New United Airlines, Star Alliance award rates a boon for Aussie travellers

New United Airlines, Star Alliance award rates a boon for Aussie travellers

New redemption rates for United Airlines' Mileage Plus frequent flyer scheme come into effect this weekend – and they pack some good news for Australian travellers.

While the changes generally see United's core membership of US residents lose out through a massive hike in redemption rates, trips from Australia to most of Asia using United's Star Alliance partners such as Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways are now substantially cheaper than before, even in first class.

Flying to the USA and Europe is likely to cost you more points, although they still stack up well against equivalent award travel on Qantas and Virgin Australia.

We've crunched the numbers below – get ready to be surprised!

Also read: How to get Star Alliance Gold frequent flyer status with a single flight

Australia to South Asia

A dramatic drop in the number of points needed for a free award flight makes this the new sweet spot for Mileage Plus.

Consider a trip from Sydney to Bangkok on Thai Airways, or from Brisbane to Singapore with Singapore Airlines: under the old redemption table that would cost 30,000 miles for a one way economy ticket, 45,000 for business or 60,000 for first class.

As of February 1 these rates fall to just 17,500 miles for economy, 30,000 miles for business or 40,000 miles for first class.

Yes, you read that right: it's now cheaper to trade your points in for a first class ticket than it used to be for business class.

There are plenty of other appealing routes in the ‘Australia to South Asia’ category of Mileage Plus such as flights to Brunei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, amongst other destinations.

And when compared to the standard redemption rates offered by Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer for journeys of a similar distance, the new rates are quite competitive.

[Click on the tables in this article to enlarge them]

The only caveat: Singapore Airlines flights can’t be booked on United’s website – these are now only available over the phone at an additional charge for non-elites.

Australia to North Asia

Flights from Australia to China, Mongolia, South Korea and Taiwan – including Star Alliance partner Air China’s daily Sydney to Beijing service – are classed as ‘North Asia’ and will carry the following revised costs:

The current Mileage Plus redemption rates for North Asia are 35,000, 50,000 and 65,000 (respectively), making this another genuine improvement.

Australia to Japan

Interestingly, flights to and from Japan have their own unique redemption rates in Mileage Plus.

The changes see a marginal improvement for economy redemptions (currently 25,000 miles), though a slight increase for first class – currently 55,000 miles, while there’s no change for passengers in business.

Australia to Europe

Travellers headed to Europe and the UK won’t be as impressed, as the rates across all cabins are increasing – although they still remain competitive against the local offerings, as shown below.

At present, 40,000 miles buys a one way in economy, 60,000 buys a business ticket and 75,000 will see you float away above the clouds in first class.

As flights to Europe always include a connection, we’ve included the standard pricing for Qantas Frequent Flyer and United Mileage Plus, as well as Velocity Frequent Flyer on three of their alliance partners to enable a fair comparison.

Australia to North America

Redemption rates for North American flights are unchanged in economy and first, with business class seeing a marginal increase from the current 67,500 mile price.

In this example, we’ve calculated the redemption rates for travel from Sydney to Los Angeles, as United, Qantas and Virgin Australia all operate their own aircraft on this particular route.

Making Mileage Plus work for you

Although Australia lacks a home-grown Star Alliance carrier you can steadily build your Mileage Plus balance through hotel stays – Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club and Starwood Preferred Guest are all partners to the Mileage Plus program.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin (ChrisCh)

[email protected] / @ChamberlinChris

Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


  • MightyTravels


    31 Jan, 2014 09:59 am

    Wow - there are happy outcomes from this devaluation!

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  • Hugo


    31 Jan, 2014 10:30 am

    huh, I read all the complaining about the new award table on flyertalk but didn't realise it had actually got better for these few routes. 

    80,000 miles for a return first-class trip to SE Asia is ridiculous! A tip for young players: availability on Thai is generally pretty good in all classes, though they only fly two-class planes to MEL. Availability on Singapore AIrlines is pretty decent but only on their "regional" planes (773 and A330, I think) not their longhaul (77W and A380). You'll never find A380 first class availability with United miles (though I did get to fly it once anyway when my Thai flight got cancelled, lucky me!)

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  • JimMc


    31 Jan, 2014 12:11 pm

    You're ignoring a significant part of the story that makes the UA/Star Alliance miles even more valuable than Qantas.

    A r/t ticket on Qantas to Los Angeles is 96,000 points, but increases dramatically for points further east.  United miles to North America include ANY destination in the US - even Toronto, or Miam, for the same 70,000.

    And even more importantly, the fees and surcharges on a QF "free" ticket to the US are almost $600!  On United they're just a shade over $100.

    QF has the worst program in the world.  Kudos to UA!

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  • MaxineF


    31 Jan, 2014 01:48 pm

    I recently compared redemtion rates including Taxes between Qantas & United for MEL/LAX one way. The big difference was the Tax - $75 on United v $950 on Qantas. Ended up going with Qantas Business over and 1st class on the return - and BTW had no trouble getting seats on QF 93 & 94 :-)  Used United points for Bus & 1st class tickets in US - once again very little tax - NYC/LAX Bus 1st - $5.50usd plus 12500 United Miles. Happy traveller here :-)

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  • Mark McAdie


    31 Jan, 2014 05:28 pm

    Not wishing to quibble but the Australia to North America Virgin Australia cost in points in business is 90,000 miles, the 70,500 is for premium economym akes United look even better as you get First for the same number of points, though Virgin Australia is still better than Qantas.

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  • Chris Chamberlin


    1 Feb, 2014 01:50 am

    Ahh, nicely spotted Mark... I've corrected the table, though the cost is 94,000 points – seems we both mixed that one up!

    But yes, if you do happen to spot the occasional error, don't be afraid to let us know – we'd rather correct it than leave it unaddressed.

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  • MissBasset


    13 Sep, 2014 04:04 pm

    On checking out what is available on the QF website, even as far out to August 2015 to many destinations, I see that they make any redemptions above Economy very unattractive. Many first legs out of Australia are knocked back a class or 2 lower than you are searching; many flights other than very early morning are unavailable; forcing time-wasting transits through Brisbane or Melbourne instead of Sydney, and long layovers for connecting flights whether QF or Oneworld partners. On top of all this unattractiveness they demand a premium swag of miles for a nightmare trip. Seems like they don't want you to travel that way; that couldn't be right, could it?  ;)

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21 Jul, 2018 12:19 pm

Which Qantas lounges can Air New Zealand Airpoints frequent flyer use?

Which Qantas lounges can Air New Zealand Airpoints frequent flyer use?

Air New Zealand's Airpoints frequent flyers will enjoy have access to Qantas Clubs around Australia under the newly-forged alliance between the two airlines.

As of October 28, 2018, Airpoints Elite and Gold members booked on a codeshare flight with Qantas will find the doors swing open for them at the two dozen Qantas Club lounges in Australia's capital cities and regional centres. They'll also be permitted to bring in one guest.

But it won't be as easy as flashing your shiny Airpoints card, as the following conditions apply:

  1. you have to be travelling on a domestic Qantas flight
  2. it has to be booked under the Air New Zealand codeshare (those flight numbers will be in the NZ7xxx range)
  3. and this must be booked as part of a trans-Tasman booking

This arrangement replaces Airpoints access to Virgin Australia lounges following the dramatic bust-up between the two former allies.

However, there appears to be no Qantas Club lounge access for Koru Club members, nor can AirNZ frequent flyers cool their heels in the more upmarket Qantas Business lounges.

The Qantas / Air New Zealand alliance covers selected flights on the domestic network of each airline, however trans-Tasman and other international flights are excluded from the arrangement.

Read more: Qantas, Air New Zealand alliance will take on Virgin Australia

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


  • henrus


    20 Jul, 2018 05:31 pm

    Doesn't it seem a bit odd that Koru club won't get access (something that the VA deal provided) . I guess there will be no access for QF Club cardholders in NZ either?
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  • aviation


    21 Jul, 2018 09:27 am

    Correct, it's reciprocal in that QF Club card holders can't use NZ lounges. The VA deal was very unique as they were the only partner lounges Koru members could access without actually flying Air NZ.
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  • Uqsthom6


    21 Jul, 2018 08:05 am

    Looks like air nz ff get the raw end of the deal
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  • aviation


    21 Jul, 2018 08:31 am

    Thanks for the article, however, there are a few errors.
    1. It's not really an alliance, but a straight domestic codeshare agreement. Alliance to me suggests coordination on pricing, schedules, etc, of which is there is none of.
    2. Some codeshare flights on Qantas are in the NZ1xxx range too (namely the triangle routes)
    3. The codeshare flight can be used for any international journey originating in Australia, not just trans-Tasman (i.e. you could fly CBR-SYD-AKL-LAX or MEL-SYD-RAR)
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21 Jul, 2018 12:19 pm

What you can expect from Cathay's new business class dining concept

What you can expect from Cathay's new business class dining concept

Cathay Pacific will roll out its new 'business class dining concept' this month, with the meal service taking a step closer to a first class experience.

Meals will be individually plated and delivered to passengers by hand rather than by trolley, as the airline adopts more personalised and upmarket approach.

Cathay also expects this will result in a "quieter and calmer cabin environment", especially on late night flights.

Passengers will have a choice between three appetisers and "up to six main course choices" on flights over ten hours in the initial launch of the service to the likes of Chicago (on July 30), London/Gatwick (in August) followed by Frankfurt, Manchester and Washington DC (September); Amsterdam, Paris and Johannesburg (October), Madrid, Brussels and Barcelona (November) and London/Heathrow (December). 

And, being very much on trend, light and healthy 'wellbeing options' feature in every main course.

On flights from Hong Kong the menu will be changed every month, with a quarterly menu refresh for flights to Hong Kong.

Fights from Hong Kong (but not, for now, the return leg) will also see a new range of Hong Kong Favourites inspired by local dishes, such as

  • Hong Kong char siu pork with egg noodles, seasoned soy sauce, spring onion and ginger (shown below)
  • Wok fried seafood in lobster soup with ginger, spring onion, crispy and steamed rice
  • Beef brisket with flat rice noodle soup
  • Mango with pomelo and sago

But before all that eatings starts, business class passengers will notice the new-look menus.

Printed as eight pages on quality paper, they not only detail the meals and drinks available on that flight but include foodie-friendly articles such as 'Anatomy of a Laksa' and feature a local chef revealing their favourite eateries both in Hong Kong and around thr world.

There will also be a breakfast menu card which passengers will complete before hitting the hay, so that they can wake to what the airline described as a "hotel room-service" experience.

However, these are set menus rather than allowing travellers to pick-and-mix from a wide selection of items.

In addition to what's described as 'traditional' Chinese and Western breakfasts, there's also a lighter Continental breakfast plus a minimalist Express breakfast of a piece of pastry and a drink, which can be served 60 minutes before landing for passengers who wish to maximise their sleep.

Refreshments will be revamped as a selection of 'most loved dishes' available throughout the flight as a snack between meals on services to North America and Europe, including the airline's signature burger and popular soup noodles. These will also appear on the main meal menu.

Next year will see Cathay's 'new business class dining concept' extend to medium-distance routes, with plans to include Sydney and Auckland in February 2019 and Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Perth in May 2019.

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


  • Skipp


    20 Jul, 2018 12:48 pm

    Look forward to the new meal service in business class coming within the next 12 months - it will make a nice change.
    I just hope (for the future) that Cathay Pacific will stop serving the exact same economy class meals in "Premium" economy class.
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  • MissBasset


    20 Jul, 2018 01:34 pm

    Why bother with the white linen tablecloth if they are serving it on a plastic cafeteria tray? The promo pictures show all set up to eat off the tray. Euww.. I will take it all off the tray and set it up like other airlines J class. FAIL for presentation, CX.
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  • mrj


    20 Jul, 2018 02:42 pm

    I recently suggested to Cathay that their business classs food is amongst the worst of all airlines. Interestingly their response failed to mention this planned revamp.
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    20 Jul, 2018 02:57 pm

    I'm really glad they're going back to classy, glossy paper stock for the menus versus the uncoated groundwood paper they switched to a few years back. Now if they would only bring back that trademark chocolate box at the end of the meal...
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  • David Flynn


    20 Jul, 2018 03:25 pm

    I was on CX a few weeks back and the chocolates made an appearance on every flight...
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  • Manjit Sadhwani

    Manjit Sadhwani

    20 Jul, 2018 03:19 pm

    It's about time
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  • HKAus


    20 Jul, 2018 03:41 pm

    CX Catering is bar far the most outdated and leaves an overall cheap and poor guest experience of most International airliners. CX have unfortunately chosen over the last decade to reduce their overheads where guests can see and feel the difference. Personally after 5 years as a Diamond CX member I have moved to competitors; poor catering, moody crew members, consistently delayed flights (due to over use of planes with no margin for delays) and ridiculous pricing have enabled me to now enjoy such operators as KLM, Virgin Australia, Qantas & Lufthansa; all with an overall better "J"Class experience. Interestingly as a result of my change in travel I was dropped to Gold and this year even though I should have dropped another tier, they obviously are trying to get pax like myself back because they extended my gold status.
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  • Rkwm


    20 Jul, 2018 04:39 pm

    It was taken CX far too long to make changes to the atrocious F&B that has annoyed their long term supporters . The plastic cafeteria tray certainly brings the enhancements down a few levels can’t, understsnd who approved this inclusion . Totally agree with HKAus, supported CX for over two decades but over the last two years the deterioration in service , punctuality and value has been palpable.

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  • Tony OBERON


    20 Jul, 2018 04:48 pm

    Looks marginally better - but CX are you seriously going to use a plastic tray? At least put a cloth on the tray - if for no other reasons than hygiene! I’m a germophobe and I cringe to see cutlery sitting on a plastic tray, which cannot be washed at the same high temps as crockery. Lysteria et al here we come.
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    21 Jul, 2018 11:33 am

    I think everyone who travels Cathay agrees that the dining experience had to be upgraded, this looks the goods.
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21 Jul, 2018 12:19 pm

 Cartier Santos: the original pilot's watch, reimagined

Cartier Santos: the original pilot's watch, reimagined

Very few watches can claim true originality, and the Cartier Santos is among those few.

The Santos made its debut way back in 1904 as a personal timepiece for aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, making it both the first pilot’s watch and one of the earliest known men’s wristwatches.

The story

As we've previously detailed, the Santos was borne from a request by Brazilian flyer Santos-Dumont, who told his friend Louis Cartier – then a Parisian watchmaker – of the challenge of timing flights using the then-conventional pocket watch, as pilots needed to keep both hands on the aircraft controls.

In response, Cartier designed a large square-faced watch and fitted it to a strap so it could be worn on the wrist – quite a revolutionary concept at the time.

The first commercial Cartier Santos watches went on sale to the public in 1911 with solid gold cases and ultra-thin mechanical movements designed by French clockmaker Edmond Jaeger.

(In order to produce this movement for Cartier, Jaeger worked with Swiss movement manufacturer Jacques-David LeCoultre, a partnership that would lead to the birth of storied brand Jaeger-LeCoultre.)

The enduring design of the Cartier Santos was reimagined in the late 1970s as a luxury steel sports watch, later adding two-tone steel and gold and the now-iconic screwed bezel with exposed gold screws along the bracelet for a modern, industrial aesthetic.

The style

For 2018, Cartier has once again re-invented the Santos.

The distinctive screw-set bezel now tapers at both ends towards the bracelet to create an organic, integrated look.

The satin-brushed case features a wide mirror-polished bevel along its length, extending all the way to the gracefully curved crown guards at 3 o’clock. A square watch the Santos may be, but there’s hardly a sharp edge or straight line to be found.

The case has been slimmed dramatically from previous incarnations of the Santos, allowing this watch to disappear easily under a shirt cuff when needed.

The bracelet is fitted with a new 'QuickSwitch' system allowing for easy swapping with the included tan calfskin strap or Cartier’s alternative crocodile straps, providing some style versatility.

Adding or removing bracelet links has also been made easier with a new 'SmartLink' design which allows the wearer to expand the bracelet during a hot summer’s day without requiring a tool.

While the bezel, case and bracelet have all been modernised, the dial remains classic Cartier. With Roman numerals, a railroad minute-track and heat-blued hands, it’s hard to imagine a more traditional look.

The 2018 Cartier Santos can serve dress-watch and sports-watch duties equally well, and boasts a history that few timepieces can match.

The details

• In-house mechanical movement with automatic winding
• Seven-sided crown set with a faceted synthetic spinel
• Silvered opaline dial, blued-steel sword-shaped hands, sapphire crystal
• Water-resistant to 10 bar (approximately 100 metres)
• Medium version case width: 35.1 mm, thickness: 8.83 mm
• Large version case width: 39.8 mm, thickness: 9.08 mm
• Pricing from A$8,750 for the Cartier Santos Medium in steel, to A$52,500 for the Cartier Santos Large in solid pink gold with matching pink gold bracelet. For stockists, visit

Jason Swire

Jason Swire (Jason Swire)

[email protected] /

Jason Swire is a Sydney-based writer, watch collector and author of 'Timely Advice', a beginner's guide to fine timepieces. His non-watch passions include hi-fi and whiskey, in that order.

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21 Jul, 2018 12:19 pm

Finnair flicks the switch on free WiFi for European flights

Finnair flicks the switch on free WiFi for European flights

Finnair will launch inflight Internet on its European flights this week, with travellers able to enjoy the high-speed satellite service free of charge during a two-month trial period running through to the end of September.

The Oneworld airline has already outfitted six of its single-aisle Airbus jets with technology provided through partner Viasat, which also provided the backbone for Qantas' Australia-wide WiFi system.

By the end of northern summer some 20 aircraft will be upgraded, with Finnair's entire single-aisle Airbus fleet slated for WiFi by mid-2019.

The system will be available on a gate-to-gate basis, so passengers won't even need to wait for their jet to reach level flight – which will maximise time online for many of Finnair's relatively short European hops.

However, parts of some European routes will present black spots to the satellite network, including above the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea, while some restrictions also apply over Latvia, Lithuania, parts of Belarus and Russia.

Over the two-month testing period Finnair intends to "gather information on system functionality and feedback on the overall customer experience."

"In entering the passenger testing phase, we’ll be gaining the critical insights needed to further optimise our service to ensure Finnair customers get a unique experience built around their needs, interests and usage behaviours," explains Viasat vice-president Don Buchman.

The airline has yet to reveal what pricing it will charge for its sky-high WiFi once the trial period ends, although frequent flyers will no doubt hope that some sort of monthly pass is available as an alternative to paying on a per-flight basis.

Finnair already offers WiFi on its long-range 'intercontinental' jets, with the first hour free for business class and Finnair Plus Gold members, then €3 (A$4.70) for three hours or €20 (A$31) for the entire flight. Finnair Plus Platinum frequent flyers are provided with free Internet access for the whole flight.

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


  • eight10man


    20 Jul, 2018 06:19 pm

    Not sure how you can have black spots when using satellite internet.. especially when those black spots happen to be above the sea. Could it be this system is actually and ground-to-ground system maybe?
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  • readosunnycoast


    20 Jul, 2018 10:35 pm

    Just flew BKK>>>HEL, A350 with wifi. Couldnt get a connection of any sort. Just kept message, don’t close the browser. I do hope it gets better for the next lot of passengers
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21 Jul, 2018 12:19 pm


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