On a recent flight through Canberra, I had the opportunity to stop by the Canberra Qantas Club for a quick refresher and to grab a morning coffee before my short flight to Sydney. Here is my take on the lounge.
Point Hacks reader Jim posted this on the Questions & Answers section of our Australian website:
Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?
I have been looking a long way in advance and there seems to be no availability for direct flights from the East Coast of Australia on any airline in Business or First—only in Economy. The only glimmer of hope seems to be taking a detour via Asia or Europe.
You may be reading this and have the same sentiments—know that you are not alone. Finding award availability in premium cabins on direct flights between New Zealand or Australia and the US is difficult, but not impossible.
So here are some tips to improve your chances of snagging a comfortable seat.
Check school holiday dates for the coming year/s and try to secure your seat a year out. At the 3-6 month mark, chances are quite low.
2. Fly off-peak
Increase your chances of securing a seat by flying in both directions on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as school holidays, are more popular.
3. Consider flying via Fiji, French Polynesia, Asia, Canada or the Middle East
Your options will open up exponentially if you have time to make a stop on the way to the US, either as a layover (less than 24 hours) or a stopover (more than 24 hours, giving you time to see the place).
Nadi – Los Angeles flights have upgraded to Airbus A350s from December 2019. They have lie-flat, direct aisle access Business Class seats.
However, you will find more availability on its flights from Nadi to San Francisco (with the older product below) than Los Angeles.
via French Polynesia
You can use Qantas Points to fly on Air Tahiti Nui to Los Angeles via Papeete. As these redemptions have a QF code, they are also treated as a ‘preferred partner’, costing the same number of points as Fiji Airways. You’ll also have their new Dreamliner to look forward to.
For a slightly higher price but improved award availability, you may consider using your points to fly from Auckland or Christchurch to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific and then on to the US.
If you find an open Qantas seat, you will get it for 55,000/70,000 Alaska miles one-way for Business/First Class—that is a steal! Just note that Alaska members have more restricted access to Qantas award inventory than Qantas Frequent Flyer members and some other partner programs like Asia Miles.
Instead of backtracking to Australia, you could fly via Fiji with Fiji Airways for the same amount.
You can go via Hong Kong—with a free stopover!—with Cathay Pacific for 5,000 miles more.
Or you ould fly with Korean Air via Seoul with excellent award availability for 125,000 miles roundtrip. It is the same price as a one-way flight, so don’t shortchange yourself!
Best of all, if you use Alaska miles, you will not pay hefty fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars like you have to with Qantas Points.
5. Consider Premium Economy
Premium Economy is a growing space for airlines and it is worth considering it as a compromise between Business (more comfort but less award availability) and Economy (less comfort and more award availability). This cabin sits in between, literally and also in terms of value.
All three airlines flying direct between New Zealand and the US—Air New Zealand, United and American Airlines—offer this product.
6. Lock in long-haul flights first
The most important flight is the trek from New Zealand to the US, not your connecting flight from Invercargill to Auckland.
So, if you find award availability on the long-haul segment, lock that in and then work out the domestic segments for connections within New Zealand and the US to get you where you need to go later on.
7. Be realistic about Hawaii
It is difficult to find availability on flights between New Zealand and Honolulu. There is almost no Business Class availability on Air New Zealand and upgrading is near-to-impossible as the cabin fills with passengers on paid tickets.
Auckland – Honolulu: 107,970 points (i.e. 1,830 APD x 59)
Auckland – North America: 164,610 points (i.e. 2,790 APD x 59)
Discounted seats are also available for one travelling companion.
It makes more sense to try and use these discounted rates on flights to the East Coast of the US, e.g. Chicago and New York, as opposed to Los Angeles or Vancouver.
9. Use cash for Economy tickets
You usually won’t get the best value out of using points for Economy Class tickets.
A return ticket from Auckland to San Francisco on United will set you back 88,500 points with Airpoints (i.e. 1,500 APD x 59) + ~$120 in taxes.
Given that cash tickets usually start at $1,500—sometimes pushing $2,000 during peak periods like Christmas—you are usually better off saving up your points for a better use and just buying your Economy flight with cash.
Question: Has anybody ever got an award ticket to the US in Business or First Class?
Answer: Yes, they have! It just requires advance planning, flexibility with dates and routes, and realistic expectations.
Do you have any tips that have helped you secure an award seat to the US? Share in the comments below!
Do you have a travel-related question?
Search the NZ Point Hacks website using the Looking For Something? box (located to the right-hand side of any post) to see if we have already answered your question in a post.
You can post your question in the Questions & Answers section of our Australian website and someone from the Point Hacks community, whether another reader or one of our team members, will hopefully be able to help you out.