Tag Archives: Virgin America

The logistics behind planning a trip to Australia & New Zealand

2016 is going to be a great year. To start I’d like to do a couple of international events that I haven’t done in a long time. Bathurst 12h is perhaps the biggest one of them all.  But getting to Australia and New Zealand is a bit of a challenge. For one it’s on the other side of the world, and it literally takes days to get there. Which means I need more time off from work. But it’s also costly even when redeeming frequent flyer miles to pay for the trip.

The purpose of this post is to collect information on what my options are, and to seek advice from other frequent flyers to optimize my redemptions and get the best deal possible.

Virgin Australia booked through the use of Virgin America elevate points seems to be the best deal. It would take only 40,000 points and $140 tax to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) round trip. Unfortunately I would still have to find my own way to LAX from NYC, and I don’t actually have 40,000 elevate points in my account which is currently at just 26k or so. Luckily one way redemptions start at 25,000 elevate points either LAX-SYD or SYD-LAX and $90 tax.

virgin australia using virgin america points

American Airlines AAdvantage redemption is the second best choice. It would require 75,000 miles and $114.50 in tax to fly from New York City (JFK) to Sydney (SYD) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX). A bonus of redeeming miles with American as their credit card holder I would also get 10% rebate back on the mileage spend. So it would only take 67,500 miles to fly this route. I have flown Qantas on this route before a few times, using both their Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 birds, and it was a very enjoyable experience.

qantas using american airlines milesThe downside of course is that this year I have already used up 8,000 of the 10,000 rebate allowance with my two trips to Europe for Nurburgring 24h and Spa 24h. So the most I would actually get back is the remaining 2,000, which would result in 5,500 miles wasted. So I’m not too eager to redeem my AAdvantage miles on this trip. And I haven’t even gotten to the part of visiting New Zealand yet.

United Airlines Mileage Plus is also a valid option on this routing. At this point there are a lot of redemption opportunities both on UA metal and on their partners like Asiana Airlines or Air New Zealand. And best of all there is opportunity to book open jaw flights to arrive Australia and leave from New Zealand. However availability is non-existent to arrive NZ in the heart of their summer at the end of January so the only option is to fly to Australia first and leave from New Zealand after the race at Bathurst.

My ideal redemption would be to fly to Sydney (SYD) on a partner airline like Asiana with a connection in Seoul Icheon (ICN) using 40,000 UA miles and $36.40 in tax.

asiana using united miles

Or I could fly on United metal directly from Newark, NJ (EWR) with a layover in Los Angeles (LAX) with a minimal connection of 45 minutes which would definitely get me to Australia in the least amount of time and money using 40,000 UA miles and $27.40 in tax.

united mileage plus redemption to australiaOn the way back I could fly United’s partner Air New Zealand from Auckland (AKL) to Newark, NJ (EWR) with a connection in LA (LAX) and I would actually plan a trip in such a way that would give me a 13 hour layover in California so I can go do stuff in Los Angeles, have an In-n-Out burger at LAX or something. It would take 40,000 UA miles and $45.90 in tax to do this.

united mileage plus redemption from new zealand

The problem of course is I don’t have 80,000 UA miles to book this trip. I don’t even have 40,000 UA miles at this point, I’ve spent most of my savings flying Singapore Airlines in 2013 to get to Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But there was a UA credit card offer that I signed up and expect to earn the 40k necessary in the next few months.

So my real dilemma is how to mix and match the miles I have to make this trip a reality.

There is also a final option, and that is to buy the trip outright. However, at this point I’m looking at at least $1,200 to $1,400 investment, possibly more as I am dealing with arriving in Australia and traveling back through New Zealand. That’s a lot of money to spend on a Motorsport event. I remember Qantas put on a sale a few years ago offering NYC-SYD for just $700 USD. But that was back in the days of V Australia creating competition between Qantas, United and Delta AirLines which had started flying to Australia. Since then, Virgin Australia and Delta codeshare on the route eliminating some of the previous cutthroat competition. I will be keeping my eye out on The Flight Deal and similar web sites between now and the end of the year to see if any new sales or mistake fares pop up.

The sure plan though is to use frequent flyer miles. So if anyone has any suggestions or best routing tricks I could implement to make this trip a reality without breaking the bank, I would love to hear form you!

I haven’t mentioned how I’d get from Australia to New Zealand or vice-versa should things materialize that way. Since I lived in Kiwi land in 2012 I have saved up 300 AirNZ dollars that have been impossible to redeem for anything of value. They are best spent on purchasing tickets with AirNZ where 1 AirNZ dollar = $1 NZD. So my plan is to use one of the many AirNZ flights across the ditch from Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL) and paying a premium for it just to use up the points. In the past I’ve purchased a flight round trip from Australia to NZ for less than $300, but now I just don’t want them to expire, so I’ll use them as necessary. While living in NZ my goal was to use those points to fly to some place exotic like Tonga, Samoa or the Cook Islands… but just like a job that never materialized there, neither did the dreams to go to a beautiful Pacific island for vacation… Boo freaking hoo!

air new zealand flight between sydney and auckland

Ironically, $300 NZD seems to be the sweet spot for booking the flight outright so many months out from my travel dates. While using Airpoints – the AirNZ currency, only a certain amount of points can be used with the rest paid in cash, which makes this trip ridiculously overpriced. Also ironic is the partnership between Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia to compete with Qantas and their low cost carrier JetStar on the route. The sub $300 round trip I mentioned before was booked on JetStar.

 

Frequent Flyer Miles

There isn’t a dollar that I spend that doesn’t earn me some frequent flyer miles. What’s my obsession with airline miles/points? It is my means of transportation to events far and wide to volunteer. Most people I tell have a hard time believing the fact that the last time I paid for a flight to Australia was the very first time I flew there on a working holiday. I don’t think I have ever paid outright for a flight to Asia, and over the past few years I’ve been to Singapore a number of times, typically in the luxury of the Singapore Airlines A380 to boot.

How is that possible?

Doesn’t it usually take thousands of miles to fly? And for an infrequent flyer it takes forever to earn those miles while paying for flights. Sure it does. But you don’t need to fly to earn miles. I’ve been a FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com evangelist for ages but most people I preach this information to simply don’t believe me. Let me say it again, you don’t need to fly to earn miles, especially if you live in the US. I take advantage of just about any promotion out there to earn miles. No matter how many miles I earn, it will all be useful at some point in time. No amount is too small or too big.

Currently, and probably for a very limited time, there is a generous promotion from American Airlines and Cadillac celebrating their partnership in offering service, giving you 7,500 FREE AAdvantage miles just for test driving a Cadillac of your choice. There are three Cadillac dealerships within 10 minute drive from my home, so you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll head over to one in a jiffy!

aa caddy

Here’s the link: http://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/aad-cadillac-offer.jsp

Such offers are rare though. But you must keep a look out and take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Obviously, you must not wait for a killer offer to come around because they are very unpredictable. You may however participate in various promotions on things you buy and do everyday to earn miles. One such example is Dining. In the past few months I’ve accumulated nearly 20,000 miles from several dining programs by taking advantage of their promotions. This included spending some money, but like I said it is for stuff that I buy anyway, so why not get some extra miles while doing it. I am of course speaking of the AAdvantage Dining promotion of 10,000 for 10 dines at $40+ apiece. Not the cheapest thing out there, but considering you earn miles for the money you spend on food anyway, between 3 and 5 miles per $1, you actually earn enough miles from the promotion to fly one-way anywhere in the continental US that American or USAir flies. That’s a ridiculously good deal. I’ve also used a similar promo to get United Airlines miles and am currently working on getting 7,500 Delta miles.

Remember you can double and triple dip on the mileage you earn. For example, I often book a car rental using a promo code from an airline or AAA to get a discount. Pay for the car with my Delta or American Airlines credit card to earn their miles, and credit the mileage earned for the car rental itself to a third airline, like Southwest for example which has one of the more generous earning capabilities with the car rentals. Considering that you can use a significantly smaller number of Rapid Rewards points to redeem free flights on Southwest, it makes perfect sense to do this. Using airline shopping portals is a great avenue of earning more miles for things you buy anyway. Recently I got more miles for purchases at auto-parts stores to do some maintenance on my personal vehicles, for buying parts than I earned for actually flying a short hop on that airline. It is amazingly generous.

The most generous airline frequent flyer miles/points earning potential is signing up for the airline credit card. This is mostly available for people living in the US. And many factors dictate if you qualify like your credit score. But when you can, definitely go for the generous sign up bonuses. It could mean the difference between paying $1,000+ for a flight to Singapore and flying for $60 (where you only pay a portion of the tax by redeeming miles).

Do it, do it… do it!  And if you need help, get in touch, I’m happy to share information about what I’ve learned so far…. Good luck!

Top photo credit: American Airlines – AA.com