The best ways to get to Texas from Australia for SXSW (and back again)

With SXSW just around the corner – which takes place in Austin, Texas in March – we’re often asked the best ways to take the journey to Texas from Australia. Some are from people in a rush, others are from people who want to take the time to get there. Here are a few of the best options to get to the second largest State in the USA, full of some of the best BBQ and Tex-Mex, the biggest Rodeos and killer music.

Fly Direct

Estimated Journey Time:
14 hours 50 minutes hours (From Sydney to Dallas)
15 hours 30 minutes (From Dallas to Sydney)
Who? Qantas (http://www.qantas.com.au/)
Cost? From $1,549 AUD (Return from Sydney)

The most direct – and quickest – way to get to Texas is by a direct flight. Coming from Australia, the only airline who currently offer the long haul flight are Qantas. Coming in at almost 16 hours, this is the longest commercial flight currently offered anywhere in the world by way of the world’s largest commercial jet: the A380. There are 6 return flights a week direct from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth (No Tuesdays).

Currently the leg is on sale and you can get flights around the $1500 mark. Once you get to Dallas-Fort Worth, if that’s not your final destination (or your first stop) it’s easy to connect to an American Airlines flight to your final destination within Texas (if it is, say, Austin, where you’re looking to get your hands on some of that mentioned BBQ – can we recommend the Brisket?) and these connections will usually cost you less than AU$100 each way if you book early enough.

Though you can only have your bag tagged through the final destination if it’s with a One World partner, if you’re willing to check in again in Dallas, it doesn’t hurt to look into the flights of airlines like Delta or Southwest to see if they have a cheaper connection at a better time. It’s also a great opportunity to give yourself some extra time in Dallas-Fort Worth, which has an incredible array of activities to suit any traveller.

Southwest Airlines fly out from a different airport (Love Field*), too, so there is yet another reason to give yourself some extra time in Dallas. It’s easy to get downtown with DART – a train connecting to downtown. Or you can take a shuttle that takes you to Grapevine, a favourite destination of the area (https://www.traveltex.com/cities/grapevine). In 5 minutes for US$5 you can find yourself some great shopping, resort hotels and more.

Fly via LA

Estimated Journey Time: 18 Hours (Depending on Connection)
Who? Virgin with Delta or Southwest Connection to Texas
Cost? From $1149 AUD (Return to LA from East Coast Australia) – Connections start at $100 AUD each way, depending on airline and destination.

Virgin fly direct to LA twice a day from Australia and offer in internal connections within Australia with Virgin Australia’s domestic services. Once you get to LA, you can connect to a code-shared Delta or Virgin America flight (Virgin America now offer direct flights from LA to Dallas – and you can also fly from San Fran to Austin on the airline), or change to another airline. There are direct flights from LA to all major Texan airports.

Southwest flights are usually the best and the cheapest at getting a direct flight from LA to any city in Texas, and usually the connection times are pretty good. They also are one of the only US airlines to include baggage in the price (but also one of the only airlines that don’t allocate a seat – rather a boarding number to give “first dibs” on seats, so to speak). You have to pick up your bag anyway, so it could be a way to save a few dollars for your connection. AND you can hit up the In n Out burger near the airport too if you have some time. Though if you don’t make it, have no fear: there are now over 25 locations of the iconic burger chain in Texas – from Dallas to Austin to San Antonio.

I’ve had nothing but great experiences flying Virgin’s direct services to the States (you can read my review of one of those trips HERE), with their economy offerings on their 777 sitting up there with the best in the world.

Hot Tip #1: Look out for Virgin’s Happy Hour sales. We recently got a return Sydney-LAX for under $1,000.

Flight Alternatives: Of course Virgin isn’t the only airline who fly to the US. Delta have a code-shared direct flight through LA, usually at the same price point. United have regular flights, direct through LA or San Francisco – with select flights from Melbourne on the new 787 Dreamliner. And we’d always recommend keeping an eye out for Air New Zealand fares. They were recently offering $900 return flights Sydney to LA via Auckland through STA Travel, and as we write this piece return flights remain under $1000. It adds a couple of extra hours to the journey, but they’re a fantastic airline and an excellent and an often more affordable alternative to the direct route if you’re flying at the right time. They’ll also be introducing new 777 aircraft to the Auckland – LAX route in November. Though the Asian airlines like China Southern do often offer cheap options as well, going via hubs in the region, you’re starting to talk travel time of over 24 hours. Given how affordable direct flights are, it’s not worth it!

Hot Tip #2:
We use Skyscanner (skyscanner.com) as a starting point for all of our flight comparisons. It’s a fantastic (and free) web tool (and mobile app) that allows you to search through every airline of the world, as well as agents like STA, all at once. The only airline we know they do NOT include on the site is Southwest Airlines. Likewise you’re not going to find them on Expedia. I imagine it’s something they do to keep their prices so low. So always check southwest.com separately for any domestic US flights.

Get to America. Drive the long road.

Flight Time:
12 Hours (Sydney to LAX – See above for options)
Drive Time:
2-3 Days, with stops, depending on destination.

LA to Houston: 2488km (1546 miles)
LA to San Antonio: 2177km (1353 miles)
LA to Dallas: 2316km (1439 miles)
LA to Austin: 2219km (1379 miles)
LA to El Paso: 1291km (802 miles)

If you have the time, there are few better drives in the US than the one that takes you from California to Texas. Hit the Western edge of Texas, starting your travel through the great State in El Paso, making your way to Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio or wherever the road takes you.

There’s a lot of desert – taking you through The Grand Canyon, through Arizona and New Mexico and then from El Paso all the way to wherever you need to get to in Texas – and there’s a lot of beauty on that path. There’s also some pretty incredible family diners along the journey that will showcase the best of American dining. Nothing beats a diner breakfast. It’s a country made to be driven – so if you have the time, take the long road and explore the American South West.

To take full advantage of it though, be sure to give yourself one or two nights on the road. It’s worth every minute…

Car Rental Prices

Assumptions: Hire from LAX, driver over 25 years old, return car to the destination’s airport, prepay where available

LA to Dallas: Daily Cost
Advantage Rent-a-car (www.advantage.com)
(all unlimited mileage)
Economy (eg Hyundai Accent) $US25.68
Intermediate (eg KIA Forte) $US28.97
Fullsize (eg Chevrolet Impala) $US42.12
Mini Van (eg Dodge Grand Caravan) $US103.27

Hot Tip #3:
Where possible, always book yourself a return flight to the US. While your internal flights can be one way – for example, you could drive to Dallas from LA and then fly back and that flight would cost the same if you’d booked for both ways – when you fly internationally from Australia to the US, a one way flight is often more expensive than a return. Buy a flexi fare if you feel you may need to change your flight home, though even if you buy the cheapest fare, you’re usually only paying $100 for a flight change with an airline like Virgin. It will also make your life easier at customs if they know you know you’re going home before your ESTA (Tourist Visa Waiver Program) runs out after 90 days in the country.

And that leads us to… Hot Tip #4: Make sure you’ve got your ESTA before you leave the country. Australian passports are eligible. https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

To find out what you can discover in Texas when you arrive, head to traveltex.

This post is sponsored by Texas Tourism. All information was correct at the time this article was originally printed in February 2015. For latest details and prices head to the relevant websites.