Best Ways To Use Amex Membership Rewards Points To Fly To Australia Or New Zealand [2018]

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Introduction
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While Australia and New Zealand are dream destinations for many people, they are not the easiest for award travel, especially in premium cabins. If you’re like many of my friends and want to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney to view their spectacular show on the harbour, you might even want to try booking nearly a year in advance.

Don’t let that scare you though, just be prepared. If you have Membership Rewards points, you’ll have several ways to book economy and premium cabin awards.

Earn Membership Rewards Points

Now, let’s get into it!

Air Canada Aeroplan

As is often the case, Aeroplan is the go-to Star Alliance partner if you want to book one-way awards and have a stash of Membership Rewards points. With Air Canada and United both flying to Australia and Air New Zealand operating routes to Auckland (AKL) — and connecting to a number of cities in Australia — you’ll have several options that provide pretty direct routings.

You can include 2 stopovers or one stopover and an open jaw on your itinerary. Unfortunately, Star Alliance doesn’t have a partner based in Australia so if you’re connecting to cities such as Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane (BNE) and Perth (PER) you won’t realistically be able to stopover in Sydney (SYD) or Melbourne (MEL) — though you can still have those stopovers elsewhere on your itinerary.

Sometimes, routing through Asia will be your best bet to find award space, which has the added benefit of letting you include stopovers on both the outbound and return. You can even route in such a way that you can experience two different countries in Asia.

Just remember that Aeroplan does include carrier-imposed surcharges on some partner awards (and its own flights). To avoid these surcharges, consider booking with these Star Alliance partners:

  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • EVA Air
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • United Airlines

Surcharges on ANA flights are also reasonable and could be a solid choice depending on availability.

Aeroplan award rates

Air Canada Aeroplan has a simple region-based award chart. If you want to use Aeroplan miles to book an award to Australia, New Zealand or another South Pacific destination (think Fiji) the mileage requirement can easily be determined by class of service:

  • Economy: 45,000 miles one-way
  • Business: 80,000 miles one-way
  • First: 110,000 miles one-way

Remember, you can only include stopovers on round-trip award bookings.

How to book with Aeroplan miles

Aeroplan has solid search functionality with the main downside being that it can struggle with itineraries that have connections. If you don’t find award space initially or don’t like the options, check segment by segment then call Aeroplan (1-800-361-5373) to book. The phone booking fee is C$30 (~$24) but it might be the only way to get the route you want.

If you get the itinerary you want from the online search, you can go ahead and book online. While Aeroplan won’t hold the award for you, transfers from Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio) generally process almost instantly.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club

If you’re able to book a round-trip award, ANA Mileage Club will get you the best redemption rate on ANA flights or Star Alliance partners. You can also include a stopover and an open jaw in your itinerary — the open jaw must be within the same country with few exceptions.

Keep an eye on surcharges if you’re connecting through Asia. Awards on Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand and United (except when routing through Asia) will not have surcharges. Surcharges on ANA, Asiana and EVA Air are quite reasonable if you’re looking for a business class award.

ANA Mileage Club award rates

Booking award flights on ANA with Mileage Club miles is an excellent way to stretch your Membership Rewards points, especially during low and regular season periods — high season is also competitive for economy and business class awards. You’ll actually be better off booking first class awards with Aeroplan during high season, though.

If your booking includes flights on one of ANA’s partners, the miles required by their partner award chart. Here’s a breakdown of the miles required for both ANA flights — for low/regular/high seasons — and partner bookings:

ANA AwardsPartner Awards
Economy60K/70K/75K miles75K miles
Business105K/115K/120K miles120K miles
First210K/210K/225K miles225K miles

Beyond the redemption rate, ANA Mileage Club members also have access to more award space on ANA flights than its partners.

How to book with Mileage Club miles

You can search for and book with ANA Mileage Club online with ANA. However, to make searching quicker, I often used United to search so I can see a 2-month calendar of dates with economy and premium cabin award space. Additionally, I find it easier to run one-way which United allows. Once you find space on the outbound and the return, you can run the round-trip search on ANA and complete your booking.

If you’re searching for award space on ANA, you might find some additional availability when searching directly through the ANA site, but look out for waitlisted award space as there is no guarantee it will clear.

Once you’re ready to book, you can transfer Membership Rewards — at a 1:1 ratio — and expect it to process within 2 to 3 days. Keep in mind that ANA won’t hold award space for you, so you’ll want to have a backup itinerary.

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

Asia Miles is the only program on our list that uses a distance-based award chart. As of June 22, 2018, its new award charts will be in effect and while it was definitely a devaluation, it’s still our best option for Oneworld awards if you’re working with Membership Rewards points. We’ll update this section as needed once it becomes more clear how Asia Miles is pricing multi-segment awards, but the core concepts are the same.

With the standard new chart for awards on Cathay Pacific (and Cathay Dragon), round-trip awards are now double the one-way redemption rate. Previously, round-trip awards would provide a little discount instead of being double the one-way rate. You should be able to include 2 stopovers though.

Asia Miles award rates

The Asia Miles program has an award chart for itineraries that include flights on Cathay Pacific (and Cathay Dragon) and one partner airline. The award chart is broken up into six tiers including Ultra-Long for flights at least 7,501 miles which is where a flight from the U.S. to Australia/New Zealand would fall.

Asia Miles Standard Award Chart

If you were to fly Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong (HKG), 42,000 Asia Miles for an economy award might be worth it. Even business class at 85,000 miles or first class at 125,000 miles could be a good way to go. You’ll also be able to include a connection on either American Airlines or Qantas at these rates.

If you want to include connections on both American Airlines and Qantas (or other Oneworld partners), your award price will be dictated by the by the Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart:

Asia Miles Oneworld Multi-Carrier Award Chart

Asia Miles has indicated that they may release an award chart for flights on a single Oneworld partner but they have not released it yet. With Qantas and American Airlines both flying from the U.S. to Australia, this will be important. We’ll update this section when it is released.

How to book with Asia Miles

If you’re booking a flight on Cathay Pacific or Qantas, you can search and book on the Asia Miles site. Many partners, including American Airlines, cannot be booked online though.

In this case, you can search for space on British Airways — though, at the time this article was written, BA could not see American award space — or on Qantas. Once you find the space, you can call Asia Miles (1 866 892 2598) to complete the booking.

You can transfer Membership Rewards (at a 1:1 ratio) and it should process within 1 to 2 days.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta SkyMiles is actually going to be your best bet for booking SkyTeam awards if you have Membership Rewards points. Additionally, Delta also has a partnership with Virgin Australia but you’ll be hard-pressed to find business class award space more than a week from departure.

You won’t be able to book stopovers, but Delta’s partnership with Virgin Australia does allow you to connect to many cities in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, the ability to book one-way awards allows you to easily book separate awards to various cities — British Airways Avios can come in handy here — and beginning your return home from wherever you end up!

Delta SkyMiles award rates

While the business class redemption rates won’t be as competitive as you’ll find with ANA Mileage Club or even Aeroplan, Delta SkyMiles is competitive for economy bookings and provides a number of SkyTeam booking options.

As with other regions, Delta has a rate for award tickets on its own flights and those with partner airlines. Here are the redemption rates you want to find when booking:

Delta FlightsSkyTeam Partner Flights
Economy45,000 miles40,000 miles
Business94,000 miles100,000 miles

While I regularly see economy space on Virgin Australia, business class on either Delta or Virgin Australia can be quite tough to find.

A workaround for this is to book with one of Delta’s partners based in Asia such as Korean Air, China Airlines, China Eastern and China Southern. Keep in mind that Delta’s site — and Expert Flyer — often show phantom award space on China Eastern and China Southern so it will be hit and miss. Similarly, delta.com won’t show China Airlines space consistently, so for all three of those carriers you’ll want to call to verify award availability before moving your points to Delta

How to book with Delta SkyMiles

Booking with Delta is generally pretty easy if you can find saver level awards space. You can search and book online as well as use a 5-week calendar search to see your options on multiple days. One thing to keep in mind when searching for award space to Australia is that the results generally show Delta and Virgin Australia.

If you want to find space with another partner such as Korean Air, or route through Asia in general, you’ll want to search segment by segment then call Delta to book. As long as the partner airline publishes the route themselves, you should be able to book.

Once you’ve found the space you want, you can transfer Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio). This should process just about instantly. Keep in mind, Amex does impose a small excise tax on transfers to Delta. It’s annoying but shouldn’t prevent you from doing so.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Your other option for booking flights on Virgin Australia is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Unlike Delta SkyMiles, Flying Club will require additional miles for connections so it’s really only useful for non-stop flights from LAX to BNE, MEL or SYD.

However, Flying Club does also provide another option for booking Air New Zealand flights from LAX and Houston (IAH). On November 30, 2018, Air New Zealand will launch a route from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) as well.

Unfortunately, business class awards on all of these routes can be quite tough to find. However, Air New Zealand did release a bunch of business class space earlier this year.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club award rates

Oddly enough, Flying Club’s redemption rates for economy awards aren’t that special. In fact, you can actually get better or comparable rates with Delta SkyMiles. Here are the redemption rates for non-stop awards on Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand:

Virgin Australia FlightsAir New Zealand Flights
Economy47,000 miles40,000 miles
Business94,000 miles62,500 miles

The business class award rate is 6,000 miles less than Delta requires for a one-way, while the economy rate on Air New Zealand is 5,000 miles less than Aeroplan. If you’re booking round-trip, ANA Mileage Club will have a slightly better economy rate at 75,000 miles compared to Flying Club’s 80,000 miles.

ANA Mileage Club is also better for round-trip business class — 120,000 vs 125,000 miles — but, if you need a one-way award, 62,500 Flying Club miles is a lot better than 80,000 Aeroplan miles.

How to book with Flying Club miles

To book a flight on Virgin Australia, you can run a search on Delta and expand the search to a 5-week calendar to see what options exist near your desired travel dates. If you want to book an award on Air New Zealand, you can run a flexible date search to see two months of availability. Both Delta and United will include other airlines in the search results so you’ll have to do a little digging.

Once you have found the dates you want, you can call Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (1-800-365-9500) to put the award on hold while you transfer Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio) — these transfers are often instant which gives Virgin Atlantic an advantage over ANA.

Flying Club has great phone reps so this process should be pretty painless.

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer – a special case

Redemption rates with Singapore KrisFlyer aren’t anything special but, if you want to fly Suites Class, first class or business class on Singapore Airlines, this is your only option. You can also include stopovers on one-way saver awards for $100 each.

Singapore Airlines operates flights out of 4 U.S. airports including IAH, JFK, LAX and San Francisco (SFO) — Newark (EWR) will have flights as of October 12, 2018. If your award only includes flights on Singapore Airlines, these are the one-way premium cabin redemption rates:

  • EWR/IAH/JFK to Australia/New Zealand: 118,000 miles for business class, 152,000 miles for Suites Class and/or first class
  • LAX/SFO to Australia: 110,000 miles for business class, 154,000 for Suites Class and/or first class

Flights from EWR and IAH do not have a first class cabin nor will flights on the SFO-SIN route. Unfortunately, Singapore Airlines will not let you book from the west coast to New Zealand.

If you choose to book an award that includes a segment on a Star Alliance partner — perhaps, a connection on United or Air New Zealand — then your award will be governed by Singapore’s Star Alliance award chart.

Singapore KrisFlyer Star Alliance Award Chart

Transfers from Membership Rewards should take about 12 to 24 hours and transfer at a 1:1 ratio.

Bottom line

Australia and New Zealand certainly aren’t the easiest destinations for award bookings if you live in the U.S., but there are some great options to book. For those who don’t like connections, the tough part will be finding award space on flights that don’t take you through Asia.

How have you used American Express points to Australia and New Zealand?

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Comments

  1. I booked China Southern JFK > CAN > CHC with no issues for 97,000 Delta sky miles in business class one way. Had a nice ~8 hour layover during daylight hours in CAN so was able to leave the airport and do some sightseeing. 80k on AA is better, but those are never available and would have required 3 flights to get to CHC/south island of NZ. I was able to get there in 2 flights and enjoy a nice layover.

  2. You mention Singapore Airlines and I’ve been looking at using them for a return from Australia next year if I can’t get enough AA points in time to book the availability that is present. I’ve had a heck of a time getting the Krisflyer agents to price me out a Saver award SYD – SIN – LAX/SFO. There is Saver availability in First / Suites from SYD – SIN and Saver availability in Business a few days later from SIN – LAX / SFO. However, when I called they wanted to charge me 275,000 per ticket at the Standard level on a mixed class booking all the way through.

    Has anyone had any success or previously booked SYD – SIN (first) / Stopover / SIN – LAX/SFO on Singapore Airlines? I’d be happy to pay the First Saver award price all the way through (and ideally I’d like to have a Star Alliance connection hooked on to the end taking me through to LAS, but I’m happy to sacrifice that to get things to price out).

  3. @Spencer Do you happen to know whether ANA Mileage Club is still blocking/refusing to book SQ 77W and A388 premium cabin award space? If so, do you know the reasoning behind this decision and if there might be some sort of work around?

  4. Unfortunately Qantas 1st or business class never have any award seats available and we all know United is _____(fill in the blank yourself). So what’s left is flying to Asia then to Sydney/ Melbourne or flying to Asia then to Sydney/ Melbourne. Sad!

  5. JFK-ICN-SYD on OZ is a good way to get to Aus from the East Coast, there’s usually F and J space on JFK-ICN so it’s just a question of finding J awards on ICN SYD. And connecting in Seoul is easy, unlike the many horror stories about connections in China.

    In the other direction those OZ flights don’t connect but ANA often has F space from NRT to IAH or ORD – you’d need a separate ticket from Aus to NRT maybe with Qantas points – not on Qantas flights which never have J award space but on JetStar eg OOL-NRT or CNS NRT. For JetStar awards Qantas’ award-walloping-surcharge is “only” about $260 each way, and that’s a bargain by comparison with Qantas’ stinking high surcharges on its own awards.

    If you’re looking for a direct flight, VA occasionally has J space out of BNE and more moderate surcharges, using DL or VA points.

  6. @Nicholas Ohrn My husband and I just recently booked SYD-SIN-HKG-SFO First/Suites at the Standard level (275k) for January. The SIN-LAX/SFO do not have first class cabins, and there is rumor that the SIN-LAX route is going away at the end of this year. You will need to go through HKG to get F all the way through. Hope this helps!

  7. @Tessa thanks so much! I got in contact with Singapore’s booking team and they suggested that I just book separate one ways SYD – SIN in Suites and then SIN – LAX / SFO in Business. At the Saver level this would be 168,000 Krisflyer miles per person.

    Fortunately for me, it looks like QF First just opened up two tickets on the date I wanted to return to the USA, so I’m going to try to book that instead and hit up SQ Suites some other time.

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond and for the suggestions.

  8. Nicholas (and Tessa) 18 months ago I flew SIA from SFO direct to Singapore. 7hr stopover then suites to Sydney. The agent charged me less than the first class rate for west coast awards to Australia. Was ~110k points. Flights were week before Christmas and tons of my waitlisted awards opened up in the three weeks prior. Many agents couldn’t link or see the suites but finally an agent rung me back with the confirmed route.

  9. @Mick thank you for that. How’d you book? Did you do it over the phone? Did you book a business class award first and then upgrade the second leg to Suites or were you able to do it all in one go?

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