The United States is one of the most popular routes for Australians to redeem frequent flyer points. However, it is also one of the hardest routes to find business class or first class award availability due to high demand.
Velocity redemption availability for Virgin’s direct flights dried up last year but has slowly been coming back. That said, there is more than one way to fly to the USA – so in this guide we run through all the options for you.
Taking into account Velocity’s award pricing changes in June 2016, It seems that flights on Virgin Australia are the cheapest way to go (if you can find availability), with Singapore Airlines swapping with Etihad to become the more reasonable premium choice.
For each program, we’ve covered off:
- An overview of the award options and points required for redemptions
- What the best uses for your points are to get the most value
For the purpose of this series, we’ve picked three example cities favoured by Aussies to use as comparison points – Los Angeles, Honolulu and New York.
Using Velocity points or KrisFlyer miles for travel to the US on Virgin Australia or Velocity partners
Velocity points can be used to redeem flights on Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Etihad.
When it comes to redemption costs, Velocity revised its two award charts in June 2016. Velocity has two award charts, and it is more expensive to use your points to redeem flights on these three partners (Table 2 of the Velocity award chart) than on a Virgin Australia flight (Table 1).
A unique feature of Velocity is the ability to transfer points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles, where some redemptions will cost fewer points in total, despite losing some due to the 1.35 Velocity points : 1 KrisFlyer mile transfer cost.
Redeeming Velocity points to Los Angeles and New York
There are a number of airlines including Virgin Australia, Etihad and Singapore Airlines that you can use your Velocity points on for travel to LA or New York.
With all three you can search for availability on the Velocity website by logging in and click on “Search and Book Flights”.
- Virgin Australia flies from Brisbane and Sydney to Los Angeles. Although Delta also flies direct from Sydney, it almost never releases any cheap award seats to Velocity members, so they are discounted from this guide.
- Singapore Airlines flies from all major capital cities to Los Angeles (via Asia) and New York (via Frankfurt), and you can redeem Velocity points on Singapore either as a partner redemption, or by transferring them to KrisFlyer and redeeming them in that program.
- Etihad Airways flies from all major capital cities via Abu Dhabi to New York.
Here’s how the costs for each option come out:
|Route (costs are one way)||Velocity on Virgin Australia||Velocity on Etihad Airways||Velocity on Singapore Airlines||KrisFlyer on Singapore Airlines and Star Alliance partners||Velocity points required for transfer to KrisFlyer on Singapore Airlines|
|Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne to Los Angeles - Business Class||95,500 + from $126||N/A||139,000 + from $67||100,000 (Online Discount 85,000) + from $707||135,000 (Online Discount 114,750) + from $707|
|Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne to Los Angeles - First Class||N/A||N/A||203,000 + from $67||140,000 (Online Discount 119,000) + from $774||189,000 (Online Discount 160,650) + from $774|
|Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne to New York - Business Class||127,500 + from $126||139,000 + from $78 taxes + $410 'Etihad redemption charge'||139,000 + from $67||107,500 (Online Discount 91,375) + from $735||145,125 (Online Discount 123,357) + from $735|
|Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne to New York - First Class||N/A||203,000 + from $78 taxes + $600 Etihad redemption charge||203,000 + from $67||137,500 (Online Discount 116,875) + $772||185,625 (Online Discount 157,782) + from $772|
Note that Velocity allows you to use extra points to ‘buy out’ the taxes and fees. This generally works out to be 10,000 Velocity points = ~$67 in taxes and fees.
Velocity redemptions on Virgin Australia
The distance between Brisbane/Sydney to Los Angeles is 7161 miles and 7488 miles respectively, falling into the 7001-8500 bracket – so 95,500 Velocity points are required for a one-way Business Class flight.
You can also fly from Adelaide or Melbourne and connect via Brisbane/Sydney for the same amount of points.
Velocity has been generous with releasing award seats in the past and the program has won awards because of that reason, but with award availability previously becoming scarce, this is now not a general rule to rely on.
Velocity redemptions on Singapore Airlines
The cost used to be eye-watering when redeeming Velocity points directly for Singapore Airlines flights to the US, but not so anymore with the Velocity changes in June 2016.
Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane to Los Angeles falls within the 9,501-15,000 bracket, now costing 139,000 (down from 175,000) in Business and 203,000 in First (previously 250,000).
As we mentioned earlier, a unique feature of Velocity is the ability to transfer to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program.
Singapore Airlines releases more saver award space its own members, it could be worthwhile to transfer your Velocity points to KrisFlyer. Furthermore, by redeeming your award online, you are eligible for a 15% online discount.
The transfer rate is 1.35 Velocity point for 1 KrisFlyer mile, or 1 Velocity point = 0.74 KrisFlyer miles. Although if you factor in the KrisFlyer 15% online booking discount, 1 Velocity point = 0.85 KrisFlyer miles.
However, watch out for the hefty fuel surcharges Singapore Airlines charges when redeeming on KrisFlyer.
As an alternative option, if you transferred to KrisFlyer, you can book award flights on other Star Alliance partners over the phone, however that means you would be ineligible for the 15% online discount. This is primarily useful for United Airlines redemptions from Melbourne or Sydney, however availability in Business Class is usually fairly limited. But worth bearing in mind.
Velocity redemptions on Etihad Airways
Etihad is another Velocity partner redemption option. There’s more on using Velocity points for long haul travel on Etihad here.
Unfortunately, with Velocity’s June 2016 changes in moving Etihad from the cheaper Table 1 to the dearer Table 2, the same great-value redemptions Velocity members could previously enjoy on Etihad flights are now not as stark.
Velocity has also added per-sector fees to Etihad redemptions, which means you really need to weigh up the costs and benefits of these redemptions.
You can search for availability for Etihad flights from Australia to West Coast USA (JFK) on the Etihad Guest website. If there is availability under “Guest Business” or “Guest First”, that means you can call Velocity and book those flights.
You cannot redeem Australia to West Coast (LAX) on Etihad Airways because it exceeds the 15,000-mile limit and Velocity will force you to redeem the flight as two awards, but it is possible to redeem Perth to Los Angeles.
New fees for Velocity redemptions on Etihad flights from 18 June 2016
For bookings made from 18 June 2016, a new ‘Etihad Airways Reward Seat Carrier Charge’ is being added for Etihad redemptions using Velocity points. They are fairly simple, but steep.
The charges of:
- $50 USD in Economy
- $205 USD in Business
- $300 USD in First Class
are being added to any bookings using your Velocity points for travel with Etihad.
The killer piece to this change is that the charge applies per flight sector, not per booking.
This means that a return flight to New York in Business Class, with a transit in Abu Dhabi, now costs an extra $820 USD. It would be worse in First Class too, at $1200 USD.
Redeeming Velocity points to Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines is the only option available to redeem Velocity points for travel to Honolulu. Unfortunately, Velocity only allows you to redeem an Economy Class ticket.
The distance between Sydney and Honolulu is 5,075 miles, so it will cost 42,000 Velocity points to fly one-way – definitively not a bargain. The same cost applies for Brisbane – Honolulu.
You need to call the Velocity membership centre to check for availability and book. However, to save you some time you can use the American Airlines award search engine to find availability on Hawaiian Airlines before calling Velocity.
Summing up – maximising value for your Velocity points on flights to the USA
Flights to Los Angeles
If you can find availability, the direct Virgin Australia flights from the East Coast to Los Angeles are your cheapest bet, at 95,500 points.
If you don’t mind the longer routing and can find award space through Velocity, then Business Class on Singapore Airlines is best redeemed by using 139,000 Velocity points. Taxes will be lower than redeeming through KrisFlyer, but award space is also more limited.
KrisFlyer releases more saver seats to its own members, so you can get the same flight for 135,000 Velocity points transferred to KrisFlyer (equivalent to 100,000 KrisFlyer miles), however, if you book online, you are eligible for a 15% discount, so you would only have to transfer 114,750 Velocity points. The catch is the $700+ fuel surcharge.
Flights to New York
For New York, Velocity redemptions on Virgin Australia and Delta cost 127,500 points, however Virgin Australia does not fly to New York and availability between Los Angeles and New York is hard to find on Delta.
As a result, Velocity search engine defaults to Singapore Airlines more often, which costs 139,000 Velocity points, the same to get to LAX.
Again, if you can’t find a free seat through Velocity, you can transfer your Velocity points to KrisFlyer and redeem through them.
And if you transfer enough points and book a return ticket on KrisFlyer, you can get another perk, which Virgin does not offer: a free stopover. Given that you have to fly from Australia to New York with a stopover (in Frankfurt or Singapore), you can request a stopover (stop in a city for more than 24 hours) in one of those cities.
The same rules apply for redemptions to other US cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a stopover allowed in cities like Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo which act as transit stops for the SIN-LAX and SIN-SFO flights. However, Singapore plans to recommence direct flights between Singapore and LAX and SFO in the next two years, so make the most of those stopovers in the near future!
Finally, you can redeem 139,000 Velocity points for Business on Etihad Airways from Australia to New York via Abu Dhabi or 203,000 in First, but remember you’ll be slugged with over $410 USD in extra fees. This is covered in more detail in this guide to Etihad redemptions using Velocity points.