Going into 2019, a trip to Australia was high on my list. I had already decided I wanted Antarctica to be the last continent I visited, and that I wanted to do that sooner rather than later, so Australia—the other continent I’d yet to see—moved up to the top of the heap. Luckily, I got an opportunity to join a friend on his work trip there, which took care of some of the lodging costs. For the rest of the accommodations and my flights, I turned to points and miles to score some free travel. Below, I’m detailing exactly how I did it, as well as how I spent a week exploring the Harbour City!
ONE WEEK IN SYDNEY
As I mentioned, my friend had an Airbnb covered for work, so for the majority of the week, we stayed there. Airbnb usually isn’t my first choice unless I’m staying for an extended period of time or traveling with a large group, but it did give us an opportunity to stay in the Paddington neighborhood, which ended up being one of my favorite areas of the city. It’s not a hotel hub, but it’s got some of the city’s best restaurants and shopping, as well as colorful architecture with plenty of character. For more on how to choose where to stay in Sydney, check out this post!
The real highlight, though, was getting a chance to stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney, an incredible hotel with unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House. We stayed there on our first night in town, which gave us a chance to recover from the long flight(s) and jet lag in serious luxury. Because of its prime location, rooftop pool and aforementioned views, I would absolutely recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Sydney as long as it’s within your budget—and if you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points, it might be much more affordable than its $1,000/night price tag suggests! See the “Miles Math” section below for more on how to score a night here for free.
It’s hard to overstate how great the food is in Sydney. Pretty much every cafe I frequented a) catered to any and all dietary restrictions and b) offered me the opportunity to add avocado or halloumi cheese to whatever it was I was eating, which is basically my dream scenario! Bondi is full of excellent cafes and casual eateries that fit this mold. Israeli hotspot Shuk was a favorite, and I also loved Porch & Parlour and Bondi Hardware. Beautiful interiors didn’t hurt, either!
Meanwhile, Surry Hills and Paddington were home to my favorite dinners. Chin Chin was so good we went back again at the end of our stay, and I had one of my favorite solo dining experiences to date while sitting at the bar at 10WilliamSt.
For dessert, don’t miss Gelato Messina, which proudly declares itself the “best gelato in Australia.” You have 12 stores to choose from in New South Wales alone, so there’s really no excuse!
There’s no shortage of great coffee places in Sydney, and every one I visited also had a killer food menu (see Mecca and Reuben Hills above!). Single O, which has locations in Surry Hills, the Central Business District and beyond, is another must-visit for coffee lovers.
For drinks, I highly recommend poly, which is right across the street from Chin Chin in Surry Hills. We made a night out of it by hitting both!
Whether or not you choose to go inside and do the tour (I did!), you have to see the Sydney Opera House. It’s iconic, and very hard to miss considering its location in Sydney Harbour. Spend some time walking along the water and admiring the bridge on your way from the Opera House to the Royal Botanic Garden, from which you’ll get excellent city views.
Speaking of city views, you won’t find a better place to take in the Sydney skyline than from Taronga Zoo. You can easily take a ferry from Circular Quay, and you definitely should! It’s a great zoo, and I definitely recommend adding on the koala encounter to see these creatures in action. I liked them so much more than I thought I would! Check out this post for tips on visiting the zoo.
Beaches are obviously another draw for Sydney, and you’ll have your pick. Bondi Beach was stunning in person, as were the Bondi Icebergs you’ve no doubt seen on Instagram. Try to make time for the Bondi to Coogee beach walk, which takes you past some stunning scenery, as well as Bronte Baths, a free-to-enter saltwater pool that makes a green cooling-off point on the walk.
The biggest thing I missed on my to-see list was Manly Beach. Unfortunately, we only had about two days of good weather all week, and heading out there in the rain and gloom didn’t sound like the most pleasant beach day.
I also searched tirelessly for standard award availability at the West Hotel Sydney since I’ve never met a member of Hilton’s Curio Collection that I didn’t like (see here, here and here), but I never could find it. I’d love to check out that property next time!
Staying at the Park Hyatt Sydney can cost close to $1,000 per night, but the great thing about Hyatt is that it has an insanely reasonable award chart. It tops out at 30,000 points, which is the cost for one night at the Park Hyatt, but luckily it’s fairly easy to amass Hyatt points. Since Hyatt is a transfer partner of Chase, I moved points easily to my Hyatt account with an instant transfer and booked the room from there. For reference, a domestic round-trip flight in economy will typically set you back 25,000 points at the saver level. Using those same Chase points for a flight on, say, United, I may have saved $500 in airfare, but by using the points on the room I got close to double that in value!
For the flights, I also used Chase points, this time to get myself out of airfare that would have passed $1,000. While there are lots of great ways to get to Australia by transferring points, this time I went directly through the Chase portal to book. I wound up keeping it to under 100,000 points for the round-trip, which was slightly more than I would have paid if I’d transferred, but going this way meant I could also earn redeemable United MileagePlus miles on my flight—as well as Premier Qualifying Miles to go toward earning elite status.
I value my status on United pretty highly, as it allows me to make same-day flight changes, avoid a slew of fees and, perhaps most importantly, earn more miles on every paid ticket. So this was a great way to get a free flight and still close in on that goal—a.k.a. have my cake and eat it, too
Have you been to Australia? How would you spend one week in Sydney? Let me know in the comments! >>
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