Australian Travel Hacks For May 2024

Guest writer and gun Andrew Curran returns to DMARGE with his monthly round-up of unmissable tips and tricks for Australian travellers.

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New flights to South America, ANA confirming its summer return to Perth, lounge news out of Cairns, increased fees for Qantas passengers, airlines soon to exit the Star Alliance program, and a neat status match challenge from Hilton are among recent changes and offers on the market which can make life easier for frequent flyers.

LATAM Resumes Nonstop Sydney—Santiago & ANA Back To Perth This Summer

LATAM will resume nonstop Sydney–Santiago flights on October 28, 2024. The B787-9 operated flights will depart Sydney at lunchtime on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The services are in addition to the existing six times per week via Auckland flights and supplement the LATAM-operated thrice weekly roundtrips between Melbourne and Santiago.

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LATAM’s fares between Australia and Chile are competitively priced compared to codeshare partner Qantas, who fly between Sydney and Santiago three times per week using a B787-9. However, LATAM’s 2-2-2 business class seat configuration is far inferior to the Qantas 1-2-1 offering.

LATAM’s 2-2-2 business class may not be optimal, but don’t let that put you off a trip to Santiago. Image: Walk My World

Meanwhile, ANA All Nippon Airlines has confirmed it will resume its seasonal three-times-per-week Tokyo Narita—Perth flights on October 29, 2024, after recently suspending services for the Australian winter. ANA, a Star Alliance member, will operate the flights with a B787-9. 

The airline offers the all-important 1-2-1 seat configuration in business class. It is the only airline operating on the city pair, and its tie-up with Virgin Australia means its frequent flyers can use Velocity points for redemptions.

Virgin Australia Lounge At Cairns Airport Stays Closed While Reef Lounge Reopens

Sources at Cairns Airport have scotched rumours that Virgin Australia will reopen its lounge there. The airline generally has over a dozen departures a day from Cairns but permanently closed its lounge at the start of the pandemic. While there was some recent buzz that VA had decided to reopen the still unutilised space, this is not the case.

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However, the Reef Lounge is reopening at the Cairns International Terminal, primarily to serve Singapore Airlines departures. The airport is also considering extending the opening hours to cater to other international departures. The lounge used to accommodate paid walk-ins. While that arrangement isn’t yet restored, it is believed to be on the cards.

Changes To Qantas Lounge Membership Fees And T80 Rule

In mid-April, the one-year fee for new Qantas Club members increased from AUD699 to AUD828 (including the AUD129 joining fee). The cost of an annual renewal also rose from AUD540 to AUD629. There are ways to mitigate this.

Holding Qantas Gold or Oneworld Sapphire status opens up lounge access, rendering Qantas Club membership obsolete. Qantas Points Club Plus members also receive complimentary lounge access. For lesser status passengers, corporate schemes and relying on single-use passes are alternative strategies.

Qantas’ International Business Lounge at Sydney Airport. Image: Point Hacks

Qantas has also increased the cost of its extra legroom seats. The airline has raised the price from AUD15 to AUD20 on sub-600-mile sectors such as Sydney-Melbourne. On long flights such as Sydney-Johannesburg, the cost of extra legroom seats has increased from AUD180 to AUD195.

Qantas has also rejigged its popular T80 ‘free legroom’ rule, which allowed a passenger to relocate into any seat in the cabin class at no cost 80 hours before departure. The airline has reduced this to 24 hours before travel (when check-in opens).

Until then,  except for Chairman’s Lounge and Qantas platinum members, extra legroom fees will apply for the best seats. However, 24 hours before departure, the fees will vanish, so the T80 rule becomes the T24 rule.

SAS Scandinavian And Asiana Preparing To Exit Star Alliance

Star Alliance will lose two member airlines in the next 12-24 months. SAS Scandinavian is exiting Star following the airline’s acquisition by an Air France-KLM-led consortium.

Meanwhile, Asiana Airlines will quit Star once Korean Air gets the okay from regulators to buy that airline. SAS Scandinavian will join SkyTeam, Air France-KLM’s alliance, and the Asiana brand will cease to exist. Korean will likely transfer Asiana’s frequent flyers into its SkyTeam-affiliated frequent flyer program.

The SAS switch to SkyTeam should happen later this year, and the Asiana switch sometime in 2025. These changes pose a quandary for Star Gold members in both programs, especially those with future bookings. Will existing bookings made by existing Star Gold members expecting Gold grade perks be honoured under the new arrangements?

The new Star Alliance lounge in Rome FCO Airport. Image: SA

Hilton Status Match Challenge 

Hilton is running a status match challenge targeting members of rival programs. Under the challenge, Hilton automatically grants Honors Gold status to applicants for 90 days. Honors Gold is a decent status level because it provides complimentary breakfast (or a credit in North American markets) and room upgrades. 

You’ll need to stay eight nights within those 90 days to retain gold status through March 31, 2025. If you stay 14 nights within those 90 days, you’ll score an upgrade to Honors Diamond, which, aside from breakfast and upgrades, grants lounge access.

Hilton has hotels in all the mainland Australian capitals. Although none of them are the premier hotels in town, you can expect solid, well-located, and comfortable properties. The Honors program offers a bankable suite of benefits that can add real value to a stay.

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