Burning Through Dividend Miles to Sydney

Burning Through Dividend Miles to Sydney

Australia is one of the most difficult destinations to get to on points and miles, with limited award availability. I had my work cut out for me when I tried to book three round-trip, first-class awards to Sydney this past December.

I had spent months before that looking for direct availability on United. My dilemma was threefold: aside from a few sporadic economy seats popping up here and there, I was having no luck finding award space. I was unable to find a return flight unless I wanted to return in the middle of January, which was not an option. I was using my US Airways Dividend Miles, and since the program requires the same amount of miles for a one-way as it does for a round-trip, I couldn’t just book one segment and wait for the return to open up. If you find yourself with this conundrum–needing multiple award seats on a difficult route, during the busiest time of year–consider the following:

1. Look for indirect routes

Direct flights, especially to Sydney, are hard to come by. In my case, I utilized US Airways generous routing rules to book two seats from San Francisco-Honolulu-Tokyo-Bangkok-Sydney. This more than doubled the length of the journey, but it was 36 hours in flat-bed, first-class seats, with a stopover at one of the most amazing first-class lounges in the world, the Thai Airways First Class lounge in Bangkok. As my dad would later say, the journey was almost a vacation in and of itself.

Travel map
Travel map

If you’re having trouble booking a flight to a destination where award space is scarce, do a bit of research about the destination airport and which airlines fly to it from which airports. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adding a connection before your final destination to make an itinerary work. Make sure you understand your award programs routing rules for award seats.

At the time, US Airways allowed award flights to Sydney to route via Asia. With United’s great direct award availability to Tokyo and decent award space between various cities in Asia and Australia, this became a great routing option for us. While you’re at it, familiarize yourself with your programs partner airlines and see if their routes can help you get to your destination of choice.

2. Break up the group

Sometimes you’ll find just one or two premium award seats per flight, and when that happens, either book the group in separate cabins or on different flights. I went with the latter option, booking myself an even longer segment (San Francisco-Honolulu-Tokyo-Bangkok-Sydney), departing a day later.

3. Be flexible

Finding award space to Sydney became significantly easier when I routed the trip through Asia, but the flight home became a problem. We were booked to fly in mid-December, but couldn’t find a return flight until mid-January. Our original plan was to stay for New Year’s Eve and then fly home. But when three seats opened up on a direct flight departing on New Year’s Eve, I grabbed them.

Yes, we missed out on the infamous fireworks show, but sometimes you need to be flexible, and that means you won’t always get the route, cabin, or travel dates you want. On the plus side, we did catch the very impressive fireworks on Christmas Eve on Sydney’s Darling Harbour and make it back in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home.

Fireworks on Christmas Eve
Fireworks on Christmas Eve

This was an amazing trip. We made a few compromises with our routing and departure dates, but it ended up working out better than our original plan. We got to fly five segments in first class on Thai Airways, an amazing carrier. We enjoyed an upgraded travel experience during every leg and at every stopover. We spent several hours enjoying the amenities (including a complimentary massage) at the Royal Orchid lounge in Bangkok and had an amazing time in Sydney. It made the trip much more enjoyable than a direct flight on United Global First, which would have been a major downgrade in terms of service and amenities.