Australia is one of the toughest frequent flyer awards, at least in premium cabins. In order to fly business or first class between the US and Australia you often have to connect in Asia.
American AAdvantage partners with Qantas, doesn’t add fuel surcharges to its awards, and even shows Qantas award space on its website. Sometimes. Don’t trust what you see there. Sometimes the space is available even if it doesn’t show up at AA.com.
To find Qantas awards to Australia, search either the Qantas frequent flyer site or the British Airways website. If you see the space there, but not at AA.com, call American — because their agents usually have no problem seeing and booking the space.
Last summer I wrote about really good Qantas business class availability. It’s not really ever good on any single route, but they serve several different routes between the US and Australia so you can often put something together if you’re willing to fly to one of their US gateways, and potentially even connect once you reach Australia. You might have to fly to Melbourne or Brisbane instead of Sydney (and connect if Sydney is your destination) but the number of options sometimes creates the possibility of booking long haul space in business.
First class is much harder. Qantas is the only airline left offering a first class cabin non-stop between the U.S. and Australia, and they only offer it on their Airbus A380 flights.
While Qantas first class remains tough it’s not actually a unicorn, and there’s a little bit of space for travel this fall and over the winter right now. (HT: u/Coolbreeze_coys)
Here’s a search of available first class award space for two passengers in November. I searched Los Angeles – Sydney, but it brings up Los Angeles – Melbourne space where there’s connecting availability to/from Sydney, and Dallas Fort-Worth – Sydney where there’s connecting availability on American between LA and Dallas.
Some space appears to exist October through February, in other words when Americans want to travel to Australia.
I flew AAdvantage first class awards Austin – Dallas – Sydney – Dallas – Austin for a cousin’s wedding back in February and March. When the space comes up, it’s always a big deal for me since I have family in the Sydney suburbs. The Sydney first class lounge is always a treat.
Qantas will ring up first class passengers the day prior to departure from Australia to organize a spa booking in advance. You’ll also have the number to call so that porters are waiting outside the terminal to assist with your luggage as you approach. One personal tip: ask what off-menu wines they may have open to pour.
Qantas awards are bookable with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. They’re also bookable with their own miles of course (Qantas is a Citi transfer partner) and from other oneworld frequent flyer programs like British Airways (Chase and American Express transfer partner) and Cathay Pacific (American Express transfer partner). However Cathay, British Airways, and Qantas all add fuel surcharges onto these redemptions.