Sydney to LA/Chicago with a layover in... China or Korea?
January 7, 2013 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Why do all (or at least, the vast majority) of flights between Sydney and the U.S. this July/August have layovers in China or Korea? How can I best go about finding a budget ticket that takes a more direct route?

I'm an American living in Sydney, and I need to go home for a wedding and grad school orientation in Chicago - roughly July 10-Aug 10. I've been booking my own flights for 10+ years, and have never had any problem getting reasonable deals/schedules through Kayak (or STA or whatever was being used/popular at the time).

Now, most trans-Pacific flights do have layovers, and I'm cool with that. I like a good leg stretch 10 hours into a 15 hour flight... but usually the layovers are - you know, like - on the way. The vast, vast, majority of the flights I'm turning up, all over the web, are on Chinese or Korean airlines and have layovers in Beijing or Seoul. This doubles the length of my flight... not just travel time, but the time I spend on an airplane...which sucks.

Question is two-fold:
I've never encountered this before, and I've done this flight a number of times. What is going on?

Ideally I would like the cheapest ticket I can find (seems like around $2k right now) from Sydney to Chicago, with layovers that make sense (New Zealand, Fiji, LA). Where should I look or who should I contact to do this?
posted by jrobin276 to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
I usually use Webjet to find deals and then book directly through the airline to avoid webjet's fees. There doesn't seem to be any cheap return flights at that time though. You may be better off just looking for flights to LA then booking the LA-Chicago leg seperately.
posted by Kris10_b at 6:40 PM on January 7, 2013

usually the layovers are - you know, like - on the way.

Well, there's not a huge amount of "on the way" between Sydney and the US. (Hawaii's an option, I suppose.) I think Kris10_b has the right idea of looking for deals from Sydney to LAX (example) and then booking the US leg separately; you might be a bit early in the booking window and more routes may appear on the timetable in a month or two, but that's risky.
posted by holgate at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2013

I bought return tickets Seattle->Melbourne for July 2013 about a month ago, and paid something like $2400. Have your previous trips been at this time of year? If not, then you could just be seeing the effects of going in the peak travel season, where flights with desirable routes are getting bought out and more expensive.

Travelocity showed me a flight with Air Pacific/Virgin America that goes Sydney-Nadi-LA-Chicago and back for $2,200, sounds like it would work for you.

(ftm: he's starting in Sydney, not Chicago. When I searched July 10 - August 10 with flexible dates on, I got a low of $3500?).
posted by jacalata at 7:12 PM on January 7, 2013

Promise not to threadsit, but just to clarify:

SYD-LAX flights are going through N. Asia too! Crazy. From what I can tell, it's cheaper to just go straight to Chicago, rather than buying connecting flights...

The complicating factor is that in between the wedding and orientation, I will be visiting my family in CA for three weeks. It seems easier and cheaper to get a RT from Sydney to Chicago, and then inside that get one domestic RT from Chicago to LA. (The alternative is a RT from Sydney to LA, and then two RT from LA to Chicago)

Gah, never doing this again! I wonder how many family members I could convince to visit me in Chicago... Thanks everyone!
posted by jrobin276 at 7:26 PM on January 7, 2013

I think it's that the layovers in Korea on those cheaper Korean Air flights are really long, not that Seoul is necessarily a stupid place to have the layover.

ITA suggests it's not significantly longer to go via Narita (on JAL) than it is to go via LAX (on United or AA). However, those flights for July 10-August 10 are starting at AU$3500 or so. You can also go via Abu Dhabi on Etihad, but it's not significantly faster than Korean Air (and $900 more). (ITA didn't show me any flights via China.)
posted by hoyland at 7:28 PM on January 7, 2013

I totally agree that you should book a direct flight, and not try and get separate LA-Chicago connections - mostly because as I understand it, if it's part of the same ticket, you'll have international baggage allowances the whole way instead of having to pay for the extra bags on the internal leg, and the airlines will also manage rebooking you for free should you happen to be delayed on one leg (knowing this makes me comfortable booking a reasonably tight connection at LA, and knowing I'll pretty much be on the next flight whatever happens. It's also better if the two flights are on the same airline, or at least have a partner system so you can be booked straight through - Alaska and Qantas do this, but with a Qantas-Virgin connection I had to check in for the Virgin flight at LAX which sucked.)
posted by jacalata at 8:01 PM on January 7, 2013

I saved a boatload of loot last Christmas by flying from California to Honolulu on Alaska, then HNL to SYD on Jetstar (about $1600 RT altogether which is pretty sweet over the holidays). Jetstar is pretty no frills but I haven't found a cheaper way to get between the US and Oz. Of course, then you have to find a cheap flight from Honolulu to the mainland and figure out your California/Chicago situation, but Jetstar is worth checking out.
posted by BestiaDeAmor at 8:11 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nding checking out Honolulu on Jetstar. Then check out Hawaiian to LA.
posted by thorny at 8:45 PM on January 7, 2013

Check United. Always the cheapest, fly direct from Sydney to LAX and SFO.
posted by emd3737 at 9:44 PM on January 7, 2013

I recently flew SYD>ORD on United and had a connection in LA. There were also flights connecting through San Francisco. Be forewarned, the United plane flying the SYD>LAX route does not have seatback TVS. I was shocked. I chose United because my miles/status is with them and I wasn't paying for the ticket.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:01 PM on January 7, 2013

I'm an American living in Melbourne. I always use Virgin Australia to get me directly from MEL/SYD to LAX (looks like you can get a roundtrip for around $1200) and then book a separate domestic ticket to get where I want to go in the USA. I really enjoy flying with Virgin Australia.

Of course, it helps that I have lots of friends in LA and have a reason to stay for a few days before flying onward to see family in Michigan.
posted by adamk at 10:57 PM on January 7, 2013

$1200 return, SYD-LAX on Virgin, July-August 2013? I can't find anything close to that (virgin's website gives me $3200 roundtrip cost searching on those dates or a week around them).
posted by jacalata at 11:15 PM on January 7, 2013

You can get good prices on Virgin. I do pretty much yearly trips to Adelaide from Chicago and usually end up going Air New Zealand. They can come in very cheap if you book the tickets early enough. They do flights to SYD, you do fly via Auckland which adds an hour or so to the flight time, but it's a great airport to stretch your legs in on a long haul flight and I actually like the stop over and what I like best is unlike most budget flights the planes have decently sized seats and legroom. Until recently too when they started code sharing the chances of getting an empty seat or 2 next to you was pretty damn good too.

A quick search for the dates you want finds a return flight from ORD/SYD coming in at around $2156.

You'll find if you try and book your own legs for the flights within the US you loose your international baggage allowance and have to pay all the additional baggage check fees which can easily eat any savings. Also in some cases depressingly enough just flights within the US can be a 1/3 of your ticket cost.
posted by wwax at 10:28 AM on January 8, 2013

The difference between SYD-ORD and SYD-NRT-ORD isn't as much as you'd think. It only takes an extra 2000 miles or so (9,200 miles vs 11,100 miles).

Otherwise, your best bet is to shell out for direct flights (SYD-LAX), but United uses (? used to use, as late as 2010) awful crappy planes to service that sector, so if you can afford it, ANZ or Qantas or Virgin are better bets.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2013

Thanks everyone! I've gotten great deals using a variety of the suggestions above in the past.

This time, JetStar to Honolulu with a connecting flight to Chicago wins best deal by several hundred dollars - even after paying for two nights each way at the youth hostel in Honolulu! (This leaves time for any flight delays, plus, most likely I will get to see Honolulu!)

In the long run, JetStar is a great find, as we have friends living in Hawaii and family in CA, making it unexpectedly easy to visit said friends. Yay!

For anyone reading this thread after the fact, I just want to second what Bunglegirl and RedOrGreen are saying about United... no seatback TVS (JetStar allows you to rent a ipad entertainment deal for $15), generally kinda crappy. United lost my checked luggage on an international flight... I eventually got it back, but as I looked into it I learned that United has the highest lost bag rates of any airline.

adamk & jacalata: I've found great deals on VAustralia, the budget version of Virgin... but they don't seem to be in operation anymore (VAustralia web reroutes to Virgin proper).
posted by jrobin276 at 5:54 PM on January 8, 2013

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