Flying at the pointy end across the Pacific is a popular way to spend frequent flyer points. But with premium seats to the United States in hot demand from paying customers, securing a reward booking can be tough. When it comes to using Velocity Points, though, there’s a trick that’s worth knowing – and it can get you flying United Polaris Business Class.

If you’re trying to book far in advance – close to a year until departure – you’d be lucky to find a reward seat at the front of the plane. But United is savvy. As the departure date nears, the airline gets a better idea of how many seats may not be snapped up by fare-paying customers. And that’s when reward seats become available.

Between Australia/New Zealand and the United States, this usually starts to happen about one month from travel time. And once you’re within a week of departure, there’s a very, very good chance you’ll find something.

Case in point: I needed to book a last-minute flight to Los Angeles, ideally on points. And by last-minute, I do mean that. I booked a flight at midnight to depart at 9 a.m. At this point, the price of a one-way Business Class ticket came in at $8,595. But, just like magic, there was a reward seat bookable on the same flight.

Rather than the hefty asking price of the airfare, my journey quickly becomes a lot more affordable thanks to points. In fact, the cash cost is like buying a domestic Economy flight: $119.74 all up, including Virgin Australia’s credit card fee. But that’s for a transpacific flight in United Polaris when redeeming 95,500 Velocity Points at the same time. You might even be able to earn enough points for a flight like this from one well-timed credit card sign-up offer.

Booking United Polaris to Los Angeles using Velocity Points

Heading to the home of Hollywood? You’ll find direct United Airlines flights from Sydney and Melbourne. You can’t book Premium Economy on United with Velocity Points – but you can book Polaris (Business Class).

Sydney to Los Angeles direct is the route I flew, which costs 95,500 Velocity Points for a one-way Business Class flight. And just AU$118.18 to pay on the side (plus Virgin’s minimal credit card surcharge). That’s another great thing about using Velocity Points to fly with United – there are no ‘carrier charges’. You only pay the genuine taxes.

Sydney to Los Angeles in United Polaris using Velocity Points

From Melbourne to Los Angeles, the points cost is the same. The taxes are marginally lower.

Melbourne to Los Angeles in United Polaris using Velocity Points

Of course, you can book Economy too. But when United Polaris only costs roughly twice as many Velocity Points as sitting down the back, it’s well worth doing if you can. United previously offered Brisbane-LA flights, but these have been suspended in favour of more direct services to San Francisco.

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Booking United flights to San Francisco using Velocity Points

Los Angeles is a traditional point of entry into the United States for Australians. But San Francisco is a larger hub for United – and you can fly there direct from three east coast cities.

A flight from Sydney to San Francisco in United Polaris mirrors the exact same cost in Velocity Points and tax as Sydney-LA.

Sydney to San Francisco in United Polaris using Velocity Points

Following the trend, Melbourne to San Francisco also costs exactly the same in points and taxes as Melbourne to LA.

Melbourne to San Francisco in United Polaris using Velocity Points

For Queenslanders, United offers a direct Brisbane to San Francisco flight as well. Taxes are the highest on this route of the big three Australian east coast cities, but the difference is still very marginal.

Brisbane to San Francisco in United Polaris using Velocity Points

It’s also worth knowing that even though Virgin Australia and United Airlines flights appear on separate reward tables in Velocity, flights can be combined to form a connection. That’s handy if you need to fly on a particular date but can only find a Polaris seat through Velocity out of a different city.

For instance, a direct flight from Melbourne to San Francisco via Brisbane costs the same number of Velocity Points as a flight from either city. That’s flying Virgin Australia on the domestic hop and United Airlines across the Pacific. You’ll just pay a bit more in taxes, fees, and charges to add the domestic flight.

Melbourne to San Francisco via Brisbane in United Polaris using Velocity Points

Other routes to fly United Polaris using Velocity Points

Velocity members can book reward flights across the United Airlines network – including in Polaris. But if you’re looking for a different way of getting to the US versus LA or San Francisco, keep reading.

United also runs a seasonal direct flight from Sydney to Houston – as well as flights from Auckland to San Francisco. The number of points required is based on a flight’s length, so those flying from New Zealand part with slightly fewer points (and pay less tax).

Auckland to San Francisco using points

United also runs seasonal flights between Christchurch and San Francisco. Where there’s availability, these can be booked using Velocity Points in Polaris or Economy – just like any other United flight.

Flying United Polaris

What’s all the fuss about United Polaris, then – and why should you book it using Velocity Points? Well, Polaris is the airline’s best cabin – and best experience. It starts at check-in, where those booked in United Polaris use the highest tier of priority check-in, shared only with United Premier 1K and Global Services flyers. (That’s United’s equivalent of Qantas Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge).

United priority check-in
United Polaris puts you in the fastest lane at check-in.

Once on board, well, they say a picture is worth 1,000 words. Here’s a peek at my Polaris pew in row one, booked with Velocity Points. You can bet I had a good night’s sleep!

United Polaris Business Class
Relaxing in seat ‘1L’ on United’s Boeing 787 from Sydney to Los Angeles.

Travelling with a companion? The cabin’s 1-2-1 layout is staggered. If you sit in the centre, every second row of seats is ‘together’. But, if you wind up here when flying alone, you can raise that handy privacy screen.

United Polaris cabin
When flying solo, I much prefer those window seat views.

On the ground, United Polaris passengers have access to Star Alliance Business Class lounges in Australia. In Sydney, for instance, that’s a choice between the Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines lounges. But in the US, at eligible airports, United’s fanciest Polaris lounges await – and they’re only for those flying at the pointy end, not even for top-tier status members.

With great availability for last-minute travel, very low taxes and fees and a solid premium product, this is one trick to keep in your back pocket.

Also read: Delta plans new ‘premium lounge’ to rival AA Flagship and United Polaris

All photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at Point Hacks’ expense using Velocity Points earned via the company’s Virgin Australia Business Flyer account.

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The trick to booking United Polaris with Velocity Points was last modified: June 1st, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin