Booking Australia Awards With a Stopover

Reader David asks,

What is the best way to go from [San Francisco] to Australia (Sydney, Perth, Melbourne…doesn’t matter) using miles for first or business class, with a possible stopover and less taxes/fuel surcharge?

Fuel surcharges: US airline frequent flyer programs aren’t going to incur fuel surcharges on awards to Australia, unless you’re using Delta miles for travel on China Eastern or China Southern.

Stopovers: The only US airline frequent flyer programs that allow stopovers on international award tickets without charging additional miles are Alaska and United. American and Delta do not.

Aeroplan’s stopovers without fuel surcharges: Air Canada Aeroplan allows stopovers and adds fuel surcharges to many of their partners. For your purposes, Aeroplan – which is an American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood transfer partner – does not add fuel surcharges to awards on United, Air China, or Singapore Airlines.

Best award availability: For the past few years the best miles for Australia have been Delta’s because of their partnership with Virgin Australia. Virgin Australia’s award space in business class has been phenomenal for multiple passengers even at peak times. Delta added Virgin Australia space to its website for booking and eliminated fuel surcharges on the carrier (Delta now has a joint venture with them). But award space in premium cabins has really dried up. It’s often gone in spurts, disappeared and later returned. This time could be different – a possible end to the claim that Delta miles are the best to Australia – because Virgin Australia is installing new four-across seats on their Boeing 777s replacing the (surprising comfortable) seven-across seating. My guess is they won’t let as many seats go as awards.

Virgin Australia Flat Bed in 7-Across Configuration on their Boeing 777

The best way to Australia is with whichever program has availability for when you want to travel.

The single best product between the US and Australia direct is Qantas first class onboard their Airbus A380. But that’s usually only available when their schedule first opens, which is about 3 weeks earlier than American or Alaska can book their seats. (And ‘the trick’ hasn’t been 100% reliable.)

Qantas A380 First Class Seat

Sometimes Los Angeles – Brisbane space opens up, and perhaps there will be space on the San Francisco – Sydney flight before it builds a following.

Aside from Virgin Australia in recent memory, and United often when their schedule loads, Australia awards can be super tough and the only way to make awards happen is a lot of extra flying via Asia.

American does not permit flying through Asia to Australia on a single award ticket. Delta and United do.

Finding United award space on Air New Zealand is super tough, except sometimes via Shanghai. Asiana through Seoul can be a good option. And United allows a stopover in one direction while you’re in Asia.

Delta on Korean is another way to make things work, though about a third of the year is blacked out. Again, no stopovers permitted without spending extra miles.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary
    Thank you so much for this post! I really appreciate it and means a lot to me to help me plan for my trip to Australia.
    You are very responsive and helpful blogger. I really admire you. I will use your affiliate link for my app-o-ramas that will be coming soon as a way of saying thank you 🙂

  2. I’m mid trip, on my way to Australia right now with a stopover in Taiwan. Lots of saver business on TG when booking with UA miles.

  3. Any tips on how to get biz seats on air new zealand? Bloggers always say how tough it is but never seem to give tips. Thx

  4. @ Gary
    1. “Finding United award space on Air New Zealand is super tough, except sometimes via Shanghai. Asiana through Seoul can be a good option.” =. So by using United miles, I can search for Air New Zealand from SFO – PVG –SYD? or Asiana on SFO – ICN – SYD? Is that what you mean?
    2. “And United allows a stopover in one direction while you’re in Asia.” = So for SFO – ICN – SYD on Asiana, I can get free stopover at Seoul, Korea? From what I know so far, United only allow stopover on roundtrip award tickets.

  5. This may or may not be useful because t may require extra miles, however I have often found lots of availability in China Eastern business class between PVG and MEL, particularly in the periods where MU run a second daily flight as the second flight hasn’t been a Qantas codeshare in the past.

    It’s often been the only way out of Australia on miles at relatively short notice. I really enjoyed MU business class, not the best hard product, but perfectly adequate, really nice soft product; interesting Chinese menu, acceptable wines, pyjamas and really attentive service. 24-72 hours in Shanghai on a free transit visa is a fun way to get a jump on the jetlag and may go someway to making up for the extra miles.

    The same may be true of China Southern but their product is thought to have a lot less polish. I have never tried it.

    Qatar DOH-PER can be a good route as well, even if it does land you on the wrong side of Australia.

  6. Regarding this same topic, any words of advice for economy awards with stopover, particularly for a family of 4 or 5? Thanks

  7. Gary, now that hackers have been “gifted” a million miles each from United for finding the “weakness” in their system……Do you think they will be given status for life (with free upgrades) from United also???? Interesting outcome.

  8. We Aussies have been hard done by for years on the AU/US route with so few J/F award seats available of QF, one way around it is to go SYD/HNL then to anywhere to a USA city using points or miles or purchase from AA or AS promo’s. Another is via HKG, buy cheap return ticket then miles/points to US, AS miles is the best deal.

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