First, I have to say how fortunate I am to be able to travel to some incredible places, both for work and for leisure. 2017 has definitely been the year of “feeding the travel bug”, and I know I’ll be going into 2018, awed by just how much of the world I’ve been able to see.
Of course, getting there can be the least fun part of any trip, which is why I try to include my experiences on getting places, so that you can take the worry out of your entire trip!
Flying to Sydney – Upgrades, United Club, and Long Layovers!
I had to take two flights to get to Sydney – a morning flight (from D.C.) to San Francisco, and an evening flight to Sydney. This meant an 11-hour layover.
Since work was paying for the flights, I flew economy to San Francisco, but used my miles to upgrade to Polaris Business class from San Francisco to Sydney. If you have the miles (and a few extra dollars), it is worth EVERY BIT of what it costs overall. It was 30,000 miles and $50 to do it. More on Polaris Business in a bit…
Upgrading allowed me free access to the United Club for the day, which was much-needed. (Note: If you’re not weighed down by emails, it would be worth it to explore San Francisco for the day, just know you should give yourself an hour each way to get to and from the airport, with traffic; as well as two hours to checkin, get through security, and get to your gate for boarding.)
Polaris Business Class
I’ve flown first class before, including from Qatar to New Delhi (on Qatar), and so far (in my limited experience with American and International airlines), nothing has compared to Polaris Business.
United’s response to customers’ feedback has been heard and responded to. While the Polaris lounges are still under construction (except for Chicago), and the existing planes have had moderate upgrades made, you can tell that the small improvements they’ve made so far, have had a massive impact.
(Note: My only gripe was not getting access to United Global First’s lounge, when there was no first class on the plane to Sydney, only Polaris Business. The United Club in San Francisco is narrow and over-populated with all sorts of disrespectful travelers, which means I still can’t justify an annual membership.)
My experience started with my flight attendant taking my coat, while I was getting settled into my seat, which was filled with pillows, bedding, and a toiletries kit from Saks Fifth Avenue. I also asked for a set of pajamas to change into (yes, those are available upon request, along with slippers).
Prior to take off, I changed into the pajamas (which are 100% cotton, and ridiculously comfortable), along with the provided socks, and settled into my seat. I was also given a glass of champagne and some rather delicious chocolates.
Once we were level, the flight attendant came around with hot towels, a wine cart for a wine flight tasting, and then dinner, which was three courses. Since I have Celiac, it was already noted in the system, which meant my meals were already chosen and prepared for me. Otherwise, I would have had three options for each course.
When dinner was over, I didn’t even make it to dessert (which sucks because it was a make-your-own-sundae bar) – I passed out… for seven hours.
The sleeping experience exceeded my expectations. Not only did the seat unfold to a complete 180 degrees, the bedding was warm and comfortable. As a special touch, within the Saks toiletries kit, were a lavender-scented eye mask, and a lavender pillow spray by Cowshed (they included a whole pack of amenities). This scent is a natural sleep aid, and certainly helped me sleep peacefully.
At around 2:30am (Australia time), I was wide awake, with four hours of the flight left. I watched another two movies, did some work, and prepared for the next segment of my travel. (Note: The bonus to being awake before everyone else, is extra time in the bathroom to get ready.) I also wandered over to the snack cart, which included all sorts of treats, sandwiches, drinks, cheeses, etc.
About an hour before landing, breakfast was served, which was incredibly healthy – vegetable egg white omelet with fruit salad.
Before I knew it, we were landing in Sydney, and I was completely refreshed… and ready for my next layover.
Sydney Airport – Customs, Getting to Domestic Gates
Part of the “perks” of Polaris, is the special “fast pass” you receive to bypass the customs line. I breezed through security in less than 10 minutes, grabbed my bag, and was on my way to the domestics terminal.
In order to get to that terminal (for all domestic flights in Australia), you will need to follow the signs to your airline of choice. In this case, my next flight was on Qantas. Once you are there, it will seem confusing, as to whether you need your boarding pass. YOU DO NOT. They will ask for it, in order to direct you to the right line.
Since I had a 6 1/2 hour layover, I had to wait 30 minutes before I could check in, as they can only accept check-ins, six hours before a flight. (Note: There is limited seating while you wait, but there is free wifi to keep you company.)
When I could finally check in, I was sent back through security (shoes do not come off, liquids do not come out of your bag – only laptops). After that, you are then directed to take a shuttle bus to the Qantas Domestic gates.
The bus ride is a bit bumpy (if you have no choice but to stand), and takes about 10 minutes.
The terminal at Qantas has a lot of great places to dine, and shop. The only thing to note is that bathrooms are small, and lines are long. I took advantage of the seating in the food court to use the wifi and get some work done.
Being able to fly along the coast line, was the first real sight I had of exactly where I was 🙂 Aside from the view, the service for the 1 1/2 hour flight was great, offering beverages (tea was the popular drink of choice), cheese, and crackers. When we landed, I had my luggage in less than five minutes.
Getting to Major Downtown Hotels
Out of the entire trip so far (which was now 40 hours and counting), the SkyBus option was the least comfortable, but the easiest/cheapest option. I did a lot of research on how to get to the Grand Hyatt, and this seemed the best way to do it, for 1/3 the price. For $18 USD, I paid for a roundtrip ticket to/from the airport (note that the taxi would have been $48 one way and if you use a credit card, another 10% fee for that).
The Sky Bus picks you up, right outside of Terminal 1, and it takes you to Southern Cross Station. Once you are there, you go to the kiosk on the center island (it’s right where the bus lets you out), and let them know which hotel in the city you are going to. It takes about 10 minutes to get the assignment, and another five minutes to load the bus.
The trip, itself, can take well over an hour, depending on how many stops there are. If you choose to take it on the way back, I’d suggest a taxi to Southern Cross (it will be more reliable on time). If not, plan on leaving four hours ahead of your flight, as a precaution.
So… four airports, three flights, and 43 hours later, I was finally in Melbourne! Check out my other posts for more on my trip, and recommendations of what to do, where to stay, and where to eat/drink!