Australia is reopening: How to book a trip to Sydney with points and miles
Soon, Australia will once again welcome tourists and other visa holders as its borders finally reopen. From Feb. 21, you'll be able to travel there quarantine-free as long as you are fully vaccinated.
If it's your first time trekking Down Under, Sydney is a perfect place to start. Although it’s a long way away, the city feels enough like home for newer travelers to feel comfortable exploring, while still being dynamic enough to allow the more experienced to find something new and exciting each time they visit.
Plus, there are lots of ways to get to Sydney and make the most of your stay there with points and miles. This can help you save a ton of money on your trip and upgrade the experience with nicer hotels and business-class airfare.
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Flying to Sydney with points and miles
The aptly named Sydney Airport (SYD) is the island nation’s busiest, averaging more than 150,000 passengers each day pre-pandemic.
Despite it being a major world city, if you’re in the U.S., you can currently only fly nonstop from Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Dallas (DFW) and Honolulu (HNL). And get ready for a long flight: The shortest, from Honolulu, runs almost 10 1/2 hours, while the longest, from Dallas, is a whopping 16 hours and 45 minutes. The good news is that once you arrive, the city center is about 5 miles away and easily accessible by train.
Redemption costs vary greatly, as does award availability. Aside from the heightened demand, some Sydney flights have been downsized to smaller aircraft, making finding award seats even harder. For example, Qantas' route from Dallas to Sydney was operated by an Airbus A380 prior to the pandemic but is now operated by a Boeing 787.
Booking flights with Qantas
If you're looking to fly American Airlines or Qantas from a city like Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco or Honolulu, consider booking directly through American AAdvantage or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
If you're lucky enough to find saver award space, American will charge you just 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way in economy, 65,000 in premium economy, 80,000 in business class and 110,000 in first class.
Alaska charges those same rates for American flights and the following for Qantas flights: 42,500 miles for economy, 47,500 for premium economy, 55,000 for business class and 70,000 for first class. These are particularly excellent rates for Qantas flights, but award space can be tough to come by in premium cabins.
Of course, you can also book directly through the Qantas Frequent Flyer Program, which is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Citi ThankYou Rewards, though the redemption rates are much higher, particularly in premium cabins.
Booking United flights to Sydney
United, on the other hand, flies nonstop to Sydney from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
One-way awards start at 40,000 United MileagePlus miles in economy, but can top 100,00 miles during busier periods. Meanwhile, one-way business-class awards range from 88,000 miles to over 200,000 miles now that United has transitioned to dynamic award pricing.
If there's saver-level space available, you could be better off booking through ANA Mileage Club, which charges 75,000 miles round-trip in economy and 120,000 miles in business class. You can also combine United flights with other Star Alliance carriers and pay the same number of miles.
You can transfer points to United from Chase Ultimate Rewards if you carry the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and to ANA from American Express Membership Rewards.
Related: Everything you need to know about United Polaris business class
Booking Delta award flights to Sydney
Delta's award rates are even more inconsistent.
At the time of writing, we're seeing one-way economy awards range from 68,000 Delta SkyMiles to over 100,000. Meanwhile, Premium Select starts at 125,000 miles and Delta One business class consistently costs over 300,000 miles.
A better way to get on these flights would be through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, which charges 45,000 points one-way for economy and 165,000 points for business class.
Delta is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, while Virgin partners with American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
Related: The best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia
Where to stay
Sydney is home to hotels in all of the major hotel groups, so you'll have no problem using your points in the city. Here's a look at some of your best options in each of the major chains.
Redeeming World of Hyatt points in Sydney
If you’re a World of Hyatt loyalist, you’re probably familiar with the chain’s hotel categories, and may have wondered how nice a Category 7 hotel really is.
Well, there are few better places to find out than at the Park Hyatt Sydney. This is arguably one of the most sought-after properties among award travelers, despite it being one of the very few hotels where Globalists can’t use Suite Upgrade Awards. It's known for its breathtaking views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, spacious rooms and top-notch service.
Related: The best views in the world: A review of the Park Hyatt Sydney
A room here will set you back 25,000 to 35,000 points per night, depending on peak and off-peak pricing. Cash rates normally exceed $800 per night. If you're short on World of Hyatt points, you can quickly boost your balance by picking up the World of Hyatt Credit Card or World of Hyatt Business Credit Card, which are both currently offering significant welcome bonuses.
Of course, you can also transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Like your luxury for less? Don't overlook the Hyatt Regency Sydney. As a Category 5 World of Hyatt property, it’ll cost you 10,000 fewer points per night — just 20,000 — than the Park Hyatt Sydney (12,000 fewer during peak dates). The rooms are well appointed and its Darling Harbour location is still very convenient, with a water taxi stop and train stops nearby as well as a bustling boardwalk.
Redeeming IHG Rewards points in Sydney
How does free sound to you? Use the annual reward night certificate from your IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card to snag a night at one of the brand’s many appealing properties in Sydney.
Choose anywhere from a stately hotel like the InterContinental Sydney, normally about $220 or 32,000 IHG Rewards points per night, or the modern Crowne Plaza Sydney Darling Harbour, starting at $160 or 30,000 IHG Rewards points per night. Likewise, you can opt for one of the city's several Holiday Inn properties.
For something a little more luxe, IHG also fields the new Kimpton Margot Sydney, where award nights start at 46,000 points. It's located in an updated art deco building in “the edgy south corner of the city” and offers amenities like a wine cellar, rooftop bar and rooftop pool.
Related: Flexible free night certificates from Marriott and IHG are coming — but it’s not all good news
Redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points in Sydney
Maybe you're looking to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points. How about a stay along the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Pier One Sydney Harbour is an Autograph Collection boutique hotel situated next to the south pylon. Book this property for around $170 or 30,000 to 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Alternatively, for the same award rate, you can stay at the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, with an indoor rooftop swimming pool. There's also the chic new W Sydney, which is expected to open in November.
Related: 10 new hotels in Australia you can visit now that the country is reopening to tourists
Budget redemptions at chain hotels are harder to come by close to the Central Business District, so consider using a bank portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book a hotel. When cash rates are low, this option can be cheaper than transferring points.
Related: The best ways to book hotels through online travel agencies and bank portals
Sydney has a vast and modern public transportation system, mixing trains, buses and ferries.
Almost every mode of public transportation requires an Opal card, which you can find at any convenience or grocery store — top it off with your Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card so you can get 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for the travel purchase.
Whether you’re going to the airport, the beach or the park, your Opal card and Sydney’s award-winning transit system can get you there. One caveat: Many of the trains stop running at midnight, so plan accordingly.
One of the best — and least expensive — ways to appreciate Sydney is by ferry. Take the ferry to Manly and return around sunset. The journey takes about 20 minutes each way from Circular Quay, and it’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture of the skyline, the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge.
Related: 8 common misconceptions about visiting Australia
Taxis can be pricey but fortunately Uber is available all over the city. You should also consider seeing the city by bicycle. Sydney’s topography is rather flat and makes for excellent biking, either on your own or with a tour.
Related: Visiting Australia: Is Sydney or Melbourne better?
Sydney is a vibrant and friendly city, enjoyable as a quick stopover on your way to other parts of the South Pacific or as a destination in its own right. And while it can take a long time — and a lot of points and miles — to get there, you’ll find plenty of ways to make your visit affordable no matter which programs you use. So whether you’re new to traveling, new to points and miles or new to neither, any day in Sydney is a g’day.
Additional reporting by J. Keith van Straaten.