People say if you are planning a trip to Australia, you should plan for a 2-3 week vacation. I was deferring my trip to Australia because of this reason, but sometimes circumstances arise that cannot be ignored. Those circumstances? A round-trip business class ticket for $1,500.
Error Fare FTW
Back in January, I was alerted by one of my friends that there was a potential ‘error fare’ available on Expedia for trips to Sydney. An error fare is one that is posted and available for booking, but potentially is due to an error with the airlines systems or misaligned fare classes. I immediately started searching online and it was clear that the deal was real, but vanishing fast. A few times I tried to check-out and the process failed. I did not give up, and within 15 minutes I had booked three tickets - one for me and two for my parents. You cannot overthink situations like this, because within 30 minutes the deal was gone and fares were back up to their normal rate (~$8,500 EACH). Since there is normally a 24 hour grace period post-purchase, we had one day to confirm that we really wanted to take the trip. The only other catch is that the deal was only for one week itineraries to Sydney with a connection through Auckland. In these situations, there is a risk that the airlines decide to not honor the fare due to true system issues, but lucky for us, they chose to honor it, and we decided the deal could not be passed up!
A Note on Booking with Third Party Travel Sites
Booking airline flights with third party sites like Expedia requires a bit more administrative work because you need to verify that your personal information, including passport, PassID (for Global Entry), and frequent flyer numbers are properly setup in the reservations. In my rush to book the tickets, some of these fields were left behind, so I spent a fair amount of time adding and verifying everything was setup properly with the airlines directly. Regardless of circumstances, this is a critical step to ensure you get airline Premier Qualifying Miles for your flights and TSA Pre-Check at the USA airports. Similar to airlines, tickets booked with Expedia are non-transferable. This was a bummer since my Dad ended up not being able to make the trip. Fortunately, the flight was fully refundable (very unusual), but they likely wanted to sell these seats at normal price. Long story short: do not be afraid of booking on third party sites, but act quickly, double check your personal information, and always read the fine print during your 24 hour grace period.
Six Segment Journey
Air New Zealand, part of the Star Alliance, was the airline operating this mega six flight itinerary. That means I could add my United MileagePlus number to the reservation and earn United credit for all the segments. Flying direct would obviously have been way more convenient, however the major benefit of this itinerary is the Premier Qualify Miles earned. PQM’s are calculated based on the actual distance between locations, and are the way you earn status with United. When you fly business you earn a multiple of 1.5 instead of 1, which really can make an impact on overall earnings as shown below:
ORD - SFO: 3692 PQM
SFO - AKL: 9774 PQM
AKL - SYD: 2018 PQM
SYD - AKL: 2018 PQM
AKL - SFO: 9774 PQM
SFO - ORD: 3692 PQM
Total PQM Earned: 30,968
To put that in perspective, it would take 8 weeks of flying round-trip Economy class from ORD to SFO to earn the same amount of PQM’s, and likely more than $5,000 cash. To earn that amount for a $1500 ticket during a one week time frame is amazing! United’s Gold Status requires earning 50,000 PQM within a year, so with just one trip, I was well on my way to earning status for the year.
ORD - SFO; United Polaris Lounge
The first leg was an afternoon flight from ORD to SFO on United, arriving in SFO with plenty of time to enjoy the United Polaris flagship lounge. Access to lounge is available for those flying on business class itineraries that include a United leg. The lounge is beautiful, with many different places to sit, whether you want to work, relax, shower, or sleep. The food and drink does not disappoint. A great location to make a layover far less painful than normal.
SFO to AKL; Air New Zealand Overview
Air New Zealand flys the Boeing 777-300ER from SFO to AKL daily at 9:50PM PDT. The flight duration is approximately 13 hours, arriving in Auckland around 5:30AM NZST + one day. Therefore, a flight departing on a Saturday evening will arrive in Auckland Monday morning. The relatively late departure time aligns well with getting a good night’s sleep.
My overall experience on Air New Zealand showcased three major positives: amazing service, comfortable cabins, and good food. Starting with cabin, it is pretty space-age with purple-toned lighting in the evenings. The business class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 on the 777 with a reverse herringbone layout, which offers less privacy than most business class products. However, given this was a night flight, once the lights went down, it was not really an issue. The seat itself reclines about half way down and has to be modified with the help of a flight attendant to lay flat. They make quick work of this task after dinner is served, and the bed itself is super comfortable - likely the best I’ve experienced to-date on an airplane.
The food options on the flight were numerous, and most were delicious. The noodle salad, fresh bread, Impossible sliders, and ice cream was a great dinner. The snacks during the evening were higher par than what I’ve seen on United. The breakfast options were great; I enjoyed the pancakes, which is not usually something you think would be tasty on a plane. Lastly, the service within the cabin is excellent, with all the flight attendants being very attentive and friendly throughout the flight.
The 13 hour flight flew by quickly, and with a relatively good night’s rest we arrived in Auckland. The Auckland airport is of moderate size, but beautiful. We had a 1.5 hour connection, which was just enough time to freshen up and get a quick snack prior to boarding our flight to Sydney.
AKL - SYD; A Quick Hopper
AKL to SYD is approximately a 3.5 hour flight. A window seat is the best choice for enjoying the great views on this flight! There is a two hour time difference between the two cities, so you gain a few hours back through this segment. We arrived in Sydney at 9AM local time, and headed straight to our hotel. Knowing that we would be exhausted from our travels, I booked a room at the hotel for the night before, which allowed us an immediate check-in. This is a good trick to use when you really do not want to wait for the normal check-in time of 3PM-4PM. Just be sure to call the hotel ahead of time to let them know you will be arriving the next day.
Overall, this epic mileage run included approximately 60 hours of travel time (round trip). While that may seem excruciating, if you view that time as part of your vacation, and spend time preparing activities (movies, books, music) in advance, it can actually be quite relaxing. Especially if you are sitting pretty in business class. Every one always asks me how I can afford to fly business class. And the answer is this - always, always, always be on the lookout for a good deal, and be willing to act quickly. Also, you must pick one airline alliance and stick to it! This is the only way you can gain leverage and miles for redemption to use on business class itineraries such as these.