My Next Trip Report: Virgin Australia and Delta Business Class, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney

My very first international trip was to Australia, and it’s a place I’ve been back to over and over throughout the years. That’s because I have family outside of Sydney. They moved there when I was five, so it’s a trip I’ve been making my whole life.

Last year my cousin got engaged, so I was going to need to head down for the wedding. (I was just there in the fall and that was a great trip.)

The wedding was scheduled less than a year out, so I wasn’t going to be able to get Qantas A380 first class again (and even the ‘trick’ to book Qantas first class awards hasn’t been 100% reliable lately, with held and cancelled segments not always going back into inventory immediately).

That meant the best product that I could reasonably obtain, around pretty fixed travel dates, was going to be on Virgin Australia. At least without connecting in Asia, which I didn’t want to do on a quick trip. I’d finally get to use some Delta SkyMiles!

As is often the case, I was able to get international awards using my Delta miles but finding domestic flights to connect up to those wasn’t possible. Since I booked this while it was still possible to have a ‘free’ stopover on a Delta award ticket, I decided to at least take advantage of that.

I booked business class on Virgin Australia Los Angeles – Brisbane – Cairns (stopover) Cairns – Sydney and then Sydney – Los Angeles.

The choice of the Brisbane flight rather than Sydney for my connection to Cairns, as a jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef, was just distance. Brisbane is a shorter flight than Sydney, and closer to Cairns.

I hadn’t been to the Reef in years, and my wife had never been, so it seemed like a good place to go for three nights before heading to Sydney for the three nights and all of the family and wedding events.

I booked the Sheraton Port Douglas on cash and points (5000 points and $75 per night) at a time that the rate on Starwood’s website was over $600 per night. The Sheraton isn’t ideally located, it’s not walkable to town though there’s a shuttle that runs regularly. It’s a resort set off from town and from the ocean. It’s a place I could use my points to keep the cost down for the trip, and I was fortunate to get one of the prototype renovated rooms.

And I booked the Park Hyatt for 3 nights in Sydney, where I stayed in November. This time I had to pay 30,000 points per night but was able to take advantage of the 20% redemption rebate for Hyatt Visa cardholders so my net cost was 24,000 points per night (just below the price Gold Passport charged before they introduced category 7).

I had to buy my Austin – Los Angeles – Austin tickets in order to connect up to the award. I did that on American Airlines (it would count towards elite status, and I’d likely get upgrades I thought). With a six night stay, different climates, and suits for the wedding and for the next night’s dinner, I was going to check a bag, and I wasn’t going to be able to interline them.

Given separate tickets, separate airlines, and a need to collect and re-check bags I decided to go to Los Angeles quite early. And I booked a room at the Concourse Hotel for $107. It used to be the Radisson but is now part of Hyatt. It’s the closest hotel to LAX, reports on the airport shuttle were good, and it’s in the process of renovation. So I was keen to see it first hand.

I was excited to try Virgin Australia for the first time, though I was also a little apprehensive — though they’re replacing their business class on the Boeing 777 with 4-across reverse herringbone seating, there’s currently seven across.

I was thrilled to get good use out of my Delta miles. And I was happy to see my family and celebrate the special occasion, and also to return to North Queensland.

What I didn’t expect was to make my biggest travel mistake… ever. I missed my transpacific award flight home to the U.S. So the trip was notable if only for how that happened, how I handled it, and how I got rebooked without extra cost on Delta in business class so I got to try another product and report on it here as well!

Cost summary:

  • 160,000 Delta miles plus $163 taxes per person for roundtrip business class award tickets
  • 72,000 Hyatt points for 3 nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney
  • 15,000 Starwood points + $225++ for 3 nights at the Sheraton Port Douglas
  • $107++ for 1 night at the Concourse Hotel LAX
  • $260 for Austin – Los Angeles roundtrip on American
  • I already had a valid Australia Electronic Travel Authority from my previous trip, so no cost for that.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hi, Gary.
    We just returned from Aus/NZ last month. We booked an award trip (Virgin Australia) from MDT (Harrisburg, PA) >ATL>LAX>Brisbane>HOB(Hobart,Tasmania). (Then spent 6 weeks and 8 internal flights ending in NZ). We returned WLG (Wellington,NZ)>Brisbane>LAX>ATL>MDT.

    All 8 outbound and return flights were on the same biz class award and low level (160K). We were thrilled as you were to get such great use for our miles (the tickets were $10-11,000pp). We got the over water legs first and initially took coach for the others while we waited for award inventory on the domestic legs. Those eventually came through and we had a great flight itinerary all Bus Class.

  2. Looking forward to hearing about the LAX to BNE flight on Virgin Australia since I have the same flight (booked on Delta points) in a few months.

  3. So glad you came to Cairns and Port Douglas, I live here and love it, fantastic beaches, rainforests and the 7th wonder of the world The Great Barrier Reef and its right on our doorstep.

    We have no heavy industry so no pollution and the weather is so darn good we wear shorts the year round!. Of course for US residents its cheap, mostly no tipping and an excellent USD/AUD exchange rate saving currently about 25%, so come one come all you’ll be so happy you did.

  4. Just as a general tip for future reference, DL seems to release decent space on AUS-LAX and v.v. at least right at 330 days out. Booking my Australia trip for next March, I was able to find 2 seats in F at the low redemption rate both directions on the DL non-stop. I even changed the return by a day after a couple weeks (because we decided to do one night in Seoul on the way back) and was able to get F seats on the same flight that day. YMMV of course. And the only reason I was looking at AUS was because I couldn’t find anything in or out of SAT.

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