If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that my family of five is going on a trip to New Zealand this summer (not to be confused with Leana’s epic trip to Australia/New Zealand/Bora Bora last summer). Traveling to New Zealand has been my husband’s dream for several years. With the help of miles and points, we are making it a reality.
We decided to start our trip with a brief stay in Sydney, Australia. Since Sydney is a walkable city, we figured it would be a great place to wear off our jet leg and get used to the new time zone before we try to drive on the left side of the road. After 3 nights in Sydney, we fly to Auckland, New Zealand.
We are staying overnight for one night in Auckland before renting a car to drive to our vacation home rental near Taupo and Rotorua. We have a full week there before driving to the coast to camp near Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. In total, we are spending 13 nights down under.
The cash price for the flights for our dates and itinerary is $1498 per person, or $7490. Here is how we reduced that price considerably with the use of miles and points from credit card bonuses.
First Leg: Dallas to Sydney
We booked the first leg of our trip with AA miles. In 2017, my husband and I applied for five AA credit cards (see It’s Raining AA Miles and my recent post on 120,000 AA Miles for Buying Two Packs of Gum). We accumulated almost 300,000 AA miles.
From stalking AA’s website in the months before getting our flights, I knew that my best chance of getting award flights was on AA’s partner, Qantas Airways. At 11 ½ months before our desired flight date, I purchased a month subscription to ExpertFlyer (for $4.99) to get a better look at award availability.
On the day our desired date came, AA was showing no award availability from DFW to Sydney. However, ExpertFlyer was showing 5 seats available on Qantas. I called AA and was able to grab those seats.
Our flight is 17 hours and 10 minutes direct from Dallas to Sydney. And yes, we’re flying in coach.
Cost: 40,000 AA miles each or 200,000 total AA miles. Taxes were $28.40 each or $142 total. To be fair, I need to also account for the annual fee of one Barclaycard Aviator credit card of $95. So, our total out-of-pocket cash cost is $237.
Second Leg: Sydney to Auckland
So we haven’t technically purchased our flights from Sydney to Auckland yet, but we are in process of accumulating the points. While we have enough AA miles to cover the flight with miles, the taxes on this flight are so high that it doesn’t make sense to use miles (see this post).
The cash cost of this flight is around $130-$150 per person. Both my husband and I recently got the Citi Premier Card via a snail mail offer. The annual fee is waived the first year. We will have enough points to cover purchasing these tickets through Citi’s travel portal, which includes the taxes. Our out-of-pocket cost is $0.
Last Leg: Auckland to Dallas
Miraculously, I found 5 award seats on United from Auckland to DFW with a stopover in San Francisco. I’ll take those!
Getting flights home ended up being the most expensive part of this trip. We didn’t have any United miles, and we couldn’t apply for a United credit card due to Chase’s 5/24 restriction.
So last year, both my husband and I applied for the Avianca Visa Vuela (see this post). We only had to make one purchase to get 60,000 miles per card, but each card has an annual fee of $149. Still, we could use the miles to book flights on United, a partner airline.
Combined, we had 120,000 miles. Flights from Auckland to the U.S. cost 40,000 miles, so we only had enough for three tickets. However, Avianca lets you pay partly in cash if you have 50% of the miles needed. And we had these miles on two cards, so we could get four tickets with partial points/cash.
Each award ticket with Avianca had a $25 booking fee plus about $60 in taxes. Combined with the added cost of buying miles, we had to shell out $1170.72 in cash. If I add in both cards’ annual fees, our total out-of-pocket cost from Avianca is $1468.72.
But wait, I was still one ticket short. Last year I applied for the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card with a 50k bonus and annual fee waived the first year. I transferred 45,000 miles to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program (also a United partner). I had to call this one in since I couldn’t book my 11-year-old by himself online (even though he would be flying with us on the same plane). The cost of taxes for his award seat is $57.50, bringing our total cost for our flights home to $1526.22.
Total Cost of Flights in Miles and Cash
Here is the final breakdown for 5 round-trip flights to Australia/New Zealand from Dallas
AA Miles: 200,000
Citi ThankYou points: 60,000
Avianca miles: 120,000
Amex Membership Rewards points: 45,000
Total Miles and Points: 425,000
Total Cash: $1763.22, or $352.64 per person.
So while these flights were not truly free, we saved $5726.78 on flights.
What About Using Flight Deals?
If you follow sites like The Flight Deal or Cheap DFW, you may find sales on flights to Australia for as little as $500-$600 round-trip. So why did we go through all the hassle of signing up for credit cards and using miles if there are deals like that?
For my family for this trip, we needed to schedule our vacation over two specific weeks in the summer. Those were the weeks that accommodated my husband’s work schedule the best. Flight sales usually have strict dates that work, and ours didn’t fit. Plus, we would have to add in flights to New Zealand anyway, which adds to the cost.
But if your travel plans are flexible, you should definitely stalk flight deal sites to see if you can snag a cheap fare. There is more than one way to travel hack, and it’s not all about using miles and points.
I still can’t believe we are pulling off this trip on miles and points. We are even using points for some of our lodging (see this post). Our trip is not going to be free, but it will cost a lot less than the price without travel hacking with miles and points.
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.