Surprise in Sydney: Washington, DC to Sydney, Australia

Surprise in Sydney: Washington, DC to Sydney, Australia
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Trip Information

PointsAway reader Kody wants to travel to Australia to surprise his girlfriend who recently moved to Sydney for work. He’s looking to travel in January or February 2014.

Current Program Status

Kody has 66,000 miles with United, 25,000 more on Delta and 74,000 points with Hilton. He currently holds the United MileagePlus Explorer card, along with the Starwood Preferred Group American Express, Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express, Hilton Surpass American Express and Platinum American Express.

Our Take

Some people claim to be in a long-distance relationship; others really aren’t kidding! At more than 9700 miles as the crow flies, Kody has a long way to go. Thanks to his somewhat flexible schedule, fair number of points and no requirement for upper class ticketing, though, we should be able to help him out.

Getting There

Only one option really makes sense given Kody’s current mileage balances. As we learned a few weeks ago, flights on Delta and its partners to Australia take a pile of miles. At 100,000 miles per person minimum for the roundtrip, Delta’s requirements are simply too steep for us, especially given the fact that Kody already holds a Delta American Express, negating the potential to earn a handsome sign-up bonus.

We’re left with United as our best option. Simply looking at the United award chart, things are already looking up: it takes just 40,000 miles each way on flights with Economy Saver availability, adding up to a total requirement of 80,000 miles. Looking at the United award calendar, January has no availability at the moment for whatever reason, but availability in February remains quite good:

Sifting through days to find the best possible itinerary is really a matter of personal preference. Availability on United itself is available on February 12th, for example, among other dates. Partner airlines Air Canada and Air China also offer availability on many of the days we checked.

It’s possible to argue in favor of Air Canada’s product over United, as there are US-compatible power plugs located at every seat as well as personal entertainment centers, as opposed to the shared screens still utilized for films on the United flights. According to SeatGuru, the plane utilized by Air Canada offers a 1.5″ wider seat and potentially a bit more leg room. Compared with the United 747-400, it appears Air Canada would offer an at least marginally more comfortable long-haul flight.

The question really comes down to how Kody prefers to split the flight, also. No direct service from Washington is available, so he would either be connecting in San Francisco or Toronto. The flight to San Francisco is 5 hours 45 minutes, leaving just 14 hours and 35 minutes of flight time to Sydney. Air Canada connects in Toronto, just 90 minutes away from Washington, to a flight that lasts 22 hours and 15 minutes. Although I’d sorely miss the power outlet and extra room personally, I’d be more likely to take the United flight simply so the trip is broken up a bit. 22 hours is an awfully long time on one plane, especially in Economy, no matter the airline.

Going with the United flight leaving at 5:20PM from Dulles on February 12th, Cody would arrive at 8:10AM on Valentine’s Day in Sydney, which seems like an appropriate time to visit the girlfriend! Giving Kody a week on the ground has him returning on February 19th when, thanks to the insane magic of time zones and the International Date Line, will see him officially arrive “four hours” after taking off:

Finding the Miles

As we mentioned earlier, thanks to Economy Saver availability, this flight comes in at 80,000 miles and $122.40 in taxes and fees total:

Transfer from Hilton

Kody already has 66,000 United miles to work with. If he wanted to, it would be possible to exchange 70,000 of his Hilton points for United miles, but at a 10:1 ratio, the transfer would be pretty punitive. Since Hilton devalued its program in early 2013, the value of their points have fallen tremendously, but it’s still difficult to justify that kind of sacrifice, especially since it would only cover half the distance to 80,000.

Purchase the Miles

Supplementing Kody’s miles with a few more purchased directly from United presents another option. If he were to go ahead with the Hilton transfer and need just 7,000 more miles, purchasing them would cost about 3.5¢ per mile, or $263.38 after tax. Purchasing the full 14,000 miles would cost twice as much, at $526.75.

This still presents a pretty great deal overall, as the cash price for this ticket on United comes to $2,256.30.

Of course, we can do better!

Harnessing Chase Sapphire Preferred

Kody has an expansive relationship with American Express, but presently holds only his United care with Chase. Adding a Sapphire Preferred to his portfolio would appear to be an excellent option.

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program offers 1:1 transfer of points to United, and Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 in spending in the first 90 days. More info is available, as always, on our Sign-Up Links page.

Because points transfer in increments of 1,000, Kody can easily transfer 14,000 points from Ultimate Rewards to United to cover the rest of the flight. Assuming he earned just 1 point per dollar meeting the minimum spend requirement, Kody would have 29,000 points left over that offer a variety of options.

If he’d like to take his girlfriend down to Melbourne for a few days after arriving in Sydney, this could be easily done by transferring additional Ultimate Rewards points into British Airways Avios. Because Avios is a distance-based program, relatively short flights like Sydney to Melbourne require just 4,500 miles each way on partner Qantas. As such, 18,000 points and about $60 for taxes and fees could take Kody and his girlfriend away for a weekend excursion.

Kody could also use these points toward a statement credit, with a value of 1¢ per point. We wouldn’t recommend this since we value Ultimate Rewards points at a bit more than 2¢ a piece when used effectively on travel, but this method would completely defray the $122.40 in taxes and fees while leaving almost 17,000 points for future travel!

In any case, it looks like Kody’s prospects are bright for this trip! With a healthy number of miles to start, he needs just a bit of a kickstart and has two very affordable and one free card-based option to grab the additional miles he needs quickly.

For the purposes of our summary, we’ll assume he signs up for a Sapphire Preferred and takes the remainder of his Ultimate Rewards miles in the form of a statement credit. Again, we’d recommend holding on to them for future travel, but it’s not often you can go to Australia and get paid to do so!

Trip Component Cash Price Points + Cash Savings
United : IAD -> SFO -> SYD, 1 Adult: 02/12-02/19 $2,256.30 on United. 66,000 United Miles + 14,000 Ultimate Rewards Points + $122.40 taxes/fees $2,546.30
Statement Credit : Ultimate Rewards N/A 29,000 Ultimate Rewards Points @ 1¢/Point $290.00
Total: $2,256.30 43,000 Ultimate Rewards Points + 66,000 United MileagePlus Miles -$167.60

Happy travels!

1 Comment
  1. Donna C

    well done!

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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