There is no doubt about it, flying between the UAE and Australia costs a lot.
As expats in Abu Dhabi, we’ve made this journey countless times now. Sometimes we’ve had to cop the price on the chin to get the dates we want. Other times we’ve been very strategic in the way we book our flights and advance plan onward journey’s and holidays to make sure we are getting the best value.
We have previously published a very detailed guide on how to save on family flights – but we know that flying between the UAE and Australia is a very specific request that frequently comes up in our expat community. As it’s something we’ve spent so much time researching, we thought it was about time to share with you all our search techniques.
(Note there is, unfortunately, no magic wand to make this flight go quicker or make it really affordable. The best advice I can give if you are new to this is to make sure your expat salary package includes a flight allowance to try and cover this important cost).
This post is part of our travel advice series – head over to learn everything from flying with kids to picking the best comfort devices for a long-haul flight.
1. Flexibility is always key
It goes without saying, if you want to travel over peak holiday periods for either Australia or the UAE, your flights are going to cost more. If you’ve got even the smallest amount of flexibility to fly midweek or avoid school holidays then try these dates – and more importantly be flexible in your choice or airline and the route then things can really open up.
Remember Etihad and Emirate aren’t the only options! (but the only DIRECT airlines to Australia if you live in the UAE).
2. Start your research on Skyscanner
Our number one travel search tool starting point. Unless you’re only interested in loyalty points, don’t start your search with the airlines themselves. Pop on to Skyscanner and enter your main criteria, but leave as many things as flexible as possible to see all the possible options before you start narrowing down to what will work with your family.
3. Be prepared to do a stopover
You can fly to hub cities in Asia such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore then get an onward connection to Australia using a cheaper airline.
We’ve frequently used airline points to do this, getting as far as Asia then paying cash for the connection to Austalia. Flying from SE Asia gives you access to more discount airlines such as Scoot and Air Asia X.
Try looking at some of these 1-stop alternate routes :
- Singapore Airlines via Singapore
- Malaysia Airlines or Malindo Air via Kuala Lumpur
- Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong
- SriLankan Airlines via Colombo (& Melbourne)
- Cebu Pacific via Manila
- China Southern via Guangzhou
- Air India via New Dehli
Even if the connection times aren’t brilliant, we always find this is the perfect excuse to make a stopover and add a mini-holiday to our flights home.
Middle East stopover options
Currently, due to the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the UAE and Qatar, the competitively priced Qatar Airways is not really a viable option for UAE residents at present. It is technically feasible if you can fly via Oman or Kuwait to get to Doha and originate a Qatar Airways flight.
Other Middle East options normally involve 3+ flights. You can look at:
- Oman Air & Malaysia Airlines, via Muscat & Kuala Lumpa
4. Start your journey from Australia
If you still want to fly direct with the big guys (my preference when flying with young kids), then this has proven the best method to reduce costs. Have you ever noticed that when family & friends come and visit you in the UAE, or are flying through to Europe their flights are WAAAAY cheaper than what we pay outbound?
It doesn’t seem fair but such is life and this is how the airlines make their money. The way to counteract this is to always start your ticket coming out of Australia.
If you start your ticket from Australia, you can normally add an extra leg to anywhere on the Etihad or Emirates networks for little or no extra cost. For example, leave SYD in August, “stopover” in DXB until December, fly to LHR for Christmas and return to DXB for your final stopover until July next year when you complete your journey to SYD.
If the return leg is over 12 months away you will need to book an earlier return date, but can move the return date later (watch for penalties). There should be no moving charge, but your ticket cost may go up if you move it to a peak season and you’ll need to pay the difference.
Trying to decide between Emirates and Etihad? Don’t base your decision just on costs, there is much more to it that we explore here.
5. Book early
Airline tickets normally go on sale 330 days in advance. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are at their cheapest day 1 they go on sale, but the further out you start looking the more flexibility you will get an opportunity to jump on good prices.
Airline tickets are a highly variable commodity that fluctuates on a weekly – even daily basis. If you are intending to use loyalty points over busy periods though, you’ll want these locked in ASAP as the number of loyalty tickets issued per flight is restricted and if you’re trying to get a family group on together this can be tough.
I suggest using a price alert tool (try Skyscanner as mentioned above, Momondo or Hopper app). Once you know what a reasonable base price is, set yourself a target price and book your flights when it hits. Don’t try and be clever holding out for something even cheaper as it can well backfire.
6. Be loyal to the locals
When price differences are negligible between airlines, working to improve your tier miles or frequent flyer points might add up to more for you in the long run. If you also attach your points to a credit card, points can add up even faster. Even if you can only partly cover the family with points, or use them to upgrade cabin, points in themselves do have significant value out of our airline hubs such as the UAE.
(Make no mistake being able to line up in the business queue or use the business lounges can also make a huge deal of difference to the comfort of your journey!)
Will you need onward connections in Australia?
If like us you’ve got friends and family all over the country, often the flight home involves more than one stop. Loyalty to your Australian airline programs may matter to you too and should be considered in choosing your airline. Emirates has an alliance with Qantas/Jetstar and Etihad with Virgin Blue.
7. Don’t discount using travel agents
Once you’ve done all the online research, always check back with a travel agency that the online price you are getting is, in fact, the best deal. Big agencies such as Flight Centre can often access better prices than we can as individuals online so they may be willing to price match or even better the price you can get.
Flying out of DXB or AUH?
This hugely depends if you are Dubai or Abu Dhabi based. The sheer availability of flights out of DXB these days makes it the more appealing option for many, but the transfer, of course, comes at a cost too to factor in with your ticket price.
We use a standard estimate of 300AED extra in taxi cost each direction for flying out of the opposite airport. You can negate this cost though if you take the customer loyalty buses between the two cities (helpful only if you live near the pickup points).
To book these free transfers you need to use different start and end airports – use these codes in Skyscanner:
- Flying Emirates out of Abu Dhabi, use ZVJ (leaves from Emirates office in Khalidiya, on the Corniche)
- Flying Etihad out of Dubai, use XNB (leaves from Etihad Travel Mall in Downtown)
Currently direct daily flights from Dubai to Australia with Emirates
- Adelaide (02.05 777-200LR)
- Brisbane (02.30 777-300 & 10.35 A380-800)
- Melbourne (02.40 & 10.05 A380-800)
- Perth (02.45 A380-800)
- Sydney (02.15 & 10.15 A380-800, 21.30 777-300)
(Note we are affiliates of Emirates. If you book a flight after using our link HERE we earn a small commission at absolutely no additional cost to you)
Current direct daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Australia with Etihad
- Melbourne (10.00 & 21.45 B787-900)
- Brisbane (21.40 B787-900)
- Sydney (10.30 777-300ER & 21.50 A380-800)
(Note we are affiliates of Ethiad US. If you book a flight after using our link HERE we earn a small commission at absolutely no additional cost to you)
Does the aircraft matter?
I honestly don’t think it matters so much in economy. Mr Globetrotter begs to differ with his extensive experience in Business Class though and thinks the A380 delivers a far superior journey. Hey, anything where I can stretch my legs straight I’m not fussed!
Remember to check out our Emirates v Etihad guide as we talk in a lot more detail about extra legroom perks and luggage allowance comparisons
Other considerations flying to Australia long-haul with kids
If you are fairly new to the long-haul flying experience with children, you may want to check out these posts too:
Have you got a favourite way to fly between the UAE and Australia? We’d love to hear how you are currently finding the best deals – share your experience in the comments
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