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Mini-TR - Virgin Australia - SYD to MEL Return - Economy and Business

Mini-TR - Virgin Australia - SYD to MEL Return - Economy and Business

Old Feb 2, 14, 8:12 pm
  #1  
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Mini-TR - Virgin Australia - SYD to MEL Return - Economy and Business



Mini-TR Virgin Australia Economy and Business SYD-MEL-SYD


Background

Some extremely dear friends of mine have recently moved from the UK to Melbourne. Although my friend is Australian, he'd lived in the UK for the last 11 years. He subsequently met his wife and had his daughter in the UK so it was very difficult for them all to leave.

I couldn't wait to meet up with them so a few weeks after they arrived. They were still getting themselves organised and had very little furniture but I was happy enough to make do.

I had some Virgin Australia points to use up after 20 or so sectors to and from Adelaide with work. At the time of booking VA were having a sale and I was able to save 15% on the standard price for reward seats. I don't remember the costs exactly but I believe that an economy reward from SYD to MEL cost me 5900 points and business from MEL to SYD cost 11,300 without taxes. VA are quite flexible and allow you to include or exclude the taxes as required. These can be paid with cash. I also used up my remaining few hundred points to save a few more dollars off the total bill. In the end the flights cost 17,871 points and $32.16. I felt that this was actually very poor value. After all, the 17,871 points that I'd collected came from over 18,500 actual flown miles from 26 sectors. Rubbish if you ask me. I don't know what the earn and burn rates are on Qantas but I'd be surprised if they are worse than that.

I didn't take my proper camera with me on this trip so you'll have to make do with photos from my iPhone 5S which coped well in some cases and not so in others.


The Flight

I woke at 5.30am as normally happens when I have to be up early to fly, I just can't seem to get to sleep the night before. My flight wasn't until 9am and with no bags and online check in I felt that I could get away with arriving around 40 minutes before the flight was due to leave.

Checking in online was easy. I chose 29F at the back of the aircraft as VA allow you to disembark at the rear as well as the front so you are off pretty quickly, unlike when travelling on Qantas. I suppose that disembarking from the rear and onto the tarmac is still seen as a rather 'low cost carrier' approach but I like it.

I took the airport train and arrived on time, as planned. Upon entering the check in area it was clear that chaos was in progress. There were queues and people everywhere. There were even a few television news crews around the capture the mess on film. I checked a few of the news websites but couldn't find any details.


Weird Sydney weather


Museum station


Museum station

I went through security easy enough and I had a quick look around before heading to the gate. Terminal 2 isn't really an exciting place to be with it's low ceilings and long corridors. The Qantas domestic terminal (T3) is certainly much nicer.

I made my way to the gate and waited around for boarding. It was clear that the flight was going to be rather full. There were a few Christmas decorations around but for me, being English, it never feels like Christmas here, it's too hot.



View of the apron


Food hall at T2


Christmas decorations

The flight was showing a 10 minute delay. At 8.55 (5 minutes before our scheduled push back) boarding started. One thing that is very much 'low cost carrier' is boarding from the rear. I do have to say though that I quite enjoy this as you can get up close to the aircraft. A 737 from the ground is actually quite imposing. I can only imagine what viewing an A380 from the ground must be like.

I was welcomed on board and took my seat, 29F, the window seat, the second row from the back. The aircraft filled up pretty quickly and it was clear that it was full. I couldn't see a single free seat.


VH-YFK


Leg room


View across the cabin


Baggage loading

Leg room was fine, not particularly good but as you'd expect. The seats were comfortable enough. There was Wi-Fi IFE on this flight. In order to use it you had to download an app from either iTunes or Google Play. Once in the air, the Wifi was available and you could use the app to stream films, TV programmes and audio. I was on one of the first aircraft to have this service several months ago and it didn't work at all. Several flights later and it seemed ok and streamed well. It does eat up your battery though and there's no-where to charge your device in flight. I chose not to use it on this short flight.

We seemed to hang around on the tarmac for ages, I'm not sure why.

Eventually, push back took place and the usual recorded safety demonstration took place. I personally find the voice of the lady that they've chosen rather irritating. It's like she's about to explode in a shower of candy floss because she's so sickly sweet. We made our way out to the Eastern runway (the shorter one) and took off at around 9.35am, 35 minutes after our scheduled push back time which arguably put us at about 20-25 minutes late overall.

Once in the air the crew started rolling the trolleys down the aisles to start the service. Those who had purchased a flexi fare would get some sort of snack and a free drink. This didn't happen first though, so you'd still need to wait until the trolley got to you.


Mood lighting in the cabin shortly after take off


Cruising over rural NSW


Cruising over rural Victoria (note the clouds!)

As the flight was so full it was my impression that the crew barely finished the service before having to go back and collect everything. If I was on a flexi-fare and sitting near the back I'd be less than pleased.

The captain came on surely before descent to announce that we'd be landing in about 20 minutes at around 10.45, only 15 minutes or so behind scheduled. The crew went around to collect rubbish and then the seat belt sign went on the cabin was prepared for landing.

The touch down was quite bumpy with several drops and 'bottom clenching' moments before we actually hit the tarmac. The weather in Melbourne certainly didn't look as good as it was in Sydney.


Disembarking - I got told off by the ground staff for taking this photo


Good close ups from the gate area

After taking a few snaps of the nearby aircraft I made my way out of the departures area, past security and then towards the baggage area where I would meet my friend.

The Virgin Australia terminal has certainly changed a bit since I last went through, the baggage/arrivals area looked like it had been recently done up.

I met my friend near the coffee place and we said our hellos. He had been instructed to pick up a coffee for his wife to take back home as their coffee machine had not yet arrived from the UK. Coffee in hand we then headed to the car park and then on towards Eltham where my friend lives.

Verdict

A pretty straightforward uncomplicated Virgin Australia flight. The crew were friendly enough, the seats were reasonably comfortable, there was little more to ask for or expect. In my opinion, this was a very typical flight with VA.

Up Next

A night in Melbourne and a slightly weird flight with Virgin Australia in Business back to Sydney.
matthandy is offline  
Old Feb 3, 14, 3:07 am
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Interesting! I few SYD-MEL-SYD today myself but on QF. Looking forward to hearing what VA serve up in business on that short sector.

Originally Posted by matthandy View Post
I had some Virgin Australia points to use up after 20 or so sectors to and from Adelaide with work. At the time of booking VA were having a sale and I was able to save 15% on the standard price for reward seats. I don't remember the costs exactly but I believe that an economy reward from SYD to MEL cost me 5900 points and business from MEL to SYD cost 11,300 without taxes. VA are quite flexible and allow you to include or exclude the taxes as required. These can be paid with cash. I also used up my remaining few hundred points to save a few more dollars off the total bill. In the end the flights cost 17,871 points and $32.16. I felt that this was actually very poor value. After all, the 17,871 points that I'd collected came from over 18,500 actual flown miles from 26 sectors. Rubbish if you ask me. I don't know what the earn and burn rates are on Qantas but I'd be surprised if they are worse than that.
On QF you'd have earned 26K points for 26x short one way sectors like SYD-ADL, and it would have cost you 8K for a one way economy award and 16K for a one way biz award, i.e. 24K or virtually the same. Because of the way that award costs mirror actual flight costs, Virgin is better value for economy awards when fares are cheap, but worse value for business class (since award costs never represent the actual cost difference of paying for business class over economy).
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Old Feb 4, 14, 7:10 pm
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Thanks mad_atta. I think that my average earning on each sector was around the actual miles flown, about 725. I did think that it wasn't particularly good value but I did like the fact that on Virgin you can use your points to pay as much or as little of the taxes as you'd like to. They have a nifty little slider which is something that I'd not seen before.
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Old Feb 6, 14, 2:16 am
  #4  
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Part 2 - Melbourne and Virgin Australia Business to Sydney


My friend lives with his family in Eltham, and it took us about 35 minutes to drive there. As we did it started to rain and the green vegetation around really did remind me of being back in the UK.

We arrived at the house and I said my hellos to my friend's wife and daughter. She is now two and really likes to play and have fun. She's generally very good but she did run me ragged some times! She has endless energy.

We didn't really do a great deal during the day, very normal things in fact. My friends had just moved in so we went to the local shopping centre to look at furniture and pick up a few things from Target. We also went to a very nice garden centre and I picked up a present for my friend's sister, as I would be spending Christmas with his family out in rural Victoria.

In the evening we cracked open a bottle of wine and settled down to a home cooked dinner. Their furniture hadn't arrived yet (their container was on a ship somewhere between Singapore and Perth) so we made do with a camping table and chairs.

After another bottle of wine it was time for bed.

I woke to the sound of kookaburras, a noise that once heard you'll never forget. Also, my room was freezing! Since moving to Australia my perception of what is 'cold' has really changed. It was probably 12 degrees or so outside but to me it felt like minus 10.

My friends aren't really early risers so there was none of that worrying about whether I was being rude by staying in bed. It was only 8.30 after all. Their daughter tends to get up at about 7 but they were happy enough to let her play in bed with them until it was time to get up.

Breakfast (well brunch) had been organised at the same garden centre that we went to before. I went for my usual, eggs Benedict. It was rather good.

After that we decided to take a walk. I'm not sure exactly where we went but it was fairly local.

It wasn't a long walk as rain started to threaten but the views from the top of the hill that we climbed were great. Both my friend and I had recently bought the iPhone 5s and hadn't yet used the slow-motion video feature. Well, we decided to behave like children and stood on top of a small wooden sign and then jumped off in spectacular fashion, the slo-mo camera capturing it all. Suffice to say, there's a rather funny video of me sounding like a bear as I leap from the sign and land on the ground next to my friend's excited daughter. That won't be going on Youtube.


The view from the hills near Eltham

Soon it was time to head off to the airport. My flight was scheduled to depart at 5.30pm and I wanted to be at the airport for around 4ish to get a good look at the lounge before boarding at 5.

My friend dropped me off at the airport, terminal 3 and I went straight past check in. I had checked in using my mobile and I couldn't be bothered getting a paper boarding pass.

I then made my way to the Virgin Lounge which interestingly is actually before security. I'm not aware of other major domestic airports in Australia where this is the case. Personally, I do not like this arrangement as inevitably it means arriving at the gate much too early due to having to leave the lounge early because of the risk of long queues at security.


Priority Check In at Melbourne's Terminal 3 (Virgin)


Entrance to the Virgin Australia lounge

I was barely welcomed in to the lounge as I just flashed the boarding pass on my phone. Wow, the lounge was packed out! I had read on the Virgin Australia board that the lounge was undergoing refurbishment and that this meant it was half the size of normal, still, serving a large city such as Melbourne, the lounge was very small and felt cramped.

The lounge was in the same style as the Sydney lounge, with lots of white and purple everywhere. The bar area was long and thin and contained the food area as well. There wasn't a huge amount on offer food wise, the usual cold selection of sandwich items plus some cheese. The bar area was a bit better stocked with a good selection of wines to choose from. There was also a selection of beers and other drinks to choose from. I can't remember if the bar was manned but I suspect that it was.


The main food and drink area


Bar area - lots of purple


Red wine selection

I made my way to the main seating area which faced large windows overlooking the apron. It was right next to one of the gates, so much so that the wing tips of the parked 737-800 there seemed to almost touch the glass.

Like the rest of the lounge, the seating area was packed out and I had to manoeuvre around a bit to get a table. This was unfortunately located next to two very loud gentlemen who conducting a 'very important' business meeting in public, in the lounge. I've always wondered why people do this, perhaps they are too self-centred to realise that they are disturbing other people and that everyone can hear the details of their business dealings which may not be desirable. I've been a lift before when I overheard information from our rivals about a piece of work that my company was bidding for. What's the saying from the war? 'The walls have ears'.


Packed seating area


A nice glass of Pinot Noir


A Virgin 737 parked very close to the lounge window

At about 4.50 I decided to head out the lounge towards security and to the gate. I had no idea how busy security would be and as it turns out, I could have stayed in the lounge a little longer than I did.

Security at Terminal 3 is a mess. For a start it seems like quite a makeshift set up to be honest, cobbled together overnight. There were a number of lanes (no priority lane that I saw) but because it the security area was crammed into such a small space people who were slow blocked the whole thing up. There wasn't room for them to move out of the way whilst they sorted out their stuff. Not impressed. I do hope that the security screening area will be revamped along with the other areas of Terminal 3.

My flight was leaving from Gate 1 which unfortunately is right next to Boost Juice. Once that mixer is going it's very difficult to hear the gate announcements.

I could see the aircraft and it was still in the old 'Virgin Blue' livery. This was disappointing as I was hoping get the newer style cabin onboard. As it turns out, this was the case as the aircraft had been refitted inside but not yet re-painted.

Boarding commenced at about 5 with kids and those needing assistance first. This was followed a few minutes later by Business class and Velocity Frequent Flyers Gold and above.

I made my way forward, had my boarding pass scanned on my phone and then got given a paper one as well. I'm not sure why.

No air bridge was used for this flight for some reason so everyone had to embark from the tarmac, both front and rear.


Gate 1


1A


The Business cabin on this 737


Looking behind to economy

I was welcomed on board by name and then pointed in the direction of my seat. I took out a few things from my bag and then stowed it in the overhead locker. I then settled down and watched as the other passengers boarded.

I'd recently flown with Qantas in Business to and from Cairns so I was able to compare the Virgin seat with the Qantas one. My observations are that the Virgin seat is probably about the same width although the centre console is wider than that on Qantas. There's no leg rest with the Virgin seat and personally, I prefer cloth over leather but that's only the case on the older Qantas seat. Overall, they are both pretty similar products.

As boarding started to slow down a bit the crew member that would be serving in the Business cabin came around to offer a pre-departure beverage of either juice or a fruity mocktail. I went with the mocktail and it was very refreshing actually.

Soon after a rather strange man entered the cabin and sat in 1D. He acted and behaved very aggressively, giving deep stares to crew members and any passengers that looked at him. During taxi he took out some rosary beards and proceeded to swing them around his hand, one way and then the next so there was a constant 'clack, pause, clack' in the cabin. It was incredibly annoying but he gave off the impression that he should not be messed with. If he was a big time drug dealer or gangster that would not surprise me at all. Very, very odd.


Leg room


Very nice mocktail


The view from 1A

Almost at the last minute a large family boarded and took up all of the remaining six seats in the Business cabin. The father seemed to be known to the crew whom I presume he had flown with before. My guess is that he was a top tier frequent flyer or other CIP. His young son ended up sitting next to the strange man and I could tell that his father was concerned as he kept asking if he was ok.

Push back took place at around 5.40pm, 10 or so minutes behind schedule.


Look, it's a 787!

We lined up on the runway and I noticed that we were being followed by the Jetstar 787. It's actually quite a nice looking aircraft up close. I will fly her one day.

Take off was fine although we did seem to go almost to the end of the runway before rotating. The seat belt sign was turned off pretty quickly and the lovely female crew member serving in the Business cabin made herself known and started offering the afternoon snack service.

For some reason, she asked 2A first, I'm not sure why. The choices were a pumpkin salad or a beef pie. I was surprised as I had expected something smaller like a cheese plate.

Once she came to take my order I had decided on the pie and just some water to drink.


Cruising over rural Victoria


Beef pie, bread and dessert (black cherry cake)

When the tray arrived I was pleasantly surprised. The 'snack' was rather substantial. The tray included a dessert and also came with an offer of warm bread.

The pie itself was really excellent. The meat was succulent and tender and the pastry wasn't too dry. I was very impressed. The bread was nicely warmed and the cake was moist and flavourful. I'd say that it was very enjoyable and arguably more so than the meal that I'd had ex. Cairns only a couple of weeks prior.

Once the tray was cleared I was offered tea or coffee which I declined.

The service was friendly throughout but not particularly engaging. I don't blame her though. Serving 8 passengers drinks, a full tray and then tea and coffee in about 45 minutes takes some doing.

We started our descent at around 6.25pm at which point the service was wrapping up.


Coming into Sydney


Embaer on stand

The descent was smooth and the landing easy. As we came in Sydney was bathed in a lovely warm glow. The approach onto the Westerly runway from the North is spectacular.

We landed at about 6.50 and were on stand and parked up at around 7pm which was just on schedule.

Once the air bridge was attached Mr Gangster made sure that he was off before anyone else and then the rest of the cabin disembarked. I thanked the crew and then wandered out into the terminal. I had no bag to collect so I was able to head straight down to the railway station for a train directly back to Museum station.


Domestic station platform


Verdict

This was a good flight and surprising service on a short business sector to Sydney. The food was very good and the service was friendly. I didn't really like the lounge arrangements in Melbourne but I'm sure that this will improve once the refurbishments are complete.

The seat was comfortable although arguably not as good as the Qantas seat offered on the same route.

My overall impression is that Virgin Australia offers a solid business product but the lack of differentiation with the lounges and the slightly 'lower cost' feel of the overall experience means that I'd still rate Qantas more highly than Virgin Australia for domestic business services.
matthandy is offline  
Old Feb 6, 14, 3:51 am
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Thanks for a very interesting TR, shame though the weather was not as good as SYD, but the area where your friend lives looks very nice, imagine into the countryside. I would have thought that the father of the son sitting next to the strange guy, would have suggested he sat next to him, rather than allowing the son to sit there. Look forward to reading in due course the SYD-LHR A380 F trip,
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Old Feb 6, 14, 6:29 am
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Nice! Virgin's business service looks quite pleasant. Wonder what it's like at mealtimes?

I found the Virgin lounge in MEL quite pleasant when I was there a few months ago (pre renovation), but odd in that the only booze they had was beer and wine, none of the hard stuff, so my traditional lounge G&T went by the wayside. At least the wine was decent - and to be honest, the main reason I'm in the habit of drinking G&Ts in airport lounges was that after living in the US for most of the last 5 years I had learned that they were the only things worth drinking in CO/UA/AC lounges...

As for being cold, it's amazing how cold Australia can feel, even in quite mild temperatures. The concept of insulation or in-home heating is sadly alien here.
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Old Feb 8, 14, 1:24 am
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Thanks for the TR. Can't wait to give Virgin Australia a try next month with several flights.
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Old Feb 8, 14, 1:42 am
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Like the look of the Virgin domestic Business Class in comparison to Qantas old Business product on short routes.
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Old Feb 14, 14, 8:44 pm
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Nice mini-TR. Still need to make it to Australia!
Digital01 is offline  
Old Feb 18, 14, 9:33 pm
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Originally Posted by BA5E View Post
Thanks for a very interesting TR, shame though the weather was not as good as SYD, but the area where your friend lives looks very nice, imagine into the countryside.....

....Look forward to reading in due course the SYD-LHR A380 F trip,
Thanks BA5E. Yes, he lives in a very nice area indeed. I'll be there again in a couple of weeks to say my goodbyes

I'm looking forward to the F trip too

Originally Posted by mad_atta View Post
Nice! Virgin's business service looks quite pleasant. Wonder what it's like at mealtimes?

...I found the Virgin lounge in MEL quite pleasant when I was there a few months ago (pre renovation), but odd in that the only booze they had was beer and wine, none of the hard stuff, so my traditional lounge G&T went by the wayside...

...As for being cold, it's amazing how cold Australia can feel, even in quite mild temperatures. The concept of insulation or in-home heating is sadly alien here.
Thanks mad_atta. Yes, I did wonder what a 'proper' meal would be like on Virgin, as the snack was so good.

Weird that Virgin do not serve spirits, Qantas do, and they have a fully manned bar.

In the three and a half years I've spent living in Australia I still cannot figure out why double glazing and insulation are dirty words....

Originally Posted by RacingJunkie View Post
Thanks for the TR. Can't wait to give Virgin Australia a try next month with several flights.
Thanks RacingJunkie.

Originally Posted by spizzy View Post
Like the look of the Virgin domestic Business Class in comparison to Qantas old Business product on short routes.
Yes, I was generally happy with it. The new Qantas Business seat is a bit better overall though.

Originally Posted by Digital01 View Post
Nice mini-TR. Still need to make it to Australia!
Thanks Digital01. There's a lot to see and do here!
matthandy is offline  
Old Mar 4, 14, 7:46 pm
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Nice report Matt. Question though: couldn't you burn AVIOS to fly between SYD and MEL? Seems it's possible and with Avios being a distance based award system, would net out better.

A simple check on BA's site reveals 4500 avios in Y, 9000 in J/F. That's pretty consistent with what they cost for AVIOS redemptions when flying AA or AS.
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Old Mar 5, 14, 2:13 am
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Originally Posted by fieldeng View Post
Nice report Matt. Question though: couldn't you burn AVIOS to fly between SYD and MEL?
Yes, you can, in fact I am doing so tomorrow evening, however I had some Virgin Australia points to use up at the end of last year .
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Old Mar 5, 14, 3:17 am
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Nice to see a Business Class on Virgin. I'll have to try it out someday if they offer it to Hobart. Thanks for the report!
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Old Mar 5, 14, 5:08 am
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I really wish inter European business class looked like this!
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Old Mar 5, 14, 3:27 pm
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Originally Posted by FlyingBald View Post
I really wish inter European business class looked like this!
Agreed.
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