Two Weekend Trips to Australia to Make United 1K

One of the best parts of my recent StarMegaDo experience was getting to swap travel stories with the other attendees. And it reminded me of some of the crazier things I’ve done to make airline status in recent years, that perhaps mercifully had slipped my mind.

Jeanne & I were crazy enough to fly to Jamaica for the day earlier this year so she could hit US Airways Platinum. But two years ago I made United 1K status for the first time with two weekend trips to Australia. That’s right, I got on a plane for roughly 19 hours each way just to spend 24 and 48 hours in Sydney, and rack up nearly 40,000 eqms.

How was this possible? Or cost effective? United Twares. Man I miss those things. In June of 2010, I mapped out that with my recent run to Waikiki I’d easily make Gold on United. But 1K seemed pretty impossible financially. Even if the $200 west coast fares in the fall materialized, they’d need to offer double eqms to make it possible. Then in July, my boyfriend at the time saw a United Tware pop up for 40% off Sydney flights. Within 5 minutes we’d booked a Labor Day run IAD-LAX-SYD-LAX-IAD for roughly $650. I was nervous about 14 hours in coach, even though we’d be able to snag the spacious exit seats, but it was totally worth it to finally visit one of my Top 3 destinations and be a 75K premier exec.

The outbound flight wasn’t that bad. The LAX-SYD segment was filled Flyertalkers who had also jumped on the fare. Our seatmate wound up being the Mayor of Redondo Beach, CA who was also a fairly avid traveler. Only downside? The exit door protruded into the window seat and the flight attendants were pretty vigilant about not letting me prop my feet up on it. Well, two downsides. The aisle televisions were on a loop and I saw Karate Kid like 3x each way.

We were exhausted when we arrived, but I had deliberately booked at the Intercontinental Sydney despite the cost, which meant my Royal Ambassador status let us check in immediately upon our 9AM arrival. The suite they were going to put us in wasn’t ready, so we were given a standard room and told to just leave our zipped up luggage in the room and they’d move it when the room was ready.

After a long shower and lots of free energy drinks from the minibar, I was ready to go! We wandered through downtown to the Sydney Wildlife Center and Aquarium and spent many happy hours wandering through the underwater tunnels observing giant sting rays and sharks and then on the rooftop checking out live Koalas and Kangaroos.

At this point we headed back to the hotel to settle in to our suite and discovered we still had a whole afternoon left to kill before we would crash.

All animaled out, we boarded a ferry for Manley to check out the beach town, their aquarium, and get a better view of the Sydney Opera House. I actually fell in love with Manley.

It was so pleasant and beachy, even packed with people. The aquarium even managed to hold its own against the one we’d just visited in Sydney. After a couple of hours, we were ready to head back to the hotel and enjoy tea from the club lounge on the top floor overlooking the harbor and Opera House.

Next morning we did a quick walk around the botanical garden to stretch our legs before getting back on the plane for 19 hours. That flight back was not as charmed as the outbound. Karate Kid was playing AGAIN and our seatmate was not nearly as charming. She quickly downed 2 cocktails as soon as beverage service came around and then had a red and white wine with dinner served shortly after. This was no 787, and the alcohol hit her hard. She repeatedly threw up on herself in her sleep…

It was an amazing, crazy experience although it took awhile for my ankles to return to normal. So when another Tware came up for November travel, this time for $600 + taxes we jumped on it. Booking two nights, one full day, this time.

The flights out were fairly unremarkable. We’d learned on the last flight that if you order special meals, like Asian or Kosher, you’ll get your food served before regular meal service and avoid the long long wait. So that made it better.

Our arrival had been so easy last time, we decided to take the public transport to the hotel this time. That was a mistake though, because the train wasn’t running to downtown and we wound up having to haul our luggage around a couple bus stations until finally making it to the hotel 2 hours later.

At this point, the experience had done us in and left us rather unfit for the day. We’d planned to go to the zoo, but opted to wander around the historic area of The Rocks, then downtown checking out a really cool arcade decked out for Christmas and visiting the local equivalent of an ASDA.

The good stuff was coming the next day though! I’d booked a full day wine tour in the Hunter Valley through Wine Country Tours. The guide/owner picked us up the next morning and quickly and audibly wondered aloud if we were drug smugglers when he heard we were only there for the weekend and it wasn’t the first time we’d done that.

Soon we were in gorgeous countryside, stopping at an Inn for elevensies before making our first stop at Tyrrell’s Wines. At this stop, our guide walked us through more than 20 different wines, clueing us in to what is behind the smelling, swirling, and viewing that the experts do.

It was also the first time that I knew whites not only could last longer than a few years, but in fact could be better after 5+ years of aging. The next winery featured a great restaurant, but in comparison was fairly unremarkable.

At that point we were ready to head back to the hotel to watch the sunset set on the harbor while we enjoyed complimentary afternoon tea and evening cocktails then crash before we took our last flight back.

Do I wish that I had been able to spend longer in Australia, absolutely!! But did I feel like I got a good feel for Sydney and a taste of the wine country? I sure did. And getting 40,000 eqms towards 1K in two weekends for only $1600? Priceless :D

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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories

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