1.14.2020

Booking Flights + Locking in Dates: Australia + New Zealand Honeymoon


Andrew is back with another post about our honeymoon -- so glad you guys are enjoying his post from yesterday! It's been a lot of fun having him be apart of this on the blog!!

If you haven't yet, read PT 1: Choosing our Honeymoon Destination! It's the first part of a four-part series Andrew has so graciously written for the blog. Today he's going to talk about how we finalized our dates and booked our flights!

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I had created a Google Flights price alert for round trip airfare to Sydney from either Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle, three of the biggest international airports on the west coast. Flights obviously were not cheap; this being one of the longest itineraries, you can fly in the world. I noticed flights did not fluctuate much, hovering around the $1,000 price point over the course of several months. 

I wanted to lock our flights in as early as possible so that I could then begin planning the rest of the trip, including internal flights while in the region, making hotel or Airbnb bookings, meals, and excursions. Those all depended on the entry and exit dates to Australia and New Zealand. In late February 2019, I began creating spreadsheets.

This is something I do for every trip Krista and I take. I create columns with dates, airports, departure times, stops, prices, and mile costs. I then sort which presents the best value, narrow it down from dozens to a few choices, and make a decision from there. This was more complicated than our usual shorter domestic trips, with layovers of several hours, and prices varying depending on which day of the week we left, and around what holidays we might be flying. 

I narrowed it down to two or three round trip itineraries, all leaving from and returning to LAX. It was becoming clear that we would be away for Christmas. While we knew this would likely be the case, when we were actually presented with the likelihood that we would be out of the country and away from our families for the first time in our lives during Christmas, it dampened our moods. Was this the right choice?

After talking it out, we stuck to the plan. We were never going to have another chance in our lives to visit this part of the world. If we had to sacrifice a Christmas with our families, at least we would be doing it together. Still, it was a difficult choice, and one we did not take likely.

Once we confirmed our interest in the trip, I set aside some time to open my spreadsheet and call American Express Platinum Travel Service.

This is a good time to explain that I am fiercely brand loyal to AmEx. For as long as I can remember, even as a young child, I used to be enthralled with my parents’ green and gold American Express cards. I have no explanation for this. I grew up in a household that used American Express regularly, and I had never heard anything negative about it. When my parents added me to their account, and I received my very own gold card when I turned 18, I was thrilled. 

Fast forward a few (maybe 10) years, and I’m still AmEx loyal and carry my Blue Cash and Platinum cards wherever I go. The Platinum card comes with a hefty $550 annual fee, which may sound absurd, but if you are a frequent traveler and take advantage of the benefits it provides to its cardholders, it more than pays for itself each year. One of these benefits is the Platinum Travel Service. You call a phone number, and within two rings, a real, live, a human being answers your call and helps you with any travel questions or needs you have, regardless of the time of day or country where you’re calling from. It’s like having your own personal concierge. 

So I called and connected with a customer service rep who was more than happy to walk me through the itineraries I rattled off to her and told me the price of each level of service. Another benefit of being an AmEx Platinum cardholder is the international airline program. This is a program that gives cardholders exclusive discounts on certain international airlines. One of these happens to be Qantas, the airline of Australia. 

The discount doesn’t amount to be earth-shattering, but when you’re faced with shelling out four figures for airfare, a savings of a few hundred dollars is a welcome reprieve. 
We ultimately settled on an itinerary that would depart LAX on Thursday night, December 12, arrive in Melbourne Saturday morning December 14, layover briefly, and then connect to Sydney, arriving around 1:00pm on Saturday, December 14. On the way back, we would depart Christchurch at 6:00am on New Year’s Eve, connect in Sydney where we laid over for a few hours, then continue on to LAX, arriving at 6:00am on the same day, December 31. After that phone call, we had the bookends of our trip in place.

Originally, we were interested in booking business class tickets to and from the region. I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity when flying overseas for my job and consider the ability to lay down on an airplane a life-changing experience. While on the phone with AmEx, I learned this wasn’t going to happen. Business class round trips were exorbitantly expensive, nearing $15,000 for two round trip tickets. Needless to say, that wasn’t anywhere near our budget. However, Qantas did offer a product called Premium Economy. 

This would put us in seats that were wider than the normal economy seat and with more legroom. It also offered a steeper recline, important for the 16-hour flight over the Pacific, and dedicated service with elevated food offerings. It was about double the price of a standard economy ticket, but less than half of what we would have paid to sit in business class. With the discount given to us through the AmEx international airline program, I decided this was the best choice and was excited to book it.

The other benefit of the trip was that Qantas is part of the Oneworld Alliance, a group of various airlines throughout the world that offer reciprocal benefits to elite travelers on partner airlines and the ability to earn or redeem miles with their favorite airline. Through my work travel, I had achieved Platinum Pro status on American Airlines, the third of four levels of elite status. American is also a Oneworld partner. Due to this, I would be earning some serious American Airlines miles during our trip. There were other additional benefits to flying on a Oneworld airline that I will get into more tomorrow. We saved hundreds of dollars because of them.

Now it was late February, and we had the dates of our honeymoon. We would be leaving Los Angeles at 11:00pm local time on Thursday, December 12, and returning to the country at 6:00am on December 31. It would be a full 19 days in Australia and New Zealand, a seemingly excessive amount of time. But what I was about to learn is that it was barely enough to visit both countries properly.


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