Eleven Months Out: Sydney Harbor for the New Year Fireworks


Award travel reservations can usually be made up to eleven months in advance. Often, but not always, eleven months out has the best availability. Eleven Months Out is my new series looking at what you can book today for travel in eleven months. (This post is one month late, since New Year’s Eve is only ten months out.)

New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbor is on my bucket list. Not only are you among the first in the world to ring in the New Year, but you’re in shorts and a t-shirt, watching fireworks over one of the most iconic buildings in the world–the Sydney Opera House–with over a million of your closest friends. That sure beats a winter in the US.

In general, getting to Australia with miles is one of the toughest tickets to nab. Add in traveling during peak times–Christmas, New Year’s, and their summer all in one–and most people don’t even know where to start. Surprisingly the answer is to use Delta SkyMiles to book flights on Virgin Australia.

When I think of easy ways to get places, Delta miles rarely top the list, so I first searched for New Year’s Eve 2013 on united.com and aa.com.


United flies two daily flights to Sydney (and on to Melbourne)–one from Los Angeles and one from San Francisco. Having flown in Global First on the LAX to Sydney flight, I can say that it is a great way to arrive in style.

Unfortunately United is not offering seats in any cabin from either city during December or January except for one seat in business class from San Francisco on December 2–far too early to be convenient for the fireworks.

United might be a good last-second option since it tends to release award seats in the last few days if the seats are unsold, but for now United miles are not useful to Australia for New Year’s unless you are willing to route through Asia.

Qantas via American Miles

American Airlines doesn’t fly to Australia, but its oneworld alliance includes Australia’s flag carrier Qantas.

I recently flew Qantas business class back from Melbourne to Los Angeles and enjoyed the experience, but it’s not one that you’ll have the chance to copy for New Year’s Eve 2013.

Qantas space, which is searchable on aa.com, has been released in economy on some December and January days on the Los Angeles to Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane routes, but there is no space in business or first class.

Dates with economy space from LAX to Sydney are green.

There are a few economy seats (and a few more via Melbourne and Brisbane), so if that’s what you want, they are a good value at 75k miles roundtrip–less than any other airline’s price. If you want to hold out for business or first class space, don’t bother. In my experience, Qantas won’t release any more space in any cabin between now and departure.

Virgin Australia via Delta Miles

The solution to getting to Sydney for the 2014 fireworks is to fly Virgin Australia with Delta SkyMiles. I’ve talked about Virgin Australia before. The gist is that business class bed is incredible, and the awards cost only about $130 in taxes–no fuel surcharges or other fees since they are bookable online.

And I’ve also mentioned the problem with searching Virgin Australia on delta.com–namely that you have to do it one day at a time since delta.com’s calendar doesn’t pick up partners.

That said, I will save you the time. As of the time of posting, there is 1+ business class seat from Los Angeles to Sydneyfor 150k SkyMiles roundtrip the following dates between December 15 and December 30, 2013.

  • December 16 direct on Virgin Australia
  • December 17 direct on Virgin Australia
  • December 22 via Brisbane on Virgin Australia
  • December 24 direct on Delta
  • December 29 via Brisbane on Virgin Australia
  • December 30 direct on Delta (this flight lands on January 1 and misses the fireworks)

And there is lots of space on the return from Sydney to Los Angeles between January 1 and 12.

  • January 3 direct on Delta or Virgin Australia
  • January 6 via Brisbane on Virgin Australia
  • January 7 direct on Virgin Australia
  • January 8 direct on Virgin Australia
  • January 9 via Brisbane on Virgin Australia
  • January 10 direct on Virgin Australia
  • January 11 direct on Delta or Virgin Australia
  • January 12 direct on Virgin Australia

To search for business class space on delta.com, start on the advanced search page.

Select only flights that price out at 150,000 miles because that is the low business class price with Delta miles from the US to Australia. Feel free to mix low price Delta space and Virgin space–which is all at the low miles price. Picking out a suitable outbound and return will cause the award to price at 150k miles and $130.

Getting to Los Angeles

The real issue I have with SkyMiles is domestically. There just isn’t a lot of space offered at the low level, and you need every segment of your award to be low miles price space for the award to price at the low level of 150k miles.

There is no trick to make space appear that doesn’t exist, but be sure to check:

  • domestic first class space on Delta
  • domestic economy space on Delta
  • space on Alaska

Any of that space that you find at the low level can link up with your international flat beds to get you to Sydney in style for the fireworks.

Getting Delta Miles

There are a few ways to get Delta miles. The main two are to fly Delta or open new credit cards.

The credit cards that earn Delta miles are all issued by American Express. Any card that earns Membership Rewards–AMEX’s proprietary points–can be a Delta card since Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to Delta (with a $0.60 per 1k mile fee, capped at $99.) The SPG American Express with a 25k point sign up bonus can be transferred to 30k Delta miles.

Delta also has its own co-branded cards.

The Gold Delta SkyMiles card has a 30k mile sign up bonus after $500 in spending in the first three months.

The Business Gold Delta SkyMiles card has the same 30k miles sign up bonus after $500 in spending in the first three months.

If you get the both, that’s a solid 60k miles after only $1k in spending–a pleasant alternative to some of the super high minimum spends that other cards have.


Book now if you want to see the fireworks in Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2013. Your best bet is to accumulate 150k Delta SkyMiles to fly on Delta or Virgin Australia in business class direct to the fireworks from Los Angeles.

You can earn the miles through Membership Rewards-earning cards, the SPG AMEX cards, or the Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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  1. You left off my favorite — Dividend Miles to Australia via Asia for 110k in business or 140k in first! I just booked a trip to Sydney over New Years for 140k, routing through Bangkok on the way in (TG F), and Singapore on the way back (SQ C), with a multi-day stopover in Singapore and <24 hr stops in Seoul, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. Will get to experience OZ F, TG F, UA F, SQ C, and NH C on the same ticket.

  2. A buddy of mine, who flies this route often, says the best strategy if you can’t get business seats now is to book in economy+ and then keep an eye on the available seats. United releases biz and first on these flights at least a few days before departure, but often half the plane is empty so you can make a semi-business seat by going to a vacant row. Check the flights for the next few days in March and you’ll see what I mean.

    • Yes, United releases a lot of last minute space, so this is a good option. There will not be empty rows though at this time of year. When I flew LAX-SYD on 12/31/12, there were no empty seats in first or business. (The last first class seat was sold 12/31/12 though because one seat opened in first on the last day.)

      • That’s true, although I plan to fly out there mid-December so maybe it’ll be a little better. I just set an expertflyer alert for several flights on 6 different days, so hopefully that does the trick.

  3. “since Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to Delta (with a $6 per 1k mile fee.) ”
    So how much would it cost to transfer Amex MR’s to Delta (assuming you need 150,000 SM’s)?Is it really $900?

    • The fee is capped at $99… otherwise the transfer could get awfully expensive! AMEX also lets you pay the fee in points (with a $99 fee coming in at just shy of 20K points).

  4. We just purchased tickets on Hawaiian Airlines for this timeframe – $1300 roundtrip each! We were trying to use points on Delta but at that price cash, it was worth it to buy the tickets!

  5. I thought that there was around a $500 fee for booking Virgin Australia awards via Delta skymiles. That was back when you had to call in and book, now that you can book via the website the fees are only ~$150? Was there a $350 fuel charge?

    Also, what type of open jaw or stopovers can you do when booking through Delta? I believe that getting return routes with a stopover in Asia is pretty easy with United miles.

    • Delta stopped charging surcharges on Virgin Australia in September 2012. You can have one stopover and one open jaw on Delta awards. The routing to Australia can traverse Asia.

  6. Is it possible to fly in to Australia and then fly out from New Zealand?
    I have sufficient UR points and AA points. So I can only use American or United.
    My home airport is Cedar Rapids, Iowa and can get to ORD or DFW using Avios. How can I add a free one way to an Australia itinerary?

    • It is possible to fly into Aus and out of NZ. The only way for someone in Cedar Rapids to add a free oneway is to fly a r/t United award.

  7. You said that UA in GlobalFirst would be a “great way to arrive in style” but your review of GlobalFirst says that the attitude of the FAs was that the “goal was to get through the flight” and that you weren’t greeted or thanked for flying United. You said you weren’t asked your preference as to when your seat should be turned down, describe drink orders that were lost, and mention that you were had to bus your own glasses. The seat and the food sound like they were decent, but you conclude by saying that the flight fell short of your expectations for a first class flight. I have never experienced United GlobalFirst, but based on your review it doesn’t sound like “arriving in style” to me.

    • All that’s true. It’s not arriving in style compared to say Singapore Suites. But it is compared to economy class.

      • haha okay, fair enough — although I suppose just about anything would be better than United’s economy product on an international long-haul flight.

  8. What about the idea of going Cathay FC to Hong Kong and then on to Sydney using an AA Explorer award……Isn’t Cathay FC fairly easy to book throughout the year?


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