Review: Using Delta Miles for Virgin Australia Business Class, Los Angeles – Brisbane

We left the Star Alliance business class lounge, and its outdoor fire pit overlooking airport operations, for our gate. The flight was over half boarded when we arrived, and I was excited and a bit nervous for the flight.

There’s no question Virgin Australia is the easiest non-stop redemption between the US and Australia in a premium cabin — and probably the single best use of Delta miles. But it’s also seven seats across in business class on a 777 (they’re updating seats this year to reverse herringbone four-across).

The idea of 7 across had me somewhat dreading the long Los Angeles – Brisbane flight. But I had nothing whatsoever to worry about.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction: Virgin Australia and Delta Business Class, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney
  2. Concourse Hotel LAX, a Hyatt affiliate
  3. Virgin Australia Check-in and Star Alliance Business Class Lounge

We got in the premium boarding lane and were quickly onboard the aircraft. The first thing I noticed was the mood lighting (which made photography onboard difficult).

It was a completely full flight in business. I was in the second row — I wasn’t able to secure seats in row 5 which are the usual preferred (it’s in its own minicabin, the bar is behind row four and then row five is separate with its own curtains around the seats).

The seats looked like recliner style on first glance, but they had tremendous pitch and they are completely flat.

While the seats are seven across, that doesn’t mean fewer seats is that much more spacious. They’re completely forward-facing, rather than angled where part of another seat takes up a portion of the space across the aircraft.

Of course this many seats meant there really was no storage space at all. And the seats are completely open, there’s not really privacy to speak of. But they were both functional and comfortable.

Menus were distributed:

There was also a card to select breakfast in advance. You’re supposed to check off your choice on the card so that the flight attendant can collect it early in the flight, and won’t have to wake you to take your preference. That way breakfast can be served closer to landing (or they can take their instruction not to wake you). They never collected my card, however.

Amenity kits were distributed.

Pajamas were given out as well.

In addition to the pouch in the seatback in front of you (which had no real extra room), this was the only storage alongside seat power.

We were on our way about half an hour late, though there wasn’t much of an explanation for the delay.

Once airborne I changed into my pajamas. There’s a lavatory on the right side of the aircraft that’s designated ‘women only’ though the edict wasn’t strictly followed throughout the flight. Nonetheless, I stuck to the mixed sex lavatories.

Shortly after takeoff olives were given out as an initial snack.

Then it was time for the main meal. The flight attendants were certainly busy offering service to the full cabin, but they handled it with enthusiasm. And the product offers a certain amount of whimsy, not just the cabin lighting but even the meal service – I love the ‘Sydney Opera House’ salt and pepper shakers.

I had tuna and soba noodles as a starter.

Then the barramundi with peas.

And I had the pavlova for dessert.

One frustration during the meal — the seats don’t adjust when the tray table is deployed. I did find the food fairly good, though, one of the better business class meals that I’ve had.

After the meal I visited the self-service bar behind row 4 of business class.

And then I returned to my seat and a flight attendant offered to make my bed, which I gladly accepted. There were a lot of beds to be made, and really they ought to start with the center seat of the center section before working on the outer seats. They didn’t do that, and it wound up almost comical (though a bit awkward to watch, since their skirts were reasonably short) as they climbed over already-made beds on the outside of the center section to make beds in the middle. With seven across there’s simply no room to maneuver.

Getting comfortable, I immediately recognized that the mattress pad they put down is one of the best I’ve had on a plane — first class products included.

A nice complement to sleeping, there are stars on the ceiling of the cabin.

I slept for a few hours, watched some television, and midway through the flight ordered a snack.

Then I went back to sleep, and awakened slowly about two and a half hours out of Brisbane. That meant I got to see the sunrise from the sky.

Flight attendants slowly brightened the mood lights in the morning waking people up, and then breakfast orders were taken — again I was impressed by the quality of the food for business class.

The service was very friendly and quite good, in a business class way, which I mean to say that it’s personal but still mass service, they have a lot of people to help. So when taking drink orders to go with dinner I was asked if it was ok to just bring it with dinner. When I got up in the morning I asked about coffee and was told they’d bring it with breakfast.

Overall I thought that Virgin Australia provided a quality product, and a very comfortable seat for sleeping. I’d criticize only the privacy (especially if not traveling with the person sitting beside you, as seats lack a privacy divider) and storage space, though those will be rectified with the new reverse herringbone seats that they’re in the process of installing. That will mean four across instead of seven, though one imagines also greater difficulty in securing award space in the future.

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. How many Delta miles does it cost to get these seats? Are they difficult to get?

  2. @KL – as I wrote in the first section of the report, it’s 80k Delta miles each way. And historically Virgin Australia seats have been ridiculously easy to get. I’d bet it becomes harder though with the new seats.

  3. Hi Gary,

    Thank you for your informative post.

    While Virgin Australia business class seats are indeed easily available to book using 80K Delta miles each way – how much did Virgin Australia charge you for fuel surcharges each way on your round trip flight USA-AUS-USA?

    If you had flown on United or American from the USA to Australia in business class using UA/AA miles you would have paid no fuel surcharges whatsoever.

    Please add in the total costs of your trip to your review so that readers understand the total cost of duplicating your cost saving experience. Why? God forbid anyone attempt to use miles on Air Canada to fly between North America and Australia – the fuel surcharges are exorbitant!

  4. Total costs are outlined in the first post of the report. No fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia when redeeming Delta miles.

  5. We took this VA flight in reverse on our flight home from Australia last year. Being hub-captive, I have redeemed a lot of SkyMiles over the years but getting VA biz class for a family of 4 was definitely the best award ticket. You mentioned the stars on the ceiling…my 6 year-old daughter was captivated by the effect (I thought it was a pretty cool touch too). When we got home, I noticed that the iPad storage was nearly full. She had taken many photos of the ceiling and recorded some cute little videos. She was disappointed on our next flight later in the year (AA economy to Europe) because the plane didn’t have a bed and stars (she understood my explanation that the AU flight was a special treat). Our service on the outbound and inbound VA flights was really good. The FAs made a real effort to have meaningful conversations with my family. Some of the same crew were on the return flight and they remembered us. Although the privacy is lacking in the hard product, I agree that the mattress was very comfortable. All of us slept 8-10 hours on the flight to Australia and we were fully rested upon arrival. I’ve flown at least a million miles in paid J over the last decade with a few upgrades to F and I felt our VA flights were easily in my top 10.

  6. Gary, is it worth considering Virgin Group miles instead of Delta miles? if so, what is the best approach?

  7. I’ve used redeemed SkyMiles twice in this route (both times when Delta still allowed a stopover, so even better value!) and I *loved* the experience. Of the premium products I’ve flown – BA CW, Delta BE, Virgin Atlantic UC – Virgin Australia beats the rest hands down.

    Like you, I was worried about the seven across seating, but it really wasn’t a problem. I never felt cramped or lacking in privacy.

    The service is genuinely friendly and enthusiastic. The crew seem to enjoy their jobs and care about making their customers happy.

    The new cabin designs look great. I just hope the incredible availability doesn’t dry up. Do you know whether they are changing capacity with the refit?

  8. I’m just waiting for this “Bourbon & Miles” character to link to the blog post where s/he explains how to flying to Australia using AA miles on AA metal…I am sure that would be of interest to many people… 😉

  9. I’m taking this route in a few months. If I snagged a window seat, would I need to awkwardly crawl over my seat mate? Is there enough room to comfortable move past in business class. Thanks for your help!

  10. @Caroline if your seatmate is in bed mode it is going to be awkward climbing over. If they are sitting upright there’s tons of space.

  11. @Gary that’s what I was worried about. Thanks for your insight. Definitely makes me rethink it. Maybe grabbing an isle seat in the middle row is better so the middle seat has the choice between two of us to move past. 🙂

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