Finding Business Class award availability from Australia to the USA is always a challenge. Qantas restricts award availability for Bronze and Silver members, and Virgin Australia doesn’t release any Business Reward seats to Los Angeles until a week before the flight.
Luckily, there are other options when redeeming points to the United States. One left-field alternative is Star Alliance member United Airlines. United partners with neither Qantas nor Virgin Australia. But there are still ways that Australian can book award flights on United Airlines. That’s good news because United award availability to Australia has been surprisingly excellent lately.
United also does not impose any fuel surcharges on award flights, so you’ll pay just $154 round-trip in taxes. This compares very favourably to the $867 in taxes and carrier charges you’ll pay to fly Qantas!
Which Australian routes have United award availability?
United flies four trans-Pacific routes between Australia and the USA:
All flights operate daily except for Sydney-Houston, which too will be daily service from next month. United flies Boeing 787 Dreamliners on all its Australian routes. The United Polaris Business Class seats, configured in a 2-2-2 configuration, convert into fully lie-flat beds.
Many flights on all routes have award availability in Economy class. Surprisingly, most routes also have a reasonable amount of Business award availability. The new non-stop Sydney-Houston service has particularly good availability, so we took a closer look at this route.
Award availability on United’s Sydney-Houston flights
On the Sydney-Houston route, most of the Business award availability is for mid-week departures between Monday and Thursday. Almost no award seats have been released for Saturday or Sunday departures. In the opposite direction, Business awards from Houston to Sydney are available mainly on flights departing between Sunday and Thursday. As long as you don’t mind flying mid-week, many flights have at least 2 seats available in Business class. Some flights during off-peak periods even have as many as 7 seats!
United award seats are released 330 days before departure. Currently, trans-Pacific seats for mid-week departures are being released 330 days out, so this would be the optimal time to book.
United also often releases extra award availability around 1-2 months before departure. So United can be a useful option for last-minute award bookings to the United States.
From Sydney, there is currently United Business award availability to Houston on flights departing within the next month, and on many flights between May and August 2019.
How to find United award availability
The easiest way to find United award availability is on the United website itself. Even if you’re not redeeming United miles to book a seat, you can use the website to easily search for award availability one month at a time.
When searching for award availability on the United website, you’ll often see many results… but very few will be for Saver awards on non-stop flights. To make things easier for you, search for one route at a time (e.g. Sydney-Houston) and look for non-stop flights only. Don’t forget to also tick “search for award travel” when searching for award availability:
On the next page, you’ll see a 7-day availability calendar. Click on “view 30 day calendar” to see availability over a whole month.
If you’ve selected Business/First and are only viewing non-stop flights, you’ll see a calendar that looks like this:
Business Saver awards on United’s Sydney-Houston flight cost 80,000 United miles. All dates with Saver availability are shown at this price and coloured green. The other dates have awards available from 200,000 miles; this indicates that only United “Everyday Award” seats are available, which can only be booked at the higher rate using United miles (and not via a partner airline). If there is Saver availability, you’ll be able to book the seat/s using miles with any Star Alliance airline.
You can also find United award availability using Expert Flyer. Use the Award & Upgrade Availability search feature, and select “Business/Domestic First – Saver Award” to find Saver or partner award availability in Polaris Business Class.
How Australians can book United award flights
Naturally, you can use United MileagePlus miles to book United award flights. A one-way Business Saver award from Australia to the United States will cost 80,000 United miles + $114.28 taxes. (In the opposite direction, the taxes are only $38.98.)
But as United is a member of Star Alliance, you can use miles with any other Star Alliance airline to book a seat. One option that is accessible to most Australian frequent flyers is Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. You can transfer points from most Australian credit card reward programs to the KrisFlyer program. Alternatively, it’s also possible to transfer points from Virgin Australia Velocity to KrisFlyer.
It costs 117,000 KrisFlyer miles + $114.28 in taxes to fly United Business Class from Australia to North America one-way. That’s equivalent to 181,350 Velocity points (as of 1 January 2019). Admittedly, that is more Velocity points than you would spend flying Virgin Australia to Los Angeles – but at least it’s another option if you can’t find any Business Reward seats with Virgin Australia.
Alternatively, for those that don’t mind flying the long way around, it costs 118,000 KrisFlyer miles + $123.93 to fly Singapore Airlines one-way from Sydney to Houston with stops in Singapore and Manchester. (This increases to 121,000 KrisFlyer miles from 24 January 2019.) Depending on your perspective, that’s either extraordinary value or an extraordinary waste of time!
If you have Amex points that you can transfer to Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus, this would be a cheaper way to book United award seats. A return award ticket from Australia to North America would cost 150,000 Royal Orchid Plus miles in Business. However, all Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus awards on Star Alliance partner airlines must be round-trip. No one-way awards are permitted.
You can even use Avianca LifeMiles to book United award flights! It costs 80,000 LifeMiles and similar taxes to fly one-way from Australia to the United States in Business. The beauty of this frequent flyer program is that you can buy LifeMiles directly from Avianca – often with generous bonuses included.
Would you like help with redeeming your frequent flyer points?
Frequent Flyer Solutions offers a personalised service that’s designed to take the hard work out of redeeming your frequent flyer points!
Award Flight Assist can help you to find the perfect flights using your points. Just let the team know how many points you have and where you would like to go, and they’ll prepare an itinerary for you.