A simple flying 'roo return

Must...Fly!

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Ever since returning to Australia from living in the UK for 2 years in 2016, I've been a rusted on VA flyer. Quickly stepped up through the FF ranks and ended up Platinum, retaining for several years. I've really, really enjoyed flying with VA. It's simple, no fuss, and it's relatively laid back. Plus it's generally cheaper than QF - which, given I'm entirely self-funded, is important.

Then that thing called COVID-19 came along...along with many uncertainties. Thankfully VA survived and all of our Velocity points are intact - but with the fleet significantly reduced and schedules rather unpredictable, it had me wondering if it was worth trying out Qantas again. By my own records, I believe the last time I paid money for a Qantas flight was in 2012. It's been a while...

With the QF status fast track on offer, promising a match to Gold after earning 100SC within 3 months, I thought there was probably no better time to determine where my loyalties lie. Promptly applied and approved, the first 75SC were quickly earned via an application for a Qantas Premier Platinum credit card for $199, along with 100,000 points.

This left 25SC to earn. My first thought was to take a circuitous trip up through Victoria and the NSW coast by rail, returning from Newcastle by air, via BNE earning the required number. However the most recent knee jerk COVID-19 lockdown over Easter curtailed that idea. Thankfully Qantas came to the party with a double status credit offer, and some quiet price reductions to combat Rex's new service.

Thus the most simple day return you could probably do in Australia was born - to Sydney! A city I really don't have any great love for - but perhaps because I haven't explored it widely enough. At 20SC each way (double SC) I would actually end up overshooting the target, but at $218 return the price was right. This would also combine nicely to be a small birthday present to myself - having just turned 30 over the weekend.

As it turns out, when I woke up this morning and looked at the weather, I've made an inspired choice to skip out of Melbourne on this Tuesday in April...

Screenshot_20210420-082715_BOM Weather.jpg

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Once in Sydney the plan is to get the bus to Bondi Junction, then connect to Bondi Beach and walk around in the sun before an easy late lunch. More exploring, back to the CBD for an afternoon coffee, perhaps a visit to the shops, then the train to Mascot and a walk back to T3. Since it's just me and I've got all day, I figure I'll actively avoid the SYD station access fee...

Anyway, first port of call is to get to Southern Cross for the Skybus, check-in and my first visit to the renovated Qantas Club for breakfast...
 

Ade

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Ever since returning to Australia from living in the UK for 2 years in 2016, I've been a rusted on VA flyer. Quickly stepped up through the FF ranks and ended up Platinum, retaining for several years. I've really, really enjoyed flying with VA. It's simple, no fuss, and it's relatively laid back. Plus it's generally cheaper than QF - which, given I'm entirely self-funded, is important.

Then that thing called COVID-19 came along...along with many uncertainties. Thankfully VA survived and all of our Velocity points are intact - but with the fleet significantly reduced and schedules rather unpredictable, it had me wondering if it was worth trying out Qantas again. By my own records, I believe the last time I paid money for a Qantas flight was in 2012. It's been a while...

With the QF status fast track on offer, promising a match to Gold after earning 100SC within 3 months, I thought there was probably no better time to determine where my loyalties lie. Promptly applied and approved, the first 75SC were quickly earned via an application for a Qantas Premier Platinum credit card for $199, along with 100,000 points.

This left 25SC to earn. My first thought was to take a circuitous trip up through Victoria and the NSW coast by rail, returning from Newcastle by air, via BNE earning the required number. However the most recent knee jerk COVID-19 lockdown over Easter curtailed that idea. Thankfully Qantas came to the party with a double status credit offer, and some quiet price reductions to combat Rex's new service.

Thus the most simple day return you could probably do in Australia was born - to Sydney! A city I really don't have any great love for - but perhaps because I haven't explored it widely enough. At 20SC each way (double SC) I would actually end up overshooting the target, but at $218 return the price was right. This would also combine nicely to be a small birthday present to myself - having just turned 30 over the weekend.

As it turns out, when I woke up this morning and looked at the weather, I've made an inspired choice to skip out of Melbourne on this Tuesday in April...

View attachment 245419

View attachment 245418

Once in Sydney the plan is to get the bus to Bondi Junction, then connect to Bondi Beach and walk around in the sun before an easy late lunch. More exploring, back to the CBD for an afternoon coffee, perhaps a visit to the shops, then the train to Mascot and a walk back to T3. Since it's just me and I've got all day, I figure I'll actively avoid the SYD station access fee...

Anyway, first port of call is to get to Southern Cross for the Skybus, check-in and my first visit to the renovated Qantas Club for breakfast...
Loving this "trip report" so far :) looking forward to more
 

Must...Fly!

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Freshly showered and out the door at 6:30am for the brisk walk in the rising sunlight to Southern Cross, and the Skybus, arriving just before 7am. Well timed - just as I arrived, the Skybus rolled up.

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And it turned out to be a bit of a win today, as I only realised afterwards that I had presented an expired ticket for boarding. Nothing was said as I was hurried onboard by the driver, and we departed a few minutes later, racing the 07:07 to Albury out of the station...perhaps if I enjoy writing this, another report coming next week featuring that service.

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An uneventful trip with an excellent driver up the freeway with minimal traffic had us at the airport before 7:30am. Straight to the kiosk for check-in, as I was curious to see if it would offer me the option for an earlier flight given I'd arrived over 2 hours before departure. I recall it used to offer this option when forward loading in effect, but no dice today. I was sad to see my seat in 5A had become 25A - I'd forgotten that anything behind row 5 existed since being Platinum with VA...

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Through a quiet security checkpoint and to the Qantas Club, which was quite well attended - a great sight to see so many people taking to the skies. The renovation has clearly improved the amenity on the old club I recall from years ago, though obviously the nice apron views are fully reserved for the Business lounge, which I'll hopefully be visiting in early July. Overall I like the changes, and the modernised bathrooms are far better than the old. I seem to have bad memories of them. To breakfast!

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No hot options - but I'm sure the Business lounge would've had some. I can't mark Qantas down here - I have to remember that the most valid comparison is the current Virgin offering, and in Melbourne there's more on offer here than the competition. Though I will say having to stand and queue for coffee was slightly novel (in the current environment), the queue progressed well and the coffee was very good.

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Someone must have heard I was coming and needed to make a pitch for my loyalty, as no sooner did I sit down than none other than Mr Virgin himself appeared on TV...

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The Wi-Fi was easy to connect to, fast and very reliable. Big win to Qantas here. Virgin have had years to get that right in Melbourne and still haven't. I went for a little walk around the terminal to discover it had barely changed from my memories of flying through here 15+ years ago with the family in my younger days. Even the CityFlyer branding is still on the wayfinding...how many years is it since that was retired?

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That's enough time down memory lane - time to head to the gate.
 

Must...Fly!

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QF430 MEL-SYD
09:30 Schedule
09:30 Pushback
09:43 Take-Off
10:41 Landing

Time to get on board. The gate lounge was basically empty 25 minutes before departure. An indication of the load to be expected, and I'm hardly surprised. By my count from FR24, this is the 19th departure to Sydney this morning across all airlines, and the 8th Qantas mainline flight. I have no doubt money was lost this morning, but it's nice to see planes back in the air. Call me presumptuous, but Rex are likely not here to stay playing jet games with the big boys.

Not that I could avail of it (nor do I particularly care with a light load), but observed priority boarding worked very well. I was to board via the rear stairs, and quite a shock to remember that 737s go all the way back to row 30....yikes!

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Roughly 60 passengers on board. And yet Qantas are still holding on to a strong price premium in the market, which could be a testament to their offering. More likely, I think, that the administration process VA went through caused them to lose a lot of corporate accounts, to the benefit of Qantas.

An on time departure and a smooth climb out of Melbourne, with a planned flight time of 53 minutes. A beautiful morning for being in the air...

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The snack for the flight. Now people attack VA for being buy on board. But really, what are you missing on most flights? I can definitely do without the food, if it makes the airfare cheaper.

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A seat is a seat, I know what to expect with my 6'5" frame, and that is not much in the way of comfort. Free economy X seating is a super benefit of being a Platinum with Virgin. Looking down, I noticed that the floor has seen many better days...at least I hope it has.

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A smooth descent and touchdown in to a lovely autumn day in Sydney. Everything on time, relatively pleasant crew, two audible announcements from the flight deck that could be clearly understood and very reliable Wi-Fi. A great return flight to the flying kangaroo - everything just worked.

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Must...Fly!

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Now, the flight I took on VA last week in J was great, but it didn't end in the typical way. Sadly the bridge wouldn't budge, so everyone was off via the rear stairs. Of course this means that Business is last! But thankfully no such shenanigans this time, and it was quickly off the plane (even from way back in the cheap seats) to find the Sydney Buses stop, which was easy enough, outside the terminal and to the left. There was only a 7 minute wait until the next 400 to Bondi Junction.

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The NSW smart ticketing system is by far the most user friendly in Australia. Primarily because they don't make it hard for visitors. Tap your contactless card on and off for each trip, the system will work out the best fare. Great! It's one of the things I loathe about going to Brisbane/Gold Coast, actually - I never seem to remember my Go card, so end up trying to buy one and it's just an annoying barrier to a seamless transfer from plane to public transport. But no such issues here, so it was straight on board and an uneventful bus ride to Bondi Junction.

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Familiar seat pitch!

The original plan was to swap to the 333 for the drive down Bondi Rd, but by this time it was about 12:15pm and I had well and truly had enough of sitting in tin cans, and frankly I was starting to get a bit motion sick. Fresh air was desperately required, so I decided to walk down toward the beach, which turned out to be a great decision in the wonderful weather that was served up.

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Arriving at the southern edge of Bondi Beach, it was then a walk along the ocean and toward North Bondi. Plenty of surfers and swimmers in the water, and I really wished I could've joined the latter. Growing up in Perth I was not short of a great ocean beach to swim in. It dawned on me that being in Melbourne now, I really do miss having nice, warm ocean beaches to visit. I really appreciate why people choose to live here on the coastal areas of Sydney - though how they afford to, remains a mystery.

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Yes folks, there still is a pandemic - just a friendly reminder on your way to & from the beach.

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At this point it was just after 1:00pm and I felt rather light headed. Of course, I realised that all I had to eat to that point was a coffee, bircher muesli and muffin from the lounge. Sugar and caffeine are a dangerous mix for me...on top of all the travel and some solid walking, no wonder I was hungry. Consulting Google Maps, I was initially drawn to Chargrill Charlie's, as I've heard good things about the food and I was rather hungry. However a place called Shuk jumped out at me so I headed there.

After a brief and polite consultation of the menu, I ordered what I knew I had come for - Shakshuka. And who can say no to adding halloumi? At $22.50 it was not expensive, and absolutely delicious. I highly recommend visiting if you are in the area. The service was great too.

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I was in no rush to finish given how tasty it was, but after I did, I felt much much better and ready to go again. Back to North Bondi near the RSL, and then back along the beach to pick up the bus to the CBD. At least, that was the plan. I decided to instead keep walking, down along the coast to Coogee Beach and then get the 374 in to Sydney itself. The day was simply too nice, and the coastal walk too beautiful to pass up so early for the hustle and bustle of the Sydney CBD, which I've seen many times before...

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Must...Fly!

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Another easy tap on and off on the bus and I was in the CBD at around 4:30pm, just as the offices began emptying out. I hopped off near Town Hall, and made my way to Westfield to poke around the shops. Predictably, I was inspired by absolutely nothing on the shelves although I did love this cute as anything jumper. Maybe if I had a different personality, I would wear such a thing...

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Anyway, a stroll through Myer, DJs and QVB had me strolling toward Circular Quay by about 6pm. No matter how many times you see it, I believe it's quite impossible to not be awed by rounding a corner and seeing the Opera House or Harbour Bridge. Again, as many times as I've seen them, it was great to have another look, and it was a pertinent reminder to me of how much I have missed traveling over the past 13 months. I miss that feeling of seeing a new city, new landmarks, new experiences, new languages...sigh, I wonder when we will ever get to do that again?

Not long after arriving, I had the desire for a beer or two, and probably some dinner. It crossed my mind to walk over to the Opera bar and have a beer and perhaps burger with a view, but remembered that the kind Mr Joyce was laying on an open bar in the Qantas Pub, so it seemed rude to not accept. Plus, a view of planes is not bad either! Jumped on the T8 at Circular Quay and alighted as planned at Mascot, to try the walk to the domestic terminals. It was fine, but I'm pretty sure I took a wrong turn or three, because it took roughly 40 minutes and I ended up at T2, before cutting through the car park. There must have been a quicker way?

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Printed off a boarding pass at the kiosk (I like to keep them as souvenirs if possible...) and was happy to see my previously allocated 5C had stuck. Straight through security to the Qantas Club, where I was hoping a cold beer and some hot food would await, lest I be forced to escape to Hungry Jack's... :oops: .There was no visible menu, but the option was Vegetable soup with bread & butter, and a mushroom tortellini in cheese sauce. The initially elusive Qantas Centenary lager was also on tap. The bar obviously manned and the food plated for you on request. First up, some soup and the lager.

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The soup was actually quite good, I enjoyed the plethora of vegetables which my body was craving. The beer though, I have to say was extremely forgettable. I am a fan of lager but this just did absolutely nothing for me. However, in the interests of science, I had to get another glass to be sure. And some more soup. And of course the tortellini. You can lead this horse to water, but you don't have to force him to drink!

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Yes the beer was as forgettable second time round. Funny that. The pasta was quite good, however halfway through it I got a tap on the shoulder...I had been so enthralled by the TV show I was watching on my phone with my noise-cancelling headphones, that I had entirely missed the announcement that the Qantas Club was closing at 7:30pm, and all were to make their way to the Business Lounge. I had a suspicion this might occur as it was completely dead and only one more Qantas flight to depart, so left the remainder of the pasta and beer, in hope of finding something else to sample in the Business Lounge.

I was not left disappointed. The J lounge offered the same soup and bread, but a different hot "main" option of Chicken Chasseur with steamed rice. Again, who am I to say no when science demands I say yes? Protein is good for you after all...and washed down with a 150 lashes. I noticed there was a much more limited beer selection in the J lounge, though there were spirits (not sure if they were in the QP...). I had a Squire's 150 Lashes to go with the rice. It tasted about as good as it looked, as though it had been sitting there for a while. Not bad by any means, and I did eat it all, which is always a sign that it wasn't that bad, and more vegetables isn't a bad thing.

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Ah, and a dessert too in the J lounge - carrot cake 👍

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At about 8:35pm the call came that QF499 was boarding, and the lounge was now closed for the evening. Time to go back to Melbourne.
 

Must...Fly!

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QF499 SYD-MEL
21:00 Schedule
20:58 Pushback
21:13 Take-Off
22:26 Landing

Straight down to the gate for boarding and on to the aircraft. There was hardly anyone around at the airport and hardly anyone boarding, either, which would be a second indication that this was to be a light load. The first being that I checked in on my phone at about 2pm, and I had an SEQ of 15...

Now, by this time I was a bit tired and the whole taking photos thing took a back seat to just relaxing and wanting to get home after a long day. I didn't get a chance to count the passengers in Economy, but Business was completely full and everyone had at least one spare seat next to them down the back, and several empty rows.

After take-off a hot snack and drink was served. Having been a little lounge piggy I was not particularly keen on more food but thought I'd try the vegetarian bites offered. One bite was enough for me - I didn't find these tasty at all. Capped off with a final beer to round the day off. Wi-Fi again worked very well and I streamed a TV show from Binge for the flight to Melbourne. This is where Qantas do definitely have an advantage over VA, but again - is it something I need? No.

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Landing and at the gate pretty much bang on time, it was off the aircraft and straight to the Skybus stop for a one-way ticket and a 5 minute wait. A 21-minute journey to Southern Cross without a single traffic light stop, more walking to get home and finally in the door just as the clock hit 11:20pm.

COVID-safe observations

Overall it was a fun and active day on the Sydney coast, with my Fitbit reporting over 35,000 steps! I found mask use on public transport in NSW to be almost non-existent. I wore one myself on almost every trip, but not every single one. It's not mandatory, just encouraged and I guess with no community transmission, that is a fine stance to take. Victoria still mandates use on PT services which, again, I have no problem with as we are still in a pandemic. Mask use in the airport terminals and on the aircraft seemed universally accepted. One strange difference is that VA crew remove masks to show proper use of the Oxygen mask during the safety demo - but Qantas staff did not. Perhaps because the video shows it on QF?

QR codes were plentiful everywhere and it was the first time I used the NSW check-in/out system. It is the best one I have used in Australia thus far, no doubt. I find it similar to SafeWA but offers a check-out feature and no signing up necessary. Also similar to the VIC one, but again, offers check-out and it's more user friendly plus you can see a list of places you have visited. So it is like a diary. I would have liked to see more QR codes in the department stores and entrance to shopping arcades, but you can't have everything and their usefulness would probably be questionable, anyway.

My thoughts on returning to Qantas

And so ends the quest for Gold! Qantas met my expectations without exceeding them, and to be honest, I feel like pretty much nothing has changed since the last time I flew on the flying kangaroo. Which is a good thing. There is not a lot to contrast with VA in comparison - you are essentially getting two sides of the same coin if you are talking about domestic flying.

Where things start to clearly and obviously separate is travel to New Zealand and other overseas destinations. Given that the world (sans New Zealand) is completely off limits, I'm not sure how much value there is in Qantas status vs Virgin, especially if one was to take in to account the price of tickets. Both are equal at the Gold level. At Platinum, I feel the "winner" is harder to pick. With Virgin, you get free economy X - a great perk. But with Qantas, you get Business Lounge access. But perhaps, a lounge is a lounge at the end of the day, and if there is free drinks and snacks, does the detail really matter for a leisure flyer? Either is still better than sitting in the terminal, obviously. As as comparison of ticket prices, a same day return on QF on a random day this week is $400, while VA want as little as $158 (matching Rex). Quite the difference, and for me personally QF Platinum is completely out of reach, unlike VA.

A long winded way to say, I am not sure where my allegiances will lie from here on out. I feel that dropping to Gold on VA and retaining that is probably the most likely scenario. As much as I enjoy being a Platinum with VA, 800SC is a high target for me without international travel, but 400 can be managed. The free platinum upgrades are worth, at the very most, 39600 Velocity points. Most of the time, I just let them expire. Qantas Gold gets you a much larger lounge network, plus overseas lounge benefits which is great but currently useless, one has to balance the cost of domestic fares out with the benefits received, and the fact it is 600SC to retain instead of 400SC (also no family pooling and FlyBuys SC as an added help on VA).

I guess I will find out in time. But with VA granting Platinum status through to September 2022, and my QF Gold now good through until the same date, I have plenty of time to think about where my money goes from here on out. And to start burning some hard earned FF points in the mean time.

Thanks for following along and reading this completely unexotic Trip Report. It was nice to do something touristy again for the first time in over a year, and hopefully this is just the start of many more trips to come. Where's that vaccination...!
 

drron

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I did enjoy tagging along.A much nicer way of doing a status run.
Prices though really do depend on the day.I am travelling back to LST next week.From MCY QF was $495,VA $859.Though I could fly JQ for $260.But with the employer paying and allowing QF that is what is happening.

Though if I was flying out of BNE QF along a few dollars less than from MCY.But both JQ and VA have direct flights.JQ $222. VA $229 so VA would win hands down on costs.Fortunately I am wanted in LST during business hours so my security access etc can be processed before starting the next (saturday) morning and the direct flights don't do that.
 

Ade

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Points
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Thanks for following along and reading this completely unexotic Trip Report.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip report :)

Re : QF Centenary Lager - I have not tried it yet. I look forward to soon. Have got some flights planned

Re : Carrot cake - OMG! I love that carrot cake - every time I go to the J lounge, this is pre-CoVID, I usually "pile" it up on my plate :) I have a sweet tooth, so I do the same "pile" up for the brownies too

Re : Veggie Soup - from the picture, I think it's the minestrone ? QF makes a very good tomato based soup. I also enjoy their creamy mushroom/cauliflower soup with croutons.
 

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