Australia and New Zealand are a tough place to get to with miles, especially if you want to go from mid-December through March, which encompasses Christmas, New Year’s, and the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Having booked several trips to Australia and New Zealand for myself, family, and others through my Award Booking Service, I’ll share some tips on getting there with American Airlines miles.

Basics

American Airlines allows oneway bookings at half the price of roundtrip awards. From North America to the South Pacific–which is the AA award region that includes Australia and New Zealand–awards cost 37.5k/62.5k/72.5k AA miles each way in economy/business/first class.

American has a slightly below-market price to Australia. United charges 40k/67.5k/80k each way. Delta charges 100k/150k roundtrip in economy and business, and SkyMiles can’t even be redeemed for three-cabin first class.

US Airways has the cheapest price in premium cabins at 80k/110k/140k in economy/business/first roundtrip, but oneway awards aren’t allowed at half price with US Airways miles.

American does not fly to Australia, but several of its partners do including Qantas, the national airline of Australia, which has flights to Honolulu, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York (tag leg of flight to Los Angeles).

Key partners Qantas and Hawaiian Airlines are searchable on AA.com, making booking some of the routings to Australia a snap.

Qantas: The Gold Standard

If you want the best itinerary with AA miles from the US to Australia–in terms of duration, stops, and airline product–you want to book an award on Qantas.

Qantas has the following Australia <-> USA routes:

Sydney <-> New York-JFK (one stop at LAX)

Sydney <-> Los Angeles

Sydney <-> Dallas

Sydney <-> Honolulu

Melbourne <-> Los Angeles

Brisbane <-> Los Angeles

Some Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles flights are served by a brand new Qantas A380. See this Qantas A380 marketing page if you want to daydream about the experience. The plane features First Class suites, Business Class fully flat beds, and miles of economy class seats.

Sydney <-> Honoloulu is on a 767-300. The plane is only fitted with economy and business classes, and business class passengers get recliner seats.

Jetstar–a Qantas subsidiary–also serves this route with an A330-200. Its business class is the equivalent of domestic first class–pretty rough for a ten-hour flight. AA miles can be used on the Qantas and Jetstar flights from HNL-SYD-HNL.

The other USA <-> Australia flights are served by 747-400s, which have been refurbished to feature the same fully flat business class beds of the A380 with first class removed. My reading of Qantas’s site is that all 747s serving the USA have now been refurbished in this manner.

To search for Qantas space, I recommend using AA.com, since it now displays Qantas space.

AA displays a week-long calendar that you can make month-long by clicking Show Full Calendar. Then, to ensure you are only getting Qantas results, change the drop-down menu to Non-stop only. Choose the desired cabin from the color coded Award Legend, but don’t expect a First Class option. I don’t see any First Class available in the next 11 months between LAX and Sydney for instance.

Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles or Dallas, I recommend finding the transpacific flights on Qantas first, and noting what days have availability. That way when you add a search from your home airport, you’ll know what days are routing you on Qantas and which must be routing you through Hawaii without having to click each date.

In my experience, Qantas releases its business class seats 350 days out to be picked over by its members and BA members. Then AA gets access to the space 330 days out. If you want premium-cabin space on Qantas, that is the time to book. Space gets much worse over time. I don’t see any LAX-SYD space less than nine months out at the moment for instance.

See this Anatomy of an Award post for my saga trying to book a Qantas First Class seat on an A380 with a free oneway tacked on.

Hawaiian: Hawaii and Australia on one Trip

American Airlines awards allow a stopover at the North American International Gateway City–the last airport from which you leave North America or the first at which you arrive in North America. See The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards for more information.

That means if you route to Australia via Honolulu, you can get a free stopover in Hawaii for as long as you’d like. Or you can get a free stopover in Honolulu if you return via Hawaii.

The other great news is that routing through Hawaii is pretty easy because American has good availability to Hawaii on its own flights and on the flights of its partners–Hawaiian and Alaska. And Hawaiian has fantastic availability from Honolulu onto Sydney.

Plus in the last few weeks, Hawaiian has announced two new services to Oceania:

Honolulu <-> Brisbane, starting 11/27/12 (three times weekly)

Honolulu <-> Auckland, starting 3/13/13 (three times weekly)

I don’t see award space for these new flights yet, but I expect space to be excellent once it’s loaded onto the calendar.

There is one major drawback to flying on Hawaiian to Oceania. Hawaiian’s premium cabin–called First Class, costing business class’s 62.5k miles each way–features recliner seats with 40″ of pitch. That’s basically a domestic first class seat with two extra inches of leg room. For a ten hour flight, many people will find that uncomfortable, and it’s quite inferior to the flat beds that can be had on Qantas’s mainland USA <-> Australia flights.

Qantas’s flight from Honolulu to Sydney features quite a bit more leg room but also has recliners in business class.

If you’re willing to trade an inferior business-class product–or you’re booking an economy award–for a chance to stopover in Hawaii, there are options with AA miles.

See this Anatomy of an Award post for an example of a free stopover in Hawaii en route to Australia. My brother lives in Hawaii, so his was a free oneway, but if you imagine him living in Las Vegas, his stopover in Hawaii would be a perfect example for this section.

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