the shoreline.
With so much to offer, it’s easy to see why Melbourne is consistently rated the world’s most livable city. It also happens to be one of the world’s most visit-able. That’s why I say go to Sydney to look at Australia; go to Melbourne to experience it. And make sure you use points and miles along the way.
What are some of your best tips and tricks for saving in Melbourne with points and miles? Sound off, below.
Featured image by ymergeman/Getty Images.
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