A Holiday Award Booking Tale Part II: Flights from Australia for 8 Passengers in Business Class

As you may recall, last week I wrote about our adventures in getting 8 business class award seats to Australia for the 2015 holiday season. I’d highly recommend reading that post before settling into this one, but in short, we secured 8 seats on three separate flights a few days before Christmas on Qantas and Japan Airlines in business class. And I was walking on air after that feat until it hit me that I had to still get us back or all of that work was for not…

I had been keeping an eye on potential returns for weeks and the options weren’t nearly as good as the ones that were available to us on the outbound. Basically Qantas wasn’t a possibility at all. That left us with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines. The pattern on Japan Airlines was to only open up two seats in business class per flight so that took Japan Airlines out of the running for my sister’s family. That left her family with just Cathay Pacific as an option.

Our family was flexible with our return date. We were looking for something between January 3 and January 6. My sister’s family did not have as much flexibility. It took a lot of convincing for my sister’s husband to agree to go so far away and he did not want to miss too much work. She knew that if the return got pushed back too far past the holiday, he’d throw down the “work” card and the trip would be shot. She needed to return no sooner than January 2 but no later than the 4th. Flexibility is key when booking peak season business class travel. Something they didn’t have. Lovely.

Soon the two plus weeks that we had to wait before booking the return had passed and the booking date was here. Even though Cathay Pacific flies into six Australian cities and they were flexible on where they left from, availability was looking pretty bleak for those dates all around. There was availability for 4 from Hong Kong to Boston in business class on their dates, but getting from Australia to Hong Kong was problematic. The best I was able to find was something out of Adelaide in coach with a forced 24 hour layover in Hong Kong. Wonderful.

Coach was not something my sister’s husband had signed up for. And 24 hours in Hong Kong? Nope! He is not a traveler. Full stop. Does not find the joy in it that we do. So, this could be a problem. After explaining to my sister that it was either this or a business class option for four on all legs three days later, she chose this. She knew that his dates were firm but maybe she could convince him of the excitement of Hong Kong, especially since Hong Kong Disneyland might be something he’d actually like.

Nostalgically speaking, US Airways was always a joy to work with. You never knew what you were going to get. They basically invented the “Hang Up, Call Again” method. If you didn’t get someone that would help you, hang up and try another agent. My first few calls resulted in “sorry, you can’t add a return to your reservation. We’ll have to cancel and start again.” Umm, no. That was not how it works but either they were lazy or really didn’t know how to do it.

Anyway, after several HUCAs, I found an agent who was able to add the requested return segments to each of the reservations. Since the agent wasn’t empowered to change tickets on their own, each one had to go to the ticketing desk. Hours (yes, hours) later, they were ticketed. Their return definitely isn’t ideal with a 8 hour coach leg and an extended layover, but they had something! We’ve since been monitoring that coach leg to see if any business class seats open up in hopes of changing them, but no luck thus far.

For our family, we had a bit more flexibility in the dates. Coming back a few days later gave us more options. I had originally hoped that we’d be able to reverse my husband and son’s itinerary and fly Japan Airlines home. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t working out and even the one option that would have worked didn’t have availability for four and even though we split up on the outbound, we really wanted to travel together on the return. Eventually we settled on the Cathay Pacific option with business class on both legs to the US with a reasonable layover in Hong Kong. Having three more days in Australia meant that we could head out to Hamilton Island for a few days of rest and relaxation before returning home. A win, win if you ask me!

It was off to the US Airways call center again where I repeated the same process I went through with my sister’s reservation. I got a few agents who said that I couldn’t add a return unless I wanted to start over. I finally found one who was able to add the return to my daughter and my reservation as well as my son’s. Again, hours later, we had our returns booked. The last piece of the puzzle was booking my husband’s return with my sister’s American Airlines miles. Luckily, this time around, they got his name right on the first try and we had 8 roundtrip awards to Australia over the holidays.

To say that I was overjoyed would be an understatement. The way I approach our vacations is that if it doesn’t work out, it wasn’t meant to be and we just plan on trying to go another time. But when booking trips for others, especially those with their hearts so set on something, I feel obligated to get it done one way or another. While my sister’s return isn’t ideal, I found something that works and I truly believe that this will be a vacation that none of us will ever forget.

We’re off in just a handful of weeks and we absolutely cannot wait. Don’t forget to follow Our Frugal Life on Facebook and Instagram for updates while we’re down under!


**”Coral Outcrop Flynn Reef” by Toby Hudson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coral_Outcrop_Flynn_Reef.jpg#/media/File:Coral_Outcrop_Flynn_Reef.jpg

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  1. That is truly inspirational. I have tentative plans for a similar trip in 2017. I’m excited about so many new routes to Australia opening up. Here’s to hoping there is decent award availability in business class. I don’t know if I can spend 17 hours in coach!

  2. Great article! One question though, i though AA award does not allow to transit through a third region. So how did you manage to transit through HKG or NRT?

    • Good question! We booked three of our awards using USAirways miles which allowed basically any routing to the South Pacific. Then those tickets were converted to AA awards after the merger. And we spent more miles and redeemed two awards each way for one ticket using AA miles (one between the US and Asia and one between Asia and Australia). It was a lot more than the 62,500 miles AA currently charges in each direction in business class to Australia, but worth it to line up with the rest of our flights!

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