The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia

Apr 28, 2022

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From the teeming waters of the Great Barrier Reef to the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House, the vast deserts of the Red Centre, the wineries of the Barossa and the sophisticated restaurants and galleries of Melbourne, Australia is a one-of-a-kind destination with experiences for all types of travelers.

The country reopened to vaccinated tourists on Feb. 21, and many U.S. travelers are itching to book their first trip. Luckily, there are plenty of points options for flying there from the U.S., many of which are possible thanks to the transfer options from major programs like American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.

At the time of writing, flights to Australia are not yet at their pre-pandemic network makeup, but many routes have returned. For example, Qantas has put many of its flights to Australia back on the schedule, including its ultra-long-haul route from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Sydney (SYD).

Related: Consistency is key: Qantas (787-9) business class from Melbourne to Perth

Further, there is a lot of demand for flights from the U.S. to Australia with the news of its reopening, so it might be hard to find award space. But if you search consistently — and enlist ExpertFlyer’s (owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) help — you can fly Down Under for a reasonable price.

Let’s take a quick look at your best options for booking flights from the U.S. to a soon-to-reopen Australia.

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In This Post

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

You can use Alaska miles to fly Qantas business class on the cheap. (Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

In the time that Australia has been closed to tourists, Alaska joined Oneworld. The alliance is also home to American and Qantas, who both fly directly from the U.S. to Australia.

American has suspended flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD). Thankfully, Qantas flies from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX), and from Los Angeles to Melbourne (MEL). Likewise, service to San Francisco is set to resume later this year.

Alaska also offers awards to Australia on Fiji Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Korean Air. Unfortunately, U.S. transit passengers are banned from Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong (HKG) hub due to the coronavirus pandemic, while Korean Air and Singapore Airlines awards aren’t priced competitively.

Fiji Airways:

  • Economy: 40,000 miles.
  • Business: 55,000 miles.

Qantas:

  • Economy: 42,500 miles.
  • Premium economy: 47,500 miles.
  • Business: 55,000 miles.
  • First: 70,000 miles.

Of those, the most interesting option is probably Fiji Airways for economy, since you need just 40,000 miles each way (though only 2,500 more miles on Qantas). Plus, you can leverage Alaska’s free stopover on award tickets to spend time in French Polynesia on your way to Australia.

Alaska award ticket on Fiji Airways from LAX to BNE
(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

Redeeming Alaska miles for premium economy tickets on Qantas is also compelling. You need just 47,500 miles to book a ticket from the U.S. to Australia in this class of service, which can easily cost hundreds of dollars more than an economy ticket on this route.

Alaska award ticket on Qantas from DFW to SYD
(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

Likewise, the best deal for business class is on Qantas. Direct flights cost just 55,000 miles one-way from the U.S. and Canada, though award space is tough to come by. Remember, you can connect to one of Qantas’ U.S. gateways on an Alaska Airlines flight for no additional mileage.

Alaska award ticket from SEA to SYD on Qantas
(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

Transfer partners: One downside to Alaska is that it’s only a transfer partner of Marriott Bonvoy, and transfers process at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll also earn a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. You could open cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and move those points to Alaska to book award flights.

Award searches and availability: Use alaskaair.com to search for awards.

ANA Mileage Club

ANA Boeing 787
ANA Mileage Club offers solid redemptions to Australia. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

We often pinpoint this Japanese carrier’s program as one of the best options for booking awards on its Star Alliance partners due to low award costs. Just note that you must book round-trip awards with ANA and that its online search tool isn’t the most intuitive.

ANA has a zone-based chart, with different prices for ANA-operated awards and partner-operated awards. Here’s a look at ANA Mileage Club’s partner award chart (all prices are round-trip):

  • Economy: 75,000 miles.
  • Business: 120,000 miles.
  • First: 225,000 miles.

On ANA’s own flights — which connect through Japan — you’ll pay a different number of miles depending on when you fly. The award chart is split into three seasons (which you can view on ANA’s website). Here’s how it breaks down for flights from the U.S. to Australia:

Economy Premium economy Business First
Low season 60,000 88,000 105,000 210,000
Regular season 70,000 98,000 115,000 210,000
High season 75,000 103,000 210,000 225,000

The good news is award availability on ANA itself tends to be quite open year-round, even in business class. One of ANA’s partners is United Airlines, which flies directly from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Sydney (SYD), but award space is harder to come by in business class.

ANA award ticket on United and Air Canada from SFO to SYD
(Screenshot courtesy of ana.co.jp)

Transfer partners: You can transfer points from both American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to ANA.

If you need to top up your Membership Rewards balance for a trip to Australia, consider applying for the American Express® Gold Card. It currently offers 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on the card in the first six months of account opening. You can leverage that bonus and the card’s earning rate of 4 points per dollar on groceries (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar) and dining to quickly build up enough points for your trip.

Award searches and availability: ANA’s award search engine tends to find most of the award availability on partners, including flights on United and Air Canada (though not necessarily all of it, so be sure to cross-check with searches on United.com and Aeroplan.com).

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

American Airlines 777
You can redeem Asia Miles for American flights to Australia, but you need to call in. (Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

Cathay Pacific’s mileage program is often overlooked but should remain under consideration thanks to its plethora of transfer partners.

Asia Miles has one of the most complicated sets of award charts to decipher. The award you book will depend not only on the distance flown — you look at the one-way distance of your flight — but also which airlines you fly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t publish an official partner award chart, but pricing on these flights tends to be in line with its Cathay Pacific award chart with an additional mileage surcharge.

Asia Miles award ticket on Qantas from YVR to SYD
(Screenshot courtesy of asiamiles.com)

Let’s assume you’re flying from Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) or Vancouver, British Columbia (YVR), to Sydney (SYD) with Qantas. Here’s what you can expect to pay with Asia Miles:

  • Economy: 47,500 miles.
  • Premium economy: 60,000 miles.
  • Business: 90,000 miles.

Transfer partners: Here’s why Asia Miles makes it onto this list. The program is a transfer partner of four major points programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card currently offers 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on the card within the first three months of account opening.

Award searches and availability: Asia Miles’ search engine is effective at finding awards on Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Unfortunately, you cannot find American Airlines award space on the Asia Miles website, so you’ll need to find flights on AA.com and call Asia Miles to book your award ticket.

The other thing to be aware of is that Asia Miles passes on fuel surcharges, so you could pay more than $400 in surcharges on round-trip award tickets, depending on who you fly. Remember, U.S. transit passengers are currently banned from the Hong Kong airport, so you cannot fly Cathay Pacific from the U.S. to Australia at this time.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club offers the best deals on Delta flights to Australia. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though U.S.-based flyers might first consider Delta SkyMiles for booking awards on Delta, the airline also partners with a number of other carriers, including Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club recently devalued Delta awards, but it can still provide an OK deal on flights to Australia when compared to SkyMiles. Here’s what you can expect to pay for a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) under Flying Club’s distance-based Delta award chart:

  • Economy: 45,000 points
  • Business class: 165,000 points
Booking a Delta award to Australia
(Screenshot courtesy of virginatlantic.com)

For the same economy flight, it’s nearly twice the price on Delta, and the taxes and fees are roughly the same.

Booking a Delta award to Australia
(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

Transfer partners: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.

Award searches and availability: You can book awards directly with virginatlantic.com.

Bottom line

Award tickets to Australia can be some of the hardest airline trips to book, so it pays to look beyond the typical U.S. mileage programs like American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus to some international frequent flyer programs.

Many, like Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, have several transfer partners, allowing you to top up your account with the necessary miles quickly. Others, like ANA’s Mileage Club, have some amazingly low redemption requirements on certain tickets that make them a downright bargain.

If you are thinking of visiting Australia and would like to use miles, do your homework, figure out your options and consider these programs.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen and Andrew Kunesh.

Featured photo by africanpix/Getty Images.

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