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Canadian Expat Seeks Australian United Travel Advice

Canadian Expat Seeks Australian United Travel Advice

Old Sep 10, 19, 10:35 pm
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Canadian Expat Seeks Australian United Travel Advice

Hey FTers,

First and foremost, apologies if I've been absent from the forums over the past several months. I've just completed (I hope) my Master's programme in the UK having submitted my dissertation at the gate of Heathrow minutes before the gate was due to close! I'll try and get caught up with the United community and the various messages I've been receiving in the coming days.

In any event, now that I've completed my Master's degree a new chapter of my life has started - I'm pursuing a PhD programme. At present, it's looking like there's a good chance I'll be studying in SYD. From a travel perspective this is excellent - it's a great way to rack up those PQMs especially if I'm making quarterly "domestic" flights to the US to attend various conferences (I might get my first 1K status next year!). On the other hand, Australia seems to be dominated by non-Star Alliance carriers like Qantas, Virgin Australia, and the like. Therefore, I'd love to hear some ins and outs from fellow Aussie UA loyalists (expats or otherwise). In particular:
  1. What does the upgrade picture look like (GPU or otherwise) out of the Australian market? Are there routes that are better at securing those lucrative upgrades?
  2. How does one find good United fares out of the market?
  3. Do you have any general Star Alliance advice I should consider being in Australia? Are there any benefits unique to that market?
  4. Are there other things I should be on the look out for or consider with United?
Safe Travels,

James
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Old Sep 11, 19, 1:02 am
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Congratulations! Any academic achievement is a huge milestone. Fo you know which city in Australia. I find Audtralian GPUs are rare but achievable with lots of advance planning. MEL is generally better than SYD. I needed to get to Perth in July and flew to SIN and got upgraded both ways. Then connected using miles on SQ to PER.

For SYD I will often catch NZ PE. Better ride than coach if busy time if year and upgrades are unlikely.

Have fun!
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Old Sep 11, 19, 8:56 am
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Australia is one of the better remaining markets for GPUs, especially if you can fly Mon/Tue/Wed on each TPAC sector. UA serves SYD-SFO/LAX/IAH and MEL-SFO/LAX on its own metal, plus the option of connecting to AKL-SFO after a SYD-AKL on NZ which I have always found to be a pleasant flight. SYD-SFO is probably the hardest to clear, but I have seen PZ space at times on all routes, and I would recommend looking for it.

W fares are consistently in the $1,600 to $2,200 range, with cheaper G/K fares crashing downwards recently (I've seen $699 r/t) as a number of new entrants have led to a heavy oversupply of seats US to Australia. In some cases it can be close to equal to just use a miles+cash upgrade instead. Don't fly during high season (13-Dec-19 to 09-Jan-20 this year) as it's ruinously expensive.

If you need to travel within Australia domestically, there is no way to do it on Star Alliance. BA and AA offer good redemptions on QF metal (10k Y and 20k J anywhere in Oz -- BA might have gone up I'm not up-to-date on the Avios devaluation). I have flown both VA and QF and they both seem fine, although domestic sectors on long trips rarely stand out to me


A fun fact.. SYD-MEL is one of the busiest routes in the world and is served nearly every 15 minutes from 6am to 10pm by QF alone.
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Old Sep 11, 19, 5:36 pm
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Originally Posted by Aussienarelle View Post
Congratulations! Any academic achievement is a huge milestone.
Thanks for that. I'm looking at other opportunities but know that this offer is time-sensitive so will likely accept it. One of the disadvantages (or advantages) depending on how you look at it is Oceania is very far removed from the rest of the world. Hence, conferences organized in the Americas and Europe will be the way in which I present my research findings and connect with fellow researchers. This means a ton of flying on the horizon (some of which may be GPU eligible!)

Originally Posted by Aussienarelle View Post
Fo you know which city in Australia. I find Audtralian GPUs are rare but achievable with lots of advance planning. MEL is generally better than SYD. I needed to get to Perth in July and flew to SIN and got upgraded both ways. Then connected using miles on SQ to PER.


For SYD I will often catch NZ PE. Better ride than coach if busy time if year and upgrades are unlikely.
So what would the logical * connection options be for flights to the Americas? I'm guessing UA, NZ, SQ, NH and AC? IIRC UA and NH are both GPU eligible routes? I also have a friend who is a GS member who can sometimes sponsor my upgrades using her GPUs. I take it that will boost my chances of an upgrade occurring?

What does the connection process look like for NZ? I'm guessing you'd connect at AKL? How smooth are connections at AKL? Is it just going to the gate since you're arriving on a "domestic" flight from SYD? What are the * lounges like at SYD and AKL?

As for travel planning, I'm usually booking my flights out 3-6 months in advance. Ideally I'd like to get a confirmed upgrade on purchase and am willing to spend a little more to make that happen (i.e. a W fare or Premium Plus flight).

One final question, I have relatives and conferences next year on the East coast of the Americas region. I notice that NZ now operates an AKL > ORD flight. Have you had a chance to try out that flight? What are your thoughts? As it stands, NZ earns full PQM on K(ettle) class tickets and I don't mind the occasional long-haul flight in Y (perhaps that'll change when I'm at 100,000 miles a year).

Originally Posted by findark View Post
Australia is one of the better remaining markets for GPUs, especially if you can fly Mon/Tue/Wed on each TPAC sector. UA serves SYD-SFO/LAX/IAH and MEL-SFO/LAX on its own metal, plus the option of connecting to AKL-SFO after a SYD-AKL on NZ which I have always found to be a pleasant flight. SYD-SFO is probably the hardest to clear, but I have seen PZ space at times on all routes, and I would recommend looking for it.

W fares are consistently in the $1,600 to $2,200 range, with cheaper G/K fares crashing downwards recently (I've seen $699 r/t) as a number of new entrants have led to a heavy oversupply of seats US to Australia. In some cases it can be close to equal to just use a miles+cash upgrade instead. Don't fly during high season (13-Dec-19 to 09-Jan-20 this year) as it's ruinously expensive.
Thanks for all the info! I'm flexible on routing and in some respects wouldn't mind connecting at LAX if it means I can use the *A lounge with it's glorious shower suites than the UA FCL at SFO. From an upgrade standpoint is it better to start out with a W fare if the fare differential is small (say $200-$300 r/t)? It's also my understanding that GPUs can only be applied on W fares and above. Is it possible to get an upgrade confirmed at the time of booking, particularly if you are booking many months in advance?

Anyway, thanks everyone for the wonderful advice.

Originally Posted by findark View Post
If you need to travel within Australia domestically, there is no way to do it on Star Alliance. BA and AA offer good redemptions on QF metal (10k Y and 20k J anywhere in Oz -- BA might have gone up I'm not up-to-date on the Avios devaluation). I have flown both VA and QF and they both seem fine, although domestic sectors on long trips rarely stand out to me
Well there's always Ansett Australia... oh wait . I'm guessing Australia has cabotage rules that prevent one from taking NZ flights to connecting within Australia (i.e. SYD > MEL via AKL)?

Originally Posted by findark View Post
A fun fact.. SYD-MEL is one of the busiest routes in the world and is served nearly every 15 minutes from 6am to 10pm by QF alone.
Good to know. I'm guessing I can use my BA Avios points to book a QF domestic flight? Is it good value for money?

Safe Travels,

James
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Old Sep 11, 19, 6:00 pm
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As a grad student myself who's just a year behind you (my expected MSc finish), I'm astounded you kept your FF status while in school! Kudos to you, and congratulations!!
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Old Sep 11, 19, 6:04 pm
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
<snip>
In any event, now that I've completed my Master's degree a new chapter of my life has started - I'm pursuing a PhD programme. At present, it's looking like there's a good chance I'll be studying in SYD. From a travel perspective this is excellent - it's a great way to rack up those PQMs especially if I'm making quarterly "domestic" flights to the US to attend various conferences (I might get my first 1K status next year!). On the other hand, Australia seems to be dominated by non-Star Alliance carriers like Qantas, Virgin Australia, and the like. Therefore, I'd love to hear some ins and outs from fellow Aussie UA loyalists (expats or otherwise). In particular:
  1. What does the upgrade picture look like (GPU or otherwise) out of the Australian market? Are there routes that are better at securing those lucrative upgrades?
  2. How does one find good United fares out of the market?
  3. Do you have any general Star Alliance advice I should consider being in Australia? Are there any benefits unique to that market?
  4. Are there other things I should be on the look out for or consider with United?
Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
<snip>
What does the connection process look like for NZ? I'm guessing you'd connect at AKL? How smooth are connections at AKL? Is it just going to the gate since you're arriving on a "domestic" flight from SYD? What are the * lounges like at SYD and AKL?

As for travel planning, I'm usually booking my flights out 3-6 months in advance. Ideally I'd like to get a confirmed upgrade on purchase and am willing to spend a little more to make that happen (i.e. a W fare or Premium Plus flight).
<snip>
Well there's always Ansett Australia... oh wait . I'm guessing Australia has cabotage rules that prevent one from taking NZ flights to connecting within Australia (i.e. SYD > MEL via AKL)?

Good to know. I'm guessing I can use my BA Avios points to book a QF domestic flight? Is it good value for money?
How long will you be Australia for? A few months/year or for ever?
Some people come for a few months and decades later are still here. When do you arrive?
What will your travel pattern be? [domestic - regional - long haul]

BA does not allow people with Australian address to join (unless that has recently changed) So keep BAEC to an non Australian address.
With BA distance based awards can be very good value.

Aust-NZ is a single aviation market. Air NZ could fly SYD MEL is if wanted to and could get slots. And did so when it 100% owned Ansett (RIP). QF used to fly domestically in NZ. Now the 100% QF owned Jetstar JQ does
So I think you could book SYD-AKL & AKL-MEL. Definitely no trouble if separate tickets. Given the price sometimes of SYD-PER fares, SYD-AKL-PER may at times be price competitive. Several non Au NZ airlines fly Aust<---->NZ without restrictions. VA is ~90% foreign owned.

At AKL you do Internatioal to International airside transfer. Air NZ push hard for Aust to USA passengers. For people from say PER, ADL, CNS changing terminals/flights easier at AKL than SYD when going to USA.

Air NZ is know to stingy with awards. Have never read of anyone upgrading on Air NZ using the Star Alliance cross airline upgrade system (needs a high priced base fares). But it may have happened.

Air Canada fly's YVR-BNE/SYD/MEL

In this part of the world expect to fly in the cabin you pay for.

Enjoy you life downunder
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Old Sep 11, 19, 6:22 pm
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Originally Posted by asovse1 View Post
As a grad student myself who's just a year behind you (my expected MSc finish), I'm astounded you kept your FF status while in school! Kudos to you, and congratulations!!
I just finished my dissertation having finished a 1 year MSc programme in the UK. The programme in Australia consists of a 1 year "catch up" MRes component followed by 3 years of PhD work.

The secret to my success are attending conferences to present my research work. I suspect this is the secret to most FFs in academia on this forum. Just this year I had 2 roundtrips to the US West-Coast from Heathrow (one of which I presented my Master's dissertation proposal). Those were booked in Basic Economy and on K(ettle) fares with United for around $300 USD roundtrip. The organizers of one of the conferences covered my travel expenses which took some of the burden off me financially. A roundtrip from LHR to LAX gets you well over 10,000 miles and can be done in a week (i.e. spend a day flying to LAX, attend the conference for 3-4 days, then fly back to LHR).

I've now got a set of flights I'm taking over the next 30 days that will rack up 27,000 miles (LHR > YYZ then YYZ > FRA then TXL > LAS then LAS > KIX > YYZ) to attend various conferences globally. Combine this with flights over the holidays to visit your family and it's easy to reach United Gold. Next year, if I end up studying in Australia, it'll be very easy for me to hit United 1K with all those "domestic" flights between Australia and the Americas.

Safe Travels,

James
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Old Sep 11, 19, 7:23 pm
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
So what would the logical * connection options be for flights to the Americas? I'm guessing UA, NZ, SQ, NH and AC? IIRC UA and NH are both GPU eligible routes? I also have a friend who is a GS member who can sometimes sponsor my upgrades using her GPUs. I take it that will boost my chances of an upgrade occurring?
It depends on what you mean by logical. If you connect in Asia on your way between Australia and the US, you are roughly doubling your transit time (to the West Coast) and while some of the Asian *A carriers will try to lure you away (and do publish fares via their hubs) it is quite out of the way. However if you have time and not money, and want PQM, maybe that is up your alley

NH is the only other TPAC carrier on which GPU can be used, but requires a minimum E fare (PE) or B fare (Economy, probably more expensive than E). The only "logical" connection options for a time-sensitive traveler are going to be on NZ and AC (plus UA). Going to the East Coast things level out a little, but avoiding Asia is still much faster.

Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
What does the connection process look like for NZ? I'm guessing you'd connect at AKL? How smooth are connections at AKL? Is it just going to the gate since you're arriving on a "domestic" flight from SYD? What are the * lounges like at SYD and AKL?
Seamless airside I/I - no security [see below] or passport check. I'm a huge fan of the NZ lounges but I think part of that is personal taste (the *A lounge in TBIT is run by NZ if that gives you an idea). The AKL lounge is a bit crowded, but SYD is very nice (I prefer the NZ lounge to SQ).


Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
As for travel planning, I'm usually booking my flights out 3-6 months in advance. Ideally I'd like to get a confirmed upgrade on purchase and am willing to spend a little more to make that happen (i.e. a W fare or Premium Plus flight).

...

From an upgrade standpoint is it better to start out with a W fare if the fare differential is small (say $200-$300 r/t)? It's also my understanding that GPUs can only be applied on W fares and above. Is it possible to get an upgrade confirmed at the time of booking, particularly if you are booking many months in advance?
If you have some flexibility and patience, I think you can find PZ space on Mon/Tue/Wed without too much difficulty. Should be quite easy to find PN space for your donated GS GPU. The difference from cheapest Economy to W is rarely small in the US-ANZ market, so without an upgrade available at booking it gets trickier. This could be a case where miles+copay is actually a good idea. The minimum fare for a GPU on UA metal is W, or any revenue PE fare (AKL-SFO has PE).


Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
I'm guessing Australia has cabotage rules that prevent one from taking NZ flights to connecting within Australia (i.e. SYD > MEL via AKL)?
As Mwenenzi mentioned, no laws just price. Taxes alone on SYD-AKL-MEL would be something like NZ $200. Airfare is heavily taxed in Australia.


Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
Good to know. I'm guessing I can use my BA Avios points to book a QF domestic flight? Is it good value for money?
Yes - it used to be 10/20 in Y/J but might be more now. Depends a lot on your comparison point as to a "good value" but generally short-haul is a good use of Avios since no YQ. However, if you can get a deep discount SYD-MEL for A$119 then you won't be getting nearly as much in an award. But when I used 20k AA miles for CNS-HBA in J, that was quite worth it versus the sky-high J prices domestic - something like A$700.
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Last edited by findark; Sep 12, 19 at 2:00 pm
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Old Sep 12, 19, 1:08 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
I..Seamless airside I/I - no security or passport check. I'm a huge fan of the NZ lounges but I think part of that is personal taste (the *A lounge in TBIT is run by NZ if that gives you an idea). The AKL lounge is a bit crowded, but SYD is very nice (I prefer the NZ lounge to SQ).....
My experience of international connections in AKL has been there is a security check (similar to FRA and LHR) where you need to put everything through the machine, take out your laptop, take-off your belt, take off your shoes, etc. AKL has the prize for me of every time I get the random secondary security check.

If you are one of the first off the plane then it is quite quick (absent the secondary check) but the lines do get long when a flight arrives.

I must say I am not a huge fan of the AKL NZ lounge - it is very noisy. The only quiet places can be at the back but families tend to go back there due to the hanging chairs. However, the coffee bar is very good! I personally prefer the SQ lounge in SYD over the NZ lounge. Again due to the noise issues. Fortunately we have choices in SYD.

However, PE on NZ via AKL to SYD out of LAX is a very good ride. Until UA introduces PP on the routes to SYD and MEL, during the holiday season (i.e. Christmas and New Year) NZ in PE is my mode of transport. I did not get the upgrade SFO-SYD in June on a Friday and E+ is not a fun ride (return the GPU to Polaris on a Monday was great). As findark states Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days for GPUs. However, at your age E was fine for me (as we age comfort becomes far more important!)
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Old Sep 12, 19, 2:04 pm
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Originally Posted by Aussienarelle View Post
My experience of international connections in AKL has been there is a security check (similar to FRA and LHR) where you need to put everything through the machine, take out your laptop, take-off your belt, take off your shoes, etc. AKL has the prize for me of every time I get the random secondary security check.
I might just be wrong.. spotty memory and I try to stop over in NZ whenever possible. Wonderful place (Immigration is rather slow if you have tramping gear to declare though.)

Originally Posted by Aussienarelle View Post
I must say I am not a huge fan of the AKL NZ lounge - it is very noisy. The only quiet places can be at the back but families tend to go back there due to the hanging chairs. However, the coffee bar is very good! I personally prefer the SQ lounge in SYD over the NZ lounge. Again due to the noise issues. Fortunately we have choices in SYD.
Agreed on the AKL lounge being a bit overrun most of the time. I've found SYD to be a bit quieter, but there is definitely some ineffable aspect to the NZ lounges I enjoy so I wouldn't expect everyone to agree. I also prefer TBIT *A to LAX Polaris

Originally Posted by Aussienarelle View Post
However, at your age E was fine for me (as we age comfort becomes far more important!)
I will say, when going to ANZ, I find J priceless since it's essentially a slightly lengthened night and I get full sleep like I never left home. With the timing, I lose basically zero time going west.
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Old Sep 13, 19, 3:15 am
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Thanks everyone for the feedback. I've followed up with several Universities that were in the running and they're all telling me September 2020 at the earliest so it looks like I'll be doing my PhD in Sydney!

Based on the feedback provided it seems like my best bets are either UA or NZ/UA (transiting at AKL) if I'm heading for the Americas. I personally refuse to fly AC internationally for a number of reasons not the least of which being how cramped their 777 HDs are, along with the lack of E+ seating (to say nothing of the lack of GPU opportunities). I'm wondering from a ticketing perspective if I'm travelling to the Americas if it would make sense to simply book roundtrips out of a UA West coast hub (i.e. SFO or LAX) then piece together the remaining travel I have with other flight products versus doing multi-city tickets?

One other question - I'll likely be flying to Europe as well from SYD. What are the best options over there? I know SQ and have pretty good coverage but sadly they tend to have some of the lowest PQM earnings on MilagePlus. Alternatively, I can take UA all the way to Europe by first taking a "domestic" trip to the US then connecting on to the European flight.

Safe Travels,

James
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Old Sep 13, 19, 5:38 am
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
Thanks everyone for the feedback. I've followed up with several Universities that were in the running and they're all telling me September 2020 at the earliest so it looks like I'll be doing my PhD in Sydney!
I don't want to derail this off of travel, but what field are you in, and what do you want to do post-PhD? The reason that I ask is if you want to end up living ex-Can/US, that's a bit more irrelevant, but I have seen how difficult it is for non-Can/US PhDs in many technical fields to get jobs in either of those countries, without round after round of post-docs (nothing wrong with that if you want it, of course).
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Old Sep 13, 19, 5:49 am
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Originally Posted by mechteach View Post
I don't want to derail this off of travel, but what field are you in, and what do you want to do post-PhD? The reason that I ask is if you want to end up living ex-Can/US, that's a bit more irrelevant, but I have seen how difficult it is for non-Can/US PhDs in many technical fields to get jobs in either of those countries, without round after round of post-docs (nothing wrong with that if you want it, of course).
To answer your question, Computer Science (Human-Computer-Interaction) my PhD thesis will be on how people perceive conversational interfaces (think Apple Siri). I did my undergraduate from the University of Waterloo (Canada), Master's at University of York (England) and will now be doing my PhD at Macquarie University (Australia). I'm not too worried about this considering I plan on publishing my research at mainly US centric conferences/journals (ACM). Also, I worked at a Canadian AI startup which got acquired by Microsoft recently. Also I'm still debating whether I want to even bother with industry since they don't seem to be doing much research at the intersection of AI and HCI (case in point when was the last time you saw someone use Google Assistant or Apple Siri in public?)

All that being said, my PhD strategy will rely heavily on presenting at top-tier conferences around the world, primarily in Europe and the Americas. As a student (who will likely have a limited budget set aside by the Uni to attend conferences) I'll need to find ways to stretch the travel budget (whilst accruing PQMs to ensuring I get those darned GPUs every year). Would greatly appreciate feedback on general routings strategies for getting to these destinations on * and ideally on UA metal.

-James
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Old Sep 13, 19, 9:27 am
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Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
I'm wondering from a ticketing perspective if I'm travelling to the Americas if it would make sense to simply book roundtrips out of a UA West coast hub (i.e. SFO or LAX) then piece together the remaining travel I have with other flight products versus doing multi-city tickets?
This is complicated and it's worth pricing out alternatives when you want to travel. There are often extreme variety in fares between ANZ and specific cities in the US such that a split ticket connection can make sense, although not always at the gateway. My last trip down under, we split-ticket connected in SAN since it was cheaper than any gateway. SFO-AKL can be double the price of LAX-AKL. Generally, however, you don't want to do a multi-city circle trip with domestic US segments because of end-on-end restrictions.

Originally Posted by j2simpso View Post
One other question - I'll likely be flying to Europe as well from SYD. What are the best options over there? I know SQ and have pretty good coverage but sadly they tend to have some of the lowest PQM earnings on MilagePlus. Alternatively, I can take UA all the way to Europe by first taking a "domestic" trip to the US then connecting on to the European flight.
This is a bit tricky on Star Alliance. Your most efficient routings are obviously flying west from Australia, but you need to do this on a "less preferred partner" at least as far as Asia, when you can switch to LH or LX. On JV metal the whole way, you're going to have to back-connect in AKL and continue on NZ metal via Asia to LH Group metal, or just transit the US which is ugly in its own right.
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Old Sep 13, 19, 3:22 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
On JV metal the whole way, you're going to have to back-connect in AKL and continue on NZ metal via Asia to LH Group metal, or just transit the US which is ugly in its own right.
I was thinking of going via the US on UA metal so that I can continue earning lifetime miles, access to United "benefits" like extra checked bag allowance and E+ seating, ensure full PQM earning and last but not least secure some GPU upgrades on the flight. For the last point, I'm guessing if I were to apply a GPU to say SYD > SFO > LHR on UA metal it would only count as one credit (supposing any of the segments clear?)

Safe Travels,

James
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