A funny thing happened on our way to Australia. We found better
and better award flights (flights paid for in “miles” or “points”) the closer
we got to our departure. But why Australia in the first place? We've been asked that more than once so let’s try to explain.
As we were planning our first trip to Australia in 2007, we happened to notice that Australian members of FlyerTalk, the travel forum Brian had joined in 2002, were sponsoring a "Do," one of the volunteer get-togethers of members sponsored by FlyerTalkers in many different parts of the world, this one in Melbourne. It fitted into our schedule quite neatly, so we decided to attend.
It was a little strange explaining to our family that we were meeting up halfway around the world with a bunch of strangers we'd met in an internet chat room, but we carried through and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, making some lifelong friends in the process They include doctors, lawyers, civil servants, retirees, and entrepreneurs among others, all of whom share a love of travel. Somewhere around a dozen Aussies have visited and stayed in our own house in subsequent years through the FlyerTalk connection.
History Of Oz Fests
click here for the map SYD-SYD-BNE-MEL-HBA-CNS-ADL-DRW-CBR-PER-ASP-AYQ-KKE-OOL-NTL-MCY-SYD-BNE-MEL
- Oz Fest 01: 2004 22 attended in Sydney [how it all started The very first]
- Oz Fest 02: 2005 58 attended in Sydney
- Oz Fest 03: 2006 28 attended in Brisbane
- Oz Fest 04: 2007 47 attended in Melbourne [our first]
- Oz Fest 05: 2008 38 attended in Hobart
- Oz Fest 06: 2009 59 attended in Cairns
- Oz Fest 07: 2010 71 attended in Adelaide
- Oz Fest 08: 2011 44 attended in Darwin
- Oz Fest 09: 2012 51 attended in Canberra
- Oz Fest 10: 2013 59 attended in Perth
- Oz Fest 11: 2014 37 attended in Alice Springs-Ayers Rock
- Oz Fest 12: 2015 41 attended in Bay of Islands, New Zealand
- Oz Fest 13: 2016 44 attended in Gold Coast
- Oz Fest 14: 2017 42 attended in Newcastle
- Oz Fest 15: 2018 40 attended in Noosa
- Oz Fest 16: 2019 49 attended in Sydney [our 13th consecutive]
- Oz Fest 17: 2020 00 attended in Brisbane (postponed due to Covid-19 pandemic)
- Oz Fest 17: 2021 20 attended in Brisbane
- Oz Fest 18: 2022 33 attended in Melbourne [our 14th]
More than one Australian has told us we've seen more of their country than they have. One year we even booked a second trip to Australia and spent several days in Broome, a 5 1/2-hour flight across the country from Sydney.
As we wrote back in 2011, "We've visited Sydney and Melbourne repeatedly. We've spent time on Hamilton Island, Fraser Island, Phillip Island with its little penguins, the Great Ocean Road and the Mornington Peninsula. We've spent a weekend in Hobart and driven to the other end of Tasmania as well. We've been to Cairns, Broome, Adelaide, and most recently Darwin. We've toured the Outback in several places, we've snorkeled twice on the Great Barrier Reef - including an overnight "reef sleep" - and flown over the Whitsunday Islands in a seaplane, landing on Whitehaven, Australia's longest beach. We've stayed at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat on the Gold Coast. We've visited the wine regions of McLaren Vale, the Yarra Valley, and of course Hunter Valley." We've seen a lot more between 2011 and 2023.
We've attended more than one other FT Do over the years, in Seattle, Vienna, and Singapore, not to mention the very first FlyerTalk Star Alliance MegaDO in 2009, but Oz Fest remains our favorite.
Last year we managed to attend Oz Fest 18 in Melbourne, a trip complicated a bit by Brian's catching a very mild case of Covid and getting quarantined in Fiji for a week while Kathy flew home. In a few days we're flying to Hobart, Tasmania for Oz Fest 19, our second visit to Hobart, our 15th Oz Fest and our 16th visit to Australia.
Generally speaking, it's been harder and harder to find affordable routes over the years. This year has ultimately proved to be an exception.
We originally plotted our itinerary to fly on points (miles) on Fiji Airlines, which now offers a flatbed hard product in business class on some of its planes. Fiji is a partner of Alaska Airlines, so we can use our Alaska miles to pay for flights. To accomplish this, we had to stay over in Fiji on the way back for four nights. Then things got interesting.
Kathy suddenly noticed business class availability to Australia on United Airlines. UA, along with several other airlines, changed their award flight system to "dynamic pricing," meaning they will charge whatever the market will bear. On top of that, they have just devalued miles significantly. Still, it appears United was stuck with a few empty flights to Australia and bargains remain. We're talking 80,000 miles each way as opposed to as much as 350,000 miles!
As "lifetime" United and Star Alliance Gold members, we still retain a few perks on UA, including lounge access abroad. Although we rarely fly UA, we can easily transfer points from several of our credit cards into miles in our UA accounts.
We first booked outbound flights starting out of YVR (Vancouver), retaining the Fiji layover on the return. We then rebooked it for a better connection. Eventually a return flight opened up so we were able to cancel the Fiji layover. We then rebooked a second time, tightening up the schedule and saving a few hotel nights. We rebooked at least one more time, saving a hotel night at YVR prior to a 7AM departure and a 13-hour layover at SFO. Eventually, our flight schedule looks like this:
May 22 5:30 PM YVR-SFO UA 2423 arr 7:27 PM
May 22 10:45 PM SFO-SYD UA 863 arr 7:00 AM May 24
May 24 11:00 AM SYD-MEL QF 439 arr 1:05 PM (overnight in Melbourne)
May 25 4:50 PM MEL-HBA VA1328 arr 6:05 PM
May 25 4:50 PM MEL-HBA VA1328 arr 6:05 PM (same as listed)
May 25-30 Oz Fest in Hobart Tasmania
May 30 12:05 PM HBA-SYD QF1538 arr 2:00 PM
June 3 5:00 PM SYD-BNE VA965 arr 6:30 PM
June 4 10:30 AM BNE-SFO UA97 arr 6:35 AM
June 4 10:25 AM SFO-PDX AS 2118 arr 11:37 AM
June 4 1:45 PM PDX-SEA AS 1008 arr 2:45 PM
June 4 4:55 PM SEA-YVR AS 3400 arr 5:54 PM
We were able to make all of these changes for free, rather than the $150 or more it would have cost us each time pre-Covid, thanks to a change in airline policies which we hope remains in place.
In summary, after we park our car at the YVR Park'NFly, we fly Vancouver to San Francisco to Sydney on United, Sydney to Melbourne on Qantas, Melbourne to Hobart on Virgin Australia, Hobart to Sydney on Qantas, Sydney to Brisbane to San Francisco on United (overnighting in Brisbane), and back to Vancouver on Alaska, via three short hops connecting in Portland and Seattle before landing at YVR, giving us three more of the segments (or flight legs) we require to qualify for Alaska's top tier status for next year (we're already very close to that goal).
It's actually pretty simple, isn't it?