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Flying Australia to USA: where do you pick up luggage?

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Does one pick it up at their first port of entry, clear customs with their luggage, and then put it back on a carousel to their end destination?

Hoping to fly MEL > SYD > LAX > ORD > BUF on AA points and want to get our luggage back at LAX in case we can find better flights on our own (different airline, etc) LAX > BUF. Then, if we find better flights we would just bring our luggage ourselves to the other airline & check in.

Never been to Australia before - any insights much appreciated - enjoy-la!

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