“Lost Girl” Amanda Pressner recently took a 26-hour marathon flight from New York to Sydney, Australia, to be one of the first to experience Vivid Sydney—a three-week music and light festival that will transform the city’s harbor into a living art canvas. But first, it all started with finding the right flight …
If you took an informal poll of the destinations most people want to visit in their lifetime, chances are, Australia would appear at the top of many travelers’ wish lists.
Unfortunately, the Land of Oz has long seemed out of reach for most Americans, not just because it’s tough to secure two consecutive weeks of vacation time, but because you practically had to take out a small loan to afford the trans-Pacific ticket.
But now, that’s all changing, thanks to some stiff competition between four major airlines, all vying for the opportunity to whisk you across the Pacific. While most carriers are taking steps to cut back their international service in the face of a global economic slowdown, Delta and the brand new V Australia have launched new wallet-friendly routes to Australia, while Qantas and United are offering serious incentives to fly their current ones.
What that means is that airfares have dropped by as much as 57 percent since last September. A year ago, the lowest fares between Los Angeles and Sydney exceeded $2000. Fast forward to 2009, and travelers could find rates as low as $299 one-way from L.A. and San Francisco to Sydney or Brisbane on Qantas (New Yorkers added $100 more for their tickets).
Prices have gone up slightly, but there are still plenty of unbelievable deals to be found on flights and airfare/hotel packages. If you can negotiate the time off work—or suddenly find yourself with a severance package and some serious spare time on your hands—you might want to look into these affordable options for making your way Down Under.
Need even more incentive to pack your bags? Compared to a year ago, the U.S. greenback has strengthened against the Aussie dollar, and a buck now buys you 22 percent more than what it did in summer 2008. So when you touch down at Sydney airport, your greenbacks can be put to good use.
V Australia – Sir Richard Branson’s long-haul offshoot of Virgin Blue kicked off its inaugural flight on February 27, 2009 and now flies non-stop several times per week between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney airport (SYD), as well as Brisbane and Melbourne (September 2009). You’ll fly on one of the carrier’s brand-new energy efficient Boeing 777s, which were designed to use less fuel and reduce overall carbon emissions. One cool bonus: All seats come with the “Red” personal entertainment system and a USB slot so you can power up personal devices.
Your best deal: from $1,145 round-trip between L.A. and Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. VAustralia.com.au
Delta – Delta will begin making a play for its share of the trans-Pacific business starting on July 1, 2009, when it starts flying between LAX and SYD. While the company acknowledges that it’s not the best financial climate in which to kick off a new route, they say that it’s long been one of the most requested destinations of Delta customers and employees. And now, a new interline agreement between Delta and V Australia means that you can book a single ticket on one carrier and travel on the network of the other.
Your best deal: From $499 each way. Delta.com
Qantas – Perhaps no airline is feeling more crunched by the recent competition (not to mention steep declines in business-class travel experienced throughout the industry) than this Aussie-based incumbent. Still, Qantas is keeping itself as competitive as possible by slashing fares on traditional routes and offering package deals for hotel and airfare.
Your best bet: Round-trip airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Sydney, plus a five-night stay at a four-star hotel in Sydney for $999 (if traveling from New York City, add $200). Book by June 2, 2009 for travel between July 25 and September 21, 2009. Qantas.com
United – Once the only competitor giving Qantas a run for its money (and a halfhearted run at that), this U.S.-based carrier has completely revamped its pricing structure over the past few months to make flights infinitely more affordable. In April, United posted fares from as low as $656 round-trip between Los Angeles and Sydney, and a buck more between San Francisco and Melbourne.
Your best bet: The Down Under Fare Sale is still underway, with advertised rates as low as $310 one-way (from L.A. and San Francisco; Chicago from $450; New York City from $410; Seattle from $420). Travel must be completed by December 19, 2009. United.com
By Amanda Pressner for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Amanda and the other “Lost Girls” on the Web at www.lostgirlsworld.blogspot.com. Their debut book, The Lost Girls, will be out from HarperCollins in 2010.
Learn more about traveling to Australia & New Zealand, with one of our newest destination-specific sections of PeterGreenberg.com. For example, you’ll find our Off the Brochure Guide to Australia.
If you’re spending some time in Sydney, find out if the SydneyPass tourist discount card is a good deal.