Award Seats to Australia May Dry Up Afterall As the Best Option Ends a Route

Historically Virgin Australia has had amazing business class award availability to Australia. That’s been probably the best overall use of Delta Skymiles — searchable online, and without fuel surcharges — since Australia awards and especially during high season are one of the holy grails of mileage redemption.

Space has been cyclical — 4 seats every day, then nothing, then wide open again. But will the space come back?

Virgin Australia is cancelling their Los Angeles – Melbourne flight effective right as United starts up theirs.

The North America – Australia and New Zealand route is served without a stopover in Tahiti or Fiji and without transiting Asia by:

  • United
  • Qantas
  • Delta
  • Virgin Australia
  • Air Canada
  • Air New Zealand

New Zealand awards are harder than Australia awards. Air New Zealand used to open up business class space 60 days out quite reliably. Now you will not get Air New Zealand business class awards. Pretty much ever.

Qantas used to fly to New Zealand. They used to fly from San Francisco. They’ve cut back on capacity, even as they’ve added Airbus A380 equipment out of Los Angeles and are adding it to their Dallas route.

Air Canada award space has existed from Vancouver to be sure but it’s not generous. And United is hit or miss, mostly miss.

As tough as it is to get award seats, and with a flight long enough that premium seats do sell, I’d expect that there’s not enough capacity in the market rather than too much despite having all of these competitors.

Still, Virgin Australia is a fast-growing entity in Australia but the least well known in the US market (despite a partnership with Delta, and competing with Delta to Sydney at the same time). Serving three routes from Los Angeles made them a large player.

Sydney is a bread and butter route. Brisbane is a shorter flight, and better for many connections as a result. Melbourne is too far south for most connections, and now facing competition from bigger players in the Los Angeles market Qantas and United.

It makes sense. The sheer number of award seats on Virgin Australia suggests they aren’t selling enough of their seats, some retrenchment was probably inevitable.

But with fewer seats, there could be fewer awards in our future. And the single best way to get from the US to Australia on points without transiting Asia could become far less reliable.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary does Delta allow you to transit Asia for a North America to Australia/New Zealand/Oceania award? Would this be an allowed routing?

    LAX – CAN – SYD – CAN – LAX?

  2. @Tocqueville

    yes they do, but why on earh would you want to do that? remeber, you can’t redeem for F with Delta so you’d be stuck in J for too many hours.

  3. Currently BNE and MEL routes from LAX are run on alternating days. So if VA is going daily on BNE-LAX and eliminating MEL-LAX, then the change is capacity neutral between the US and Australia. I don’t understand how you’re concluding there will be “fewer seats”.

  4. Just did MEL-LAX last week, on Qantas. Sad to see this route go, although at least in intra-Australia flights, I oddly preferred Qantas to the VA flight I took.

  5. ” Virgin Australia is a fast-growing entity in Australia but the least well known in the US market (despite a partnership with Delta, and competing with Delta to Sydney at the same time)”

    I thought the VA/DL LAX-SYD services are operated in a type of JV/JBA ?

  6. For folks that live in Hawaii (or would like to stop there on the way to Australia/NZ, Hawaiian Airlines (redeemable with AA miles or their own) flies to Auckland, Brisbane, and Sydney.

  7. As Mitch said, there’s no change in overall capacity, just a shift from MEL to BNE. I’ve found award space on LAX-BNE to be pretty good in the past, so this could potentially even lead to improved availability.

    From what I’ve read, this shift is primarily an operational decision since Virgin has a crew base at BNE (their home hub) but not at MEL. Geographically, BNE is also closer to North America than either MEL or SYD, making it cheaper to operate and a better connection point. It’s basically the same strategy Delta is using at SEA. The daily frequency may also help to attract more business customers.

  8. Let us not forget… economy is an option. Award seats on Qantas this fall and winter are wide open on the LAX-SYD route. If it’s a matter of whether I get to go to Australia or not, I’ll fly economy.

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