Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under

Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles

Each year my friends and I try to take a two week vacation in the fall. We have a system that whoever had the birthday ending in 5 or 0 that year gets to pick the location. That’s served us well and covers 6 years out of any decade. This year the birthday girl decided on spending most of our time exploring New Zealand with a few days on the end on the beaches of Australia.

That decision was made late in 2018 so our first task was finding business class award space on the longhaul segments for two of us (one doesn’t mind flying coach). We were fine buying our positioning flights as long as we could lock in business class for those 14 hour flights!

I was looking for award space on American, Qantas and United as well as keeping an eye out for space on Air New Zealand. I knew that American was pretty stingy on longhaul award space in premium cabins but they look positively generous compared to what Air New Zealand typically opens up. As luck would have it I found three business class award seats from Brisbane (near the Australian beaches we wanted to visit) back to Los Angeles for the last Wednesday in October. That was perfect so we snagged those even though we didn’t have our outbound tickets yet. I used my miles for the birthday girl’s return ticket which cost 80,000 American AAdvantage miles + $81.83 for each ticket. However, thanks to my Citibank AAdvantage MasterCard I get a rebate of up to 10,000 miles each year so the net cost was 150K miles. I considered using 55,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles per ticket instead but our friend who lives in Chicago was using her AA miles to get one of the tickets and I know that sometimes Alaska has access to one less award ticket than oneworld alliance airlines and I just wanted to make things easier by having the two of us on a single PNR. I bought a United domestic flight from LA to Denver to Memphis for my return flight and my Chicago friend bought a United ticket home as well. However, when United made the fall schedule adjustments, I would land in Denver too late to catch the afternoon flight back to Memphis so they re-routed me through Chicago. While I was stuck on a one-cabin plane for the Chicago-Memphis leg, at least I got to fly back with my friend as far as Chicago.

After buying the return flights we sweated for a couple of weeks until Qantas opened up two business class seats on their 747 from San Francisco to Sydney. The seats were available two weeks and one day before the return flight. That couldn’t have worked out any better for us. My friend from Chicago and I were even able to include positioning flights with the cost of our tickets: 80,000 American AAdvantage miles + $28.20 in fees

Long haul flights: the green line indicates my outbound flight while the blue is my return flight.

We locked in those flights before we had any kind of plan for what we wanted to do in New Zealand. Looking back we probably should have flow directly to Christchurch from Sydney but by the time our plans solidified, we were stuck and ended up basically losing a day because of it. We did not rent a car but flew between Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown as the flights are very reasonable and many of Air New Zealand’s mainline airplanes are one-cabin service, almost as if it’s a bus service. And really, the flight from Queenstown to Auckland is less than two hours and cost under $100 USD so we didn’t feel the need to try to drive on the wrong side of the road during our time there.

Short Haul Flights: each color represents a separate ticket

The weather in New Zealand was a bit cooler than I was expecting. While it was sunny but cool in Auckland when we landed, the next day in Christchurch it was raining and in the 50sF. Fortunately the rest of our time in Christchurch was a bit warmer, if windy. Queenstown was the furthest city south that we visited and unfortunately had the coldest, rainiest weather. The day we landed it was pretty cool and overcast but it didn’t rain much. We were able to walk around the little city and enjoy ourselves. The next day was cold and rainy all day. By that point we were a week into our trip and actually didn’t mind having a day to veg out and just hang out at the hotel. When we returned to Auckland it was extremely windy but we didn’t have any rain. It was very nice then to reach the beaches of Australia’s Sunshine Coast where temperatures were in the upper 70sF. Even though we got rain one evening it was after we were tucked in for the night and the next day the overcast skies kept it from being too hot. It was a lovely way to finish off our trip!

As you can see from the trip index at the beginning of the post, this report will be heavy on planes and hotels and light on city activities. We really enjoyed just walking around and looking around without having planned tours (mostly).  As mentioned above we used award miles for the longhaul flights and cash for the short haul ones.  For our lodging we used a combination of free night certificates, points, cash and points that erase cash charges.  Even with souvenirs, ground transportation and reimbursing my friend for one-third of a hotel bill I suspect I spent less than $500 on this trip.  I love points and miles!

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this trip was that among the three of us we had 30 flight segments (I, personally, had 12), over 60,000 miles flown (I had 23,000 of that) and six different airlines (Alaska, American, Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, United) and not only did our checked bags make it on every flight, none of the bags were even late!  Kudos to the luggage handling teams in all three countries!

If you’ve been to New Zealand or the Sunshine Coast, what was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments about what we need to see if we ever get to go back!

Categories: Award Travel, Hilton, Hotel, IHG, New Zealand, Oceania, OneWorld, Other Hotels, Qantas | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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