Saturday, May 20, 2023

Australia Award Flights Bonanza

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.

We liked Oz Fest so much that we attended a total of 13 consecutive Oz Fests 2007-2019 before Covid got in the way as follows, courtesy of the Oz Fest organizers:

History Of Oz Fests

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?


Anonymous said...

Hi People,

See you this week ... yesterday I booked my first UA Transpacific flights for August.


Kathy and Brian said...

We're looking forward to seeing you, Ross! Our first flight YVR-SFO is about 12 hours from now.

Anonymous said...

I thought the Air Canada one was the best, sorry that I miss you in Hobart and Brisbane, was great to stay with you on a trip to US, never thought it would ever happen but very glad to see a part of your world as you have visited so much of Australia.
Regards Bevan