Australian Holiday: What Points I Used and Why

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I’m the first to admit, I’m not an expert at finding award travel. I understand the process and where to look, but when it comes to the amount of stopovers, open jaws, and whatever else that is allowed on different airlines, consider me clueless. I’ve learned a lot reading Travel is Free, because Drew is great at that kind of stuff and he writes about it all the time, but it definitely takes time to get really good at it.

Because of that, I outsourced my travel search to the experts at an award booking company. I’ll get to that at a later time, though.

Before I outsourced my search, I attempted it myself, in early May. It’s a good idea to start searching for award travel far earlier than 4 months in advance, but occasionally I tend to procrastinate. Anyway, I was extremely flexible on this vacation. I only had the following requirements:

  • I wanted to fly business class.
  • I wanted to travel outside of North America (excluding Italy, France, and Spain, since I’ve already been there).
  • I wanted to visit at least two different cities, states, countries, and/or continents.
  • I wanted to travel sometime between July-September for 2-3 weeks.

As you can see, I wasn’t very picky and there are a number of different travel combinations that could have accomplished my requirements. So, I started searching for travel to/from Israel, Australia, Hawaii (This was an exception to rule #2, because I wanted to visit there at one point or another), Japan, Croatia, Brazil, and Germany. I didn’t have a preference as to which place I wanted to visit more than the others, I just wanted to find award travel that worked to visit a few different places at once.

I found award seats to Hawaii and Japan, but my trip would have been only 1 week or 4 weeks, so that wasn’t going to work. I also found seats to Israel, but there were 3 connections and one of them (the longest one) was in economy. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen either. I kept looking for about two weeks, but my search continually turned up empty. That’s about the time I turned to the experts. My time was worth more to me than the cost of the award booking service.

As I’m sure you can tell, they found me a few great options to Australia, which I ultimately decided to book. The trip was a long one with about two days of travel at the beginning and two days at the end, but it fit my requirements. We ended up staying in Adelaide for five days, Sydney for five days, and Shanghai for one.

Our flights were as follows:

Flights There

United Airlines
Grand Rapids, MI (GRR) > Denver, CO (DEN) > Tokyo, JP (NRT)

Japan Airlines
Tokyo, JP (NRT) > Sydney, AU (SYD)

Qantas Airlines
Sydney, AU (SYD) > Adelaide, AU (ADL)

Flight Stats

  • We left on 8/26/14 at 9:30am and arrived on 8/28/14 at 11:36am.
  • The total flight time was 26.5 hours.
  • United’s Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner was the nicest international plane we flew on.
  • Qantas’ Boeing 737-800 was the nicest domestic plane we flew on. In fact, our two domestic Qantas flights were the nicest domestic flights we’ve ever flown.
  • Our longest flight was 11 hours and 45 minutes from Denver to Tokyo.
  • All of the lounges were great, but our favorite was the lounge in NRT, because it had huge personal showers rooms with bidet and authentic Japanese food. The Qantas lounges were close seconds.
  • We traveled a total of 12,369 miles.

Flights Switching Cities

Qantas Airlines
Adelaide, AU (ADL) > Sydney, AU (SYD)

Flight Stats

  • This was only 1 hour and 55 minutes.
  • This was our only flight in economy.
  • We flew 723 miles.

Flights Home

Air China
Sydney, AU (SYD) > Shanghai, CN (PVG)

United Airlines
Shanghai, CN (PVG) > Chicago, IL (ORD) > Grand Rapids, MI (GRR)

Flight Stats

  • We left on 9/7/14 at 10:20am and arrived on 9/8/14 at 8:20pm.
  • The total flight time was 25 hours.
  • United’s Boeing 747-400 was the nicest international plane we flew on.
  • We had a 23 hour layover in Shanghai.
  • We flew over the international dateline which is why we left on the 7th and arrived on the 8th. We basically travelled back in time 🙂
  • Our longest flight was 13 hours and 20 minutes from Shanghai to Chicago.
  • All of our international flights had lie flat seats.
  • All of the lounges were great, but our favorite was the lounge in SYD. It was Air New Zealand’s lounge and it had free beer, wine, liquor, coffee, and breakfast. It also had showers.
  • We traveled a total of 12,059 miles.

Miles and Points Used

  • 270,000 Ultimate Rewards Points converted to United miles. This covered two people flying business class from GRR > DEN > NRT and PVG > ORD > GRR.
  • 110,000 American Airlines miles. This covered two people flying business class from NRT > SYD > ADL and two people flying economy from ADL > SYD.

We spent a total of 390,000 miles for flights on this trip. I looked for comparable flights on Google Flights and I found them anywhere from $27,000 – $37,000 (that doesn’t include the layover night in Shanghai). That means our miles were worth about $0.07 – $0.10 each. That is a great redemption for those!

After flying 12,000 miles around the world in business class, I did not want to sleep at a Holiday Inn. So, we obviously used our points/cash to sleep in 5 star hotels the whole time we were vacationing. Here are the hotels we stayed at:

The Watson (5 nights) – Paid.

Park Hyatt Sydney (3 nights) – 2 free nights and 30,000 UR points converted.
Radisson Blu Sydney (2 nights) – 50,000 Gold points.

Radisson Blu Shanghai New World (1 night) – Paid.

Hotel Information

  • The Watson was paid for with a credit card for two reasons. First, it had just opened so they were running an awesome $100 per night deal. It’s hard to turn a deal like that down. Second, there are not many options for redeeming points in Adelaide. There is a Crown Plaza and an Intercontinental, but I did not have a very big stash of IHG points available.
  • Our stay in Sydney started at the Park Hyatt, because that is THE hotel to stay at when visiting Sydney. However, we only stayed there three days, because we had two free nights thanks to the Hyatt card and I wanted to get the best possible redemption value at the Radisson Blu. By doing that, I chose to spend 50,000 Club Carlson Gold points for a value of 1.2 cents each and 30,000 Hyatt points for a value of 3 cents each vs spending 100,000 Club Carlson Gold points for a value of 0.9 cents each and 0 Hyatt points. In a nutshell, I converted 30,000 Hyatt Points to 50,000 Gold Points.
  • We didn’t stay all 5 nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney, because I would’ve had to convert more UR points. UR points are much more valuable as airline miles, so I didn’t bother doing that.
  • We paid for the night in Shanghai, because the room was 50,000 Gold Points or $120. 0.2 cents is a terrible redemption for Gold Points. This room was also upgraded to a suite.

For two weeks of 5 star hotels, we only spent 2 free night tickets, 30,000 Hyatt points, 50,000 Gold points, and about $620 (I will talk about the money spent for this trip in a later post).

Total cost in points for everything:

  • 300,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
  • 110,000 AAdvantage Miles
  • 50,000 Gold points

Not to shabby…

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