Australia tagged posts

The Long Journey Home, Part 2: Sydney to Los Angeles (SYD-LAX), Qantas Economy A380

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This is part 15 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Sydney International Departures

I had a momentary panic upon landing at SYD, as the monitors showed the flight to LAX as canceled.  I soon realized, though, that it was the American flight that was canceled, not the Qantas one.  It was a long walk from where my AKL flight landed to the Qantas Business Lounge.  While the lounge is quite large, it was quite full.  (Still, I didn’t bother with any of the Priority Pass or AmEx options.).  The lounge staff actually made announcements asking people not to take seats up with luggage.   I had hoped to start to adjust my body to US time, where it was around 6pm, but unfortunately I had traveled back in time, so it was still a breakfast spread at the lounge.  The spread was basically a larger version of what I’d had on the plane and in the Qantas Club in Auckland, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, sausage, hash browns – plus a bit wider variety of pastries.  There was a full self-serve liquor and soft drink display, a juice bar, and a coffee bar- which was the most notable difference from AKL.

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The Long Journey Home, Part 1:  Qantas Auckland to Sydney (AKL-SYD), Trans-Tasman Economy

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This is part 14 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Unfortunately, my great deal on my ticket to New Zealand required transiting through Sydney on the return, which added a significant amount of time to the journey – about five hours between the layover and three hour flight from Auckland to Sydney.  I decided against spending a day in L.A. on the return figuring I would just want to get home (not expecting that DC would be an entirely depressing place to be).  So that meant that if all went according to plan, I would have a travel time of 27 hours straight from my AKL departure to my arrival at DCA.

My flight out of Auckland was at 7:35am.  I had originally planned to take an Uber at 5:30, but I ended up leaving at 5, because when I tried to check in the day before I had gotten an error suggesting my US passport was not enough for me to enter back into the country.  Had the borders already tightened???  Was I blacklisted by America?   Upon arriving at AKL, there was a bit of a line at the Qantas counter, but the separate priority check-in wasn’t bad.  There was no problem checking me in, and the friendly agent explained where the Qantas lounge was, and gave me a sticker for Express Lane immigration and security as a Oneworld Emerald passenger.

There was a food court and shopping before immigration at the AKL International Terminal, but I decided to just go through. I didn’t actually use the express lane, because there was no line at the E-gates that U.S. passport holders can use.  That line led right into security, which had no real wait.  I then spent the last of my NZD on a gift, and headed to the Qantas Club.

Qantas Club AKL

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2015 Index and YWW Year in Review

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It’s a bit late, but here is my 2015 travel year in review post.  It was a huge travel year for me, as I hit 5 continents and did more long-haul flying than I’d ever done before. It was a lot of mileage redemptions, and low on the mileage earning front.  I re-qualified for American Airlines Gold status. I thought about going for Platinum but it was a busy enough fall and winter that the marginal utility was not enough to outweigh the financial and other costs.

As for the blog, I have kept it as a personal travel diary rather than changing to something else, but hopefully folks find it enjoyable, useful, or both.   My philosophy is the same today as it was in my 2013 year in review post: “I will never stop loving travel, but business class and nice hotels isn’t the point of life.”

So, what were my travel patterns and accomplishments of 2015? I’ve put indices of the places, planes, and hotels I’ve reviewed at the bottom of this post, and have some statistics as well. It was a heavy year of international travel, with only one domestic purely leisure trip.
6
Total continents visited: 5
New continents: 1 (Australia)
Total countries (excluding U.S.): 10
New countries: 5 (Australia, United Arab Emirates, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil)
New states: 1 (Missouri)

New airlines: 7 (Qantas, Etihad, Asiana, TAM, Virgin Australia, Germanwings)

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Finally: LAS-DCA on US Airways First, and the AmEx Centurion Lounge at LAS

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We’ve finally reached the last post about my 2 week trip to Australia, only 3.5 months after I returned. I’ve had a busy few months in between, with lots of domestic travel for family, work, and other commitments. But in 10 days I’ll be leaving the country again, heading to Mykonos in Greece, which is great timing. I’ll try and post a preview post shortly…

US Airways Flt. 478  Las Vegas to Washington-National
Dep. LAS 10:30am  Arr. DCA 5:50pm
Domestic First, A321

When I landed from Honolulu at Las Vegas, I was surprised to discover that most of the First Class cabin was actually connecting onto other flights. There aren’t that many destinations served out of Las Vegas by Hawaiian’s partners, and most are served directly from Honolulu on Hawaiian or its partners.

On the ground at LAS

On the ground at LAS

Though Vegas seemed like a weird connection point for me, there were two pluses compared to some other routings (beyond the fact there was award availability). First, LAS has an American Express Centurion Lounge – better than an Admirals Club or an Alaska Board Room where any other connection would put me. Second, LAS has nonstop flights to DCA, whereas other connecting points only had flights in Dulles  or BWI.

Centurion Lounge LAS

Centurion Lounge LAS

My Haw...

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The Journey Home, Part 2: Sydney Airport and Hawaiian Airlines SYD to HNL in Business Class

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Hawaiian Flt. 452 Sydney to Honolulu
A330 Business Class
Sched. Dep. 9:20 PM Actual Dep. 9:24 PM
Sched. Arr. 10:05AM Actual Arr. 10:43 AM

My Qantas flight from Melbourne landed in the Qantas Domestic terminal at Sydney, and I had to wait about 15 minutes for the transfer bus to the International terminal. I had read some mixed information online, some of which suggested you needed to transferring to a Qantas flight to use the free airside shuttle bus, and some of which said all that mattered was you were coming from a Qantas flight. I didn’t even have my Hawaiian boarding pass yet, so I just showed my inbound boarding stub and when asked said I was connecting to Honolulu, and was waved onto the bus.

Although I didn’t have to exit the secure area at the domestic terminal, the bus traveled along the highway and dropped us off at the main, pre-security check-in area of the international terminal (T1). I made my way over to the Hawaiian counters, which were pretty empty, as it was less than 2 hours before scheduled departure at this point – about 7:30 pm. Check-in was fairly simple, but the agent crossed out the check-in time of 8:20 on the boarding pass and wrote in 8:10 – then told me I really needed to be at the gate by 8:00 (80 minutes before scheduled departure) due to the “extra security.” (Hawaiian uses Dnata contract staff at Sydney, but they still wear Hawaiian shirts and flowers in their hair.) He also handed me an “ExpressPath” pass for immigration and customs, and a pass for the Air New Zealand lounge.

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The Long Journey Home, Part 1: The Difficulty of Using AA miles to Australia and MEL-SYD Qantas Business

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Qantas Flt. 454 Melbourne to Sydney
B737 Business Class
Sched. Dep. 5:30PM Actual Dep. 5:37PM
Sched. Arr. 6:55PM Actual Arr. 7:06PM

I have never made so many changes to a flight as I did for my return from Australia, taking full advantage of American’s rule that award ticket changes are free so long as you don’t change the origin and destination.  But it is so hard to get an award using American miles to Australia in a premium cabin, due to their limited routing rules (no routing through Asia) and the few seats Qantas releases – and I still wound up with a sub-optimal routing home.  Although American has just announced the addition of a new flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, it replaces a Qantas flight (which will now be out of San Francisco), meaning the net number of increased award seats is going to be very low.  Routing through Hawaii has been a good option in the past, but that just got much harder as well, as American just announced you will no longer be able to redeem miles for flights on Hawaiian between Hawaii and the mainland, slashing the options available (and making my return flight no longer an option).

When I first booked my trip, my routing was Melbourne to Sydney on Qantas, Sydney to Honolulu on Hawaiian, and Honolulu to Seattle to Washington National on Alaska, all in Business class, with an overnight in Seattle. A week or so later, the Qantas flight from Sydney to Honolulu opened up – which, unlike Hawaiian, offers lie-flat seating in business class. Even better, a few days after that, Honolulu to Dallas opened up on American, which also has lie-flat seating, and would eliminate the overnight.
A few weeks after that, a Hawaiian award seat opened up 2 days later on SYD-HNL in business. I figured two extra days in Australia was worth the change from Qantas to Hawaiian. So I booked SYD-HNL-LAX on Hawaiian, then LAX-ORD-DCA on American. An extra flight, but no overnight layover. The layover in Honolulu was an annoying length, though, 5.5 hours. Too long for an airport like Honolulu, too short to do much in Hawaii. Honolulu to Vegas on Hawaiian opened up, connecting from Las Vegas to DC on US Airways. This would give me 12 hours in Hawaii, and wouldn’t require overnighting anywhere. Although LAS was an odd place to stop, it has the benefit of an Amex Centurion Lounge I could try! Finally, I realized that my Sydney connection time of 65 minutes was a bit too close for comfort, since I had to change terminals (a few kilometers apart) and airlines, and read mixed things about whether I’d have to get my bag.

I set...

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Exploring Melbourne

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Melbourne is a city that I definitely could have spent an entire week in, though there isn’t really a lot to see, per se. I had about 3.5 days there and it wasn’t really enough, though I did enjoy my time there and got a great taste of the city. It felt more chic than Sydney, but was still a huge city. It lacks the breathtaking nature of Sydney’s physical beauty, but still had its own charms – and the Great Ocean Road outside of Melbourne was one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been. One thing I hadn’t expected was just how cold Melbourne would be- definitely chillier than Sydney, where it felt like summer.  It was early fall in Melbourne, and felt like it.

Melbourne

Melbourne

My first half-day was spent dealing with my Mifi and Kindle drama and running all over Melbourne. My friend took me to a Korean bbq place which was pretty good, and similar to what you’d get here in the States. After dinner, he drove me around and showed me St. Kilda, the waterfront area, and pointed out the terminal for the ferry to Tasmania, before heading to bed.

The next day was spent completely on the Great Ocean Road, which I’ll cover in a separate post.

So that leaves only two days in Melbourne itself, which I spent mostly walking around the city. From the Park Hyatt, I walked through the city, first past the Parliament of Victoria, then to the Old State Library, which was a gorgeous building, with exhibit space on the history of Victoria, but also filled with students and others studying in its regal reading rooms.

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Hotel Review: Grand Hyatt Melbourne

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My final night in Australia was at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. Where the Park Hyatt was in a pretty, but sleepy, area of Melbourne, the Grand Hyatt was right in the thick of things – though only a 10 minute walk down Collins Street from the Park Hyatt – the Fifth Avenue of Melbourne. Physically, on first blush, it reminded me a lot of the Grand Hyatt Berlin- neither being like the large convention hotels I think of when I think of Grand Hyatts. Although not as fancy as the Park Hyatt, it’s a lot more recently renovated, and still plenty fancy. In fact, for the days I was in Melbourne, the Park Hyatt was going for $200 less a night than the Grand Hyatt. But I could only use my free Hyatt Visa night at the Grand Hyatt, because it’s actually in a lower award category.

IMG_3826

Exterior, Grand Hyatt Melbourne

Exterior, Grand Hyatt Melbourne

The Grand Hyatt feels very new. The lobby was super modern and shiny, and the Singapore Airlines crew was checking out as I arrived. Check-in was easy. I wasn’t expecting any upgrade or anything, as I wasn’t entitled to one, and was sent up to my Grand King room on the 26th Floor. As a Diamond member, I was proactively offered late checkout at check-in, which I appreciated since my flight out of Melbourne didn’t leave until 5:30.

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Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Melbourne

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I had one night in Melbourne for which I had no great deal or points strategy. There are tons of hotels in Melbourne, but I decided to splurge for one night in Melbourne as I ended my trip. I had been having great luck at Hyatt properties lately, even though I don’t have high status with them (and I won’t ever due to their limited global footprint). For my final night, I was going to stay at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne using my annual free night as a Hyatt visa cardholder. The Grand Hyatt is a lower category property for awards, but was actually $200 more a night than the Park Hyatt for a revenue stay. So I booked a Visa Signature package on Kiwicollection.com at the Park Hyatt, which included continental breakfast for two, an upgrade, early check-in and late check-out, waiver of credit card merchant fees, and a US$100 food and beverage credit. For about $225, I thought that was a fantastic deal.

Park Hyatt Melbourne

Park Hyatt Melbourne

The Park Hyatt is on the edge of the downtown area, near Parliament and amongst some government buildings. I took the tram down Collins Street from Docklands, and got off the last stop in the “Free Tram Zone” – about 3 blocks from the hotel.  It is definitely one of the more bucolic properties in the heart of Melbourne, set back from the street with a long driveway, and having a “grounds” including its multiple towers. It wasn’t as chic and modern as many newer Park Hyatts, and was instead a little glitzier and dated, but still was luxurious and nice. IMG_3777

Lobby, Park Hyatt Melbourne

Lobby, Park Hyatt Melbourne

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Hotel Review: The Grand Hotel Melbourne, a MGallery property

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I only had three nights in Melbourne, but ended up staying in three (very) different hotels. That’s not the most relaxing way to do it, but I had my reasons, which I’ll explain as we go, and actually don’t regret the decision. Two of them I’d go back to, one not so much. We’ll start off with the Grand Hotel.

On my first night, I stayed at the Grand Hotel in Melbourne. There had been a great Orbitz coupon in December, when my plans were a bit up in the air. The coupon was good for $ 100 off any hotel, with no minimum purchase. Unfortunately it was not good for most major chains. I had one night I was pretty sure I’d be in Melbourne, so poked around and settled on the Grand Hotel, an Accor property and part of its MGallery chain – which I’d had a great experience with in Amsterdam, and had good reviews. With the coupon, one night came to $56, including taxes.

Grand Hotel Melbourne

Grand Hotel Melbourne

The hotel is two blocks from the main train station in Melbourne, making it an easy walk from the Skybus and pretty central to all public transportation, including the free tram district. The neighborhood, right on the edge of the Docklands, was a bit dodgy, though, without much character or anything. But Melbourne is very walkable, so it was fine.

The lobby was pretty small, with two small desks and a small sitting area – with a restaurant off to the side. Check-in was uneventful, though a bit aloof, and I headed up to my room.
The hotel itself was extraordinarily weird. The building is the former Railway Administration Building, and three of the six floors are actually apartments. The hallways are super long, with very high ceilings, and it definitely feels like an old government building. It felt very empty and 1965 and smelled kind of musty.All of...

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