Sunday, December 7, 2014

Making Australia Cheap

Mrs. TIL and I just got back from Australia, and it was an incredible trip.  We managed to visit Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Katherine, Darwin, Cairns, and Port Douglas all in a two week period, yet rarely felt "rushed".

Needless to say, for an American like me, Australia was a really expensive destination, with many meals costing $30+ for the two of us.  Yeah, their dollar isn't worth quite as much as ours; however, everything is priced much higher, especially in the cities and tourist zones.

So, how can a trip to Australia become affordable?  Here's a quick sampling of some of our Australia "wins", which were free or nearly free:

  • 2 Qantas First Class suites on the direct flight from Dallas to Sydney (the longest commercial flight in the world), along with connecting flights on AA
    • Price: 145k AAdvantage miles + tax (72.5k each)
  • 2 entries to the Centurion Lounge in Dallas, including a dinner buffet, premium cocktails, and a chair massage in the spa
    • Price: Free, reimbursed through SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club
  • 2 walking tours of Sydney
    • Price: Free + tip with I'm Free Walking Tours
  • Round trip transportation to/from Sydney airport
    • Price: Free bus, because the train lines weren't running the day we were there
  • 2 dinners w/ drinks at the Qantas Club Sydney
    • Price: Free with incoming boarding pass
  • 2 Qantas Business Class flights from Sydney to Melbourne
    • Price: Free using 24 hour international "free stopover" rule.
  • Night in an upgraded "room with a view" at the Park Hyatt Melbourne
    • Price: Free using credit card free night award
  • 2 walking tours of Melbourne
    • Price: Free + tip with I'm Free Walking Tours
  • 2 nights in a garden view room at the Radisson Melbourne
    • Price: First night 44k Club Carlson points; second night Free with credit card 
  • 2 nights in a river view room at the Intercontinental Adelaide
    • Price: Free with credit card free night award ($45 annual fee)
  • Private walking tour of Adelaide
    • Price: Free with Adelaide Greeters
  • 2 Qantas flights from Darwin to Cairns
    • Price: 20k AAdvantage miles + tax (10k each)
  • 2 dinners with drinks at the beautiful new Qantas Club Darwin
    • Price: Free entry with AA credit card
  • Night in an upgraded room and breakfast buffet at the Doubletree Cairns
    • Price: 12k HHonors points and $43 copayment.  Free breakfast with gold status
  • Hertz rental car to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas
    • Price: 500 Hertz points (free from a promotion) + $8 tax
  • Night in a lagoon view suite with private beach access at the Sheraton Port Douglas
    • Price: 10k SPG points
  • Dinner and drinks at the Reef Lounge in Cairns
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 2 Cathay Pacific business class tickets from Cairns to Hong Kong
    • Price: Free using 24 hour international "free stopover" rule
  • Dinner and drinks at the Cathay Pacific arrivals lounge in Hong Kong
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 2 round trip transfers from the Hong Kong Airport to the Intercontinental Hotel
    • Price: $14 ($7 ea.), one of the best deals around!
  • Night in an executive suite overlooking the city/harbor at the Intercontnental Hong Kong
    • Price: Free using credit card free night award ($45 annual fee)
  • Breakfast and drinks at Cathay Pacific's first class lounge
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 1 Cathay Pacific first class suite to Chicago
    • Price: 80k Alaska Airlines miles + tax
  • 1 Cathay Pacific business class flight to Chicago
    • Price: 60k Alaska Airlines miles + tax
  • 2 flights back to our hometown on AA
    • Price: 9k BA Miles (4.5k ea)
We literally got thousands of dollars of free flights, hotels, tours, and meals by using our miles and points wisely.  The "annual free night" awards provided by our credit cards were especially lucrative on this trip (and often overlooked in a points/miles strategy), especially when used at expensive hotels.

I should also point out that we got nearly a dozen free meals (mostly in lounges and airplanes) as a result of our planning.  With food being so expensive in Australia, it was great to be able to offset our meal costs with miles and points.

Looking back, the trip was still expensive, but we were definitely able to maximize our use of miles, points, and other deals to make it as cheap as possible.

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