Reader Larry wants to travel from Dallas to Australia and New Zealand sometime between January and May of next year with a companion. He’s never visited that part of the world, and he’s coming to us today with a pile of miles looking for the best way to make this trip come to life.
Current Program Status
Larry’s been saving up for quite some time now. He’s sitting on an eye-popping 500,000 AAdvantage Miles, 80,000 BA Avios, 70,000 Starwood Preferred Group points and 65,000 Southwest RapidRewards Miles.
On some itineraries, it takes not just miles but a bit of creativity as well to find a workable routing. That’s the case with today’s challenge. We’ll be using Larry’s AAdvantage miles throughout today’s feature. Though Larry is practically swimming in miles, the casual observer might be led to believe only Economy travel is possible. While that’s certainly an option, we’re going to present a method to fly Upper Class for this very long journey and make the most of American’s booking rules. Let’s get started!
Checking Basic Availability
Larry mentioned he wants to travel to “Australia/New Zealand”. To be on the safe side, we’ll assume the slash means and, not or! With American’s routing rules, though, stopovers are only allowed in North American Gateway Cities. In other words, stopovers are only allowed at a connection point from which you’ll begin your international journey. This is less accommodating than United’s award policy, for example, which allows a stopover at any valid location on roundtrip bookings. However, we can still take advantage of open-jaws in this itinerary.
First, we begin by checking direct booking availability from Dallas to Sydney. In Economy, award space looks extremely promising, with availability every single day of March:
Availability on the way back is nearly as good, with a variety of options available:
If Larry’s good with flying Economy, 75,000 miles per passenger will allow for roundtrip travel almost whenever he’d like early next year. Because open-jaws are allowed, flying into Sydney and out of Auckland, for example, is perfectly valid. He’d just need to find a flight to cover the short hop to Australia’s smaller neighbor.
However, not a single day shows availability in Business or First Class. What gives? Well, Upper Class awards to Australia are extremely popular during the first half of the year as travelers from the Northern Hemisphere escape to the balmy Summer down under. Because it’s possible to book flights roughly 330 days in advance via American for flights on its partners, and because American doesn’t offer service to Australia itself, award availability tends to dry up very quickly.
All is not lost, though, as we have an excellent trick in our pocket for just such a circumstance!
Our Favorite AA Stopover
Remember, American allows for stopovers at any North American Gateway City. Typically, this brings to mind American hubs like Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami or New York. All too often, the best Pacific-side gateway city is somehow forgotten: Honolulu!
Searching for flights that first go from Dallas to Honolulu and then continue on later to Sydney, we found a workable outbound itinerary that would allow Larry and his companion to fly domestic-style First Class from Dallas to Los Angeles, then “First” from Los Angeles to Honolulu. We place First in quotes because this flight takes place on one of American’s 767-300 planes, which are designed with two classes and used primarily for international flights. On international routings, these seats are marketed as Business Class, but for the purpose of flying to Hawaii, American considers them to be First Class seats in a two cabin flight.
This quibble aside, flying on one of American’s 767-300s is actually good news here, as that means Larry will be able to enjoy a lie-flat seat for the long flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii.
From Hawaii, we found a connecting flight to Sydney in “Business” Class on partner Hawaiian Airlines after a few days in Honolulu. Once again, American is fibbing a bit here: Hawaiian considers these to be First Class seats as they offer two-cabin service, but this works to our advantage by requiring less points while still gaining quite a bit of comfort.
Unfortunately, First Class seats on Hawaiian do not convert into a bed, but to our knowledge, no service from Honolulu to Sydney offers lie-flat seating. Given the free stop in Honolulu and lack of availability outside of Economy when flying from Dallas more directly, this is still a big step up in our book from the default plan.
Here’s a review we found of Hawaiian’s First Class offering; though this traveler was flying from JFK to HNL, the same equipment flies from HNL to SYD:
From Australia to New Zealand…and Back!
After spending some time in Sydney, we wanted to find a way to build New Zealand into this trip while still ensuring Larry makes the long ride home in something better than Economy. Because American awards are booked one-way and we’ve exhausted our valid stopover in Honolulu, it’s time for another award flight to get to Auckland. These are plentiful and available for only 10,000 AAdvantage miles each way on Oneworld partner Qantas.
Because the flight is short at 3 hours 15 minutes in length, we don’t perceive Economy as an issue here and are able to enjoy more flexibility as opposed to the First Class calendar, which is constrained around this time.
When looking at the calendar for flights back to Dallas from Auckland, we see a familiar sight: perfect availability in Economy with no availability in Business or First Class. Drat! However, we’re not done for just yet. Searching some other cities, we were able to find a First Class routing out of Brisbane, Australia.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to hack a stopover out of this booking, so getting to Brisbane will cost an additional 10,000 miles a piece in Economy. That’s another reason we wouldn’t mind flying Economy in these cases. As the First Class flight from Sydney to Auckland runs at 17,500 miles, you can think of stepping down to Economy as a way to fly back to Brisbane – and therefore enjoy a far better ride home on a far longer journey – for a net cost of 2,500 more miles.
As promised, we were able to find an Upper Class award out of Brisbane for the flights back to Dallas. This time, our flight begins in Business Class on Qantas from Brisbane to Los Angeles. Qantas Business Class offers lie-flat beds and turndown service, complete with mattress pad and duvet for extra comfort. Excellent dining options and an on-board lounge for Business Class passengers help to pass the time on this long flight.
From Los Angeles, the booking takes a bit of a bizarre turn, requiring a flight to Albuquerque in Economy before finishing up the journey in First Class from Albuquerque to Dallas. Sometimes the idiosyncrasies of award availability are worth putting up with in order to have the best experience for the majority of travel time, and that’s certainly the case here.
Adding it Up
Award flights are rarely harder to find or require more miles than those in Upper Class heading to Australia. As such, it should be no surprise that this trip, taking two passengers in a mix of Business and First Class, from Dallas to Honolulu to Sydney and from Brisbane back to Dallas, comes in at a staggering 250,000 miles. This is more than any card sign-up could offer, and is well into the territory occupied only by big spenders, big savers and big flyers. In Larry’s case, though, this is certainly worth it, with only $259.60 in taxes and fees associated with the journey for both passengers.
However, the flights from Sydney to Auckland and from Auckland to Brisbane come with a surprise: not only do they require 40,000 miles for both passengers but also come with $285.80 in taxes and fees! That means this short hop back and forth from Australia to New Zealand requires a heftier cash outlay than all of the above flights combined.
Comparing this with cash rates, it’s difficult to justify using miles here. Flights run about $159 each from Sydney to Auckland on Virgin Australia while flights from Auckland to Brisbane run around $176. The difference in cost between the taxes and fees on the award flight and simply paying for airfare indicates a value per point of less than a cent each, so we’d rather cough up the money here.
Arrival to the Rescue!
To defray the costs, it’s possible to use the Barclaycard Arrival‘s outstanding sign-up bonus. The card offers $400 in free travel after meeting a $1,000 minimum spend.
Even better, all travel redemptions come with a 10% rebate, meaning a $400 redemption deposits $40 in extra travel credit back into your account the next day for another redemption. We’d recommend Larry and his companion each consider this card, as it would not only cover the cash flights but also defray a large chunk of the taxes and fees associated with the American award.
We recommend using Arrival award points for big expenses over small ones since it maximizes the 10% rebate’s power in the short term.
In this case, Arrival #1 would pay for the $259.60 in taxes and fees for the combined two passenger American award ticket, and receive a $25.96 rebate the next day as part of that redemption. Given that Larry would earn a minimum of $20 in additional credit meeting the minimum spend requirement, that leaves him with $186.36 to apply toward the flight from Auckland to Brisbane, covering the ticket and leaving some funds for future travel redemptions.
Arrival #2 could easily cover the other Auckland to Brisbane flight, leaving a balance of about $261.20 to apply towards the tickets from Sydney to Auckland, which run at about $159 each. Applying the maximum redemption toward booking both of these at the same time would bring the cash cost down to about $133.08. Both Arrival cards would also have a bit of travel credit left over for use towards future travel, thanks to that 10% rebate.
This trip is out of reach for many people as written, but the Economy variant is within more immediate grasp at just 75,000 American miles roundtrip. Today’s about going all out, though, and making sure that a traveler with a robust mileage account finds access to flights worthy of that balance. By peaking around the corners of AA’s award chart and not accepting no for an answer when direct awards from Dallas in Upper Class don’t prove to be available, we’re able to find some great value given the miles we have to work with here.
Further, you can see why Arrival is one of our favorite cards, given how it can work in coordination with other points and miles programs by taking care of taxes and fees, while also providing an option to acquire cheap cash fares without wasting points in other programs better saved toward other redemptions! With Arrival‘s help, we take this trip from being a great deal to an outstanding one.
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|American Award Flights: DFW->HNL, HNL->SYD, AKL->DFW • Biz/First||$10,286 per passenger||250,000 American Miles + $259.60 Taxes/Fees – $259.60 Arrival Redemption||$20,572.00|
|Cash Flights: AKL->BNE||$176 per passenger||$352 in Arrival credit||$352|
|Cash Flights: SYD->AKL||$159 per passenger||$184.92 in Arrival credit + $133.08 in cash||$184.92|
|Total:||$21,242||250,000 American Miles + $796.52 in Arrival Credits + $133.08 in Cash.||$21,108.92 (99.3% Off)|