RTW to get from Sydney to Vegas (EY F, VA J & Jetblue Mint)

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bwhouse

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This trip came a little out of nowhere. Usually when we plan a holiday (especially if it involves award flights) we have locked the basic plan, including flights 12 months in advance. But this time after we got back from our epic holiday around Europe late last year we had no plans to travel anytime soon. With our stash of velocity points growing and me not wanting to keep them in the bank I was keeping an eye out for different ideas.

I had a loose concept of a USA holiday as my wife Mrs B had not yet been to Las Vegas and with her birthday coming up it seemed like not a bad way to celebrate, plus I was keen to try out Virgin's new Business class product as it has been getting fantastic reviews. I periodically keep an eye on various award seat patterns so I knew that getting 2 business seats on Virgin flights from Sydney to Los Angeles return was going to be difficult. With this in mind and no real set dates, I just kept an eye out for some seats to become available. I set a few ExpertFlyer alerts and casually searched the Velocity site every so often.

Sometime in January this year, I received an alert for some award seats from LAX-SYD. I jumped on my laptop and proceeded to search the itinerary, sure enough two seats had popped up for a few different days (3 to be precise) from LAX - SYD in early August, the only problem was that I couldn't find any seats going from SYD-LAX (not surprising really, Virgin seats seem to be very scarce these days, I am sure the large amount of bonus points they are giving away doesn't help) so back to the drawing board I went. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of a USA trip in summer, I have only ever been to the US in winter or late autumn, summer would be awesome in Las Vegas. I had a crazy idea, I knew that Etihad First award space is usually pretty easy to come by, so what if we went to the US via Abu Dhabi and better still this would let us try Etihad apartments, which is on the bucket list! I jumped on the Etihad site and sure enough, there were plenty of Guest First seats available, now while this is not always a guarantee that Virgin will be able to see them (more on that later) it was a pretty good sign. I figured I should broach the subject with Mrs B prior to booking as this was going to result in 30+ hours of air travel to get to our final destination, San Francisco. Well, I must have the most amazing wife ever because she agreed. I jumped on the phone to Virgin and booked the flights. Interestingly Virgin could not see the availability on the original day we wanted to depart, yet could see availability for the day before hand. What made this odd is that the Etihad Guest site said there wasn't any availability on that day...

Now I just needed to work out domestic flights, I already had a pretty good idea that we would get one of the early bird Jet Blue fares from New York to San Francisco as they always seem to be pretty cheap when bought in advance.

So the Flights look like this, we redeemed the long-haul flight using velocity points and paid for the Jet Blue transcon and the domestic hop from Las Vegas to LAX


  • Etihad A380 SYD-AUH-JFK F (*203,000 Velocity Points pp*)
  • Jet Blue 'Mint' JFK-SFO (*$600pp*)
  • Delta Y+ LAS-LAX (*$70pp*)
  • Virgin J LAX-SYD (*92,500 Velocity Points pp*)

The Etihad flights also had the annoying 'booking fee' thanks to the devaluation last year. So we had to fork out an additional $400usd each for the two legs.

All in all, this was a pretty pricey redemption, by the time we had to pay taxes and the EY booking fee along with a US transcon positioning flight it wasn't a cheap way to get to the states. But it meant we got to experience several different airline products and for me, that is half the holiday.

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With flights secured it was now time to plan the rest of the trip. The plan fell together pretty easily in the end. We wanted to visit some friends that are based in San Francisco and check out the Bay Area as Mrs B has not been before. Originally we were going to fly down to Vegas, but after doing some reading we decided that we would rent a car and drive from San Francisco to Vegas via Yosemite National Park. We managed to secure two nights in Half Dome Village camp within the park which has sort of pre-fab tents but seems like a great place to base ourselves for a few full days of roaming around the park and checking out the spectacular scenery.

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From Yosemite, we will continue on to Las Vegas, where we have 4 nights in the Encore and plan to see several shows in Vegas along with a trip out to the grand canyon.

Then finally down to LA for one evening and a quick day in Disney Land and then back home.

T-4 days and counting till we fly out. I will do my best to keep this TR up to date as we travel as I enjoyed doing that last time.
 

Dr Ralph

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As someone who recently flew Sydney to San Francisco via Hong Kong with a 4 hour stop over + 2 hour delay resulting in a total travel of over 24 hours, I wish you well for your 30 + hour journey.
 

bwhouse

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As someone who recently flew Sydney to San Francisco via Hong Kong with a 4 hour stop over + 2 hour delay resulting in a total travel of over 24 hours, I wish you well for your 30 + hour journey.

Fingers crossed it should be ok. In theory the first flight is basically overnight so after a nice meal we should be able to get some solid sleep and then enjoy the full EY F experience on the day time flight the next day. In general I love flying so I am not too worried :D
 

NoName

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Will follow with interest!

Yosemite is a wonderful place. One of my favourites. Have been twice now including last year to hike and going back again next year as well. Will be very interested to hear your thoughts. I also stayed at Half Dome Village and it's in a great location. Make sure you hit the pizza deck for beers and pizza at night.

Also would highly recommend driving through Death Valley National Park on your way to Vegas. Unexpectedly spectacular IMO. You will leave Yosemite through the eastern Tioga Pass entrance so basically pass by it anyway. Don't drive around it, drive through it would be my strong recommendation!
 

bwhouse

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Will follow with interest!

Yosemite is a wonderful place. One of my favourites. Have been twice now including last year to hike and going back again next year as well. Will be very interested to hear your thoughts. I also stayed at Half Dome Village and it's in a great location. Make sure you hit the pizza deck for beers and pizza at night.

Also would highly recommend driving through Death Valley National Park on your way to Vegas. Unexpectedly spectacular IMO. You will leave Yosemite through the eastern Tioga Pass entrance so basically pass by it anyway. Don't drive around it, drive through it would be my strong recommendation!

Thanks for the Pizza tip, will be sure to give that a go. We are actually driving through Death Valley National Park, we have a full day set aside for the drive from Lone Pine (just outside the park) to Vegas.

By this time tomorrow we will be on our way, now I really should go pack...
 

bwhouse

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At T-48 I was contacted by the chauffeur company to confirm the pickup details, for some reason Etihad were suggesting a 4:45 pm pickup which I pushed back to 5:30 pm. Sure enough on the day of departure, at 5:30pm I received a call from our driver who was downstairs ready to pick us up in a nice and shiny Audi A8

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After making our way through immigration and security, which thankfully wasn’t very busy and greatly helped by the lack of passenger departure cards, we made our way to the Etihad lounge which was about half way to the gate.


Once you enter the lounge you are greeted by a reception desk and a narrow entrance way. I found it interesting that the lounge attendant performed the final passport check and stamped our boarding passes so our passports did not need to be checked again at the gate.
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The actual lounge is one level down from the entrance, so after entering the lounge and heading down the corridor you either need to take the stairs or the lift to get down to the actual lounge.


I have to say I was surprised when we got out of the lift at just how small the lounge was - it was tiny. It is broadly broken up into three sections: a sit-down dining area, a bar area and a lounge area. What I found a little disappointing was that there were no private areas to sit, all the seating was primarily in one large communal area with very little to break it up. The bar had several stools and seemed happy to make any drink you requested.


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The dining area was broken into a seating area with tables and chair and a buffet area. There was a small al a carte menu on each table as well as a fairly decent hot and cold buffet selection. We decided not to eat in the lounge and rather wait to have dinner onboard the flight.


The lounge had nice bathroom and shower facilities that were clean and modern.


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I was impressed with the dedicated kid's room that was down the hallway on the way to the bathrooms. Whilst it was small it was full of toys and a TV which I can only assume would help entertain a little one.


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There was also a small business area close to the elevator that contained 3 iMacs and a printer.


Overall the Etihad First & Business lounge in Syndey was ok, I wouldn’t say it was bad, but it certainly wasn’t the best lounge I have ever been too. By the time we left the lounge, it was chocker block full - almost all the bar stools at the bar were taken along with all the dining tables. In general, I am not a fan of lounges when they become that full that you can’t find an area to sit.
 

bwhouse

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I have been counting down the days till this flight, whilst I have been lucky enough to try a few First Class products, I had not yet experienced Etihad Apartments, so I was understandably very excited!


Boarding was scheduled for 7:50 pm and the lounge attendant had told us that boarding would be called in the lounge a little after 8 pm, so we decided to leave the lounge around 7:45 pm before the rush of people. The gate was about a 5min walk from the lounge and boarding was well underway by the time we got there. Etihad shares a boarding lane for First and Business guests, but there was no line and we were on our way almost immediately. We were greeted at the entrance to the plane and shown to our seats. The load in First Class was 7/9 with the Residence flying empty.


I don’t really even know where to begin when describing Etihad Apartments except to say that the photos simply do not do the hard product justice. After boarding and turning left, I was instantly greeted with the awe-inspiring single isle A380 configuration, it is truly amazing just how wide and spacious each apartment is. What I loved, was that each apartment felt private yet open and ridiculously spacious. Compared to say Singapore Suites which are private however feel a little closed in by comparison.


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Once settled in, who am I kidding, I wasn’t settled. I was bouncing around like a kid in a candy store pushing every single button I could! After my excitement started to subside, I made my way over to Mrs B’s apartment and Joanne the food & beverage manager came and introduced her self and offered us a pre-pre-departure drink I chose the champagne, of course, Etihad serves Billecart-Salmon 2007 Vintage in First Class, and whilst it isn’t Krug, it was a tasty drop.

After returning with our champagne, Joanne offered to show us around the Apartment and the various features. The other thing that really stood out about Apartments is they felt new and modern, now we were flying on A6-APB which was put into service in 2014 so the plane really wasn’t old. But it certainly didn’t feel as worn and torn as other A380’s I have been on.


After Joanne had finished giving Mrs B and myself the tour of our home for the next 13 hours, Nikkole the onboard chef came and introduced himself to us and talked us through the menu and took our shower booking, I really do like the anytime dining concept that Etihad have. We chose to order some dinner for straight after take-off so we could then shower and get some sleep.


We pushed back right on time at 8:50 pm and had a short taxi to the runway, I do love how effortlessly the A380 launches down the runway for take-off. Shortly after the seat belt sign went off the crew came around and served drinks along with some canapes of warm nuts, olives and wasabi peas. Nikkole popped back and asked if we would like to dine together in one apartment for dinner, so I went to Mrs B’s apartment and our table was set

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For entree, Mrs B ordered the Gulf Mezze and I ordered the Prawn and Scallops. Both meals were fantastic, Mrs B was particularly impressed with the Mezze and said it was delicious. Entrees were followed by a pallet cleanser of blood orange sorbet.We both ordered the Steak Fritte for main and asked for it medium rare. It always blows me away that they can cook steak on a plane (albeit only half cook it) and I tend to think it is always a bit hit and miss. But on this occasion, both were great, still pink in the middle and fairly tender. I asked for a nice Red wine to go with my steak and Nikkole delivered, with a great 2012 Bordeaux.

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Overall the dinner service was great, it wasn’t forced or rushed and they were definitely going at whatever pace the guests wanted to eat at.


I have read many differing opinions about the service onboard Etihad, the general consensus seems to be the service is great if you have a good crew. The same can really be said for any airline. I certainly experienced wildly different service in Singapore Suites last year. But this time we lucked out with an amazing crew! It is hard to describe but they were attentive without being forced or overdone. It felt more like friendly/relaxed service rather than formal service that I have experienced in First Class before.


Let’s face it, the fact that you can have a shower and browse the internet (both at the same time if you really want) at 35,000 feet on an airplane is pretty amazing. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to giving the shower a go. Whilst I have been lucky enough to fly on a few A380’s in First class this was the first time I was on an A380 that had a shower. Well, after dinner the time had come, I was going to experience what showering on a plane was really about. Etihad actually has two showers on board one dedicated to the residence and one for the remaining First Class cabin. For those that aren’t aware you basically get 5 mins of running water that you can start and stop at anytime. The bathroom that contains the shower was rather cramped so it made it hard to get photos. But it looked something like this


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I'm not going to lie, the shower was pretty awesome and I may have taken a selfie in the shower


By the time I got back from my shower, the bed in my apartment was made up with the TV screen popped out and ready to go. The bench in the apartment converts into a crazy bed that is almost 7 foot long. The crew placed a padded mattress on top as well as an underlay, however, it was still a little on the firm side. In saying that I managed to get a solid 7 hours sleep.


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Shortly after I woke up I ordered a latte to try and kick start the brain into gear. The coffee was great, a little on the milky side, but it actually tasted like real coffee! Once Mrs B woke up we ordered some breakfast and decided to dine together again, it really is crazy just how comfortable it is to sit together in the one apartment. I ordered an omelette with cheese and mushrooms (you can’t beat freshly cooked eggs on a plane) and Mrs B just ordered the fruit platter. We were also served warm pastries, jam and toast.


If you are interested in more photos or details you can check out my blog post
 

VPS

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I love that no one on this forum thinks you're silly for a 30 hour flight in F - enjoy and I'll be following along
 
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mrs.dr.ron

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And naturally we don't think you are crazy either, as we will be doing something similar in December :D
 

bwhouse

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I love that no one on this forum thinks you're silly for a 30 hour flight in F - enjoy and I'll be following along

And naturally we don't think you are crazy either, as we will be doing something similar in December :D

Haha yup, who would have thought! For the record it was fine, the flights flew by (no pun intended). Even Mrs B wasn't too exhausted. We were spoiled though after EY F the Jet Blue Mint seats really weren't anything special.
 

bwhouse

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The entrance to the lounge is directly after you exit security, once you enter you head up a level to the lobby of the lounge.

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The lobby area opens up to a long hallway that has the entrance to the lounge as well as the entrance to the Spa and Salon. The only thing that was slightly odd is that the bathrooms are also at the end of the same hallway, so you need to somewhat exit the main lounge to head to the bathroom.Once you go through the sliding doors from the lobby area into the lounge you enter into the main dining area, which is split into two sections with plenty of tables in two and four configurations. There is also a smaller bar in the dining area. As we had had breakfast on the plane, we weren’t really hungry so didn’t get to sit down and try the al a carte menu.


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Around the corner from the dining area are the main bar and a small seating area.


Past the bar is more seating as well as the relaxation room. One thing I really liked about the lounge was the way the seating was arranged. The lounge seemed to be broken up into sections and break out areas which made it easy to find a place to sit without feeling like you are invading someone else's personal space. Whilst the lounge was fairly empty when we first arrived, it started to fill up very quickly. Thankfully the attendant told me that they were expecting 139 people this morning and suggested we book our spa or salon sessions ASAP to get the time slots we wanted. Even after the lounge filled up it still felt roomy with plenty of space, although it did become hard to book a spa, shower or salon appointment.


Whilst the Etihad Flagship First Class lounge doesn’t have private sleeping room or rest rooms, it does have a novel concept that they call the relaxation area. It is essentially a quite room with individual recliners that you can lie down on. The far wall in the relaxation room is a floor to ceiling TV wall that displays animations that I can only assume are designed to make you relax...
Relaxation Room


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The lounge also has a dedicated cigar lounge, that has a both complimentary and paid for cigars available as well as a nice selection of whiskey and cognac.


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After having a coffee and pastry, we decided to check out the spa and salon. The shower rooms are actually part of the spa and you can book a slot and receive a buzzer to notify you when your appointment is available. I also decided to use my free 15min treatment to get a wet shave.


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Once again if you want to see a few more photos you can go here
 
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