Practical Advice For Planning A Trip To Australia

Do US citizens need a visa for Australia?
US citizens need an ETA – Electronic Travel Authorization, which is issued by the Australian government in Canberra. It is easy to apply online. There is a small service fee, depending on the website/service provider.  The best advice is to request it at least 3 / 4 weeks before departure, to be safe. Also recommend bringing a printout of the ETA with you, just in case. The ETA is good for stays of up to 90 days. A sample site is for more information (one of many sites that process these ETAs).

What is the best way to get there?
There are many ways to fly to Australia from North America. Here is a recap of all the various options. Note that QANTAS is QF and Virgin Australia is VA:

  • From Los Angeles LAX:  Nonstop to Sydney SYD on QF, DL, AA, UA, VA. Nonstop to Brisbane BNE on QF, VA. Fly to Melbourne MEL on QF, UA, VA
  • From San Francisco SFO: Nonstop to SYD on UA, QF. Nonstop to MEL on QF
  • From Houston IAH: Nonstop on UA
  • From Dallas DFW: Nonstop on QF
  • From Vancouver YVR: Nonstop to SYD and MEL on AC
  • From New York JFK: 1 stop service on QF (via LAX)

Here are 3 Other options you may not have thought of:

  • Fly Air New Zealand from LAX, SFO, IAH, ORD* (* Note – Chicago service starts this fall) to Auckland AKL and connect to 10 Australian cities nonstop
  • Fly Hawaiian airlines from 10 US gateways to Honolulu HNL, and connect to flights to SYD and BNE
  • Fly FIJI Airways from LAX to Nadi NAN, and connect to flights to SYD and MEL

Any advice navigating Sydney airport (SYD)?
FYI : most international/long haul flights arrive in SYD early in the morning, between 6am and 8am local time. This means that the arrival halls and customs & immigration get very crowded. A big time-saver is to use the automated passport kiosks before you get to immigration, good for citizens of the USA, Canada, and the European Union, among other passports. Scan your passport’s opening page, answer a few questions, take a receipt, skip the line and go straight to customs. This is what the kiosks look like, so you know what to look for:

There is an airport link train service that runs from the airport to/ from Sydney Central (the downtown business district) from 5am to 12 Midnight. The cost is about USD12 each way and the trip takes 15 minutes.  Also note that the terminal 1 (for international flights) is on the other side of the runway from terminals 2 and 3 (domestic flights).

What are the best ways to save on domestic fares within Australia?
Here are some ideas:

  • Qantas (QF) and Virgin Australia (VA) the two main domestic Australian carriers, offer deeply discounted fares. On QF, look for ‘RED E Deals’ that offer savings of 25-60% off, depending on demand
  • QF also offers discounted domestic fares called QF Explorer, which must be purchased when buying your transpacific QF/AA ticket from the USA.
  • VA has a similar program called ‘Australia Plus Pass’, which also offer savings on domestic flights. Note – you have to buy at least 2 segments on VA to qualify for this program.

What are the newest Signature preferred partner hotels in Australia?

  • In Sydney: Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour, Hyatt Regency Sydney, and InterContinental Sydney Double Bay
  • In Melbourne: Crown Towers Melbourne, InterContinental Melbourne at the Rialto
  • In Perth: InterContinental Perth and Crown Towers Perth

What new hotels are on the horizon? What are some of the most anticipated hotel openings in Australia?

There are over 100 new hotel projects under way, all over Australia. Here are 9 hotels, either new or currently under construction,  that are noteworthy:

  • In Sydney: a new Ritz-Carlton plans to open in 2020
  • In Melbourne: a new Indigo hotel is planned for 2019; a new M Gallery by Sofitel and W Melbourne are planned for 2020. Shangri-La Melbourne and Mandarin Melbourne will follow in 2021/22
  • In the Great Barrier Reef: Hayman Island will re-open in July of 2019
  • In Brisbane: a brand new W hotel just opened
  • In Tasmania: James Baillie (of Longitude 131 and Southern Ocean lodge fame) is building a fantastic new property on the southern tip of the island called Remarkable Lodge, planned for 2020

Where can I find the best collection of exceptional lodges in all regions of Australia?

Luxury Lodges of Australia is by far the best collection of luxury lodges. The group brings together 19 properties + experiences, all very unique. Signature has a number of LLOA properties, including Lizard Island, Longitude 131, Southern Ocean Lodge, and the One&Only Wolgan Valley, for example.

What are the best places to overnight in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Cairns?

Chances are, you will need to overnight in one of the 3 cities mentioned above, to get from A to B, due to flight schedules. Here are recommendations:

  • In Adelaide, stay at the M Gallery/Plaford (part of the ACCOR/Sofitel group) in the city center.
  • In Cairns, stay at the Shangri-La Cairns (currently undergoing renovations. All the work is expected to be completed by DEC2018)
  • In Brisbane, stay at Sofitel Central Brisbane – a Signature partner property

What did I miss?

So much! Australia is enormous and you need multiple trips to cover the country. For your next visit: swim with whale sharks off Ningaloo Reef, see the waterfalls in the Kimberley, explore the Daintree forest, snorkel off Lord Howe island, and search for Tasmanian Devils!

One last word of advice

Book early! Demand for travel to Australia is very strong. Book way ahead to ensure you get the rooms you want at the best hotels and resorts, confirm seats on the most convenient flights, and enable you to create the best overall experience Down Under. If you are looking for holiday space, booking a year out is not too soon.

Posted by Ignacio Maza