Sydney 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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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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To the North: Sydney to Cairns on Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia Sydney Domestic Lounge

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I spent the middle portion of my Australia trip in tropical Northern Queensland, the launching point for the Great Barrier Reef. Although there are a few different ways to see the Reef, I decided to base myself out of Cairns, which is the most common base for tourists to the Reef.

Sydney to Cairns isn’t a short trip- over 1200 miles- and the route is flown by four different carriers: budget carriers Jetstar and Tigerair, and full-service carriers Qantas and Virgin Australia. There were no flights available using miles on Qantas, and a cash ticket was running over $300 for some reason one way on Qantas. Flights on Jetstar and Tigerair were pretty cheap, but with baggage and other fees, they’d come out to be around the same price as Virgin Australia- about $130, so Virgin Australia it was. About a month or so before my trip, Virgin America sent me an email offering an elite status match challenge. I don’t really fly Virgin America ever, but matching my AA Platinum status to Virgin America Gold got me some benefits flying on Virgin Australia– namely, lounge access – so why not.

Sydney Domestic Terminals

Sydney Domestic Terminals

My flight left Sydney’s domestic terminal at around 2pm, so I was able to have a leisurely start to the morning before an easy train ride to the airport. I had called Virgin Australia to have my Virgin America number added to the reservation, but no elite status showed on my boarding card. I went to the priority check-in anyway, which moved quickly. I mentioned my elite status and the agent put on a priority baggage tag. The security line moved quickly, and the entrance to the Virgin Australia lounge was right on the other side.

Virgin Australia SYD Domestic Check-in

Virgin Australia SYD Domestic Check-in

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Hotel Review: Intercontinental Sydney

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For my second two nights in Sydney, I stayed at the Intercontinental Sydney. The hotel is the older of two Intercontinentals in the city, but more centrally located. It was a short walk from the Radisson, a bit closer to Circular Quay, the Opera House and the train, but a little farther from the restaurants and shopping of the CBD.  I don’t have a lot to say about the Intercontinental, but it was very nice.

Intercontinental Sydney

Intercontinental Sydney

The hotel was definitely a 5-star hotel, feeling much more luxurious than the Radisson. It wasn’t cheap. The Ambassador Weekend rate was 419 AUD a night – about $320—far more than I’d typically pay. But it was a good use of my annual BOGO certificate, as $320 for two nights was a great deal.

Architecturally, the Intercontinental is stunning – an old building with a new tower built into it. The lobby level features a massive atrium in the older building, while the rooms were actually in the tower. The entrance was a little hard to find, as the main entrance is a car only entrance, but I found the pedestrian entrance and got to check in.

Old part of the Intercontinental Sdney

Old part of the Intercontinental Sydney

Atrium

Atriu...

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

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Sydney is not a cheap city. Add in Mardi Gras and the Cricket World Cup and hotels were pretty expensive. At first, I hoped to use my Hilton “Be Our Guest” certificate for a free night at the Hilton, but five months out, all the “Standard” rooms were “sold out.” So I moved down the list of points and other tricks up my sleeve.

In the end I decided to do two nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, taking advantage of Club Carlson’s “bonus award night” for cardholders, which gave you the last night free on any award stay of 2 or more nights. I say “gave” because yesterday the card announced it would be getting rid of this benefit. (Given how meaningless Club Carlson elite status has been, I see no reason to continue to pay the annual fee on this card—the only real benefit is 40,000 points a year, which aren’t enough for one night at most decent Club Carlson properties.  The benefit was too good to expect it to continue for a long time, but Club Carlson botched an opportunity to get people hooked on its properties.  If Club Carlson treated its elites wonderfully over the past few years this benefit was available, people would stay loyal.  But it hasn’t, and as I’ve discussed before, benefits are inconsistent at best, and even when they are provided aren’t even that good.)  After that, I’d move to the Intercontinental Sydney, where I’d use my annual weekend BOGO certificate as an Ambassador.

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney
The Radisson was a perfectly fine property, and a great use of points with the bonus award night. Without that option, I probably wouldn’t stay there again unless there was a good rate, given the range of options in the city.

Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney

The weirdest part of my stay was at check-in. It was after noon when I got to the hotel, so hardly super early. The agent told me that because the hotel was “fully booked,” my room wasn’t ready….unless I wanted to pay for a “Business Class” upgrade, in which case the hotel would have become not fully booked and a room immediately available. For 66 AUD a night ($50), and as a matter of principle, I wasn’t going to do that. The availability of that room meant that either (1) the hotel was not “fully booked” or (2) non-business class rooms were overbooked, meaning someone who booked a non-business class room would be put in a Business Class room, and that should have been me, an elite guest. (Especially since Business Class rooms are the same size as the room I ended up in and the only difference is lounge access and a higher floor.)

So I asked when the room would be available. The response “Perhaps you’d like to make some plans for the day and come back later?” No. When will the room be available. “Well I must have it ready by 2!” The agent seemed to act like no one ever tried to check in early before, which was certainly not the case as both of the next two days I saw people checking in at 10am (and getting rooms right away). Finally she said, “Perhaps you would like to use the health club?” “Are there showers there?” (why else would I want to use the health club?) “Oh, yes.”

Great. So I schlepped my luggage to the basement health club, and went into the small locker room. The lockers required you to pick a code to set the lock, and I put my most valuable things in there, since my suitcase wouldn’t fit. The shower was fine, but, of course, when I came out, I could not get the locker to open. So in a towel with no glasses, I had to go out to the front desk. Apparently this is a common issue, as the woman knew the problem immediately and said she’d send someone to open it. Someone came in less than 5 minutes and opened it, and I was clothed.

I headed up to the lobby, left my suitcase at the bell desk, and then sat in the lobby to try to make a plan and finish catching up on the past 24 hours of the world. Unfortunately, most of the lobby is a restaurant/bar, and I am guiltable, so ordered a Coke Zero when the waitress came over. Turned out to be only 7 AUD – ~$5.50 for a small glass bottle. Theoretically, I may have been able to get a discount as a Club Carlson elite member, but Club Carlson does not post a list as to which hotels that benefit is available at outside the U.S. and Canada. When I’ve asked Club Carlson, I was told you have to ask each individual property if they offer the benefit. Making the benefit close to useless.

After about two hours walking around the city, I came back to the hotel and was told the room was ready and my luggage already waiting. I was a bit nervous as to what the room would be, but it was actually quite nice. Using the base level of points, all you can reserve is an “atrium room,” i.e., one that faces an interior courtyard. I did get upgraded to a “premier” room, one category up, which faced the street. On the relatively low fifth floor, though, there was still very little natural light and no view at all. But the room was decently sized and recently renovated, with a large comfortable bed and a sitting area.  (The walls were oddly bare.) The bathroom was very big, with both a stall shower and a separate tub. IMG_3089 IMG_3091

Premier Room, Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

Premier Room, Radisson ...

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Exploring Sydney and Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

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I did too much in Sydney to capture well in a blog post, but I really enjoyed the city. The weather was just gorgeous the entire time I was there, made even better by the fact that it was snowing back home. But I figured I’d provide some highlights of the city itself, and its Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and Party, which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.6

As a city, Sydney very much reminded me of Toronto and Vancouver, but with better weather. It was spotless, with mostly 20th century architecture but a smattering of lovely colonial buildings. The central business district, where I spent most of time, emptied out a fair bit in the evenings, though there were some areas like “The Rocks” that had more vibrant nightlife. All told, it was one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to.1 2

Downtown Sydney

Downtown Sydney

When I first arrived at my hotel, the Radisson Blu Plaza (to be reviewed in a separate post), my room wasn’t ready. I ended up spending about an hour trying to find a Vodafone shop, as I was having trouble activating my sim card, only to find that it was already activated. But over the course of my search, I got to see the central business district during a busy weekday, with lots of businessmen at food courts, people shopping, street performers, the works. I picked up some food for breakfast at Coles, and some wine at Liquorland, and headed back to the hotel for a proper check-in.

Once checked in, I went back out to walk along Circular Quay on the harborfront, just blocks away from the hotel. From here, you get lots of the money shots of Sydney. The Opera House is perched on one end of the Quay (and uglier up close), and the Harbour Bridge on the other, rising above an older area of Sydney referred to as “The Rocks”, which is basically now a yuppie/hipster place with cute bars and restaurants in historic buildings.   Public ferries were coming and going to areas all over the metro area, and hawkers were selling and playing Didgeridoos. It was a great vibe, though hot.

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To Australia! Qantas JFK-LAX, LAX-SYD in Business Class, including BA Galleries Lounge JFK and Oneworld Business Lounge LAX

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Qantas Flight 18 JFK to LAX, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM Actual Dep. 7:39PM
Sched. Arr. 9:40PM Actual Arr. 10:55PM
Qantas Flight 18 LAX to SYD, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 11:55PM   Actual Dep. 2:29AM
Sched. Arr. 8:43AM Actual Arr. 11:09AM

Qantas’s one flight a day from JFK is out of Terminal 7, which is now one of the oldest terminals at JFK. Its two main tenants are British Airways and United, but it’s also used by a number of Oneworld carriers, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Iberia, as well as the random Aerolineas Argentinas, ANA, and Icelandair. I don’t remember ever flying out of Terminal 7 in my many years in New York, but it’s conceivable I did on United once.

JFK Terminal 7 Check-In

JFK Terminal 7 Check-In

The British Airways side of the terminal is quite retro, and there’s a dedicated check-in for Qantas business class. There was also a dedicated security checkpoint for premium cabins, and it moved pretty quickly, even without Precheck. From there, I was in the main terminal and headed up to the British Airways Galleries Lounge.IMG_3019 IMG_3017

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