United challenges Qantas for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane flyers

More flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston will benefit Virgin while testing the loyalty of Qantas’ passengers.

By David Flynn, September 2 2023
United challenges Qantas for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane flyers

United Airlines is throwing down the gauntlet at an already-battered Qantas with boosts to its flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Of course, United is not just a direct competitor to Qantas but a partner of Virgin Australia - and these additional flights will only serve to add value to the alliance, especially when it comes to earning and burning Velocity points on UA flights.

“Our enhanced network will make United the largest carrier between the US and Brisbane and provide unparalleled access and connectivity for travellers," said Patrick Quayle, United Airlines’ Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances.

United flies to both its US west coast hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, making it the largest US carrier in Australian skies.

“From Australia to anywhere in North America, Los Angeles is the largest destination, the largest terminating point in the United States,” Quayle has previously told Executive Traveller. “In San Francisco, the local market is a lot smaller, but the size of the hub is a lot larger.”

All of United’s Australian flights feature its lie-flat Polaris business class suites – which Executive Traveller has reviewed as “easily among the best from a US carrier” for a winning triple-play of “comfort, privacy and service” – along with a Premium Plus premium economy cabin.

Polaris business class passengers enjoy access to Star Alliance lounges at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – typically a choice between the lounges of Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines – plus of course United’s dedicated ‘business class only’ Polaris lounges at Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Although there’s no Australian lounge access for Virgin’s frequent flyers, Velocity Platinums and Golds can pull up a chair at the United Club lounges at LAX and SFO before heading home.

So what’s the shape of United Airlines’ Australian push?

Brisbane-Los Angeles is a fresh route, with three Boeing 787 flights per week starting December 1; and while Qantas enjoys a daily service, its passengers don’t seem to enjoy the dated red-tailed Airbus A330 which makes this 13+ hour trans-Pacific trek.

Brisbane-San Francisco steps up from three flights to a daily service from October 30, making it easier for travellers to plan their business trip or holiday. United remains the sole airline on this route, with Qantas yet to restart its suspended Brisbane-San Francisco route.

Sydney-San Francisco moves to double-daily flights as of October 30, while Qantas remains pegged at three flights a week. United’s second direct connection between the Harbour City and Fog City departs Sydney at 11.10am (UA830), followed by the long-standing 1pm departure of UA870; both flights are on a Boeing 777.

Sydney-Houston returns to the skies on October 31 at three flights per week for the Boeing 787, before confidently shifting to a daily service on December 2. This flight delivers travellers to United’s massive Houston hub, and serves a similar purpose as Qantas’ flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the Dallas/ Fort Worth home of American Airlines.

Finally, Melbourne-Los Angeles ramps up from three flights a week to a daily timetable from October 30.

United and Virgin status matches

United currently offers a status match against Qantas Silver, Gold and Platinum frequent flyers (although Qantas doesn’t appear on the “partial list” of airlines it matches against, it appears on the complete list on United’s MileagePlus Premier Status Match Challenge form.)

The United status match includes 120 days of MileagePlus Premier Silver, Premier Gold or Premier Platinum status, which can be extended for a full year – although that requires completing a set number of what United terms Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) as well as earning Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) within those 120 days.

27 May 2022

Total posts 2

I'm pretty sure United is also upgrading the Melbourne-San Francisco service from a Dreamliner to a 777. So even more capacity for them on that route as well. Great to have a solid challenger to the Roo.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 161

777 is a capacity upgrade, but you are going from a coach to a bus! ;)

Do agree, AU-US is, and has been for a long time, the most expensive single leg in the world, so competition is very welcome. A long time ago SQ wanted to do a 5th leg which was knocked back, if only...


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

25 Jul 2017

Total posts 3

Hi David, when do tickets for the new flights go on sale?


30 Jun 2015

Total posts 34

wf, I received a "Book Now" email from United for these services last evening and the new services also list on ITAMatrix  so they should be be bookable now.


Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

25 Jul 2017

Total posts 3

Thanks Icarusol, appreciate it.

I tried to book Syd - Houston for April 24. united.com did not have a direct flight option. had to stop over at LAX.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2021

Total posts 3

Because it is a seasonal flight, I think that UA100 runs from October to March.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2016

Total posts 3

Just as an FYI Velocity Gold and Platinum members have access to SQ lounges in Sydney and Melbourne only (Brisbane excluded) for all UA operated flights, as long as the SQ lounge is open for the departure.

07 Dec 2012

Total posts 6

The best trans Pacific is Delta hopefully they take up the challenge as well !

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2018

Total posts 27

I had the pleasure of enjoying UA BNE-SFO end April this year and would heartily recommend them over the miserable sub-class offerings of QF.   The Polaris seat is a winner with terrific flexibility for comfort for a long-haul.

Hopefully United Airlines flight ex BNE - LAX is a better time than the new flight time for Qantas - ex BNE 2200 - arr LAX 1825!!!   This timing is horrible for connections, and/or picking up a rental car to drive inland, in winter its dark and not conducive to driving the unknown highways in LAX.  

Qantas yet again having zero consideration for passengers.  

United Airlines are looking good!  


03 Oct 2021

Total posts 4

Just to give U an update my recent flight from brisbane to San Fran in May I was able to use the Singapore Airlines lounge in Brisbane being a velocity gold member all U do is show your United boarding pass and your velocity gold card at entry , and all so works in Syd for the Singapore Airlines lounge 😊

11 Apr 2018

Total posts 30

“for Qantas - ex BNE 2200 - arr LAX 1825!!!   This timing is horrible for connections, and/or picking up a rental car to drive inland, in winter its dark and not conducive to driving the unknown highways in LAX.  “

Totally agree but seems most people actually enjoy night time flights looking at responses when discussed elsewhere so won’t be any great push for change. Brisbane ignores by Qantas now so happy to see increased activity by other airlines 

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