Virgin Australia wanted my business and they got it in 2013.
My trip for 2013 was approaching and I was alerted by a friend to an Amex special where if I booked a flight I would receive up to $200 cash back. Whilst flights at that time were $1380 in economy direct to LAX, I went with the deal as it effectively gave me $1390 advantages at an $1190 price, I’ll go into this later.
Over the last few years of flying and paying close attention to the price of flights to the US, I had noticed that a great price was about $1190 and and wicked price was when it hit sub $1100. I was waiting as I usually did for that special to come around. Well it did eventually and it happened in November as I expected. This said, this pricing is for departures in February, those wishing to fly late December and into mid January had better get in early as these prices are pretty much not seen period. These prices did stay low for most of the summer and you could even snap them up as late deals in January for those who would want to be a bit more spontaneous and wait to see what happens snow wise.
Why did I got with a deal when prices were higher? I was effectively getting the lower end price flight anyway, the deal was limited to snapping it up in a set week (the week prior to them dropping). That said, it was far more advantageous to take it up, if a bit of flexibility is what you’re looking for. I didn’t know if I would want to change my flight for a later date seeing I was departing sooner than my friends. Having the ability to change flight at the lowest cost possible is the key. The season prior, we noticed an incoming big storm close to our departure and we wanted to stay on, thankfully because we had the higher $1390 priced flight that season, we changed our flights for $200 (admin fee) and there was no fare difference. The higher the fare price, the higher the chance of not having a fare difference.
So when it came to 2013 season, I wanted to have the fare at the $1390 price level and reduce the likelihood of a fare difference yet only pay the $1190 price. A bit of a winning scenario and simply one too good to pass up.
Eventually the day of departure arrived. I had packed my bags (2 x 23kg bags) plus 1 carry-on plus 1 personal item being my small laptop bag. It pays to know what you can take as laptops should strictly go in the cabin. Virgin Facebook was posted with someone who had packed their laptop into their suitcase only a few days later than my return flight through LAX and it was smashed to pieces, this confused me as to why Virgin would advise this to a customer considering I had my full quota of baggage and nothing was said so take it onboard. Ski equipment counts as a bag, so don’t rock up thinking that you can have a ski bag and a boot bag as one item and your suitcase as another. I put as much heavy clothing in the ski bag as possible and boots into the main suitcase (in a bag or wrapped in plastic wrap yes please.) Checkin was a breeze and very friendly, then again it’s hard to be mean to someone who is being nice.
After a little browse around duty free, off to the gate and onto the plane. The aircraft itself is a 777 which isn’t quite as nice as an A380 which is quieter and a touch smoother as well, I knew that and was happy to accept that. In the end it didn’t really matter that much as I managed to get a bit of rest on the plane despite that I don’t really sleep very good on planes. The blankets are somewhat stock standard and the pillows are as consistant with airlines such as SIA and the arab airlines, the small ones with the cover over them, though I managed to get a couple, roll them up in a blanket and presto, a bigger pillow.
There are two real factors that had me quite impressed on this flight that would be a heavy factor in deciding who to fly the leg in the future. The meals I managed to get on the flight we fantastic and I would have to say some of the best economy meals I’ve ever had on ANY flight I have taken around the globe (of which there are quite a few on a myriad of airlines.) The biggest plus was the flavour, it was great to have something that actually didn’t for all intents be somewhat bland or just meld into a flavour mess. As people who know me know, I’ve worked in several high end restaurants and food is something I know and love, besides wine and skiing. So it’s no mean feat to actually impress me on an economy flight.
It didn’t stop at the food either. What else did I notice on my plate but it was a glass for wine. This is the first time I have ever had glass for consuming my wine from, every other time it has been a plastic ‘cup’. Well Virgin, you had slapped me twice already across the face, it was time to slap me one more time and really astonish me. What do I see on the drinks trolley but full 750ml bottles or of wine. Did you say that you were going to give me wine from a real bottle instead of one of those little things? Well bugger me, I was like a pig in shit. I had a grin from ear to ear when I asked for a glass of red but they won’t stop there, they will come around again with the bottles for topping up your glass, umm, like, yes please! I didn’t have the gaul to ask them to leave the bottle.
Luckily in my placement, I had received an entire bank of four seats to myself, that meant for a relaxing flight and the space to lounge around. Entertainment was good as pretty much any airline with VOD (Video on Demand) is, but then when it comes to viewing pleasure, I’m not that hard to please and will watch a variety of things.
During the night, little parcels of food are brought around and if you want something, you can also get some from the self-service stations located in the middle of the craft and the rear. One of these packs did contain Tim Tams, my other important food group.
Breakfast in the morning was another gob smacker. It was bursting with flavour with a delicious red pepper sauce/braise, or something to that tune, with my eggs and it bounced in my mouth. Exactly what you need to get you up and alert ready for the arrival into LAX.
Virgin arrives at Terminal 5 in LAX, thankgod for that. Tom Bradley is the pits and if your flight is late there, you’ll end up at the back of the immigration queue for several flights including a Korean Air A380. Thankfully Virgin has a good record of on-time departures and arrivals for flights from MEL to LAX. Customs wasn’t too long to wait. One passenger had a connecting flight in under a 2 hour period which I highly don’t recommend doing in LAX as the chances are you’ll miss checkin for it unless you’re ticked on the same ticket. If you’re flight to where you want to go is only once a day and it’s a short connection in LAX, either try to find a longer connecting flight through another hub or just stay the night in LAX. For those of you going to Tahoe, this will be less of an issue.
I was able to grab my bags, hop on the free shuttle around the airport terminals and to the terminal on the other side for my next flight to San Francisco.
The return flight from LAX was as just a pleasurable experience as the first. Checkin is interesting as they have a dedicated area in Terminal 3 and it’s kind of cool and funky instead of being drab like MEL, it feels much more like you’re about to go on an experience rather than a flight.
Wine and entertainment on the way back was as great as the first flight though the food wasn’t as gob smacking as the original flight though that’s not surprising considering you’re coming out of America, set your food expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.
Once again arrival into MEL was on time and quite enjoyable, I did once again have a bank to myself and if seat guru says the last row doesn’t recline, it’s lying. I actually managed to get some sleep which must be an achievement considering what I mentioned earlier.
When coming to decide which airline to fly, the price over UA I’m prepared to pay and the price under Qantas is worth it. You can’t go wrong with a Virgin flight, always remember the rule of flying, roll with the punches and be happy you’re going somewhere. Essentially all points considered, Virgin and Qantas would be my airlines of choice, though wine might win the day.
For other reviews, goto Qantas, Delta, United Airlines
To book a flight, goto Virgin Australia