Earlier in the year I set a goal of either getting a job in the US government working towards fixing some of the mess left over from the previous administration or leaving the country. I recently got the news that I was unsuccessful in my applications and so the hunt for tickets to Australia began.
Tales of the difficulty in getting to Australia are rampant right now and I can see where some of them come from. There’s a lot of oddities out there as, even now, some websites don’t deal with the realities of the pandemic. Two tips for any pandemic flight booking after you find a potential flight via an aggregator:
- Check the airline website directly
- Call the airline
Looking at their website will save you a lot of time as if the flight isn’t advertised on their website, then it’s not going. Period. Don’t trust the aggregators such as Kayak, Travelocity etc. The other thing that the airline will frequently tell you about are local restrictions. For example, a cheap flight from SFO -> TPE -> BNE on EVA airlines, with a 17 hour layover in TPE. Seems great until you check their site and find that layovers are limited to 8 hours max.
Calling the airlines can also help you find out other information about the fare and the state on the ground. For example, when I called Air New Zealand I found out that the seat I was looking at was the last one on the plane and that it had opened up that day. Seems I got lucky in finding a cancellation and that booking it immediately was the only way I was getting it (ticket holds are on hold). They also informed me that the reason I couldn’t pre-pay luggage was due to the United SFO -> LAX flight as it’s a different airline. In my call to Fiji Airlines, I found that the tickets being sold on aggregators were because the current expectation was that flights would start operating again in April, but that this was not guaranteed and if the flight didn’t go it would take 6 months or so refund a ticket.
Once you find an airline doing a route that works for you at a reasonable price, use their search system to look at more convenient dates. I was, for a while, expecting to stay in the USA until June as the ticket prices before that were over $10,000 one way and thus it was simply outside my budget to fly sooner (it was significantly cheaper to go live in the Caribbean for a few months and fly in June). After finding a 2021-06-03 ticket on Air New Zealand, I poked at their website and, scrolling back, found that there were a number of flights which were not visible to the aggregators, including the reasonably priced on in April (which was actually cheaper than June).
I also found that getting a picture of the state of affairs in Australia for travel was a bit challenging. Some of the most useful advice is not on the Department of Health or Smart Traveler sites, but the US Embassy.
Note that it is no longer possible to fly to a different state to do quarantine when you enter Australia (which makes sense, but was a loophole for a while). Thus, if being in a specific state is important to you when you come out of quarantine, you should land in that state. Airline and travel websites are also misleading here as they will happily sell you a flight that, for example, flies through WA to get to QLD. You’ll not be making that connection.
I recommend looking at the following for updates:
- US Embassy returning to Australia information. This includes flight cap information which I could not find anywhere else and links to each states quarantine page.
- Department of Health Coming to Australia information. This has all the critical information such as expectations for quarantine, mask (summary: you must mask) and pre-flight testing requirements (summary: PCR test within 72 hours of the flight leaving). It also includes up to date information around changes to travel bubbles (e.g. as I’m writing this, Auckland is not currently included in the travel bubble with Australia due to an outbreak).
- Quarantine preparation
- Tips for keeping sane during quarantine.