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.
1. Plan well in advance
It can sometimes be hard to plan far in advance. However, 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-to 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, though.
2. 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.)
3. 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. That could be 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.
Sydney – Nadi – Los Angeles flights are upgrading to Airbus A350s from 1 January 2020. They’ll have lie-flat, direct aisle access Business Class seats.
However, you will find more availability on its flights from Nadi to San Francisco (with the older product below) than Los Angeles.
For a slightly higher price but improved 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.
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 and Avianca LifeMiles can be used to access this redemption.
via the Middle East
If travelling 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 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 Class from there to the US.
Avoid spending much time searching with Air New Zealand—they do not release that many award seats in Business Class.
4. 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:
- crediting your Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights
- buy miles promotions
- transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy and then to Mileage Plan
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.
If you are willing to make a stop, then you can fly via Fiji with Fiji Airways for the same amount. You can also 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’s the same price as a one-way flight, so don’t 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.
5. Use your KrisFlyer miles on United
Out of the five airlines flying nonstop from Australia to the US mainland (Qantas, Virgin Australia, United, American Airlines and Delta), United has the most generous award availability—and the worst Business Class product.
However, these planes are due to get upgraded to the much better United Polaris seats in 2019-21. This makes it a good use of your KrisFlyer miles. Plus, their upgraded lounges in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston are fantastic.
6. Consider Premium Economy
Premium Economy is a growing space for airlines and it is worth considering. It is a compromise between Business (more comfort but less award availability) and Economy (less comfort and more award availability). This cabin sits in between, both literally and in terms of value.
Four of the five airlines flying nonstop between Australia and the US mainland offer this product. (United will most likely have this product introduced with its refurbishment program.)
7. Lock in long-haul flights first
The most important flight is the 13- to 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.
8. Be realistic about 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.
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.
If you have Velocity Points or American Airlines AAdvantage miles, then Hawaiian Airlines is an option worth checking out.
9. Get Qantas elite status
The leftovers (if any) are given to Bronze and Silver members at the 297-day mark, by which point most seats are already taken.
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.
10. Use cash for Economy tickets
You usually won’t get the best value out of using Qantas Points for Economy Class tickets.
A return ticket from Sydney to Los Angeles will set you back 83,800 Qantas Points + ~$340 in taxes. Flying American Airlines is much more reasonable, costing the same amount of points but less than half of the taxes.
Given that cash tickets from the East Coast of Australia usually start at $1,200—sometimes pushing $2,000 during peak periods like Christmas—you are usually better off saving up for one of the best uses of Qantas Points and just buying your Economy flight with cash. (A flight from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Los Angeles/San Francisco for under $1,000 return is a great deal.)
Velocity is more reasonable in terms of fees, costing 89,000 points + ~$170 in taxes. However, you can still maximise your Velocity Points with other redemptions.
11. Transfer your Velocity Points to KrisFlyer
Velocity Points can be transferred to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. In the context of flights to the US, this option can be beneficial to access improved award availability and to avoid fuel surcharges. You can also get a free or cheap stopover in Singapore.
(You cannot transfer your Qantas Points to any other program but you can use them with Qantas’ many partners such as the ones mentioned above.)
12. Don’t get your hopes up for an upgrade
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.
13. Get a credit card that gives you lounge access
If you do end up flying in Economy Class, then you may as well be in a space that is relaxing and grab some food and a drink before boarding your flight.
Important related guides
- How to redeem Qantas Points for flights to the US
- How to redeem Velocity Points for flights to the US
- The best (and worst) international routes for Qantas award availability
- Save on taxes by using your Qantas Points for flights on American Airlines
- How to redeem Qantas Points on Fiji Airways for flights to the US
- How to use your points to fly to Hawaii
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?
- 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.
- 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.