I have spent the last day or so doing research for an upcoming how to post series on getting to Australia/New Zealand using transferable points. While doing that research, I stumbled upon what might be the absolute best value around for getting to Australia on points and miles! And their award space tends to be excellent to boot!
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Australia is historically one of the toughest destinations in the world to get to using points and miles (well, from the Continental United States anyways). That is largely a function of the limited number of flights that operate between the two countries. A limited number of flights of course means that the airlines have far less incentive to open up a lot of award space on those routes as I would imagine ticket sales are pretty good. That means that you have a lot of people competing over the limited number (especially in premium cabins) of award tickets that are available on the routes between these two countries.
While researching for an upcoming post on getting to Australia/New Zealand on transferable points, I stumbled across a pretty nice little sweet spot – using Virgin America Elevate points to book flights on Virgin Australia. To make this deal work, you would either need to be based out of Los Angeles (LAX) or reposition yourself to LAX. Given how much traffic LAX sees though, I do not think this is a deal breaker.
For round trip flights operated by Virgin Australia between LAX and Sydney (SYD) or Brisbane (BNE), you are looking at a cost of 40,000 Elevate points for economy class, 60,000 Elevate points for premium economy and 80,000 Elevate points for business class!
Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) – Round trip
Los Angeles (LAX) to Brisbane (BNE) – Round trip
Even the taxes, fees and carrier imposed surcharges (which can sometimes be atrocious on Virgin America partner redemptions) are an extremely reasonable $130.
If you are only looking for a one-way award ticket, it will cost you a little more than half of the round trip rate – 25,000 Elevate points for economy class, 35,000 Elevate points for premium economy and 45,000 Elevate points for business class. For one-way award tickets the taxes, fees and carrier imposed surcharges drop to $40 if departing from LAX and $90 if departing from Sydney or Brisbane.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) – One-way
Los Angeles (LAX) to Brisbane (BNE) – One-way
Virgin America Transfer Partners
The Virgin America Elevate program is a transfer partner for American Express Membership Rewards points (MRs), Citi ThankYou Points (TYPs) and Starwood Starpoints (SPG). While the transfer rates for MRs and TYPs is a mere 1:0.5, the transfer rate for SPG points is actually 1:1.
In addition to the best transfer ratio among the transferable currencies, SPG points also offer a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer.
With the 5,000 point transfer bonus, that makes this deal even sweeter as the routes would cost you:
- Between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD) or Brisbane (BNE) Round Trip:
- 35,000 Starpoints in Economy Class
- 50,000 Starpoints in Premium Economy
- 65,000 Starpoints in Business Class
- Between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD) or Brisbane (BNE) One-Way:
- 20,000 Starpoints in Economy Class
- 30,000 Starpoints in Premium Economy
- 40,000 Starpoints in Business Class (with 5,000 Elevate points left over)
Credit Card Signup Bonus Options
To sweeten this deal even further, there are several ways to earn Virgin America Elevate points and/or Starwood Starpoints via credit card signup bonuses!
Virgin America offers two credit card options – the Virgin America Visa Signature card and the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card. The standard Virgin America Visa Signature card offers 10,000 bonus Elevate points after $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. The annual fee is $49 and it is not waived for the first year.
The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card offers 15,000 bonus Elevate points after $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. The annual fee is $149 and it is not waived for the first year.
Both cards offer a $150 discount off a companion ticket each year, free checked bags, priority boarding and no foreign transaction fees. You can also hold both cards at the same time and data points suggest that these cards are in fact churnable.
Starwood offers two credit card options as well – the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest personal card and the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest business card. The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest personal card offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. It carries a $95 annual fee, though that is waived for the first year.
The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest business card offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. It too carries a $95 annual fee, though it is also waived for the first year.
Both cards offer credits for 2 stays and 5 nights each year, complimentary in-room internet access and no foreign transaction fees. The business version of the card also provide complimentary access to the Club Lounges while staying at Sheraton properties.
If you were to signup for all 4 credit cards, with minimum spend points factored in, you would be sitting on 58,000 Starpoints and 27,000 Virgin America Elevate points. If you transferred the Starpoints to the Virgin America Elevate program, you would be sitting on 95,000 Virgin America Elevate points – enough for either two round trip economy class tickets, or one round trip premium economy or business class ticket (with plenty of Elevate points left over for other trips).
Virgin Australia Product
Virgin Australia flies their 777-300ER between both Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD) and Los Angeles (LAX) and Brisbane (BNE). Virgin Australia is in the process of refitting their business class cabins with some absolutely gorgeous reverse herringbone style seats, though the conversions just started back in April so it is unclear when you can expect the retrofitted business class cabin on these routes. The current business class cabin is in a 2-3-2 configuration.
The business class cabin features fully lie flat seats, though obviously not everyone has direct aisle access.
For premium economy you will find a seat that is 19.5″ wide with 38″ of pitch, while in economy class you will find a seat with 18.5″ of width and a relatively tight 32″ of pitch.
So what can you expect from the new Virgin Australia business class seats? Well, I will let the following pictures of the product speak themselves…
Not bad, eh?
Finding Virgin Australia Award Space
Finding Virgin Australia award space can be a bit challenging for U.S. residents as Virgin Australia’s Velocity program does not allow those residing outside of Australia, New Zealand and the surrounding islands to register. If you are able to register for a Velocity account, you will want to search for space under the ‘Premium Reward’ (premium economy) or ‘Business Reward’ (business class) rates.
Otherwise, your best bet would be to search using Delta’s search tool. For economy class space, you want to look for space available at the 45,000 SkyMiles rate; and for business class space, you want to look for space available at the 80,000 SkyMiles rate.
You can ignore these rates as you are simply using the Delta site to locate availability before calling in to Virgin America Elevate to book your flight. If you want to book premium economy, you will need to call Virgin America to look for space as there is no easy way to locate that award space without a Virgin Australia Velocity account.
The economy class award space on Virgin Australia tends to be pretty widely available.
However, the business class award space on Virgin Australia is unfortunately not as good.
If you have flexibility in your schedule (like you always should when looking for award space), you can definitely make premium cabin flights on Virgin Australia work though.
Virgin Australia opens up their award space ~330 days out, so as with most award flights (especially in premium cabins), the earlier you book, the better.
To book your flight on Virgin Australia using your Virgin America Elevate points, simply contact the Virgin America call center at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (877.359.8474).
I am actually really surprised by this award chart sweet spot. 40k miles round trip in economy and 80k miles round trip in business class is staggeringly good. Especially considering the low taxes and fees on the tickets! I think I know where my Starpoints are going now and I will be looking into booking a flight downunder at these rates. If you are able to grab a seat on a reconfigured 777-300ER, the value of this trip goes up just that much more. Stay tuned for the review if I can make the dates/availability work!
Is this the best deal around to Australia?
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