Best Uses of American Express Membership Rewards Points by Region: Australia

Introduction
Domestic (Including Hawaii)
Europe
Asia
Australia
Middle East/Africa
South America


Australia is one of the toughest destinations in the world to get to on points, though Membership Rewards leaves you reasonably well positioned for such redemptions. When it comes to redeeming Membership Rewards points for flights between the US and Australia, there are two programs seriously worth considering and then several programs worth mentioning (in passing):

  • Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)
  • Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)
  • Other programs

Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance)

Aeroplan’s award chart for travel between the US and Australia looks as follows:

Aeroplan used to be a great program for redeeming miles to Australia, back before they devalued their award chart and before they added fuel surcharges. And especially back when Air New Zealand used to still release business class award space nonstop between the US and New Zealand, which they simply don’t do anymore.

Using Aeroplan miles you have two options to fly direct between the US and Australia. The first is to fly Air Canada’s daily nonstop flight between Vancouver and Sydney, which sounds nice in theory. Unfortunately not only do they very rarely release business class award space, but the fuel surcharges on the redemption make it almost entirely uninteresting. In addition to the 135,000 miles for a roundtrip business class award ticket, you pay over $1,000 in taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges.

The other nonstop Star Alliance service between the US and Australia is on United, which actually releases a fair amount of business and first class award space in the off season. For example, the dates in green below are the dates United has nonstop business class award space between San Francisco and Sydney next June/July:

The good news with them is that Aeroplan doesn’t impose fuel surcharges on United redemptions, so the taxes would be much more reasonable, at just ~$170 roundtrip.

Aeroplan will also let you route via Asia in certain cases. For example, Asiana has great connections in Seoul Incheon for travel between Los Angeles and Sydney:

The catch is that the taxes/fees/fuel surcharges for a roundtrip ticket total $700+.

Aeroplan will also allow other routings via Asia, including through Tokyo, Shanghai, and Osaka (all Air New Zealand gateways), though the fuel surcharges on a majority of those itineraries are massive.

So the takeaway here is that the best use of Aeroplan miles for travel to Australia is on United. Also keep in mind that Aeroplan allows two stopovers OR one open jaw and one stopover on a longhaul award ticket, so you can add on segments to New Zealand on the same award ticket without changing the mileage cost.

Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam)

Even though Delta SkyMiles are among the least valuable mileage currencies, they can actually be pretty valuable for travel to Australia. Their redemption rates are quite high — 150,000 miles for roundtrip business class and 100,000 miles for roundtrip coach — though availability more than makes up for it.

There are four practical options for getting to Australia using SkyMiles.

The first option is Delta’s nonstop flight between Los Angeles and Sydney. Award availability on it is surprisingly good if you plan 11 months out and if you are looking for only one seat. For example, take a look at award availability for next October for one passenger in business class:

The days marked as “green” have saver level business class award space, so in both directions all but one day have business class space at the lowest possible level.

As I said above, availability is good only if you’re looking for one seat. Once you start looking for two seats, the mileage level gets bumped up to the high level for most dates (those marked as “blue”):

Delta also partners with Virgin Australia, the airline that probably releases the most award space between the US and Australia. Until recently Delta imposed massive fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia redemptions originating in the US, so you’d pay roughly $800 roundtrip in addition to the mileage required for an award ticket. However, as of a few weeks ago that’s no longer the case. You can search Virgin Australia award space on delta.com. Remember that they fly from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Between those two options you should have no problem booking nonstop business class award tickets between the US and Australia in business class, assuming you book far in advance.

But if you’re planning closer in or want to go the “long way,” Delta also lets you route through Asia. You can route via Guangzhou on China Southern or Seoul Incheon on Korean Air.

Let’s start with China Southern. They fly an Airbus 380 with fully flat seats in business class between Los Angeles and Guangzhou, which has nine business class award seats available almost every day:

And from there they offer plenty of connecting service to Australia, including to Sydney:

And to Melbourne:

And to Brisbane (with continuing service to Cairns):

And to Perth:

And to Auckland:

As you can see these flights have on average two to eight business class award seats, so this is probably the easiest route to go for finding award space to Australia. A majority of China Southern’s Airbus 330s even feature fully flat business class seats.

China Southern award space can be searched on ExpertFlyer.com, and you have to call Delta SkyMiles in order to book the ticket, as it can’t be booked on delta.com.

Korean Air also flies daily from Seoul Incheon to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and has a fair amount of award space outside of their blackout dates (which can be found at the bottom of this post). The space can be searched on delta.com, though often it doesn’t come up “naturally” unless you search it segment by segment.

Other programs

Australia is a tough destination on points, and frankly Aeroplan and Delta SkyMiles are your two best options. There are several other Membership Rewards transfer partners worth considering in theory, though I’d say 90%+ of the Membership Rewards redemptions I book to Australia are through either Aeroplan or Delta SkyMiles.

But I should mention at least a few other programs:

British Airways Executive Club

British Airways belongs to OneWorld and partners with Qantas, so you’d think they would be a good option for award tickets to Australia. While Qantas does release a fair amount of coach award space, they release very little first and business class award space to the US.

For example, here’s one of the few award seats I see in Qantas first class between Australia and the US next year (on the Airbus 380 no less):

As you can see it would cost you 150,000 Avios plus $508.58 in fuel surcharges one-way. So the truth is that if you want to fly Qantas on miles use American AAdvantage miles, as the fuel surcharges and mileage through British Airways are a killer.

The same award through American would cost just 72,500 miles plus ~$100 in taxes.

Even a coach award using Avios would run you 100,000 Avios plus $849.31 in taxes/fees/fuel surcharges, so really isn’t worth it.

So the moral of the story is that you don’t want to use Avios for travel to Australia, and if you want to fly Qantas, rack up American miles. There are plenty of easy ways to do so, including credit cards, BankDirect, Starwood points transfers, etc.

Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles

In the interest of being thorough it’s worth mentioning HawaiianMiles. They have a decent amount of award space from Hawaii to Australia, though charge 130,000 miles for roundtrip business class between Hawaii and Australia, and 210,00 miles for roundtrip business class between the mainland and Australia. The good news is that you can book these as one-ways and they have a decent amount of award space. The bad news is that their business class seats aren’t really in a longhaul configuration, so are only slightly better than domestic first class.

But if you’re in Hawaii or looking at flying just one-way, they’re worth at least keeping in mind.


 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

Singapore Airlines is unique in that they only release award space in their new business and first class product to their own KrisFlyer members, and not partner airline members. In other words, if you’re trying to redeem Aeroplan or United miles you won’t have access to the same award space that Singapore gives their KrisFlyer members. That’s why they’re worth knowing about when it comes to Australia redemptions.

Their award chart for one-way redemptions looks as follows (zone 13 is the US west coast and zone 14 is the US east coast):

So for example from the west coast to Sydney roundtrip you’re paying 200,000 miles in business class or 280,000 miles in first class. Singapore also offers a 15% discount for booking online, bringing down the amounts to 170,000 miles and 238,000 miles, respectively.

The problem is that in addition to the miles you’ll pay roughly $1,000 in taxes/fees/fuel surcharges.

Conclusion

As this post hopefully demonstrates, diversifying miles is extremely valuable. There’s no one mileage currency or program that’s great for traveling everyone. In this case Delta SkyMiles is great for redemptions to Australia, while Aeroplan is reasonably good. There are some other programs to consider that don’t partner with Membership Rewards (American AAdvantage and Korean Air SkyPass come to mind), but if you’ve diversified your miles well, you should have no problem with that.

Comments

  1. BFrankley says

    Thanks for the great summary. Can you expand at all on the New Zealand options? Or is there nothing good to report?

  2. lucky says

    @ BFrankley — My pleasure! New Zealand options are more or less the same. Only nonstop service between US and New Zealand is on Air New Zealand, and they release no premium cabin award space. So you have the option of going through Asia or via Sydney with both SkyMiles and Aeroplan. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. Ron says

    Methinks United is hands down the best to Australia from NAmerica. You can book non stop from SFO/LAX-SYD using Saver awards in F for 160,000 miles plus $131 in fees/taxes. Or 80,000 + $131 in Economy.

  4. lucky says

    @ Ron — Yes, except United doesn’t release all that much first class award space, and their coach product on the 747 is downright horrible.

  5. Steve S says

    While I agree that the BA redemption schedule can be insanely expensive, isn’t there an option to use the Award Companion Pass from the BA Visa? I think it would be something like 300,000 miles in First Class, but if that’s for TWO people and you’re willing to pay the fees, not that bad an option – or am I missing something? And if the strategy is not wrong, any idea of if they are as generous LHR to SYD as they are from NYC to LHR in terms of award availability? Many thanks!

  6. lucky says

    @ Steve S — Well you end up paying 400,000+ Avios, plus $2,000+ per person in fuel surcharges. I’d say that’s not an especially compelling deal, especially since finding space all the way to Australia on BA can be a challenge.

    @ Peetryd — I’m not positive, though I don’t think they release any more space to them.

  7. The Blue-Eyed Sheikh says

    If you’re not flying to the east coast of Australia, i.e. to Perth or Adelaide, my understanding is that there are no non-stop flights from North America.

    In which case, for Aeroplan, a split reward – UA to SIN, SQ to PER/ADL can be had for relatively low fees.

    For that matter, it can be done for SYD/MEL/BNE as well.

    Plus, Aeroplan allows a stopover, and SIN is worth taking advantage of it.

  8. says

    Lucky,
    I recently read a post that I thought was from you that suggested transferring points from ones Membership rewards into singapore’s
    Krisflyer, and that would gain access to their premium seats. Yes/no?
    Tx

  9. Mark says

    Hi Lucky,

    I have been reveiwing our Freq Flyer Points which are currently with Qantas & considering Amex Rewards. Our purpose is very specific. To get enough points to get the family (2 adults + 3 kids) return flights direct from Sydney to Vancouver.

    MRs seem to have more flexibility as they can be transferred to different airline rewards (eg. Air Canada Aeroplan)and in the event we didn’t have enough points or needed a flight not offered on rewards, it seems MRs can be redeemed via general travel / flights purchases (10 000 MRs = $100 off the flight cost)if you booked through webjet for example. Prob not as good value as rewards flights but at least a back up plan. Also points earning on Credit Cards for MRs seems a bit better than QFF pts.

    So the questions are to the best value for direct return flights Sydney to Vancouver;
    1) Are we better of accumulating MRs than QFF points?
    2) What Airline Rewards Program should we be looking to transfer pts to?

  10. lucky says

    @ Mark — To clarify, are you based in Australia or North America? I ask because it impacts which cards you have access to.

  11. DHM says

    Same question (almost!) What are the best options or use of Amex points for your Australia based readers wanting to fly to the US using these points. QFF is useless!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *