Ask most Aussies about their trips to the USA, and they’ll often recall walking the beaches of California or taking in the epic skyline of New York City. But few of us venture into the true heart of the States. 

I’m talking about the states where there’s a pickup truck for every man, woman and child. Where ‘grande’ isn’t just a coffee size but a way of life. Where the love of country music (and the country) is a religion unto itself.

This is Tennessee. The state has seen a boom in local tourism over the past few years. In 2023 Nashville earned USD$28.9 billion in direct visitor spending alone. But if you ask around, it mostly remains a destination for US citizens travelling domestically. Few Australians ever add the 16th state to their bucket lists.

But this is the land of American-sized barbecue, whiskey and live music. We think it’s the perfect launchpad for an ol’ fashioned US road trip. After a particularly intriguing reward seat alert, Point Hacks CEO Mike and I embark on just that. We fly Business Class both ways across the Pacific with a mixture of Qantas and Velocity Points144,400 and 95,500 points, respectively. And the cash outlay? A measly $414.56 per person!

By the way, to get those alerts, simply sign up for our free Seat Alert newsletter here. It’s the easiest way to keep up to date on the latest reward seats as they become available.

Our stomachs are full, but travelling through Tennessee is truly a feast for the eyes and ears. If you want to see the whole experience for yourself, check out the video below. And for all the exciting trip highlights, read on to learn how you, too, can fly Business Class to the States for less with points.

Want to replicate our itinerary for yourself? We’ve compiled all the details, including flights and activities, into a two-page downloadable PDF. And there’s no need to keep all our tips and tricks to yourself – you can even share this with a friend!

United Airlines 787 Business Class

We begin with a short Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne to Sydney before boarding United Airlines’ 787 to Los Angeles. At a cost of 95,500 Velocity Points plus a mere $149 in fees and taxes, we’re able to fly Business Class the whole way to LA. We even get lounge access before both legs. 

While United Airlines doesn’t have its own lounge in Sydney, our ticket grants us access to other Star Alliance lounges. We decide to go with Singapore Airlines this time. This lounge overlooks the tarmac, and I can spot our 787 from the window as I enjoy a lovely barista-made coffee and hot breakfast from the buffet.

I’m very excited as I step into United’s Polaris Business Class. Some of my favourite memories come from exploring the US by car so I’ve been eager to return ever since.

I didn’t have to wait too long before the first of many delicious meals on this trip, with dinner served swiftly after take-off. Anticipating a week of nothing but barbecue, I opt for the lighter Moroccan-style spiced lamb with couscous and veggies. A big scoop of caramel sundae compliments my healthy choice perfectly.

The middle seats we’re occupying in the 1-2-1 layout feature an electronic partition for travel companions who’d like to chat (or hold hands if you’re really fond of each other). For us though, the partition stays firmly up for the duration of the 13-hour flight. We’re spending the next seven days together – no need to get silly. 

After dinner, the lights dim and the shades are drawn. The cool cabin and soft linen whisk me off to a restful seven hours of sleep in no time.

We arrive in LA and then hop on a quick three-hour flight in American Airlines Economy to Nashville. With 18,000 Qantas Points, this leg costs us just $8.23 per person – bargain! We touch down just as the sun is setting over the city of music, illuminating the buildings with a gold hue. Nashville, it’s time to see what you’ve got.

Feel the energy in Nashville

Producing talent the likes of Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton, Nashville is famously known as ‘The Official Home of Country Music’. And let me tell you, they do not shy away from it. Country music can be heard everywhere.

Every morning from 10(AM!) Honky Tonk Highway in downtown Nashville erupts into a day-long music festival. Clad in their cowboy attire, punters peruse the 30+ multi-storey bars. Windows and doors swing wide open, allowing music to flow into the streets and entice audiences inside.

Every bar we visit is an opportunity to discover something new. With venues open into the early morning hours, there’s a near-endless supply of bands to boogie the day away.

It’s so cool. The sheer energy of this street is easily the highlight of our time in Nashville. Within a day, we both vow to return the next time we’re in the US.

Of course, Nashville has plenty more to offer. In just three days, we also enjoy an ice hockey game, a whiskey tour to craft distilleries in neighbouring counties and an insightful meander through the Country Music Hall of Fame museum.

Our final night is spent listening to established and upcoming country artists at Nashville’s illustrious Grand Ole Opry House. The theatre has broadcast the same weekly live music show to radios across North America since 1974, but the Opry show itself has been running for almost 99 years. It’s immediately clear how important it is to the local music scene and the musicians who get to play there. It’s a must-visit if you’re a music fan. Even if country music isn’t your top genre, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Case in point: I’m wrapt when the tunes take a sharp right turn towards 80’s movie soundtracks with Jim Peterik from American rock band Survivor making an appearance. Yes, he plays Eye of the Tiger. And yes, even at 73 years old, he still rocks.

Lynchburg: the home of Jack Daniel’s

Just an hour’s drive southeast of Nashville is the moistest dry county in America: Lynchburg, Tennessee. In most dry counties, it’s illegal to buy or sell alcohol – a quirky byproduct of America’s 13-year alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. But here, the moistness flows from a fairly well-known Tennesse whiskey factory that dominates the north end of town. The one and only Jack Daniel’s.

We arrive at 8 am and join the very first distillery tour of the day. Equipped with his quintessentially warm southern accent, our tour guide educates us on the process of whiskey production, Jack Daniel’s history and their relationship to the surrounding land. I’m surprised to discover every bottle is created right here with water extracted from a nearby limestone cave. Apparently, that’s what gives it such a distinct flavour.

With the distillery nestled amongst autumn-coloured forests and gentle rivers, it feels like a nice early walk in the park. If it weren’t for our 9 am whiskey tasting, I’d call this a healthy way to start a morning.

After the tour, we stop for lunch at a restaurant in the centre of town. This isn’t your usual small-town restaurant. Think a stereotypical American family Thanksgiving dinner, except you’re paired with a bunch of people you’ve never met. That’s Miss Mary Bobo’s – and frankly, it’s incredible.

Delightfully calorie-dense plates of American cuisine like fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese fill the table, while our 80-years-young host Jo regales us with old tales of Lynchburg and the Jack Daniel’s factory. Out of your favourite dish or sweet iced tea? The wait staff gladly bring out another plate from their seemingly endless supply. No alcohol, though. This is a dry county, after all. Apparently.

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Walking in Memphis

A scenic 4-5 hour drive west from Lynchburg lands us in Memphis, Tennessee. You may know it as the home of the only monarch the USA will ever worship – the King of Rock, Elvis Presley.

We venture to his famous Graceland Mansion, complete with a tour of his aggressively 70’s interior design choices. For the av-geeks reading this, you can even check out Elvis’ old plane named after his daughter – the Lisa Marie.

A number of bars and blues clubs line the city’s famous Beale Street. Admittedly, the street is pretty quiet during our visit in late October, leaving the Memphis party district feeling not quite as exciting or safe as Nashville’s. However, multiple residents tell us that the city livens up around their summer months, particularly during the Beale St Music Festival in May. If you decide to go, be aware that reward flights into the city and good deals on accommodation may be a little harder to find – that goes for Nashville, too. If you need assistance finding the best flights for your points, get in contact with our travel experts at Point Hacks Concierge.

Still, discovering BB Kings Blues Club along the strip is one of the highlights of the trip. Multiple jazz, blues and rock bands play at the two-storey club throughout the day and into the night. After one spectacular night of blues covers, perfectly cooked ribs and Jack Daniel’s infused Lynchburg Lemonades, we’re hooked. So much so, that we return the very next night. It’s the perfect way to spend our final night in the US.

Qantas 787 Business Class

Our journey back to Australia begins with an American Airlines Economy flight from Memphis to LA with a quick stop in Dallas, Texas. From LA we take a Qantas 787 all the way through to Melbourne.

The authentic flat whites, thick Aussie accents and big serves of much-needed vegetables have me instantly feeling right at home. Wearing the included Qantas branded pyjamas and sleep mask, I lie back in my seat and enjoy a restful journey home.

Our points & cash budget – per person

By mixing Qantas and Velocity Points, we manage to secure two luxurious flights across the Pacific while keeping the cash expense low. Here are the totals:

  • Qantas Points: 144,400
    One flight in Qantas Business Class (LAX-MEL) and three domestic flights in American Airlines Economy.
  • Velocity Points: 95,500
    One flight in United Airlines Business Class (SYD-LAX) and one flight in Virgin Australia Business Class (MEL – SYD)
  • Cash total per person: $414.56

That’s an impressive fare for Business Class flights both ways and three Economy Class flights within the US! It’s a good balance of luxury and value where needed. With lay-flat seating and meal services, the Business Class flights are ideal for the long overnight legs. During the day, we’re perfectly happy sitting in Economy for the connecting hops across America.

But how do you get the points? A lot of friends and family ask me which is the best Australian points program to focus on. My answer is always this – ‘both!’ This trip is a great example of why. By having access to points in multiple programs, we have more options for our flights. We also experience two different long-haul Business Class offerings instead of the same both ways.

And to earn points in either program, the answer is the same – credit card sign-up bonuses.

Both Qantas and Velocity have some excellent points-earning cards on offer right now. Click on the one you’d like to get started on and see which credit card best fits your needs.

For more earning opportunities, I also suggest signing up to Woolworths Everyday Rewards (Qantas) and Flybuys (Velocity). They also have numerous points bonus when you buy certain products. You can subscribe to our email newsletter to be notified when the really big ones are on offer. By combining these with your new credit card, you can earn multiple points per dollar spent on everyday transactions.

Experience Tennessee for yourself

Tennesse – and particularly Nashville – is the perfect place to launch an American road trip. Sure, our itinerary is packed with ‘blokey’ activities – but there really is something for everyone here. Not an Elvis devotee? You can travel east from Nashville instead. Take in the gorgeous sights of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park or even experience Dolly Parton’s very own Dolly Parton-themed amusement park and resort.

Still in the mood for food and tunes? Perhaps a trip down the Mississippi towards New Orleans will be more your style.

For whatever floats your riverboat, if you need assistance finding and booking the perfect reward seats to the USA (or anywhere else in the world), we can help. Click here to visit Point Hacks Concierge, let us know your travel plans and we’ll find the best flights for you on points.

You’ll be haulin’ yourself ’round the great state of Tennessee in no time.

Photography and video by Tobias Venus, with additional photography by Michael Siwes. Both travelled and journeyed at Point Hacks’ expense.

Explore USA’s Music Capital for under $420 with points was last modified: May 16th, 2024 by Tobias Venus