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Using Delta Miles, Virgin Australia to New Zealand, Queenstown, Sydney, with Pictures

Using Delta Miles, Virgin Australia to New Zealand, Queenstown, Sydney, with Pictures

Old Dec 29, 12, 2:58 pm
  #1  
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Using Delta Miles, Virgin Australia to New Zealand, Queenstown, Sydney, with Pictures

This first part of this Trip Report covers the thought process of why this vacation was chosen and how the award was booked, as it's rather complex. Feel free to skip to the next installment if you want to start at the beginning of the trip.

I not only enjoy accumulating points and miles for the least amount of time and effort, I also enjoy getting great value using those points and miles. Dont get me wrong, you need to travel where you want to travel, but when the above two criteria overlap, it really puts a smile on my face.

My use up the remaining vacation left in 2012 trip this year was going to be to Florida, to stay at the Westin Diplomat, the SPG property with the highest suite to room ratio. I would be turning Plat just before that trip and thought a nice suite would make for a fun vacation.

Then I attended Chicago Seminars. I find nothing inspires me to elevate my travel game more than spending a weekend with people with a passion for travel, combined with a desire to travel well.

After Chicago Seminars, I was inspired to think a little bigger and look for something fun. Delta miles to Australia had intrigued me in the past, but the $800 in fuel surcharges per person took some of the smoking deal aspect away. And then this fall, Delta removed the award fuel surcharges. The new price was 150,000 and $150 per person. I dont know of a better value using Delta for an award now. Time to look for tickets!
The other thing I liked about this award was you could do the search on delta.com. I love when Gary Leff tells you to sign up for some obscure Asiana promo because you need miles in your account to search Air Ethiopia awards or some such other carrier, but I like simple.

The only way you will find this award is with using one way searches on Delta for each segment. Its actually the same technique you need to use to find Delta domestic availability, which is sad. If you want to fly anywhere after you get to Australia (for example, we wanted to go to New Zealand), you start by looking at the cities you want to go to and find out what days of the week they are serviced. You then would start by targeting the dates the overwater sections need to be flow to use the feeders, which need to be on VA metal, which will be LAX to MEL, BNE or SYD. The most I ever looked for is 2 seats, but Ive seen 2 more show up when you put the first ticket on hold. Once you find your overwater there and back, you start looking for one ways connecting to LA and returning from LA.

I was able to put a ticket booked online on hold for 72 hours after I used multicity to put all my known low award one ways together. I could book to MEL outbound and from SYD on the return. I needed to add the New Zealand legs on the phone after asking for an international reissue agent. If you do this, just ask for the international reissue agent and save the explanation. You will be instantly transferred without any questioning. An international reissue agent is just a senior employee with the skills to ticket on other carriers. Also, be aware if the agent changes the ticket, the hold time changes from the original 72 hours to 12 hours from the change. They can edit this out to another full 72 hours. Ask for them to do this at the end of the call. My agent forget, and my ticket cancelled, but was able to be rebuilt, as the expired hold segments werent added back into the system yet, as the hold had expired less than 10 hours before. In the end, I booked DTW-SLC-LAX-MEL-CHC, then 3 days later ZQN-SYD(stop for 3 days)-LAX-MSP-DTW. Quite the Rubiks cube to align, but an incredible experience when you get it sorted out properly. And the entire itinerary was to be done in F (first) and C (business)! If there is no low F available when trying to get to LAX from your start city, you can also book online the C legs and call to add low Y (economy) award to the ticket.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:04 pm
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Flights DTW-SLC-LAX were uneventful. The meal from DTW-SLC was cereal. No choice. How ghetto can Delta fall? Judging from the 767 Im sitting on heading back to Detroit while typing this, fairly ghetto (picture to follow). Cant believe how ridden hard and put away wet this 767 is. Every F seat is torn at the bottom and the VOD needed rebooted. Not impressed.

But, lets get back to the fun. In LA, we had 10 hours and I have several relatives that live there. I have Emerald Exec status with National, and was happy to score a Hyundai Equus. Very nice car. Hyundais attempt to go up against Mercedes E class and BMW 5 series and they did a much better job than I had thought and read in the car mags that it would. Very nice ride and touch surfaces.

After a short visit with my brother and cousin and their families, it was back to the airport to experience Virgin Australia. We got to use the business class line ay LAX and the service was exceptional.



Our seats had been assigned apart from each other over the phone after ticketing, as that was all that was left and I was hoping to get 2 seats on the side, as VA 777s are 2-3-2 configuration. The holy grail is row 5, as business is row 1-4, then a bar, then row 5, which basically has bulkheads both in front of and behind. And, we were assigned row 5 on the side! I was really excited.
The one thing Ive consistently found is desk agents not being totally informed about airport operations. The VA desk agent told me the bags would come out in Australia and I could get my clothes then. This was important to me, as I wanted to take a shower before 9 hours in MEL and then the flight to Christchurch. Wrong. The bags were through checked to Christchurch, New Zealand and I got to shower but needed to put on my old clothes. The shower was the important part and I learned my lesson about putting the extra clothes in my carry-on. Again, I am jumping ahead. Back to predeparture from LAX.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:08 pm
  #3  
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Also, we were carrying American carry-ons. On VA, a carry-on is limited mainly by weight of 15 pounds max. My rollaboard weighs 11 pounds empty. So, they had to be checked.

Got to use the Air New Zealand lounge in LAX which was very modern with a great variety of food and beverage.









They even had sushi.





Got to watch The Good Wife, our favorite show, as our flight was at 10:30.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:26 pm
  #4  
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The flight to Melbourne was wonderful.

Our seats in row 5.



A closer look at the seats.



Legroom for row 5.



Curtain partially drawn for privacy after underway.



The first 4 rows.



The tucked away noise cancelling headphones and the remote.



There were 5 FAs assigned to work the 5 rows of business. I have never felt more taken care of then by the crew of our flight. Previous C experiences are limited to Northwest, CO, and Delta only, with Continental previously being the bright spot service wise. I realize that I havent flown the Asian carriers, who typically set the bar much higher. We watched a movie while we had dinner. I really enjoyed both the dinner and the breakfast and the attention to detail. Service started with hot nuts.



For my starter, I had the corn and capsicum soup. Notice the Sydney Opera House salt and pepper shakers.



For my main course, I had the beef filet with celeriac puree, green beans and salsa verde. Excellent.



After dinner, VA closes all the window shades and turns the plane ceiling into a night sky, complete with stars.



On the way to Australia, we were already tired, but on the way home, night came at 4:30PM SYD time. After dinner, we requested our seats get turned into lay flat beds.



We were asked if we wanted sleep suits, Australian for pajamas which we accepted. There was a full bar set up, which is self serve with 4 stools in front, which worried me a little as the bar was 10 feet away from our seats.



However, everyone that did drink there didnt get boisterous and was respectful.

Our row 5 seats turned into a private suite when the curtains were drawn between the front and rear bulkheads. Very nice.






I found the 16 hour flight to be significantly better than the 8 hour flights to Europe, where you get dinner and watch a movie and then can sleep only 4 or 5 hours before being awakened for landing.

Breakfast. Streaky bacon, Emmenthal cheese and spinach French toast sandwich. Very tasty!

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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:32 pm
  #5  
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Before deplaning, we were given Express Cards for immigration.

Saw a sweet Emirates 380 and had to stop to take a picture.



Entering Melbourne was fine, with the only thing I found odd being no lounge access to the Virgin Australia lounge after the flight. We tried to go in, but were told it was only for outbound passengers. I had specifically asked the reservation agent when I called to select seats whether a shower was possible after the flight and was told yes. A more senior lounge person overheard our story and said if we only wanted a shower, hed allow it, if we had been told wed have access to one. I believe the walk up price is $65 per person.



Shower room.



I was grateful, but really think the business class passengers on the one flight a day into MEL from LAX should be given a lounge pass if they to want a shower, which I really fine refreshing. I actually hate using the word refreshing, as it reminds me of the first time I read about a shower in one of Gary Leffs trip reports. I was thinking, what a wimp. But, I am now totally sold on the idea that a shower really makes a huge difference in the way the rest of the day goes.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:35 pm
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Nine hours was a good amount of time to quickly see Melbourne. Took the bus to the center of town, and started exploring the alleys. Went on a boat tour of the Yarra, which I'd recommend. My impression was that it is a nice city with a serious graffiti problem. Saw a graffiti removal wagon with 2 workers in it sitting there and a few hundred feet away was a wall covered with graffiti.

Made it back to the airport and security turned us back, as they claimed our boarding passes printed in LA werent going to scan. Im glad we were turned back, because when we went to get our Row 9 BPs reprinted, the desk agent informed us we were in Premium Economy, Row 1, Seats A and C. All segments on the ticket had shown Z fare, so this made sense. The friendly, enthusiastic agent in LAX had tried, but the system wouldnt allow him to assign us those seats.

Stopped in the Air New Zealand lounge before the flight.

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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:55 pm
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Premium economy was very nice. It was like European first class, with the seats still in 3 and 3 configuration, but the upper middle seat flipped down and turned into cup holders.






Also, the arm rests near the middle seat moved in another inch or two. We were the only 2 people in PE for the flight to Christchurch, as well as the flight back from Queenstown. Anything on the menu was complementary, including an electronic tablet that was normally $15 to rent with movies and TV shows loaded on it, and a few extra inches of legroom.



The flight attendant greeted us by name and remarked that it was a long day to come from LA. Very impressive. All Virgin Australia workers way exceeded expectations on this trip. The extra friendliness really left a positive impression.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 3:57 pm
  #8  
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Arrival at Christchurch threw me a little. Ended up with a young female immigration agent, who thought going to New Zealand for 3 days was highly suspicious. After the incredible service both coming over and arriving in Melbourne, as well as the lack of sleep, I was totally thrown. We were flagged for secondary screening, which ended up being a blessing. I had sliced and put an apple in my bag in Michigan, or so I thought. However, I couldnt remember eating the apple, but had been traveling for close to 2 days now, including 10 hours in LA and 9 hours in MEL. When directed to secondary screening, I double check my bag and the apple is still not there. However, my wife pulls the apple out of her carry-on, along with an orange she picked up at the club in Melbourne. We are already past the amnesty bin and they let us know we can be fined $400. Im flustered because Im asked to pull out my itinerary again and reexplain why I am coming to New Zealand for 3 days. An older agent comes over and tells us its our lucky day and that the younger agent has decided to not charge us the $400 fine. I was really put off by the whole experience and was anxious to get the rental car and get to the hotel, as it was past midnight and I was dragging. After a good night sleep, I was grateful and realized the agents were doing their job. I know part of my impatience was a lack of sleep and pictures of the line at the rental car counter being really long, as none of the rental car places either had a fast break type of arrangement in CHC, or cars in inventory to rent. Hopefully, Ill get less tense the next time it happens.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:01 pm
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Worrying about the rental car ended up not being an issue, as it appears literally everyone on the flight got picked or had their own car parked at the airport. I quickly get a car from Thrifty.
I declined the GPS rental for $10 a day, as I thought I had smartly loaded the GPSFree open source app to my smart phone. Appears it will only load addresses when hooked to the internet, which I had failed to figure out until in the car. Tried the POI list, and came up with a long list of coffee shops and restaurants, but no hotels in Christchurch. Attempted to drive to where the hotel was approximately on the map from my memory. The last time I glanced at the map was a few days ago. With 20/20 hind sight, should have gone back into the airport and got the GPS.
Christchurch has experienced an earthquake many streets were blocked off, including the one my hotel was on.



I ended up ringing the bell at the local police station and they directed me about two blocks past where they were located. So, the GPS might not have helped as much as Id hoped. I definitely should have printed maps of both CHC and Queenstown, with hotel locations on them before I left. Live and learn.
Stayed at the Christchurch YMCA, as we were getting in past midnight and wanted to get an early start. It was clean and quiet, my two major criteria for a hotel. It hit the spot.



7 hours after arrival, we checked out.

But as we were packing up, we discover our illegal contraband of food, complete with a muffin with fruit on the top in my wife's bag! We were closer to the $400 fine than I had imagined.

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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:07 pm
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I drove back to the airport, as I assumed the Toyota Corolla car I had rented would have cruise control. It did not. Id read on line about police issuing tickets for 3 MPH over the limit, and hoped to upgrade to a car with cruise. All the cars were spoken for and Id need to be careful on our drive to Christchurch.
The drive was absolutely beautiful. Stopped at Lake Tekapa, where the water basically glowed. Kind of like blue Caribbean water on steroids.



And my screensaver on my computer-




Although the temperature was in the 60s, snow capped mountains were on all sides. Stunning. Stopped and hiked a bit and drove further on a dirt road around the lake. Stunning again. I know I just said stunning, but if you ever go, youll understand.

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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:12 pm
  #11  
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New Zealand driving trivia-
Q-How do you know someone from the US, or most other countries, wants to make a turn?
A-They turn on their windshield wipers.
Explanation- The windshield wiper stalk is where the turn signal lever is normally on a left hand drive car. I used it to signal well over half the time.

DOH!

Finished up the drive to Queenstown and went to Queenstown proper. Had not looked at where the Hilton was in Queenstown so drove to the center and asked. It was on the other side of the lake, about a 20 minute drive away. I didn’t mind the drive, but really need to remember to not trust GPSFree or any other new nav source without printing out maps for backups.

The Hilton Queenstown was very posh. Built only a year and a half ago, it appears they are still trying to build their client base, as the hotel didn’t appear anywhere close to full. Front desk hostess was really friendly and walked me to the room. I was upgraded to a “relaxation room”, which was basically a junior suite on the lake with a private hot tub on the deck.



Fireplace and TV.



Patio deck with hot tub.





Very nice. Fireplace, couch and chair on the lower section, king bed on the upper. Also got complimentary breakfast as a Gold.








Had my first juicer experience here, and I really thought the juice was delicious.

Also, I have a picture of my wife sampling Vegemite for the first time, but maintain marital harmony, I have decided not to post it. I actually had time to turn the camera back on and snap the picture, and she still had a pained expression on her face. Use caution, is all I can advise for your first time sampling Vegemite. Perhaps 90% jelly and 10% Vegemite was recommended to us by an Aussie afterwards.

This is the only hotel ever that housekeeping greeted me by name when they checked to see if the room was available for cleaning and I was there. Impressive! Without exception, everyone at the hotel and their restaurants was spot on with customer service. The hotel did a great job of shielding the room and hot tub from a walkway that ran along the lake with tall grasses and other plants.



This room was 35,000 Hilton points a night.

Last edited by Bikeguy; Dec 29, 12 at 4:20 pm
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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:14 pm
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Did the tram up the hill in Queenstown and hiked down. Beautiful views and recommended.



The only thing I really wanted to do this trip was go to Milford Sound. The rest was just check out whatever we felt like. Didn’t really have time to plan in the states and brought a few guidebooks. This was one of the points that appeared not to impress the immigration officer. The road to Milford Sound was closed for the 3 days we were there, due to rain and rock slides, and I decided to splurge on the $400 a piece it takes for the 20 minute each way flight. Called the flight company the morning of the second day and they informed me they fly on visual rules and wouldn’t be flying today. I called back the next morning, and again they were cancelling all flights because of poor weather. This really impacted my head, as it was the one thing I really wanted to do and New Zealand isn’t a quick return trip. I had read a great synopsis by a race car driver named Stirling Moss, that stated the traits that made him a great race car driver were also traits that made him hard to live with. While I am not great race car driver, I certainly have character traits that make me hard to live with. My wife is a loving and patient woman and she allows me my space. I wasn’t sulking, but the over the top experience I was having up to this point was dampened. The Kiwi and Aussie spirit of “if it was meant to be, it would” hadn’t been absorbed into me. I did much better with it than I would have in the past and don’t feel like not getting to do the one thing I had planned after flying 11,000 miles took much away from the rest of this truly fantastic trip. I did learn I still have problems with acceptance of things out of my control, which looks silly as I type it, but is the truth. Any words of wisdom on how to deal with this if it presents itself again would be appreciated.

Ended up eating at FergBurger in Queenstown, which is super highly rated on TripAdvisor. I am not much of a burger guy, but decided to try it and it was wonderful. Started out in 2000, when it's hours were midnight to 5AM. Now open 8AM to 5AM at just about always a line.

Last edited by Bikeguy; Dec 29, 12 at 5:12 pm
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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:22 pm
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Drove out to Glenarchy the following day before our 4:30 PM flight from Queenstown to Sydney. Beautiful and wished wed had more time there. This is one of the areas used when filming the latest Hobbit. Had to stop several times while driving to take pictures, because it was so beautiful.






There were some hiking trails Id have like to explored along the road had we had more time.
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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:27 pm
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Enjoyed the premium economy experience on the way back again. The first 3 rows have extra leg room with the first 2 being premium economy.
Went through Sydney immigration with 3 days listed as the trip length and a triple check to make sure we didnt have any fruit. Guy didnt bat an eye and sent us down the no check lane directly out of the airport. Nothing like a mature officer that recognizes a 47 year old engineer with his wife isnt a threat.
Took a cab to the Park Hyatt Sydney, which was a mistake. Looked like the train and the cab would be close in price for 2 people. What I didnt know is that the second Friday in December, everyone heads back into the city for their company Christmas parties. We sat in traffic jams for a long time and the bill came to $75 to get to the hotel, versus the $34.40 to get there on the train. Also, the train is 20 minutes no matter what the traffic.
I loved the treatment as a Diamond member at the Park Hyatt Sydney. Stayed on points, which is an incredible value of 22,000 points versus the $850 a night a regular room runs. Was immediately whisked to a room overlooking the Opera House where we completed the check in and I signed some papers and showed my credit card.

View of Opera House greets us as we walk in.



Looking to the left.



Looking back from the bed toward the bathroom. The wall to the right slid over for privacy.

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Old Dec 29, 12, 4:33 pm
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As it was Friday, we walked up the hill to the Village Bizzarre, a Friday night only event with a bunch of really weird displays and exhibits. I bought a Mad Max T shirt, featuring Mad Maxes original police car done in bronze, as that is what the police were referred to in the movie. Got talking with the guy selling the shirts, and he said they were trying to film the 4th movie of the series, but it had rained heavily in the outback where the filming was to occur and there were flowers everywhere, which doesnt fit a post apoctalyptic movie. Many Aussies having a great time in their Christmas best.

When we came back to the room, the Opera House looked cool at night:




Saturday we walked the Opera House park route and took a tour of the Governors mansion.



Got a great presentation there on the history of Australia and the role of the governor. Recommended. We then headed over to Bondi beach for the walk along the cliffs.



Does anyone else get an overblown sense of satisfaction of 1) figuring out what bus to catch, 2) catching the bus, and 3) actually getting to where you planned with no drama. I have no idea why accomplishing this fills me with this overwhelming sense of pride, similar to what I believe Id feel if I solved world hunger. Definitely overblown in my mind, versus what I actually accomplished.
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