Q.   I am planning a two to three week vacation next year in Australia, and am curious when the best-bang-for-your-buck time would be to go. Also, I want to travel around the country - are there passes or good deals on this?
    A.  There are periodic sales that might save you anywhere from $100 to $300 or more. United had a great sale a while ago. You should also try searching fares directly on Qantas and Air New Zealand in addition to Travelocity, Orbitz, etc., because the airline sites sometimes have fares they don't file with the online travel agencies, and vice versa. For example, check  here for a current list of specials to Australia.

There is an Australian AirPass. Basically, the AirPass includes round-trip from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Sydney and three one-way flights within Australia (each additional one-way fare will cost $100 plus taxes) for a flat price starting from $999 per person, plus taxes and fees. You can choose from 20 cities, including Ayers Rock, Darwin, Perth, Broome, Adelaide and Cairns. We did a quick check of fares on Travelocity between Sydney and Perth, to cite one example, and came up with a lowest of $328 plus tax on Qantas, and although lower fares might be available once you get to Sydney, this one example shows that you'll probably save money with this program. And the lowest round-trip fare between San Francisco to Sydney right now is $800 round-trip plus taxes. Add-ons from other cities in the US are available, and range from $50 (from San Jose or San Diego) to $300 (from New York, Washington DC, Miami or Boston). The AirPass price varies, depending on where in Australia you'll be traveling to. You should also check out Pacific Blue for cheap flights within Australia.

Q.   Q. I need to fly to Australia but I want to stay for a full year. All the discount tickets I've seen have a 30 day maximum stay. Is there a way around this?
    A.  I believe that the solution to your problem is Air New Zealand (800/262-1234). They've eliminated all those nasty restrictions such as the 30-day maximum stay on their cheapest fares, but you have to book on their web site, not on third party booking site such as Expedia. Based on current fares, you can fly round-trip from San Francisco - with two stopovers in Auckland - for about $1,200 including taxes and stay up to a year. And Air New Zealand has one of the best, if not the best, itinerary-planning program of any airline Web site.

Q.  I am hoping to venture down to Sydney, Australia in the spring of next year. I want free time, but I also want to see the typical touristy things: the Opera House, climb the Harbour Bridge, whale watching trips and more. Where do I start? Am I better off connecting with a travel agent here or waiting until I arrive and finding one down there to set up my adventures? I won't need travel agent assistance for airfare.
    A.  If you visit the Sydney & New South Wales Tourism Website, they have a search option where you can find a listing of day tours available (under "What to Do" select "Tours", then "Local" and enter "Sydney" in the "Tour Company" field).

Perhaps the best option for you, which will offer a lot of free time to explore at your own leisure, is the Sydney Pass, a three-, five-, or seven-day ticket that includes unlimited travel on the Sydney and Bondi Explorer busses, AirportLink train transfers (costs $AUS 24 round-trip, and takes less than 15 minutes; the train trip from the airport can be taken prior to starting your actual three, five or seven days, and the return trip to the airport is valid for two months from the first day your SydneyPass was used), Harboursights cruises, limited CityRail train and more. The three-day pass costs $100, and can be used on any three days over an eight calendar day period; the 5-day is $130; and the seven-day is $150. The current exchange rate is $1 US to $1.3 Australian dollars.

This is a good option, as it gives you access to the Sydney Explorer bus for three days (it normally costs $32 per day if you were to purchase just the Sydney Explorer). The Sydney Explorer is a hop-on, hop-off bus with audio commentary regarding attractions near each bus stop, and runs at a 20 minute interval with the first service departing Circular Quay at 8:40AM, and the last departure at 5:20PM. The route has 26 stops, including the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Darling Harbour, Kings Cross, and more, and a round-trip ride is about two hours.

In addition, either the Sydney Pass or the Sydney Explorer offer discounts for admission to various attractions, such as half price entry to the Australian Museum, 20 percent discount to the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Sydney Tower, and more.

A list of places to purchase the Sydney Pass or Sydney Explorer is available at the Web site. Or you can also try and find a local travel agent who sells a Sydney Pass voucher which can be exchanged for tickets at the airport.

You can find more information about climbing the Harbour Bridge at The rates vary depending on date and time, but rates between January 8 and March 31 start from $165. It's suggested you make a reservation about two weeks before your trip, as space is limited.
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