Newbie USA travel: Where to Start, Which FF Program? Qantas?

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wintergirl

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Hello! I'm a newbie to frequent flyer programs, and am trying to plan a trip to the USA for next May or so, with very little existing reward points and no status. Since this trip is part-business, I'm thinking of just paying cash and hoarding points: this is where I'd really appreciate your suggestions about which ff program to join.

In the US, I'm looking to fly domestically between honolulu-vegas-salt lake city- nyc-Honolulu, all first/business class hopefully.
For NYC-Honolulu, Delta seems to have a great first class product.
For Honolulu-Vegas, it seems like I'm stuck with Hawaiian air :confused:
Does anyone have suggestions for maximizing rewards on the US domestic flights? I'm not sure if I'll travel to the US too frequently in the future; I have *G, but I'm not sure that it's worth collect points via United, if the United product is inferior to the other airlines.
Alternatively, I could transfer some existing Amex points that I have to Velocity, in order to fly Virgin America - but I think points hoarding might be better than redeeming on a US domestic flight?

Also, for my US travel, are there any hotel loyalty programs I should join?

On the international leg, I'll be flying Melbourne - Honolulu.

My options seem to be Qantas (about $4500) via Sydney, or Jetstar ($1900) direct. Admittedly, Jetstar's hard product is really more like Premium Economy, but I'm dithering a bit on paying extra. Is Qantas really worth it? I guess it's a matter of opinion, but I'm a little shocked that Jetstar doesn't even offer lounge access :-| This'll be the first time I pay out of pocket (even if it is a business expense!) for business class and I'd really appreciate opinions from experienced flyers.
 

cove

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Use Delta for Salt Lake and see if you can get a deal on either Grand America or Little America in the tower using a good hotel site. The UTA stops really close so the run from the airport to the Courthouse stop is really easy on the tram.
Think about Qantas Premium Economy MEL-LAX and apply for a points upgrade as that worked for my staff this year. All three were upgraded both ways.
 

wintergirl

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Thanks Cove! Hadn't considered the points upgrade option, but will look into it :)
I'm glad you recommend Delta: they do look good!
 

cove

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For the flight to Salt lake that is one of the Delta hubs. The tram is $5 return I think so doing that will cover dinner at Flemings Steakhouse if you are not vegetarian.
Do you have some Qantas points?
 

wintergirl

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Hi Cove - just been dealing with some changes to my itinerary!
I do have some Qantas points, but it seems that now I need to fly into LA, which makes it an easy decision (sorta) - Air New Zealand, which is cheaper, and gets me Star Alliance points. I'm thinking of accruing the points in my Avianca Lifemiles account to someday take advantage of (via double points partner transfer). I travel through Asia every now and then, so I could also try to accrue KrisFlyer miles directly, but Avianca do better promotions... although redeeming KrisFlyer directly would be easier.

I will definitely research Delta a bit more, especially regarding what I can do with their points.

I guess I'll head over to some of the American forums now to see what can be done with hotels :)
 

cove

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Avianca life miles have been a consistent winner for that world traveller kpc so follow some of his posts to ensure you enjoy flying up front.
 

wannabeinvestmentbanker

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Considering you fly through Asia periodically and are interested in flying Delta, one suggestion is to join Velocity as you can credit NZ, SQ and DL flights to your Velocity account. Joining Delta's FF program does not seem to be something highly recommended with their FF points known as Sky Pesos for their extremely low value.
Alternatively, if you are interested in boosting your OW status you could look at an AA challenge. AFAIK if you pay a fee of x$ and fly x miles in x amount of days you can obtain AA Platinum which I believe is OWS or QFSG. AA fares in First are famous for being a cost-effective status boost. Don't quote me on that as OW is not my domain but you can checkout the AAdvantage subforum.

Regarding hotels, the Hilton group has a lot of properties in the US but note the earning rates particularly if you chose points + miles earning and credit to Velocity as some hotel brands do not earn.
To obtain quick status with Hilton you could look at signing up for one of the credit cards that comes with HH Gold status.
It really depends on your budget and how many nights you will be in hotels. If you are only staying enough to remain at the base level or move one level up from base level it may be best just going for the best rate rather than staying loyally at a single chain.
 

wintergirl

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Thanks wannabeinvestor! :)

I have no experience flying to the US, and not much FF experience beyond *G, so planning this trip has been quite eye-opening for me. My route requirements have changed, and with them, my flight options! At least I've taken the decision that I'll be spending $$s and hoarding points this time! So I don't have the added stress of trying to redeem (my incredibly meagre) points.

Salt Lake City has been taken off the plans, and after some research I've found that JetBlue Mint (jfk/sfo and jfk/lax routes only) seems like an amazing product at a great price point. They don't seem to have many FF partners, but I'll take the low cost, great service over FF points this time (I think - flying Delta/VX seems to be about the same experience, but about $1000 extra per person, I'll have to research a bit more to see if the points are worth it; I could fly UA but I've heard too many bad stories about them!)

I'm still sorta tossing up between Delta, Virgin America (Velocity points, yum!) and JetBlue, but I think JetBlue is winning ;)
I might have a few short flights within the US (eg lax/las return) and at this point I'm leaning towards maybe just getting JetBlue's PE product for those trips.

In terms of flying mel/lax, the sad reality is that there no direct flights other than UA :(
That leaves me Qantas, Virgin and Air New Zealand as viable. Virgin is the cheapest of the lot, though I have to fly mel-bne and then syd-mel domestic economy. Times like this make me wish - almost - that I was working for an employer instead of myself, and could just spend 4k extra to get the domestic business class! However, it seems like a small price to pay for Veloctiy points (I just realized they can be transferred to KF, yay!) and instant Velocity Gold via pooled points.

Almost forgot to add: yep, I'll just be going for best rate hotels this time! Or at least, sorting by which hotels have the best buffet breakfasts ;)
 
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wintergirl

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Update on domestic flights: sorry, I'll have to take back my words!
It turns out Delta first class is the same price as JetBlue Mint; Virgin America first class is just slightly more expensive. And now I can do multi-stop flights instead of the returns which wanting to fly Mint was doing. Both first classes seem on par with (though very slightly different from) Mint.

Back to the drawing board... :-|
 
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