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 is quite restricted. That said, there is more than one way to fly to the US – so in this guide, we run through all the options for you.
Basically, flights on Virgin Australia to Los Angeles are the cheapest way to go (if you can find availability), while Singapore Airlines is a solid option, and Etihad comes in last for hefty extra charges.
The current huge 100,000 Velocity Points sign-up bonus on the American Express Velocity Platinum will help get you on your way to flying in Business or First Class to the US.
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 travellers based in Australia to use as comparison point: Los Angeles, New York and Honolulu.
Key Velocity partners with flights to the US
Velocity points can be used to redeem flights on Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Etihad and Hawaiian Airlines.
- Virgin Australia flies direct from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles
- Singapore Airlines flies from all major capital cities to Los Angeles (via Asia) and New York (via Frankfurt)
- Etihad Airways flies from all major capital cities except Adelaide via Abu Dhabi to New York
- Hawaiian Airlines flies from Sydney and Brisbane to Honolulu
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).
With all three you can search for availability on the Velocity website by logging in and click on “Search and Book Flights”.
A unique feature of Velocity is the ability to transfer points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Miles, where you’ll get better award availability despite losing some points due to the 1.35 Velocity points : 1 KrisFlyer mile transfer cost.
Although Delta also flies between Sydney and LA, it almost never releases any cheap award seats to Velocity members, so they are discounted from this guide.
Redeeming Velocity points to Los Angeles and New York
One-way redemption pricing from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane/Adelaide is as follows:
|Route (costs are one way)||Velocity on Virgin Australia||Velocity on Singapore Airlines||KrisFlyer on Singapore Airlines||Velocity points required for transfer to KrisFlyer on Singapore Airlines||Velocity on Etihad Airways|
|To Los Angeles in Business Class||95,500 + $126||139,000 + $67||110,000 + $67||148,500 + $67||N/A|
|To Los Angeles in First Class||N/A||N/A||154,000 + $67||207,900 + $67||N/A|
|To New York in Business Class||N/A||139,000 + $67||118,000 + $67||159,300 + $67||139,000 + $78 + $410 USD 'Etihad redemption charge'|
|To New York in First Class||N/A||N/A||152,000 + $67||205,200 + $67||203,000 + $78 + $600 USD Etihad redemption charge|
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.
Flying Virgin Australia
Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Los Angeles flights fall into the 7001-8500-mile bracket, so 95,500 Velocity points are required for a one-way Business Class flight.
Virgin Australia’s new Business Class seat rolled out during 2015 and 2016
You can also fly from Adelaide and connect via one of the hubs for the same amount of points.
Velocity used to be generous with releasing award seats in the past and the program won awards because of that reason but, in 2017, we have found that you are most likely to find (very limited) award space in Business Class six months out and (more) Premium Economy space six months and one week out from departure.
The lack of award space could be attributed to Virgin Australia having arguably the best Business Class product on the Transpacific route, meaning the airline prefers to sell the seats rather than give them away for free on awards.
Flying Singapore Airlines
Flying to both Los Angeles and New York falls within the 9,501-15,000-mile bracket, costing 139,000 in Business Class and 203,000 in First.
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 to its own members, so it could be worthwhile to transfer your Velocity points to KrisFlyer.
The transfer rate is 1.35 Velocity point for 1 KrisFlyer mile, or 1 Velocity point = 0.74 KrisFlyer miles. Singapore have eliminated fuel surcharges on award redemptions too, making it even more appealing.
It’s possible to fly in Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class all the way to New York via Frankfurt from Sydney and Melbourne
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. You can buy another one for $100 USD.
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 some flights.
As an alternative option, if you transferred to KrisFlyer, you can book award flights on other Star Alliance partners over the phone. This is primarily useful for United Airlines redemptions from Melbourne or Sydney, however, availability in Business Class is usually fairly limited. It’s worth bearing in mind, though.
Etihad used to be a great-value Velocity redemption but now it’s in the more expensive Table 2 and you have to pay an extra charge to redeem on Etihad flights.
This means that a return flight to New York in Business Class, with a transit in Abu Dhabi, costs an extra $820 USD. It is worse in First Class, at $1200 USD.
You can search for availability for Etihad flights from Australia to West Coast US (JFK) on the Etihad Guest website. If there is availability GuestSeats, that means you can call Velocity and book those flights.
Etihad’s A380 and 787 Business Studios will take you to New York via Abu Dhabi
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 as it is a shorter distance.
Redeeming Velocity points to Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines
Note: some readers have had difficulty in booking Hawaiian redemptions through Velocity. We have reached out for comment and will update this guide when we have more information.
Hawaiian Airlines is the only option available to redeem Velocity points for travel to Honolulu.
The distance between Sydney and Honolulu is 5,075 miles, so it will cost 42,000 Velocity points to fly one-way in Economy or 78,000 for Business Class – not necessarily a bargain. The same cost applies for Brisbane – Honolulu.
You need to call the Velocity membership centre to 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 US
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 transferring 148,500 Velocity points to 115,000 KrisFlyer miles, especially because KrisFlyer releases more saver seats to its own members.
Flights to New York
Virgin Australia does not fly onwards from Los Angeles to New York like Qantas does and availability between Los Angeles and New York is hard to find on partner Delta.
As a result, Velocity search engine defaults to Singapore Airlines more often, which costs 139,000 Velocity points, the same to get to LA.
Again, if you can’t find an open seat through Velocity, you can transfer your Velocity points to KrisFlyer and redeem through them.
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 extra fees.
Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.