Top tips to help you secure an award seat to the US

GUIDE: Using Points
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate
TIME TO READ: 6 minutes
POSTED: May 3, 2018
UPDATED: May 5, 2018
LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Relevant to Multiple Programs

Point Hacks reader Jim posted this on the Questions & Answers section of our website:

Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?

I have been looking a long way in advance and there seems to be no availability for direct flights from the East Coast of Australia on any airline in Business or First—only in Economy. The only glimmer of hope seems to be taking a detour via Asia or Europe.

You may be reading this and have the same sentiments—know that you are not alone. Finding award availability in premium cabins on direct flights between Australia and the US is very difficult but not impossible, so here are some tips to improve your chances of snagging a comfortable seat.

Plan well in advance

Although sometimes hard to plan so far in advance, due to the intense competition for award seats and airlines opening their award calendars 11-12 months in advance, it pays to think ahead.

Check school holiday dates for the coming year/s and try to secure your seat a year out. At the 3-6 month mark, chances are quite low. Virgin Australia does release some leftover Business Class seats on its flights to Los Angeles a week out from departure.

Fly off-peak

Increase your chances of securing a seat by flying in both directions on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as school holidays, are more popular.

Consider flying via Fiji, Asia, Canada or the Middle East

Your options will open up exponentially if you have time to make a stop on the way to the US, either as a layover (less than 24 hours) or a stopover (more than 24 hours, giving you time to see the place).

Fiji Airways is a great option for using your Qantas Points. As a ‘preferred partner’, it costs the same to fly with Fiji or Qantas but Fiji offers more award availability. While not the most cutting-edge Business Class seat, you will at least have more comfort than in Economy. You will find more availability on its flights from Nadi to San Francisco than Los Angeles.

For a slightly higher price but wider award availability, you may consider using your Qantas Points to fly from Australia to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific or Tokyo with Japan Airlines and then on the US.

If you have KrisFlyer miles—which you can transfer your Velocity points to—then flying Singapore Airlines to Singapore will take you the long way round but you will enjoy good premium cabin availability, no fuel surcharges and a free or cheap stopover.

Vancouver is becoming a more popular transit point for travellers between Australia and the US. If you are flexible with dates, you may be able to secure a lie-flat seat on an Air Canada flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. KrisFlyer miles, United MileagePlus miles or Avianca LifeMiles can be used to access this redemption.

Air Canada 777 Business Class

If going to the East Coast of the US, flying via Asia or the Middle East may not actually add much to your travel time compared to transiting via the US West Coast or Dallas/Fort Worth. That opens up the opportunity to use your Qantas Points on Emirates or Qatar Airways, or Velocity points on Etihad.

If you are going to take the scenic route, you might as well do it in Emirates First Class!

If you do not have enough miles for the whole journey, you could book a cash ticket to a place like Fiji, Hong Kong or Tokyo and fly in Business or First from there to the US.

Do not bother searching with Air New Zealand—their partnership with Virgin Australia is winding up and they do not release that many award seats anyway.

The sweetest sweet spot: Alaska Mileage Plan miles

Alaska is an underdog in the frequent flyer world, especially here in Australia but how do you get your hands on their points currency? Through buy miles promotions and/or transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest and then to Alaska.

If you find an open Qantas seat, you will get it for 55,000/70,000 Alaska miles one-way for Business/First Class—that is a steal! Just note that Alaska members have more restricted access to Qantas award inventory than Qantas Frequent Flyer members and some other partner programs like Asia Miles.

Over coming years, we will be seeing a lot more of Qantas’ 787 Dreamliners flying to the US

If you are willing to make a stop, then you can fly via Fiji with Fiji Airways for the same amount; you can go via Hong Kong—with a free stopover!—with Cathay Pacific for 5,000 miles more; or you can fly with Korean Air via Seoul with excellent award availability for 125,000 miles roundtrip—it is the same price as a one-way flight, so do not shortchange yourself!

Best of all, if you use Alaska miles, you will not pay hefty fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars like you have to with Qantas Points.

Consider Premium Economy

Premium Economy is a growing space for airlines and it is worth considering it as a compromise between Business (more comfort but less award availability) and Economy (less comfort and more award availability)—this cabin sits in between, literally and also in terms of value.

Four of the five airlines flying direct between Australia and the US—Qantas, Virgin Australia, American Airlines and Delta—offer this product, with United expected to follow suit in coming years.

Virgin Australia 777 Premium Economy

Lock in long-haul flights first

The most important flight is the 13-17 hour trek from Australia to the US, not your connecting flight from Adelaide to Sydney. So, if you find award availability on the long-haul segment, lock that in and then work out the domestic segments for connections within Australia and the US to get you where you need to go later on.

Hawaii

It is extremely difficult to find availability on flights between Australia and Honolulu.

There is almost no Business Class availability on Qantas and upgrading is near-to-impossible as the cabin fills with passengers on paid tickets.

If you have Velocity points or American Airlines AAdvantage miles, then Hawaiian Airlines is an option worth checking out.

I would not recommend using your Qantas Points for travel in Jetstar ‘Business Class’ as that name is very misleading. If you cannot find any real Business Class availability, then just opt for an Economy ticket with cash.

Get Qantas elite status

Whilst Qantas usually releases seats 353 days in advance, on popular long-haul flights like those to the US, it will give its elite members a headstart on snapping up Business and First Class seats, with the leftovers given to Bronze and Silver members at the 308-day mark, by which point most seats are already taken. Here is our guide to Qantas elite status.

Does someone in your family have status? If they do, transfer your points over to them and get them to book the seat for you.

Use cash for Economy tickets

Do not use your Qantas Points for Economy tickets on Qantas! A return ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles will set you back 90,000 Qantas Points + ~$750 in taxes! Flying American Airlines is much more reasonable, costing the same amount of points and ~$150 in taxes.

Given that a cash ticket usually start at ~$1,500 (climbing to around $2,000 during peak periods), you are usually better off saving up for one of the best uses of Qantas Points and just buying your Economy flight with cash.

Velocity is more reasonable in terms of fees, costing 89,000 points + $172 in taxes but you can still maximise Velocity points with other redemptions.

Can I transfer my Qantas or Velocity points to another program?

You cannot transfer your Qantas Points to any other program but you can use them with Qantas’ many partners, like the ones mentioned above.

Velocity points can be transferred to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer—in the context of flights to the US, this option may be beneficial to access improved award availability and to avoid fuel surcharges.

Upgrades

Although you are unlikely to get an upgrade cleared on an Australia – US flight, some people can and flying off-peak will help maximise your chances.

Note that deep discounted fares are not eligible for upgrades. You can read more about upgrades on Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Get a credit card that gives you lounge access

If you do end up flying in Economy, then you may as well be in a space that is relaxing and grab some food and a drink before boarding your flight.

If you have an eligible American Express card, you can access the American Express Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, whilst if you have a Priority Pass membership, you will have many more options.

American Express Lounge Melbourne

Important related guides

Summing up

Question: Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?

Answer: Yes, they have! It just requires advance planning, flexibility with dates and routes, and realistic expectations.

Do you have any tips that have helped you secure an award seat to the US? Share in the comments below!


Do you have a travel-related question?

  1. Search the Point Hacks website using the Looking For Something? box (located to the right-hand side of any post) to see if we have already answered your question in a post.

  2. You can post your question in the Questions & Answers section of our website and someone from the Point Hacks community, whether another reader or one of our team members, will hopefully be able to help you out.

Supplementary images courtesy respective airlines.

Top tips to help you secure an award seat to the US was last modified: May 5th, 2018 by Matt Moffitt