Trip Introduction: Hitching a Ride to Sydney and Adelaide, Australia via Air Canada, United and Qantas Business Class.

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Trip Introduction: Hitching a Ride to Sydney & Adelaide, Australia via Air Canada, United and Qantas Business Class.


Background:

This story starts two years ago on a sunny summer day at a winery in the Okanagan area of British Columbia. After an exotic international courtship, Ms WT73 had decided to accept my hand in marriage set amongst the beautiful vines and August heat of Nk’Mip wineries. 

Wedding Day

Meeting later in life, our careers, like those of our many of our weddings guests and family, were already established. My sister, being the gracious traveler like myself, had offered us a unique wedding present. Instead of giving the usual wedding gifts of appliances, flatware or electronics, how about an offer to travel anywhere in the world on a strictly “standby” basis?  

Some back history here… My sister, worked for a large legacy airline. We have approached travel from highly opposite ends. My travel has usually been intensely planned and organized. Our reward tickets were usually booked in first or business class, arranged sometimes a whole year in advance. I usually arranged time off work during quiet travel and work periods. I researched hotels, flights and attractions with intense detail, maximizing what limited holiday time we get. My sister, living a life of almost unlimited complimentary standby travel, has often had to plan travel on a flexible basis. Her travel, like a military battle plan, was highly fluid and situational. How would the two family travel styles mesh? Would MrsWT73 enjoy the spontaneity of unplanned, unconfirmed travel? You’re about to find out.

Trip Planning:

We started discussing this trip about 6 months out. I had to defer to my sister’s expertise on flight load levels on how to maximize stand by travel. 

We had decided on Australia for several reasons: It’s nearly impossible to get there on first / business class reward tickets and the redemptions usually command hefty prices. The paid tickets are often expensive and these days, with many 50% earn rates in economy class, aren’t earning enough frequent flier points as they used to. Paid business class? Well, that’s several thousand dollars and it never seems to come on sale. We decided Australia would be a great opportunity to test out standby travel. With the continent of Australia being 1 or 2 flights away from Vancouver, it seemed like a logical choice. 

Not being able to book any non-refundable hotels in advance thanks to unconfirmed travel, I settled for making placeholder reservations that I could adjust around the finalized days. Naturally, most came with 24 hr cancellation policies that would have to be managed. 

The few days before the trip, both Mrs WT73 and I started getting irritable. Were we coming or going? What did we tell work? How credibly could we postpone meetings or work travel requests without sustaining repercussions? It wasn’t easy. We started to wonder whether this was a sound idea in the first place. 

As most of us seasoned reward ticket redeemers around here know, there is a skill set involved with finding reward ticket inventory. Some carriers release seats well in advance, some release everything at the last minute, some play well, some don’t play well at all. Either way, there is predictability factor. You can edge your bets in knowing what will work and what’s not likely to work. With standby travel, there is no predictability. Everything is to the whim of the demand of the flight or weight load. You are not the person in control. And, if things go wrong, you’re left on your own to find your way to your destination. There is no concierge, no re-booking service or travel arranger to handle matters on your behalf. 

About one week before travel, MrsWT73 my sister and I met up to iron out all the small details. Flight loads were looking good for our trip down. Even expert flyer was showing at least 20 seats open. 

We decided to chance it and pre-book the internal segments we needed for our onward domestic travel within Australia, courtesy of British Airways Avios. British Airways Executive Club Avios are a great currency for business travel around Australia thanks to a distance based mileage chart as business class flights within Australia are typically quite expensive.

The Routing:

The routing ended up looking like this. With two stand-by tickets on and off the continent of Australia, it was a complete toss on our routing on how we’d get too and from each content.

The intercontinental routing looked like

  • YVR-SYD
  • SYD-ADL-SYD (British Airways Executive Club Avios)
  • SYD-SFO-YVR
Our two standby trips, nested with a reward trip, combined into one map

Disclaimer: This report isn’t about the finite details of flight crew contingent travel, nor about proprietary information related to the airline industry. Rather, it focuses on the experience of traveling as many airline crew do, on unconfirmed tickets. Needless to say, it was a different travel experience than our usual luxury planned travel, and a trip unique like any other.


This post is one chapter in our trip to Australia on Air Canada & Qantas Business Class and United Airlines. This trip was booked using British Airways Executive Club Avios and Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) points. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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If you love using frequent flier miles, what is your best strategy in order to get to / from Australia?

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