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I have been talking with a friend of mine about an upcoming dream trip for her and her family to Australia. They are looking to travel NEXT Christmas (December 2016 / January 2017) and their family of 3 is fine traveling in economy.
We worked together to figure out a plan to get 3 tickets. The plan we came up with was for them both to get 2 American Airlines cards which give a 50,000 mile bonus, along with a Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink card. That, combined with some existing American AAdvantage miles she already had, would get her enough for 3 tickets with American miles one way and 3 tickets with United miles (transferred from Chase) the other way.
Some of those credit cards I had available through my credit card affiliate links, and in other cases, better offers were available through other public links, so I of course steered her to those.
Where the Australia plan is now
I just got an email from my friend recently where she shared that she’s about to hit her bonus on the Chase Ink card, which will give them enough Chase points for 3 one-way tickets on United (40,000 miles per ticket or 120,000 miles total)
They are still working on meeting the minimum spend on their American cards, but might not be have all the miles in their accounts until March. She wrote wondering how the availability would be in March. Even though they’re fine traveling in economy, Australia is a popular destination and they want to go at a very popular time!
Another thing to consider is that due to the impending American AAdvantage devaluation, American award tickets to Australia will be increasing from the current amount of 37,500 AAdvantage miles one-way up to 40,000 miles one-way for tickets booked on or after March 22nd, 2016.
Looking at United availability
Most award tickets can only be booked 330 days out, so you can’t see the actual availability for next December / January, but I thought I’d take a brief look at what availability looks like now to see if I could spot any trends.
First, here’s United availability for 3 passengers from Los Angeles to Auckland, NZ
November 16th is currently the latest day that the schedule is booked, and as you can see, as long as you are okay traveling in economy. There’s availability pretty much every day. I also checked availability to places like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and it looked pretty much the same. Availability the other direction (FROM the United States) was also good.
Note that I am concentrating on the over-water flights first, which is why I searched from Los Angeles (or San Francisco), even though we live in Ohio. Once you find the over-water flight, then you can figure out connecting options to get you to your actual origin / destination.
Here’s American “availability”
Now…. the bad news. Here’s the American availability for October of 2016 for Los Angeles to Sydney
Note that’s even for just ONE passenger! ZERO availability at the SAAver level. Now, it’s not QUITE that bad, as if we try adjusting dates, there is some availability in November, as well as some availability from Sydney to Los Angeles and from Melbourne
So to me, I think we’re still in a good position to make this happen. Especially since United availability is so good – all we need to do is find one date that works with American and then it is likely that the United flights the other direction will work out. But I wondered if there were other readers out there that might have more familiarity with what the schedule will be like.
So what do you think? Will we get this family of 3 to Australia?
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I just booked my family of 3 to Australia for June.
I used DL miles to get there (and SW to get to LAX) and AA miles to get home. (Directly back to CVG) (which means I have to get a ride to SDF ) Availability on AA directly from Australia back to the US was virtually non existent for 3 people (in June!) so I routed through Asia. Which is fine with me because we are going to spend a few days in Thailand and Cambodia on the way home. It cost a few thousand more miles than just coming home directly from Oz on AA , but still
Considerably less than if I had booked round trip with DL!
The real struggle is hotels. Very few chains to use points at. I’m staying at the Marriott in Sydney but the rest of the trip is air bnb.
Availability around Christmas/New Year’s is going to be a lot more difficult than other months in the year. You may be OK with luck, patience, and creativity.
Around September/October of this year, I researched mileage availability to Australia/New Zealand around Christmas of this year. I know this is a lot more last-minute than your friends, but I’ll share what I found:
With AA miles, Qantas is generally widely available in coach, except in much of December/January, which seem to be largely blacked out. In my notes, Dec. 6 or 7 was the latest date available in Dec. to get to Australia on Qantas. In January, getting from Australia on Qantas was possible as of Jan. 19. So, this would involve a minimum 5-6 week vacation or so if using AA miles. You may get lucky since you have the advantage of monitoring far in advance. I think the AA flights LAX-SYD and LAX-AKL are a bit more of a wild-card in terms of availability, but so far they have not been too promising–last I checked, there were 0 award seats available on the new AA LAX-AKL flight in coach or business through the end of the calendar.
With UA miles, the picture is a little better, but I should mention that the availability with UA miles I recorded takes into account the fact that I have the UA credit card, which has the undocumented benefit of providing increased availability of coach low-level awards. (These increased awards come out of the XN fare bucket rather than the normal X fare bucket and are made available to UA elites and UA credit card holders. You need to be logged into the site in “expert mode” to see these fare buckets). I did frequently see UA flights with XN9 and X0, meaning they were wide open for UA credit card holders but closed for normal members. It may be worth it for one or both of them to get the UA credit card next time the bonus is publicly available at 50,000 miles, both for the miles and for the increased availability.
Flying on UA, when doing a search from the East coast of the USA, I was able to find flights to SYD as late in December as Dec. 16 or on Dec. 30. There were also flights available around Christmas day itself to Australia from LAX or SFO (Dec. 23-25), but no connecting flights to LAX or SFO from the East Coast after Dec. 17 or so, so these flights around Christmas day would only work if your friends are based in California or can somehow get themselves there using cash or Southwest points, or whatever. Coming back from Australia on UA, there was availability as of Jan. 17 (both to California, and all the way through to the East coast).
Thinking outside the box a little bit… If they can get themselves to Hawaii, HA flights to Australia/New Zealand from HNL bookable using AA miles are quite available at the end of December. In my notes, I had HA HNL-AKL available through Dec. 14, then on Dec. 23,25,28,30. The availability on the return from Australia/New Zealand to HNL was not until Jan. 15+, though. For the cost of an additional one-way flight from USA-Hawaii in miles, they could spend some time in Hawaii to break up the trip on the way there. These HA flights are not cheap with miles, though, at 40K AA miles each (after devaluation). You cannot book mainland USA-Hawaii-Australia as one AA award when including an HA flight from HNL-Australia/NZ, and would be charged two awards: 1st award from USA-Hawaii and a second award from Hawaii-Australia/NewZealand. The exception would be if you can find availability on the QF flights from HNL-Australia; then, I think you could book from mainland USA-HNL-SYD all as a single 40K award, but with no stopover allowed in HNL, that would make for a lot of flying. As you can imagine, it’s also difficult to get from mainland USA to Hawaii before Christmas using miles, so this may not really make sense for them.
I’d also add, if your friend is flexible, there is an LAX-BNE flight that QF operates, as well as an SFO-SYD flight, both of them are on 747-400s, vs. A380’s from DFW and LAX to SYD and LAX to MEL. Finally, I think we may see some level of award space once AA starts their LAX to AKL flight.
I definitely second what Laura R wrote about points hotels. There just aren’t that many in Australia/New Zealand, unlike other parts of the world.
Also, as Laura R mentioned, it is also worth looking into routing through Asia. When I looked into this, I did not find good availability between Asia and Australia/New Zealand around Christmas time frame, but with more advance planning you may luck out. With UA miles, routing through Asia can be done as a single award even on a one-way as long as you don’t do a stopover. If you’d like to stopover in Asia using UA miles for no additional cost, you would need to book a round-trip all using UA miles. With AA miles, even just routing through Asia without a stopover would require two awards, but it could be worth it if you can’t find other availability that would work.
Also, a general point is that between mid-December and the second week of January, you’re generally going to have a hard time finding domestic saver awards, making it hard to find domestic feeder flights to the international gateway city. That’s when rental cars, buses, trains, southwest points, or cash come in to play, assuming you can find the international flight in that time frame.
You may want to suggest a little light MS for her two cards to hit the minimum spend a little sooner.
We took our family of 7 to Australia last year for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It was an amazing experience. I actually cried on New Year’s Eve as we watched fireworks over the Sydney Opera House (and not just because we’d been sitting on the same rock waiting for 12 hours, after spending 3 hours in line to get into the park with the best views). It was the moment of a lifetime and well worth all the time and planning to get there.
I booked the moment flights opened up in order to get the flights we wanted. All award flights for that day were gone within hours, so I wouldn’t risk waiting until March. As Owen suggested, perhaps your friend could do some easy MS (using a service like ChargeSmart, although it costs a little bit, may be less intimidating than the Bluebird route).
We flew to Brisbane on Air China with United miles, with a 13-hour layover in Beijing. Taking advantage of the layover, we booked an inexpensive layover tour to the the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which was awesome! We used American miles on Hawaiian Airlines on our return from Sydney, with a stopover in Honolulu for a few days (this was booked back when you could get a stopover on American). So if you can’t find direct flights, get creative about layovers or stopovers and add a few sites to the trip!
You may also have better luck finding award seats if the family is willing to split cabins. We could only get five seats in economy on one of our flights, so we added two in business to get the entire family on the same plane (on most trips we are willing to fly separately, but because our layovers became part of the trip, we wanted to be together). Pricey but worth it! (Although I have to admit it spoiled us, and now everyone wants to fly business class).
Good luck with trip planning. This trip is worth the effort!
The other option is to simply buy the economy tickets. Considering the possible award ordeal there are some good coach prices, especially as AA and UAL ramp up routes to OZ. Routing through Asia might have the best availability although it’s a much longer haul. Considering the exploding demand for NZ/Australia to North American air travel it really is a mystery why there are not more flights using the A380 and 777s. Seattle (NH/OZ) or YVR (CX/JAL/AC/NZ) to Asia and then to OZ usually has good availability. SFO/LAX have the most flights and for the reason that they are high demand gateways. I’m looking for 2 J class tickets during the same time frame. Good luck.
Another possibility, if you have star alliance miles, would be to arrange a swap. You could use your miles to book their return and they could use their AA miles to book for you when you have a need.