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A slice of SYD and a morsel of MEL on NZ Y, QF Y, TG J, BR J

A slice of SYD and a morsel of MEL on NZ Y, QF Y, TG J, BR J

Old Dec 4, 13, 10:59 am
  #1  
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: SFO
Programs: HH Gold, CC Gold
Posts: 265
A slice of SYD and a morsel of MEL on NZ Y, QF Y, TG J, BR J

Intro:
I don't fly much but thanks to Flyertalk I have definitely amped up the travel in the past few years and saved a lot of money. My first and only other international trip was in 2009 to London in VS Y (before there was YQ) + a Hilton Amex AXON reward when it good for 6 nights.

This trip to Australia was actually planned for 2014 to optimize points/miles (and would of been booking it last month) however the specter of devaluation had me move the trip forward a year.

Australia was always a place I wanted to visit. When I was a kid, some relatives of my grandmother who lived in Sydney came to visit and brought me a stuffed animal toy in the form of a koala. And yes I saw one not in a zoo while in Australia.

Since I was writing details of my trip for friends, I figured I should expand on that with more FT details and share my experience here as I benefited from others who did the same.

Planning
As stated above, the impetus to booking this year was Hilton's additional hotel categories and increased points for the AXON rewards. I was debating going back to the UK in Oct as I figured everything was booked up for Australia (we're talking Apr at that point). But it wasn't as horrible as I thought if I booked it as 2 one ways (with multi-city coming back) vs roundtrip tix.

The original plan was to do the whole Melbourne Cup Festival (Nov 5-9). Due to my late booking, I couldn't get saver reward flights into MEL until after the actual Melbourne Cup. I figured since I was in Australia why don't I just pop down to Sydney too? I still had a few leftover BA Avios to get the intra-Australia flight.

Moving the trip forward a year left me short miles for a pure Biz RT. Having flown SFO-LHR in Y and at 5'7, I need leg room if its more than a 6h flight. Thanks to those who post on Flyertalk, I knew Air New Zealand in Y was a solid choice.

Hotels were the easiest to book. The Radisson Blu was done online, 50k points for 2 nights in Sydney. Hilton requires calling to use the Axon - couldn't get the South Wharf location but Park location was very good.

So I ended up with this (and will be posting the following):
SFO-AUK-SYD on New Zealand in Y
Radisson Blu Sydney - 2 Nights
Intra-Sydney travel + Ferry
SYD-MEL on Qantas in Y
Hilton On the Park - Melbourne - 4 Nights
Intra-Melbourne travel + Tours (Phillip Isl & Great Ocean Rd)
MEL-BKK on Thai in J
EVA lounge at BKK + BKK-TPE on EVA in J
EVA lounge at TPE + TPE-SFO on EVA in J
Amenity Kits

Not quite one-bag trip. I have the soft sided Dakine 21 inch bag with some ebags packing cubes to give some structure/separation. The Dakine is very prone to tipping over (knew about that flaw) but it's ~5 pounds, was on sale and would only hold clothes and toiletries.

Also had a new laptop - bought on sale for $199.99 Aspire One 756 (11.6/3 lbs). I was close to getting the new ASUS Win 8 tablet but went the safe route. Had to adjust to the much smaller size of the AO but it worked fine for VPN-ing to work.

Laptop was in my mini backpack (Target) in a sleeve with the camera. I also had my simple nook - didn't use it at all - with all the chords/adapters that go with the tech. The backpack weighed close to 6 lbs!


I had the new Citi Hilton Reserve with Chip-and-sig. Also brought my BOA chip- and-sig just in case (didn't end up using it) and Charles Schwab debit card.

Citi card worked as it should. The only time the pin didn't work was at a Target in MEL - they had to swipe it.

Debit card worked except at the Flemington racecourse ATMs. They had the Plus sign and 2 dozen others. Guess they didn't want me betting more money. lol

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 6, 13 at 12:24 am Reason: add link
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Old Dec 4, 13, 11:07 am
  #2  
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: SFO
Programs: HH Gold, CC Gold
Posts: 265
SFO-AKL-SYD on Air New Zealand in Y

BART to SFO - easy as pie as I work in SoMa. I used my United club pass from my then CO Onepass cc. It was useful that's all I can really say about it and I do love those Walkers shortbread cookies. It was fairly empty and the wifi worked.

Got to the gate and oh boy the gate was a madhouse with strollers, huge backpacks, and babies seemingly everywhere. I got stuck in the mess as I was called to the desk and ended up stuck around there. The staff did make sure the right passengers boarded based on the class they called, but it was a lot of surges of people pushing past people hanging around the gate.

Once on board, it was much better. Bag fit in perfectly. Didn't hear any babies crying and had a aisle seat.

Dinner: Chicken rigatoni, dinner roll, mustard potato salad, egmont cheese (NZ cheese) and crackers, and lemon coconut cheesecake. Not pretty but it was pretty good.


Breakfast - SFO-AKL
#1 Cheese omelet, tater tots (ate most of them before I took the pic), tomato, raspberry yogurt, fruit and OJ


Connect at AKL, very easy transfer. Interesting thing in the ladies restroom at AKL, a bottle of alcohol-based foam to wipe the seat of the toilet in lieu of toilet seat covers.

Breakfast #2 - AKL-SYD
Cereal, Carrot almond muffin, more fruit, and milk


Used the SmartGate as I had Global Entry. Being a newbie, I timed myself out the 1st time staring at the kiosk screen when I should be looking up for face recognition. Doh! Not too many people used it and it saved a bit of time vs regular line.

Took the Airport train straight to the hotel - stop was only a block away.
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Old Dec 4, 13, 10:59 pm
  #3  
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Radisson Blu - Sydney

With my new Carlson Credit Card, I was able to book two nights for the price of one award night, and with Gold level one gets a free upgrade, free internet and a welcome gift.

The subway exit is really close to the hotel (1.5 blocks), but you do have to walk a bit to get to the actual station while underground. The hotel entrance on Pitt Street is closest to the subway entrance/exit. It actually puts you in the lower level of the hotel, so you have to go up a short flight of stairs to the front desk. The main building entrance (O'Connell) leads you right to the front desk.

No early check-in when I showed up at ~9:30 am so I left the luggage with the concierge and did some sightseeing. The hotel is 5-6 block from Circular Quay and the Westfield Mall was a few blocks over. Got some cash from a Westpac ATM with Schwab card and some water at the 7/11.

Came back and was upgraded from Atrium to a studio spa suite. It had only an office building view. The spa part of the tub didn't seem to work. Not a big deal as I usually shower, just wanted to try it out. Maybe I didn't push the button hard enough. The closet had an automatic light switch so it turned on and off when you open/closed the doors.



Front desk called about 20 minutes later to see if I needed anything and then someone came to the door with the welcome gift: Dark Chocolate Almond Crisps


The Peter Morrissey toiletries had a nice light smell - green tea with Vit E and active botanicals. The toothbrushes were those wooden ones with the tiniest Colgate toothpaste I have ever seen (5 grams). Wi-fi and line-in internet worked fine. Not sure if I was only to have one or the other, but I didn't get charged for using both. I did mention to the front desk about using both...



As usual with many hotels, not enough outlets and inaccessible especially when using adapters unless you moved things a bit. Otherwise it was a very good stay.
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Old Dec 4, 13, 11:52 pm
  #4  
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Join Date: Jun 2009
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Posts: 265
Intra-Sydney travel + Ferry

Did the usual tourist spots - Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, Darling Harbour, Paddy's Market, Botanical Gardens, and Manly Beach. Also stopped at ABC HQ to see the mini Doctor Who exhibit.




I had the Blue Mountains planned but the fires scratched that off the itinerary. Temps were mid 60s to 70s F while I was there with a bit of overcast before it was full-on sunny the last day.

I had 3 transportation cards while in SYD - Airport Gate card, MyMulti1 and MyFerry card and they were all swiping cards. I'm so used to flash or touch cards, it was a bit of pain taking them out of my wallet. I did see they are transitioning to a touch card called Opal soon.


I thought it was pretty interesting that on the older trains you could flip the seats so they're facing the other way instead of fixed seats.

MyMulti1 no longer cover ferries, you have to upgrade to the next two levels depending on how long the ferry ride is (Manly requires a MyMulti3). You can buy a one-off RT ticket if you only do a Multi1. If you ride more than once, upgrading levels is cheaper. The ferry reminded me of the Staten Island ferries as they have a very similar layout.


Had some kangaroo and emu pizza at The Australian Heritage Hotel. You order it from the bar and they bring it out to you. The emu side has the grape tomatoes. It didn't taste like chicken more like beef and had a slight gamey flavor. The kangaroo side tasted like steak. It was quite good. I was tempted to get a crocodile one, but it was getting busy.

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 6, 13 at 10:51 am
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Old Dec 5, 13, 12:03 am
  #5  
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SYD-MEL on Qantas in Y

You guys weren't kidding about nobody at the check-in desks. Nothing but a sea of kiosks to weigh your luggage and print your boarding pass. Nobody seemed to be checking size or weight of carry-ons.

Gate was pretty orderly. It was interesting to see they have Krispy Kream donuts at the airport.

Healthy snack - cookie was especially good.


IFE was an iPad you Velcroed to the back of the seat.

Fast and easy flight - no complaints.
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Old Dec 5, 13, 10:18 am
  #6  
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Hilton On the Park - Melbourne

Upgraded to an King Executive level room as HH Gold member. I had a view of the Fitzroy gardens/city. They had my name up on the TV screen (guess its their "welcome letter") + 2 bottles of water.


The half-width glass door in the bathroom is weird. I was surprised I managed not to wet anything. The door hook in the bathroom was really high, lucky I'm tall but will be hard for shorter people to use. The tub and toilet were the only things that seemed old. The usual Peter Thomas Roth toiletries they have at Hiltons.

I did like that the electrical sockets were more accessible than the Radisson Blu in Sydney. The outlet at the bar was most useful for my camera battery charger 2x3x1 block. Half-size fridge in bar, didn't touch the minibar stuff, but did use it to keep things cool. Same/similar clock radio I had at NY Hilton.
Bed was comfortable with nice pillows. Lots of towels in the bathroom.

I didn't use the lounge as keycard didn't seem to work the one time I tried it. I spent most of my time in Melbourne/on all day tours so wasn't around for afternoon snacks, and had breakfast in the restaurant - full breakfast buffet (mmmm lamingtons).


Restaurant seems fine, I had a steak first night there. Nothing mindblowing, just a regular steak.

Newspapers were available at the front desk or at a table near the breakfast lounge/restaurant.

The location was great for me being a tourist. CBD is pretty close. I actually walked back and forth most days as everything seemed to be connected by a block or 2. And there's the free historical tram that goes around the prime tourist bits near CBD.
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Old Dec 5, 13, 11:34 am
  #7  
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Posts: 265
Intra-Melbourne travel + Tours (Phillip Isl & Great Ocean Rd)

The Jolimont train station is across the street from the Hilton in part of the Yarra Park/Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG), it's in a depression, kinda under the road.

Two tram lines on street level also take you to the CBD, plus a few buses. Lots of transportation if one needs it.


The myki machines at Jolimont wouldn't take paper money nor debit card even if it has the slots for them. There's a 7/11 down a block on the Hilton side to load up money/buy a myki + snacks for your trips around the city. The Myki is good on the tram, trains and buses. Interestingly the Clipper system (SF Bay area's Oyster/Opal/Myki) picked up I had that card saying something like too many cards registering.


The cricket grounds are a bit farther back from the train station, along with the National Sport Museum inside the MCG. The Fitzroy Gardens are next to the Hilton, very beautiful and includes Capt Cook's Cottage.

Rearranging my trip left me with Emirates Stakes Day for the Melbourne Cup festival. The train takes you right to the track. Got good seats in the grandstand, with a view of the finish line. Even with a hoodie and a jacket, it was freezing in the morning (especially when you're wearing a dress). Drizzled a bunch, luckily the overhang kept me dry and eventually it cleared up. It is a humongous, beautiful track - I've been to Churchill Downs which is one of the biggest tracks in the US, but Flemington dwarfs it.


I didn't book my tours until I was in MEL as I wasn't sure if the weather would hold. First up was the Phillip Island tour with The Little Penguin Bus. Met at a CBD hotel and was dropped off at my hotel later that night.

I signed up for the Penguin Plus package which gets you on a smaller platform (2nd pic) closer to the hills where the penguins nest (basically under the camera in the 1st pic of the regular grandstand), so we saw a couple hundred come up the beach and walk along the walkway, we were less than six inches away. We also had a bit of time before the penguins to see the Nobbies and saw two wallabies playing off the road. No cameras allowed during the penguin walk so the only pics are from the visitor center.


Then I did a 1 day Great Ocean Road tour with Go West. I was picked up and later that night dropped off at my hotel. The tour guide was entertaining (playing Australian kids songs and stories about our locations) and stopped off at a lot of spots to take pictures. We saw koalas, wild parrots, an echidna and a temperate rainforest (saw a flesh eating snail - looks like a regular snail with a black shell) along the way and the biggie 12 Apostles and London Arch.




It rained on my last day so I did a tour of MCG, National Sports museum, and the Melbourne museum before my flight.



Skybus picked me up for the airport right when they said they would, transfer at Southern Cross for the airport Skybus was quick. I was very impressed as they were very efficient.

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 6, 13 at 10:42 am
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Old Dec 5, 13, 10:21 pm
  #8  
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MEL-BKK on Thai in J

I decided to checked my bag thru to SFO. Thai had a separate line for Biz/1st so only had one person in line.

NZ Lounge
I had beef brisket and rice. Rice was overcooked. Beef was fine. They also had some pasta but it had cilantro all over it. I have the gene so that makes it taste like soap.


Biz seat 777-200 - not quite flat seats. Slept fine in them.


Dinner - Very nice, especially desert
Appetizer: Seared prawn and scallops with salad + bread
Main: Barramundi fish with olive tapenada and tomato concasse + broccoli
Desert: Chocolate mud cake with raspberry coulis and a fruit tart




Breakfast:
Fruit, yogurt, bread
Stir fried noodles with barbecue pork/bok choy (I just wanted the noodles and veg). It was just OK.


Oh amenity kit was a blue Crabtree & Evelyn bag and the fast track pass through immigration/security was great. Probably took 10 minutes total.

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 5, 13 at 11:11 pm
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Old Dec 5, 13, 11:08 pm
  #9  
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EVA Lounge at BKK


The food was great: BBQ pork bun, sui mei, shrimp dumplings, pot stickers, and custard bun, cheesecake, mini cherry pie, some pate and cheese bites, also got green tea ice cream and oreos in Thai packaging.

They also had pizza and regular sandwiches (ham/cheese, peanut butter/jelly) soup, cereal, bread (for toast), cup o' noodles for the people who don't want Asian food.

While I ate they printed out new boarding passes on EVA paper.

A330 flight - sorry for the fuzzy pic.



Appetizer:
Scallop, salad, I think it was smoked ham and pesto. Also there was warm bread.


Dinner
Duck with rice/veg (pre-ordered it - was only OK), apple juice, fruit, cheese, veggie, crackers, ice cream and tea.




No amenity kit - you do get some slippers.
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Old Dec 5, 13, 11:58 pm
  #10  
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EVA Lounge at TPE
EVA has two biz lounges and you can try either one. The one to your left (Infinity) is the crazy light one one.


The one to the right (Star) has flowers and art pieces. This one was less crowded so I spent more time here.





Pretty much the same food in either lounge. I think the only thing different was the ice cream. Fried rice was bland. Ate some more desert like red bean bun, custard tart, taro ball, mini Asian cookies, and cake.

Royal Laurel flight
The seat was great sitting, tons of leg room. As a bed it is a bit tight in the foot well area as the bed extends to that step, so its not a lot space if you have big feet like I do. The IFE screen also can block your legs a bit while in bed mode. I found a position that worked and slept well. Love that the remote and plugs were up near one's head/window so things don't get tangled or lost.




Light dinner:
Prawn and pate with salmon roe salad
Braised bean curd with 5 grain rice, burdock, mushrooms and pickled vegetables
Fruit and desert + a piece of Godiva chocolate and tea




Breakfast:
Taiwanese plain porridge (got two bowls as I ate it up so fast), traditional delicatessens (celery, rousong, mushrooms, fermented tofu), silky bean curd stuffed with shrimp mousse, stir fried asparagus with lily bulb and wolfberries + fruit. They also handed out small packages of mix nuts + rice crackers and lemon candy.


Amenity kit was a dark green mini- Rimowa hardshell bag + got another pair of slippers.

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 18, 13 at 11:12 pm
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Old Dec 6, 13, 12:21 am
  #11  
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Amenity kits - Thai & EVA

Thai Amenity kit:
Dark blue "comfort" socks and eye mask, ear plugs, foldable comb/brush, toothbrush, Fluocaril toothpaste & 0% alcohol mouthwash, Crabtree & Evelyn jojoba oil hand cream & lip balm


EVA Amenity kit:
The zipper isn't very smooth.

Inside was: Green socks and eyemask, Colgate toothpaste and toothbrush, Harnn cymopogon (lemongrass) body souffle & lip treatment.


EVA slippers - They are big slippers (I didn't see smaller ones being handed out) so work great for me (size 10 womens):

Last edited by lmwong1977; Dec 18, 13 at 11:10 pm
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Old Dec 6, 13, 12:59 am
  #12  
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Conclusion

Baggage arrive at SFO safe and sound. It took longer waiting for it to show up than to get thru security. Global entry was a bit more busy with 3 other Int'l flights coming in - based on baggage Mexico and Germany flights. Still only had to wait a few minutes, then they glanced at the receipt and I was outta there to the waiting BART train.

Yes the trip was too short to really see everything, but for a late-ish booking, I think I crammed a good taster of things into my itinerary. It just means I have to go back. It was a dream trip to see a bunch of biggies on my list. The country really is beautiful and there's so much more to see.

Hotels were great, service was comparable I think. I'll stick with Hilton for one more year (have 2 weekend certs from the Citi Reserve card). Carlson worked well, I'll have to see how it works a few more times before I can definitely say yay or nay.

I guess it was a good thing I spread out with the other partner airlines as I probably won't do that again as I have about 2,500 miles left after this trip. May give AA/US a whirl next year.

Miles & Points:
107,500 United/(CO) miles + $118.80
4,500 Avios + $14.10
50,000 Club Carlson points
145,000 Hilton points
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Old Dec 13, 13, 11:07 am
  #13  
 
Join Date: Nov 2011
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Lovely trip report! Well done.
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Old Feb 1, 15, 4:19 pm
  #14  
 
Join Date: May 2012
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What a contrast in weather between the 12 Apostles and London Bridge, same day?
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Old Feb 1, 15, 8:08 pm
  #15  
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Oh yes, we were there for a few hours. The pictures were taken about two hours apart. Think it was a big batch of clouds from the remnants of the big hurricane that eventually moved on. The weather was always kinda threatening to rain while I was in MEL before it finally did on my last day.
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