1.15.2020

Booking Our Australian and New Zealand Accommodations


We're back with part three of planning our honeymoon with Andrew! I'm so happy you all are enjoying his posts and it's just been so much fun to have him here I'm already planning new ways to incorporate him more on the blog in 2020!

If you haven't yet, read PT 1: Choosing our Honeymoon Destination and PT 2: Booking Flights + Locking in Dates! It's the first half of a four-part series Andrew has so graciously written for the blog. Today he's sharing how (and where) we booked our accommodations while abroad!  

With our wedding still ahead of us in September, I didn’t do much real planning for several months. I bookmarked a hotel in Sydney for us to stay at, and narrowed down our Great Barrier Reef choices to two. In Sydney, we would stay at the Four Seasons for three nights.

As I was making reservations for hotels, I learned that the exchange rate was rather favorable for Americans. Every US dollar was equal to roughly $1.45 Australian. With hotel prices reflecting the Australian cost, it was as though we were getting a built-in 30% discount on everything. This made the Four Seasons go from an unattainable luxury in most locations to within our honeymoon budget. 

The other great part was that the property was part of AmEx’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program. I spent a lot of time explaining the perks of being an AmEx Platinum cardholder yesterday, and this is another. This portfolio of hand-selected resorts throughout the world gives cardholders even more benefits simply by using your Platinum card to make a booking. Among them include guaranteed early check-in at noon, guaranteed late checkout at 4pm, a complimentary room upgrade based on availability, free wifi, complimentary breakfast every day, and property credit. In the case of the Four Seasons in Sydney, our property credit was $100 USD in food and beverage. 

All of this turns into serious savings, especially when you consider our first meal of every day was completely free by giving us complete access to the Four Seasons daily breakfast buffet. And remember, the exchange rate was good, so the $100 USD food and beverage credit worked out to about $145 AUD, giving us more than enough for dinner on the house. 

Feeling confident about our Sydney hotel, I moved on to the reef. My choice came down between Lizard Island Resort on Lizard Island and Qualia on Hamilton Island. At the time, both were part of the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts program. Both were situated perfectly as part of the Great Barrier Reef. There was just something about Qualia that was jumping off the page at me.

I showed Krista the Qualia website, and we looked at some photos and offerings at the resort, and we chose to stay there. This was during the spring of 2019, and Qualia happened to be running a short promotion with discounted rates that was expiring soon. If I wanted to book, I had to do it now. 

I made reservations for December 17-21, locked in our rates, and breathed a sigh of relief. The discounted rates were only offered for stays through December 21, as anything after that was considered their festive, or peak season. While I was happy with the decision, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that four nights wouldn’t be enough. I knew we wanted to do a full day snorkeling on the reef, I wanted to play golf one day, and considering this was our honeymoon and Qualia appeared to be situated in paradise, I wanted one more night.

Eventually, I gave in and chose to book another night at full price so we could stay until December 22. Calling to make the change was proving difficult considering the time zones, so I again relied on the trusty AmEx concierge service, who handled the booking with ease. And due to the fact that I used my AmEx card for the booking and again used them for the additional night, Qualia was giving us all the perks of the FIne Hotel and Resort program. All the same, goodies we got in Sydney, we’d get here too, with one exception.

The $150 food and beverage credit at the Four Seasons was a $300 resort credit at Qualia, free for us to use on anything. I have no idea how this happened. Of course, I never asked either, as I feared it was a mistake on their end. While that in itself was a welcome surprise, we later learned when we arrived on Hamilton Island that all merchants are linked together since the island is privately owned. Anywhere we ate or shopped on the island, all we had to do was give our Qualia room number, and it would be charged back there. With $300 AUD to spend on anything, that was a huge advantage.

With accommodations now booked at two of our destinations, I began looking more closely at New Zealand. I had no idea what the best places to visit on the South Island were, but I knew that it was all driveable. I also knew we would have to end up in Christchurch since that’s where our departing flight left from. But our entry point and road trip destinations on our way to Christchurch still had to be filled in. 

After some cursory Googling and talking to friends and family that had visited New Zealand, it became clear that Queenstown was the place to be. It’s the birthplace of bungee jumping, has excellent skiing in the winter months, loads of scenic hikes, skydiving, jet boating, watersports, vineyards, and sits among glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains. I knew we had to start here. The drive to Christchurch from Queenstown was seven hours, so we’d still need some benchmarks on the way, but this was a good starting point.

After seeing all the various activities that can be done in the Queenstown area, I figured we needed three nights to truly enjoy ourselves without being rushed. I began looking at flights offered between Melbourne, Australia, and Queenstown. While we didn’t have dates or accommodations locked in for Melbourne, there appeared to be hundreds of Airbnb options, and the city boasts a large airport. I found that flights to Queenstown were not offered every day, and the best option was on Christmas Eve. 

With that in mind, I began searching for Queenstown accommodations from December 24-27. I started with AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts, but there weren’t many options, and the ones that did exist were either well beyond our budget or were already booked. Keep in mind, I was conducting this search in June, and many hotels were already booked solid for Christmas week. This is their peak season, and inventory is limited anyway.

Knowing that hotels were out of the question, I shifted to Airbnb. We love Airbnb. We have used it on both international and domestic trips and have not had any issues whatsoever. Not everyone may be comfortable using it, but for us, it works. My search revealed what would be referred to here colloquially as a “tiny house.” If you watch enough HGTV like I do, you know all about the tiny house phenomenon. 

This property was called the Kiwi Chalet and sat high on a hill just outside Queenstown in a rural area known as Lake Hayes, about a 15-minute drive from central Queenstown. It had everything we needed, was situated in a safe, quiet area, and had a nearly perfect rating from over 100 guests. No brainer. I made the request to book for these three nights and was confirmed as a guest less than one day later. Our first Christmas together would be spent in the Kiwi Chalet.

At this point in mid-June we had the following items locked in: flights to Australia from Los Angeles, return flights from New Zealand to Los Angeles, dates for the beginning and end of our trip, and accommodations in Sydney, Hamilton Island, and Queenstown. With the wedding fast approaching, I pushed pause on all honeymoon planning for a few months. Tomorrow, you can read about how I finished the plans and booked the rest of our trip.

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