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TPG Readers' Best Tips for Flying Around Australia

Sept. 16, 2018
10 min read
View of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in Australia's Northern Territory
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Many travelers who plan to visit every major city in Australia often forget that the Land Down Under is not just a country, it's a continent. In other words, it can take several hours or even days to drive between its most popular cities, making it impossible to see everything on your list if you're short on time. Flying between major metropolises and using each as a base to explore that particular region can save you a lot of time but isn't always the most economical route, although prices are often comparable to flying domestically within the US.

With that in mind, TPG Lounge member Elizabeth S. recently asked the rest of the group if they had any suggestions or tips for traveling around Australia by air.

"Looks like there are a few main airlines — Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar keep coming up. Does anyone know about Jetstar? Planning to fly Sydney to Cairns to Uluru and back to Sydney."

As always, there was a wide range of opinions on the subject, from folks who loved flying Australia's low-cost carriers, to those who'd rather fly anything else. Here’s a look at some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).

Give Jetstar a Chance...

I've flown Jetstar and Virgin Australia a few times on various trips around Australia myself, and both airlines have been fine. Like many TPG readers pointed out, Jetstar's a good option if you're looking to save money and don't have too much to carry with you.

"Jetstar is great in my opinion. So much cheaper for short flights and it's a great option." — Barbi V.O.

"My daughter flew Jetstar a lot in Vietnam and Australia earlier this year. It's very much a low-cost airline feel — passable and affordable but not extremely comfortable. She and I flew from Sydney to Bali on Jetstar and it was a really nice experience but she kept telling me that it was very different from the rest of her flights." — Oz N.

"I flew all three airlines while in Australia. All short, comfy flights. Jetstar is fine. Like most non-US carriers, just be mindful of the baggage fees because they tend to allow you to carry smaller bags on and charge more for less weight compared to typical costs stateside." — Adrienne A.

"I’m a frequent flyer and I’ve never had any issues with Jetstar." — Moira H.

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All we are saying is give Jetstar a chance. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
All we are saying is give Jetstar a chance. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

...But Keep These Things In Mind If You Do

That said, because Jetstar is a low-cost carrier, there are a few things to remember — you'll be getting a no-frills experience and can expect to pay for extras like checked bags, seat selection and snacks.

"For Jetstar, take note that they do not allow you to drop off checked bags until two hours before takeoff time. So don't show up early expecting you can just go to the Priority Pass lounge." — Burge K.

"Took Jetstar between Cairns and Sydney. It was fine, but they nickel and dime you for everything (e.g. beverage service is not free). They also were very strict with your carry-on bag. If it looked like it was over the weight limit, they weighed it when you're lined up for boarding. The plane itself was not the cleanest, but I didn't expect much from a budget airline." — Donovan T.

"Friends don’t let friends fly Jetstar, though it depends why you’re traveling. If you don’t have a lot of carry-on bags and if cancellations won’t ruin your trip, Jetstar is okay. That's not to say Virgin and Qantas don’t have their issues, but they are a step up." — Lee H.

"Jetstar is nowhere near the quality of JetBlue. There's no free Wi-Fi — no Wi-Fi at all — seat comfort is not even close, there's no satellite TV. Jetstar is closer to the Frontier or Southwest experience." — Timothy G.

"Jetstar is a discount airline. It’s great for short interstate flights but I’d avoid them for long-hauls. They have problems with baggage and cancelled flights all the time." — Kari J.G.

"I know you are not going in or out of Melbourne, but note for others’ future reference that Melbourne domestic flights on Jetstar use two different airports and they are not that close." — Donna M.

Pay attention to which Melbourne airport Jetstar flies out of. (Photo by Getty Images).
Pay attention to which Melbourne airport Jetstar flies out of. (Photo by Getty Images).

Stick to Qantas and Virgin Australia

Several TPG Lounge members shared why they love flying with Australia's two main carriers, citing better quality service and points-earning opportunities, among other perks.

"We took Qantas. It was the cheapest option and their in-flight service was so much better than in the US — we got a free checked bag and they actually served food and free drinks. Flight attendants were friendly, too." — Carol P.

"Qantas is the better choice in Australia [because of its] larger network — the carrier owns Jetstar as its low-cost option. I would choose them and bank points into a Oneworld airline or a Qantas partner. Virgin Australia is good, but I’m a Qantas preferred flyer in Australia and its partners internationally." — Darren P.

"You won’t earn points on Jetstar. I flew both Qantas and Virgin Australia. Both are nice. Qantas serves free beer on all flights after 4:00 p.m. in all classes. If you don’t drink though, they serve Bundaberg Ginger Beer, which is equally refreshing." — Devon Y.

"We flew Virgin and Qantas internally and they were both great. We just shopped for price and convenience." — Katie D.G.

Old classics like Qantas never go out of style. (Photo by The Points Guy)
Old classics like Qantas never go out of style. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Thoughts on Australia’s Low-Cost Carriers

Other TPG Lounge readers chimed in with general comments about Aussie low-cost carriers Jetstar and Tigerair, which often offer the cheapest fares.

"Australia has low-cost carriers like JetStar and Tigerair, which are kind of like flying Spirit and Frontier in terms of comfort and reliability. JetStar does partner with Qantas though I don’t understand the partnership exactly and they have some codeshare flights operated by one or the other — they tend to be cheaper but I’ve had them cancel and have more delays, plus they charge for every little thing. Then there's the big two, Virgin Australia and Qantas, which run you a little more but tend to be more reliable and are more likely to try to help you if things go wrong. They don’t nickel and dime you as much either." — Leela S.

"Yes I forgot about Tigerair—everyone should. Qantas owns Jetstar and they do codeshare on some of each other’s flights. Virgin Australia owns Tigerair but they don’t codeshare." — Nicholas B.

"Avoid Tigerair and Jetstar, which often have delays. Both charge extra for meals and luggage. Tigerair often cancels and, unless you buy their insurance, just offers refunds and won’t find you an alternative. Qantas and Virgin are full service airlines and good. Business class is not worth it unless you are flying coast to coast." — Stephanie A.

"If you're looking to pay cash, which is the best option, do a comparison on Webjet, then book directly with the airline." — Barney B.

Tigerair received mixed reviews from our TPG Lounge members. Have you ever flown it? (Photo by The Points Guy)
Tigerair received mixed reviews from our TPG Lounge members. Have you ever flown it? (Photo by The Points Guy)

Get Creative With Points and Miles

Of course, there are other ways to pay for flights within Australia, like cashing in Avios or Alaska miles to fly Qantas or using Etihad Guest Miles or Delta SkyMiles to fly Virgin.

"Jetstar has the worst customer service of any airline I’ve ever experienced. If you have a Chase or an Amex credit card, your best choice is probably to use Avios to buy domestic flights on Qantas. Redemption rates are super cheap — Sydney to Melbourne is 4,500 Avios + $11 USD in taxes — and availability is plentiful." — Burge K.

"Etihad Guest Miles are interesting to use on Virgin Australia. You can also convert Amex Membership Rewards points to fly in Etihad First." — Frederic L.

"I used Alaska Mileage Plan miles to book Qantas domestic flights in Australia, using the Alaska website." — Timothy G.

"Delta SkyMiles are redeemable on Virgin Australia." — Brenden Y.

"We used American Airlines miles to fly on Qantas. I believe it was 10,000 AA miles for a one-way flight." — Julie Z.

"I flew on a Qantas A330 in business from Sydney to Melbourne. It as a super short flight but it was a great hard product and you’re not going to get to experience that anywhere else for just 9,000 Avios." — Burge K.

You can redeem Delta SkyMiles or Etihad Guest Miles for flights on Virgin Australia. (Photo by The Points Guy)
You can redeem Delta SkyMiles or Etihad Guest Miles for flights on Virgin Australia. (Photo by The Points Guy)

Readers Helping Readers

We love it when TPG Lounge members get so involved in a topic they end up responding to each other's comments. That's what happened when reader James W. asked Elizabeth S. about her planned route and if she had any airline status.

"Where do you want to go and where do you have status?" — James W.

"Sydney to Cairns, to Uluru and back to Sydney. I have Delta status and miles I can use if needed." — Elizabeth S.

"Delta status? If so, then Virgin Australia might be worth it for lounge access. VA also has a nonstop Uluru (AYQ) to Sydney (SYD) flight. Qantas doesn't and I say this as a QF fan." — James W.

"But Qantas does do Cairns (CNS) to Uluru (AYQ)." — Nicholas B.

"Also, if you want to connect and earn Delta SkyMiles, it's another consideration." — James W.

"I’d do SYD-CNS and AYQ-SYD on Virgin and CNS-AYQ on Qantas." — Nicholas B.

Spoiler Alert: She Ended Up Doing This

"After all day researching and looking at all options to book directly with carriers, I ended up booking through Expedia and splitting the routes into three one-way flights for the best deal. Two flights on Qantas and one on Virgin Australia. Thanks for info everyone!" — Elizabeth S.

Featured image by PA Images via Getty Images

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