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Touched by a Virgin for the very first time

Touched by a Virgin for the very first time

Virgin Australia wanted my business and they got it in 2013.

My plane ride to Lake Tahoe on a Virgin Australia 777 from Melbourne to LAX

My ride to Lake Tahoe 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.

Seating for Virgin Australia Melbourne to LAX

My seating for Virgin Australia economy from Melbourne to LAX

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

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  • 02 Sep 2013

    Domestic Airline Connections to Tahoe from LAX

    Domestic Airline connections from LAX are numerous and you've got a bit of choice. Who you choose will depend on many factors but there are a few general items to consider. I consider there to be essentially 3 entry points Australians are likely to consider: San Francisco and drive, Sacramento and drive or Reno (drive or shuttle).  If you're not renting a car, then Reno is the obvious choice with the shuttle as the first two really are unfeasible.  The first two ports limit you to renting a car, though this makes things easier up the Tahoe Basin if you wish to move around resorts or get away from the resorts for eating out at night.

    Airports

    San Francisco (SFO)

    This is a very large airport with many flights on many airlines from LAX.  You can pretty much choose which time you want to leave with most airlines doing approximately hourly flights.  From SFO, the options of getting to Tahoe are renting a car (most likely), Bus or Train though I've never used the last two as the schedules are very restrictive.

    Sacramento (SAC)

    Sacramento is the capital of California.  It places you a good 1.5 hours closer to Tahoe and you get to avoid most of the traffic you're likely to suffer on the I80 from San Francisco.  The flights here may not be as regular as flights to SFO, but direct flights from LAX are still usually more than the number to Reno.  Once again, you'll probably want to be renting a car from here as the Bus and Train option is limited to very early arrivals.

    Reno (RNO)

    For most people, this is going to be the airport of choice.  RNO is at approximately 4000' in the Carson Valley and thankfully, not very often is it closed due to inclement weather.  It's position and layout make it ideal for incoming aircraft.  The number of direct flights from LAX are more limited and flights will take approximately 1.5 hours.  The beauty of this airport is that you can arrive at anytime and catch a shuttle up the mountains direct from the Airport.  This is great for people who don't intend to hire a vehicle.  Another option is to stay the night in Reno as the nightly rates for the Casinos are usually quite cheap here and you get to wake to a magnificent view of the mountains in the morning.  You can also hire a car out of Reno if you wish as well as the resorts are about a 1 hour drive either up the I80 to the north or US50 to the south.  For Kirkwood, 88 south will be your best route.

    Truckee

    I've never flown to Truckee airport but that's because you'll need to charter a plane to do so.  

    Airlines

    Airline choice will depend on what class you wish to travel, if you are purchasing your flight from Australia on the same ticket or you wish to accrue frequent flyer miles.  They all aren't the same and there maybe restrictions.  In general, if it's booked as part of flight from Australia, you're Australian baggage limits apply otherwise you should consider this when costing up your options.

    SouthWest

    SouthWest is by far my preferred option.  Southwest do regular direct flights to SFO, SAC and RNO, though RNO is less frequent than the others. SouthWest though are the bus of the sky, there's little in the way of frills so if luxury is your requirement, you will probably want to look elsewhere. The major influencing factor for me is that you can take two checked bags on a SouthWest flight and your carry on as well.  This enables you to have a suitcase and a ski bag as well.  SouthWest also don't charge change fees either, so if you happen to miss your flight the only fees you're up for are the fare difference.  You can determine what the maximum amount you are up for when you book online, as you can see the fully priced flexible fare.  I have found that booking a few months out is optimal for most periods except if you're flying around a holiday period. When it comes to boarding, it's a first come first served basis.  People who get onto the plane first get to choose their seats and everyone else fills the gaps.  Everyone is given a boarding order based on your checkin (or if you paid for early checkin).  If flying in from Australia and you want to be seated together, you should checkin prior to your Australian flight.  You'll just need to go and check your bags on arrival. Search SouthWest Flights

    Delta

    Delta will get you anywhere as well and have direct flights.  They usually have a two cabin format so those looking for a little more comfort can find it here.  If you're a Velocity member, you'll also get points for flying with Delta. I have usually found Delta prices to be around the same as SouthWest.  The one thing to remember is that when booking a Delta flight, baggage is not included.  In economy, you'll need to add $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag.  So compared to SouthWest, you'll be forking out an extra $60 for your baggage.  Their discounted fares also incur change fees, so you'll be up for more if you happen to miss your flight as well and need to get on a later flight.  My experience flying has taught me that if that's the case, you need to give a bit more lee way for connections or be prepared to pay the price. Search Delta Flights

    American Airlines

    American (AA) have a few direct flights on SkyWest airlines.  They also have a baggage policy of $25 and $35 for the first and second bags except for those flying in full fare economy.  AA are Oneworld members, so Qantas Frequent Flyers will earn points and those with status maybe eligible for reduced baggage fees. Search American Flights

    United

    United have a few flights from LAX to RNO as well.  Their Domestic baggage policy for ALL economy fares is once again $25 and $35 for first and second bags.  United are part of Star Alliance and so Star Alliance members will earn points with United. Search United Flights   For most people, the best option is going to be flying to Reno and then making your way up the mountain.  For the economy passenger, your best option is to jump on SouthWest if you have baggage, especially 2 bags.  For everyone else who pays higher economy or business and above, there' multiple choice and it's probably best to stick to your Frequent Flyer program partner.  Last of all, Reno is a short distance from your skiing destination.
  • 02 Sep 2013

    Domestic Airline Connections to Tahoe from LAX

    Domestic Airline connections from LAX are numerous and you've got a bit of choice. Who you choose will depend on many factors but there are a few general items to consider. I consider there to be essentially 3 entry points Australians are likely to consider: San Francisco and drive, Sacramento and drive or Reno (drive or shuttle).  If you're not renting a car, then Reno is the obvious choice with the shuttle as the first two really are unfeasible.  The first two ports limit you to renting a car, though this makes things easier up the Tahoe Basin if you wish to move around resorts or get away from the resorts for eating out at night.

    Airports

    San Francisco (SFO)

    This is a very large airport with many flights on many airlines from LAX.  You can pretty much choose which time you want to leave with most airlines doing approximately hourly flights.  From SFO, the options of getting to Tahoe are renting a car (most likely), Bus or Train though I've never used the last two as the schedules are very restrictive.

    Sacramento (SAC)

    Sacramento is the capital of California.  It places you a good 1.5 hours closer to Tahoe and you get to avoid most of the traffic you're likely to suffer on the I80 from San Francisco.  The flights here may not be as regular as flights to SFO, but direct flights from LAX are still usually more than the number to Reno.  Once again, you'll probably want to be renting a car from here as the Bus and Train option is limited to very early arrivals.

    Reno (RNO)

    For most people, this is going to be the airport of choice.  RNO is at approximately 4000' in the Carson Valley and thankfully, not very often is it closed due to inclement weather.  It's position and layout make it ideal for incoming aircraft.  The number of direct flights from LAX are more limited and flights will take approximately 1.5 hours.  The beauty of this airport is that you can arrive at anytime and catch a shuttle up the mountains direct from the Airport.  This is great for people who don't intend to hire a vehicle.  Another option is to stay the night in Reno as the nightly rates for the Casinos are usually quite cheap here and you get to wake to a magnificent view of the mountains in the morning.  You can also hire a car out of Reno if you wish as well as the resorts are about a 1 hour drive either up the I80 to the north or US50 to the south.  For Kirkwood, 88 south will be your best route.

    Truckee

    I've never flown to Truckee airport but that's because you'll need to charter a plane to do so.  

    Airlines

    Airline choice will depend on what class you wish to travel, if you are purchasing your flight from Australia on the same ticket or you wish to accrue frequent flyer miles.  They all aren't the same and there maybe restrictions.  In general, if it's booked as part of flight from Australia, you're Australian baggage limits apply otherwise you should consider this when costing up your options.

    SouthWest

    SouthWest is by far my preferred option.  Southwest do regular direct flights to SFO, SAC and RNO, though RNO is less frequent than the others. SouthWest though are the bus of the sky, there's little in the way of frills so if luxury is your requirement, you will probably want to look elsewhere. The major influencing factor for me is that you can take two checked bags on a SouthWest flight and your carry on as well.  This enables you to have a suitcase and a ski bag as well.  SouthWest also don't charge change fees either, so if you happen to miss your flight the only fees you're up for are the fare difference.  You can determine what the maximum amount you are up for when you book online, as you can see the fully priced flexible fare.  I have found that booking a few months out is optimal for most periods except if you're flying around a holiday period. When it comes to boarding, it's a first come first served basis.  People who get onto the plane first get to choose their seats and everyone else fills the gaps.  Everyone is given a boarding order based on your checkin (or if you paid for early checkin).  If flying in from Australia and you want to be seated together, you should checkin prior to your Australian flight.  You'll just need to go and check your bags on arrival. Search SouthWest Flights

    Delta

    Delta will get you anywhere as well and have direct flights.  They usually have a two cabin format so those looking for a little more comfort can find it here.  If you're a Velocity member, you'll also get points for flying with Delta. I have usually found Delta prices to be around the same as SouthWest.  The one thing to remember is that when booking a Delta flight, baggage is not included.  In economy, you'll need to add $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag.  So compared to SouthWest, you'll be forking out an extra $60 for your baggage.  Their discounted fares also incur change fees, so you'll be up for more if you happen to miss your flight as well and need to get on a later flight.  My experience flying has taught me that if that's the case, you need to give a bit more lee way for connections or be prepared to pay the price. Search Delta Flights

    American Airlines

    American (AA) have a few direct flights on SkyWest airlines.  They also have a baggage policy of $25 and $35 for the first and second bags except for those flying in full fare economy.  AA are Oneworld members, so Qantas Frequent Flyers will earn points and those with status maybe eligible for reduced baggage fees. Search American Flights

    United

    United have a few flights from LAX to RNO as well.  Their Domestic baggage policy for ALL economy fares is once again $25 and $35 for first and second bags.  United are part of Star Alliance and so Star Alliance members will earn points with United. Search United Flights   For most people, the best option is going to be flying to Reno and then making your way up the mountain.  For the economy passenger, your best option is to jump on SouthWest if you have baggage, especially 2 bags.  For everyone else who pays higher economy or business and above, there' multiple choice and it's probably best to stick to your Frequent Flyer program partner.  Last of all, Reno is a short distance from your skiing destination.
  • 03 Jul 2013

    Mobile phone options in the US, how to avoid bill shock and high costs

    Mobile Phone Bill shock keeps on going up. It's surprising that more and more Australians are getting stung with really high prices for mobile usage Overseas. It's not hard to avoid these charges while in the US and I'll go through some of the options I use when traveling that save me the worry of bills. In 2012, 4100 complaints were registered (who knows how many weren't) for high charges incurred while overseas. We're not talking small hundred dollar bills, 10% of complaints were for bills over $5,000, that's over $2 million in revenue. The government are now talking about regulation of the market to stop it yet there are things you can do already to make it accesible and much cheaper. Let's face it, for many of us it's not so easy to detach ourselves from our mobile phones as we use them as extensions of connectivity to our family and friends. Most of us really don't want to totally switch off completely, especially if we want to show people our photos, videos and tell them how we're doing. We're less inclined to get a postcard to send home a week later as we want to tell them now. In order to save ourselves from these exorbitant charges which are essentially a rip off as the margin earnt on these calls/data measure in the 1000% area, it's essential that we either remove our SIM cards from the phone or that we don't make calls from OS and don't consume data. The biggest catch for most people is not the calls, it's the data roaming charges. You're most likely to be tripped up by your email. Every so often, your phone sends some data to find out if you have any email and then sends data back, either that there is nothing or then sends the email/s along to your phone. This is the data transfer that you don't notice or think about and it's doing it many times a day. If you have no emails for the day, you're still paying for the privilege of knowing that you have no emails, it's mad. The simplest way to stop this is to turn Data Roaming off. You'll have to go into the settings of your phone to find this. This will stop your phone from checking your emails and any internet access over the mobile telephone networks. This is essential if you're leaving your Australian SIM card in the phone while OS and you wish to make calls back home and a prepared to pay the cost of those phone calls. So what do you do about Data and emails? The beauty of the US is that there is practically Wifi everywhere and it's easy to find and quite often free to use. In Tahoe, I happen to find it in many places and we often get a place to stay that has Internet included. Places like Squaw Valley have wifi access around the mountain so you don't have to wait to get down off the mountain before Instagramming or Facebooking your pictures. If you get your phone to automatically connect to these networks when in the area, then you'll also solve your email problem and you'll get your emails everytime you're nearby. You may not have your emails 'a la minute' but in reality, it's not likely that the emails are a life or death situation. For those who want to message back home in an SMS style, I use the What'sApp on my phone. This acts as an SMS service though it does require that the people back home have it installed on their phones as well. It's a free App so there's no real reason not to have it. I like to use this to let people know (as you can group message with this as well) that I have arrived safely. If you find SMS a little too impersonal and you like a personal touch, there's Skype. You can either just call them and have a conversation as per a normal phone or even better, turn the video on so you can see them. It's a free service as well and on the phone it works like calling though you need to have the others with the App turned on. Both of these use data, so make sure that you're connected to a local wifi network and your data roaming is switched off. If you don't want to wait to get close to a wifi network or do require the use of a normal mobile phone, then I go the route of getting a US prepaid SIM card. My SIM card of choice is with AT&T as they provide good coverage in the Tahoe area. They generally have the best coverage across the US, though you can always check. There are a few ways to get a hold of a SIM card; you can buy them on eBay though if the card is cut down to size (Pre-Cut is preferable) it may not work properly. There are a couple of eStores in Australia you can buy these cards from and you can set them up prior to departing Australia, and my last method is to get one in the US which I do at LAX. There are a couple of places to buy in Australia online, usaprepaidsimcard but they cost $45 which is a bit steep though can confirm legitimacy, there is also Mobi Passport though I don't know anyone who has purchased from them and a couple reviews talk about their slow customer support but they are only $18 at last check. If you have a few hours of layover time in LAX, preferably a departure after 10:30am, then you can head to an AT&T store to get a card and have it activated while you're there. It also saved me some money as the shop assistant spoke to me and recommended I go with a $50 prepaid and it worked superbly for me, saving me $15 on the higher plan. The store opens at 9am and hence it's best that after your arrival into LAX, you first drop your bags off (either bag drop or go to checkin if need be.) I did this recently with my arrival via Virgin and then checked my bags in at SouthWest before going to get my card. To get to the store, jump in the Parking Spot shuttle (you can't miss it, it's yellow and black in polka dot pattern) but make sure it's going to Sepulveda. The ride is only about 5-10 minutes and once at the parking garage, head to the northern side of the garage and exit out to the main street, AT&T is almost on the corner next to Wells & Fargo. If you want to get a SIM for your trip, you'll need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. In order to check this, you need to go to your carriers website to find out. They'll ask you for a code from your phone and tell you how to go about unlocking your phone. There maybe a fee for it depending on your phone and your plan. If you can't unlock, then you'll have to rely on Wifi to get around. I hadn't unlocked my iPhone when I arrived and it was still unlocked when I got back to Australia, however the assistant at the AT&T store was able to help me sort that out and get around it for the time I was in the US. I have no since unlocked the phone to make it easier in the future. Avoiding ripoff charges for your mobile in the US isn't too difficult. One can survive quite well on wifi alone in the US but if you really need the roaming data then there are options for that as well. Happy Roaming. For unlocking phones goto: Vodafone Optus Telstra If your phone is with another company, you will need to contact them.

    Please help me get what you want more of in my Survey

  • 01 Aug 2013

    Instagram Competition, Tag #tahoeaussie

    Win with our Instagram Competition

    Tahoeaussie needs help getting over the off-season with pictures from the south

    Help me out and tag your pictures with #tahoeaussie.

    [one_half] [frame version="light"][box-title align="center"]

    Picture Categories

    We'll select the best 1 from each group [/box-title] [list line="no" style="style1"]
    • Best Fresh Snow shot
    • Most Scenic
    • Best Grommet shot
    • Best Selfie
    • Park Rat award
    [/list] [/frame] [/one_half][one_half_last] [frame version="dark" bgcolor="#181e25"][box-title align="center"]

    Prizes

    What's up for grabs? [/box-title] [list line="no" style="style2"] [/list]

    Like us on Facebook and choose from:

    [list line="no" style="style3"]
    • 2 extra years of Green.
    • Upgrade to Black Diamond Ride[/list]
    [/frame][/one_half_last] [alpine-phototile-for-instagram user="tahoeaussie" src="global_tag" tag="tahoeaussie" imgl="fancybox" style="cascade" col="5" size="M" num="20" shadow="1" highlight="1" curve="1" align="center" max="100"]   Terms & Conditions 1) How to Enter: Participants enter the competition by posting a photo to Instagram and tagging #tahoeaussie to the photo. 2) Conditions of Entry: Only the original uploader of the photo is eligible and must be tagged by themselves. Photos tagged by other people in comments will not be accepted. Only photos uploaded between the entry dates are eligible, any pictures taken and uploaded previously will not be accepted.  The competition is open to individuals only, any business or other entity entries shall de disqualified. 3) Entries open on the 1st of August 2013 and close on the 15th of September 2013 inclusive. 4) Prizes: A winner will be chosen for each category; best fresh snow shot, most scenic, best grommet shot, best selfie, and the park rat award. Each winner will receive a 1 year subscription to Green Rider membership at Tahoeaussie. If the winner has also 'liked' Tahoeaussie on Facebook, then they will also be able to choose between one of the following: an upgrade to Black Diamond Membership or an additional 2 years to their Green Rider membership. Total possible prize pool is $1250. 4) The Winners will be notified by comment on their photo and will need to contact tahoeaussie at competition@tahoeaussie.com to claim their prize. Prizes must be claimed by the 31st of December or the winner will forfeit the prize and Tahoeaussie reserves the right not to issue another winner in place. 5) Pictures taken by the entrant will appear on Tahoeaussie Instagram feeds, Facebook and the Tahoeaussie website. These pictures maybe saved to Tahoeaussie folders on both Facebook servers or Tahoeaussie servers. Winner information will be collected by Tahoeaussie for the purpose of distributing prizes or where it is required for member accounts keeping. All other information will be kept as per the Privacy Policy.
  • 02 Sep 2013

    Domestic Airline Connections to Tahoe from LAX

    Domestic Airline connections from LAX are numerous and you've got a bit of choice. Who you choose will depend on many factors but there are a few general items to consider. I consider there to be essentially 3 entry points Australians are likely to consider: San Francisco and drive, Sacramento and drive or Reno (drive or shuttle).  If you're not renting a car, then Reno is the obvious choice with the shuttle as the first two really are unfeasible.  The first two ports limit you to renting a car, though this makes things easier up the Tahoe Basin if you wish to move around resorts or get away from the resorts for eating out at night.

    Airports

    San Francisco (SFO)

    This is a very large airport with many flights on many airlines from LAX.  You can pretty much choose which time you want to leave with most airlines doing approximately hourly flights.  From SFO, the options of getting to Tahoe are renting a car (most likely), Bus or Train though I've never used the last two as the schedules are very restrictive.

    Sacramento (SAC)

    Sacramento is the capital of California.  It places you a good 1.5 hours closer to Tahoe and you get to avoid most of the traffic you're likely to suffer on the I80 from San Francisco.  The flights here may not be as regular as flights to SFO, but direct flights from LAX are still usually more than the number to Reno.  Once again, you'll probably want to be renting a car from here as the Bus and Train option is limited to very early arrivals.

    Reno (RNO)

    For most people, this is going to be the airport of choice.  RNO is at approximately 4000' in the Carson Valley and thankfully, not very often is it closed due to inclement weather.  It's position and layout make it ideal for incoming aircraft.  The number of direct flights from LAX are more limited and flights will take approximately 1.5 hours.  The beauty of this airport is that you can arrive at anytime and catch a shuttle up the mountains direct from the Airport.  This is great for people who don't intend to hire a vehicle.  Another option is to stay the night in Reno as the nightly rates for the Casinos are usually quite cheap here and you get to wake to a magnificent view of the mountains in the morning.  You can also hire a car out of Reno if you wish as well as the resorts are about a 1 hour drive either up the I80 to the north or US50 to the south.  For Kirkwood, 88 south will be your best route.

    Truckee

    I've never flown to Truckee airport but that's because you'll need to charter a plane to do so.  

    Airlines

    Airline choice will depend on what class you wish to travel, if you are purchasing your flight from Australia on the same ticket or you wish to accrue frequent flyer miles.  They all aren't the same and there maybe restrictions.  In general, if it's booked as part of flight from Australia, you're Australian baggage limits apply otherwise you should consider this when costing up your options.

    SouthWest

    SouthWest is by far my preferred option.  Southwest do regular direct flights to SFO, SAC and RNO, though RNO is less frequent than the others. SouthWest though are the bus of the sky, there's little in the way of frills so if luxury is your requirement, you will probably want to look elsewhere. The major influencing factor for me is that you can take two checked bags on a SouthWest flight and your carry on as well.  This enables you to have a suitcase and a ski bag as well.  SouthWest also don't charge change fees either, so if you happen to miss your flight the only fees you're up for are the fare difference.  You can determine what the maximum amount you are up for when you book online, as you can see the fully priced flexible fare.  I have found that booking a few months out is optimal for most periods except if you're flying around a holiday period. When it comes to boarding, it's a first come first served basis.  People who get onto the plane first get to choose their seats and everyone else fills the gaps.  Everyone is given a boarding order based on your checkin (or if you paid for early checkin).  If flying in from Australia and you want to be seated together, you should checkin prior to your Australian flight.  You'll just need to go and check your bags on arrival. Search SouthWest Flights

    Delta

    Delta will get you anywhere as well and have direct flights.  They usually have a two cabin format so those looking for a little more comfort can find it here.  If you're a Velocity member, you'll also get points for flying with Delta. I have usually found Delta prices to be around the same as SouthWest.  The one thing to remember is that when booking a Delta flight, baggage is not included.  In economy, you'll need to add $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second bag.  So compared to SouthWest, you'll be forking out an extra $60 for your baggage.  Their discounted fares also incur change fees, so you'll be up for more if you happen to miss your flight as well and need to get on a later flight.  My experience flying has taught me that if that's the case, you need to give a bit more lee way for connections or be prepared to pay the price. Search Delta Flights

    American Airlines

    American (AA) have a few direct flights on SkyWest airlines.  They also have a baggage policy of $25 and $35 for the first and second bags except for those flying in full fare economy.  AA are Oneworld members, so Qantas Frequent Flyers will earn points and those with status maybe eligible for reduced baggage fees. Search American Flights

    United

    United have a few flights from LAX to RNO as well.  Their Domestic baggage policy for ALL economy fares is once again $25 and $35 for first and second bags.  United are part of Star Alliance and so Star Alliance members will earn points with United. Search United Flights   For most people, the best option is going to be flying to Reno and then making your way up the mountain.  For the economy passenger, your best option is to jump on SouthWest if you have baggage, especially 2 bags.  For everyone else who pays higher economy or business and above, there' multiple choice and it's probably best to stick to your Frequent Flyer program partner.  Last of all, Reno is a short distance from your skiing destination.
  • 03 Jul 2013

    Mobile phone options in the US, how to avoid bill shock and high costs

    Mobile Phone Bill shock keeps on going up. It's surprising that more and more Australians are getting stung with really high prices for mobile usage Overseas. It's not hard to avoid these charges while in the US and I'll go through some of the options I use when traveling that save me the worry of bills. In 2012, 4100 complaints were registered (who knows how many weren't) for high charges incurred while overseas. We're not talking small hundred dollar bills, 10% of complaints were for bills over $5,000, that's over $2 million in revenue. The government are now talking about regulation of the market to stop it yet there are things you can do already to make it accesible and much cheaper. Let's face it, for many of us it's not so easy to detach ourselves from our mobile phones as we use them as extensions of connectivity to our family and friends. Most of us really don't want to totally switch off completely, especially if we want to show people our photos, videos and tell them how we're doing. We're less inclined to get a postcard to send home a week later as we want to tell them now. In order to save ourselves from these exorbitant charges which are essentially a rip off as the margin earnt on these calls/data measure in the 1000% area, it's essential that we either remove our SIM cards from the phone or that we don't make calls from OS and don't consume data. The biggest catch for most people is not the calls, it's the data roaming charges. You're most likely to be tripped up by your email. Every so often, your phone sends some data to find out if you have any email and then sends data back, either that there is nothing or then sends the email/s along to your phone. This is the data transfer that you don't notice or think about and it's doing it many times a day. If you have no emails for the day, you're still paying for the privilege of knowing that you have no emails, it's mad. The simplest way to stop this is to turn Data Roaming off. You'll have to go into the settings of your phone to find this. This will stop your phone from checking your emails and any internet access over the mobile telephone networks. This is essential if you're leaving your Australian SIM card in the phone while OS and you wish to make calls back home and a prepared to pay the cost of those phone calls. So what do you do about Data and emails? The beauty of the US is that there is practically Wifi everywhere and it's easy to find and quite often free to use. In Tahoe, I happen to find it in many places and we often get a place to stay that has Internet included. Places like Squaw Valley have wifi access around the mountain so you don't have to wait to get down off the mountain before Instagramming or Facebooking your pictures. If you get your phone to automatically connect to these networks when in the area, then you'll also solve your email problem and you'll get your emails everytime you're nearby. You may not have your emails 'a la minute' but in reality, it's not likely that the emails are a life or death situation. For those who want to message back home in an SMS style, I use the What'sApp on my phone. This acts as an SMS service though it does require that the people back home have it installed on their phones as well. It's a free App so there's no real reason not to have it. I like to use this to let people know (as you can group message with this as well) that I have arrived safely. If you find SMS a little too impersonal and you like a personal touch, there's Skype. You can either just call them and have a conversation as per a normal phone or even better, turn the video on so you can see them. It's a free service as well and on the phone it works like calling though you need to have the others with the App turned on. Both of these use data, so make sure that you're connected to a local wifi network and your data roaming is switched off. If you don't want to wait to get close to a wifi network or do require the use of a normal mobile phone, then I go the route of getting a US prepaid SIM card. My SIM card of choice is with AT&T as they provide good coverage in the Tahoe area. They generally have the best coverage across the US, though you can always check. There are a few ways to get a hold of a SIM card; you can buy them on eBay though if the card is cut down to size (Pre-Cut is preferable) it may not work properly. There are a couple of eStores in Australia you can buy these cards from and you can set them up prior to departing Australia, and my last method is to get one in the US which I do at LAX. There are a couple of places to buy in Australia online, usaprepaidsimcard but they cost $45 which is a bit steep though can confirm legitimacy, there is also Mobi Passport though I don't know anyone who has purchased from them and a couple reviews talk about their slow customer support but they are only $18 at last check. If you have a few hours of layover time in LAX, preferably a departure after 10:30am, then you can head to an AT&T store to get a card and have it activated while you're there. It also saved me some money as the shop assistant spoke to me and recommended I go with a $50 prepaid and it worked superbly for me, saving me $15 on the higher plan. The store opens at 9am and hence it's best that after your arrival into LAX, you first drop your bags off (either bag drop or go to checkin if need be.) I did this recently with my arrival via Virgin and then checked my bags in at SouthWest before going to get my card. To get to the store, jump in the Parking Spot shuttle (you can't miss it, it's yellow and black in polka dot pattern) but make sure it's going to Sepulveda. The ride is only about 5-10 minutes and once at the parking garage, head to the northern side of the garage and exit out to the main street, AT&T is almost on the corner next to Wells & Fargo. If you want to get a SIM for your trip, you'll need to make sure that your phone is unlocked. In order to check this, you need to go to your carriers website to find out. They'll ask you for a code from your phone and tell you how to go about unlocking your phone. There maybe a fee for it depending on your phone and your plan. If you can't unlock, then you'll have to rely on Wifi to get around. I hadn't unlocked my iPhone when I arrived and it was still unlocked when I got back to Australia, however the assistant at the AT&T store was able to help me sort that out and get around it for the time I was in the US. I have no since unlocked the phone to make it easier in the future. Avoiding ripoff charges for your mobile in the US isn't too difficult. One can survive quite well on wifi alone in the US but if you really need the roaming data then there are options for that as well. Happy Roaming. For unlocking phones goto: Vodafone Optus Telstra If your phone is with another company, you will need to contact them.

    Please help me get what you want more of in my Survey

  • 30 Aug 2013

    Mt Rose - the heights of Tahoe

    [caption id="attachment_686" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose chutes in their glory Mt Rose chutes in all their glory[/caption] My first recollection of Mt Rose was in 1999 when I opened the blinds in a Reno Casino to see Mt Rose towering over Carson Valley.  This is enough to make any advanced skier salivate at the sight. It took another 12 years before I'd actually get myself there.  It shouldn't have taken that long because I was missing out. [caption id="attachment_683" align="alignright" width="150"]Magnum 6 express chair Mr Rose Magnum 6 with chutes on left and black on right[/caption] Mt Rose is high, it's base is at 8260' and goes up over 10,000'.  This means that the snow keeps better at this altitude though it is a little exposed to the wind.  There are many higher peaks around it as well and the cloud has been lifted prior to reaching the range to get over the crest and lake.  As a result it will typically snow less when a storm comes over, except in the gullies where it will collect and storms that bring rain to other resorts could end up as snow around Mt Rose.  There are numerous photos around with the snow banks around Mt Rose. For the advanced skier, this place really does rock.  There's the chutes which is consistent pitch slopes of up to 55 degrees facing north, retaining snow quality.  This was enough to make a few friends of mine paint their underwear brown.  The black runs under and around the main six-pack (Northwest Magnum 6) up the face from the main lodge are simply awesome black runs.  As groomers, they are the perfect place to work on your technique and will burn your legs.  Their consistent pitch once again makes for great skiing and on a powder day would be simply 'yewwww' worthy. [caption id="attachment_680" align="alignright" width="150"]Winter Lodge Mt Rose lookout The view for your lunch[/caption] There's also plenty of Intermediate terrain as well as you get further away from the main six-pack and also on the Carson Valley side.  The view into the Carson Valley is stunning looking across the deserts of Nevada.  We're talking a Valley that is up to 6000' below you.  There's also a lodge (Winters Creek) for you to sit at and admire the views below you.  The food here is also of great quality and a great price to match as well. [caption id="attachment_687" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose across Carson Valley Mt Rose as seen from across the Valley on the way to Virginia City[/caption] Mt Rose is a local Reno resort and the tickets are at a great price as well.  The season pass is cheap as chips. If you want to stay nearby, you can put your coats up in Incline Village, at the bottom of the Mr Rose Hwy on the Lake side making for an easy hike up the mountain.  A little bit further back and you have Crystal Bay for the budget traveller who is happy to stay at a Casino which also provides for good night entertainment as well. Mt Rose also have special prices during the week as well, so check them out as well on their site.  These tickets need to be purchased online, so get access to the internet. Mt Rose maybe a small mountain but in the end, it's worth every effort to go there.  I'll be going back as those chutes have my name written on them and maybe I'll see you there.   [caption id="attachment_681" align="alignright" width="150"]The Roat to Winter Lodge Mt Rose The Road around to Winter Lodge Mt Rose[/caption] Official Mt Rose website
  • 30 Aug 2013

    Mt Rose - the heights of Tahoe

    [caption id="attachment_686" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose chutes in their glory Mt Rose chutes in all their glory[/caption] My first recollection of Mt Rose was in 1999 when I opened the blinds in a Reno Casino to see Mt Rose towering over Carson Valley.  This is enough to make any advanced skier salivate at the sight. It took another 12 years before I'd actually get myself there.  It shouldn't have taken that long because I was missing out. [caption id="attachment_683" align="alignright" width="150"]Magnum 6 express chair Mr Rose Magnum 6 with chutes on left and black on right[/caption] Mt Rose is high, it's base is at 8260' and goes up over 10,000'.  This means that the snow keeps better at this altitude though it is a little exposed to the wind.  There are many higher peaks around it as well and the cloud has been lifted prior to reaching the range to get over the crest and lake.  As a result it will typically snow less when a storm comes over, except in the gullies where it will collect and storms that bring rain to other resorts could end up as snow around Mt Rose.  There are numerous photos around with the snow banks around Mt Rose. For the advanced skier, this place really does rock.  There's the chutes which is consistent pitch slopes of up to 55 degrees facing north, retaining snow quality.  This was enough to make a few friends of mine paint their underwear brown.  The black runs under and around the main six-pack (Northwest Magnum 6) up the face from the main lodge are simply awesome black runs.  As groomers, they are the perfect place to work on your technique and will burn your legs.  Their consistent pitch once again makes for great skiing and on a powder day would be simply 'yewwww' worthy. [caption id="attachment_680" align="alignright" width="150"]Winter Lodge Mt Rose lookout The view for your lunch[/caption] There's also plenty of Intermediate terrain as well as you get further away from the main six-pack and also on the Carson Valley side.  The view into the Carson Valley is stunning looking across the deserts of Nevada.  We're talking a Valley that is up to 6000' below you.  There's also a lodge (Winters Creek) for you to sit at and admire the views below you.  The food here is also of great quality and a great price to match as well. [caption id="attachment_687" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose across Carson Valley Mt Rose as seen from across the Valley on the way to Virginia City[/caption] Mt Rose is a local Reno resort and the tickets are at a great price as well.  The season pass is cheap as chips. If you want to stay nearby, you can put your coats up in Incline Village, at the bottom of the Mr Rose Hwy on the Lake side making for an easy hike up the mountain.  A little bit further back and you have Crystal Bay for the budget traveller who is happy to stay at a Casino which also provides for good night entertainment as well. Mt Rose also have special prices during the week as well, so check them out as well on their site.  These tickets need to be purchased online, so get access to the internet. Mt Rose maybe a small mountain but in the end, it's worth every effort to go there.  I'll be going back as those chutes have my name written on them and maybe I'll see you there.   [caption id="attachment_681" align="alignright" width="150"]The Roat to Winter Lodge Mt Rose The Road around to Winter Lodge Mt Rose[/caption] Official Mt Rose website
  • 30 Aug 2013

    Mt Rose - the heights of Tahoe

    [caption id="attachment_686" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose chutes in their glory Mt Rose chutes in all their glory[/caption] My first recollection of Mt Rose was in 1999 when I opened the blinds in a Reno Casino to see Mt Rose towering over Carson Valley.  This is enough to make any advanced skier salivate at the sight. It took another 12 years before I'd actually get myself there.  It shouldn't have taken that long because I was missing out. [caption id="attachment_683" align="alignright" width="150"]Magnum 6 express chair Mr Rose Magnum 6 with chutes on left and black on right[/caption] Mt Rose is high, it's base is at 8260' and goes up over 10,000'.  This means that the snow keeps better at this altitude though it is a little exposed to the wind.  There are many higher peaks around it as well and the cloud has been lifted prior to reaching the range to get over the crest and lake.  As a result it will typically snow less when a storm comes over, except in the gullies where it will collect and storms that bring rain to other resorts could end up as snow around Mt Rose.  There are numerous photos around with the snow banks around Mt Rose. For the advanced skier, this place really does rock.  There's the chutes which is consistent pitch slopes of up to 55 degrees facing north, retaining snow quality.  This was enough to make a few friends of mine paint their underwear brown.  The black runs under and around the main six-pack (Northwest Magnum 6) up the face from the main lodge are simply awesome black runs.  As groomers, they are the perfect place to work on your technique and will burn your legs.  Their consistent pitch once again makes for great skiing and on a powder day would be simply 'yewwww' worthy. [caption id="attachment_680" align="alignright" width="150"]Winter Lodge Mt Rose lookout The view for your lunch[/caption] There's also plenty of Intermediate terrain as well as you get further away from the main six-pack and also on the Carson Valley side.  The view into the Carson Valley is stunning looking across the deserts of Nevada.  We're talking a Valley that is up to 6000' below you.  There's also a lodge (Winters Creek) for you to sit at and admire the views below you.  The food here is also of great quality and a great price to match as well. [caption id="attachment_687" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose across Carson Valley Mt Rose as seen from across the Valley on the way to Virginia City[/caption] Mt Rose is a local Reno resort and the tickets are at a great price as well.  The season pass is cheap as chips. If you want to stay nearby, you can put your coats up in Incline Village, at the bottom of the Mr Rose Hwy on the Lake side making for an easy hike up the mountain.  A little bit further back and you have Crystal Bay for the budget traveller who is happy to stay at a Casino which also provides for good night entertainment as well. Mt Rose also have special prices during the week as well, so check them out as well on their site.  These tickets need to be purchased online, so get access to the internet. Mt Rose maybe a small mountain but in the end, it's worth every effort to go there.  I'll be going back as those chutes have my name written on them and maybe I'll see you there.   [caption id="attachment_681" align="alignright" width="150"]The Roat to Winter Lodge Mt Rose The Road around to Winter Lodge Mt Rose[/caption] Official Mt Rose website
  • 10 Jul 2013

    Qantas - The Flying Kangaroo

    Qantas economy was the airline of choice in 2012. [caption id="attachment_430" align="alignright" width="150"]Qantas A380 in flight over the coast Qantas A380 in flight[/caption] I had umm'd and aah'd about who to fly that year to LAX, it came down to either flying Qantas or Virgin and in this instance Qantas won out. The price difference between the two was only $100.  The tipping factor was that I would be flying with my friend on the same flight and he wanted it A380 all the way.  I was missing out on Velocity points, my preferred frequent flyer account however I still used my QFF account though. If we had waited to buy our flights, they would have come down again but always enforce the rule, after buying, stop looking!  In the end it worked out better that we did pay the higher price as a storm came that we could take advantage of. This was to be my first experience on the A380 and I was really looking forward to it. My friend had reserved himself a special seat for the legroom and was overly happy with his choice. Qantas provide a 3-4-3 configuration in the A380 economy. That provided me with an opportunity, to ensure there was a seat between the two of us.  So sure enough because of the lower load factors that time of year, we had the space to spread out a little. Flying in the A380 is an experience, though we got to experience the lounge before as our other friend was flying on Air NZ and he got us into the lounge.  This made waiting for our flight a little more palatable and if you can scam that, do so. The A380 makes for a very smooth flight and the less noise makes it far easier to relax, this is probably one of the big plusses of flying with Qantas for the Oz to LAX leg. The amenities provided are just delightful and it was a pleasant surprise to find that Qantas supplied things that looked more like real pillows than any other airline, they were bigger and not only that they had real pillow slips.  This made for a far more relaxing flight. The meals on Qantas had that nice Australian flair but by the same token wasn't that too dissimilar to any other long haul flights in taste and textures, it's clear that most of the Neil Perry inspiration goes to the higher classes.  That said, Heston Blumenthal showed that you can't really cook like normal when cooking for people 30+ thousand feet above the ground, it takes a different approach which I think a competitor may have stumbled upon.  Drinks wise, again standard with plastic cup and they give you a small 200ml or so bottle of wine, which you may feel embarrassed about asking for a second on the second pass as you haven't finished your first bottle. During the evening of the flight, the attendants come around with little food parcels for you to snack on through the night which is quite nice and if you want something else, you can go up to the self-service at the read of the cabin to get some more. Our flight arrived into LAX a little later than expected which was unfortunate because arriving into Tom Bradley is annoying enough, it's just made worse when you arrive after another A380 as arrived from Seoul.  The track record for on-time departures isn't the best for this service from MEL-LAX but they can and sometimes do make up time in the air with on-time arrivals fairing better.  The catch is you're likely to be in a big queue for immigration seeing as most trans pacific flights are overnight flights. When we were slated to depart the US, a big storm decided to make it's way towards Tahoe.  We had to make a decision, do we go home or do we change our plans?  The latter won out and we changed our plans and so had to change our flights.  We could easily do this online and all it cost us was $200 for administration as there was no fare difference seeing we had paid a higher price for the ticket in the first place and it was a lower season for flying. [caption id="attachment_431" align="alignleft" width="150"]Inaugural Qantas A380 flight landing in Sydney from LAX Inaaugural Qantas A380 arriving in Sydney[/caption] There was plenty of space on the way home and once again with seating, my friend booked an aisle seat in the middle of the craft.  At checkin, I was able to get a seat on the opposite side and hence we ended up getting the bank to ourselves and took turns having what one loosely would call sleep. Once again the smoothness of the flight and the lower noise made it quite enjoyable and relaxing, very good for a long flight that really leaves you feeling terrible later in the day after arrival. Overall the cleanliness of the plane, the friendliness of the staff make for a great flight and I'm quite happy to recommend people take this flight.  So far Qantas and Virgin stand on equal footing for my choice of flights to LAX, I'm yet to experience Air NZ. For other reviews, goto Virgin, Delta, United Airlines To book a flight goto Qantas Australia
  • 30 Aug 2013

    Mt Rose - the heights of Tahoe

    [caption id="attachment_686" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose chutes in their glory Mt Rose chutes in all their glory[/caption] My first recollection of Mt Rose was in 1999 when I opened the blinds in a Reno Casino to see Mt Rose towering over Carson Valley.  This is enough to make any advanced skier salivate at the sight. It took another 12 years before I'd actually get myself there.  It shouldn't have taken that long because I was missing out. [caption id="attachment_683" align="alignright" width="150"]Magnum 6 express chair Mr Rose Magnum 6 with chutes on left and black on right[/caption] Mt Rose is high, it's base is at 8260' and goes up over 10,000'.  This means that the snow keeps better at this altitude though it is a little exposed to the wind.  There are many higher peaks around it as well and the cloud has been lifted prior to reaching the range to get over the crest and lake.  As a result it will typically snow less when a storm comes over, except in the gullies where it will collect and storms that bring rain to other resorts could end up as snow around Mt Rose.  There are numerous photos around with the snow banks around Mt Rose. For the advanced skier, this place really does rock.  There's the chutes which is consistent pitch slopes of up to 55 degrees facing north, retaining snow quality.  This was enough to make a few friends of mine paint their underwear brown.  The black runs under and around the main six-pack (Northwest Magnum 6) up the face from the main lodge are simply awesome black runs.  As groomers, they are the perfect place to work on your technique and will burn your legs.  Their consistent pitch once again makes for great skiing and on a powder day would be simply 'yewwww' worthy. [caption id="attachment_680" align="alignright" width="150"]Winter Lodge Mt Rose lookout The view for your lunch[/caption] There's also plenty of Intermediate terrain as well as you get further away from the main six-pack and also on the Carson Valley side.  The view into the Carson Valley is stunning looking across the deserts of Nevada.  We're talking a Valley that is up to 6000' below you.  There's also a lodge (Winters Creek) for you to sit at and admire the views below you.  The food here is also of great quality and a great price to match as well. [caption id="attachment_687" align="alignleft" width="150"]Mt Rose across Carson Valley Mt Rose as seen from across the Valley on the way to Virginia City[/caption] Mt Rose is a local Reno resort and the tickets are at a great price as well.  The season pass is cheap as chips. If you want to stay nearby, you can put your coats up in Incline Village, at the bottom of the Mr Rose Hwy on the Lake side making for an easy hike up the mountain.  A little bit further back and you have Crystal Bay for the budget traveller who is happy to stay at a Casino which also provides for good night entertainment as well. Mt Rose also have special prices during the week as well, so check them out as well on their site.  These tickets need to be purchased online, so get access to the internet. Mt Rose maybe a small mountain but in the end, it's worth every effort to go there.  I'll be going back as those chutes have my name written on them and maybe I'll see you there.   [caption id="attachment_681" align="alignright" width="150"]The Roat to Winter Lodge Mt Rose The Road around to Winter Lodge Mt Rose[/caption] Official Mt Rose website
  • 01 Jul 2013

    Surviving the LAX labyrinth

    So you've arrived in LAX and need to navigate from your incoming flight to your next flight or pick up your car.  Daunting I know. LAX isn't the most friendly of airports and sometimes I would like to avoid it.  Alas it's not always possible so I've learnt a few things on how to survive this tortuous necessity. In this article I'll cover a couple of scenarios: Arriving and connecting to another flight, arriving and picking up a rental car, departing and dropping off a rental. By far the most common arrival in LAX is the connecting passenger.  Let's start with the most common query about LAX, how much time do I need to connect and can I manage a 2 hour connection? I'll start by saying that a 2hr connection at LAX is a very tight connection.  If you're connecting with the same airline, you might scrape it in.  If you next flight is on another carrier, better you don't unless you have a fully flexible fare you can change. ALL arrivals into LAX MUST clear customs before moving on. If arriving into Tom Bradley (TBIT) International terminal, this means getting in line with all the foreigners.  As TBIT is used by foreign airlines, there is a higher proportion of travellers who are foreign on these flights and thus you'll get stuck in the foreign passport line.  This could easily take you a half hour to clear if not more, that's after a potential long walk from the plane and a late debarkation.  On top of that, you then have to pick up your luggage and clear past the nothing to declare line.  This time can easily mount up and take 90 minutes to complete, that would give you 30 mins to check your bags to your next flight. When the airline checks your bags to your final destination in the US, it means you have to collect them in LAX and then recheck them.  So, after immigration, baggage collection and declaring nothing in your bags, you then come out the other side and there is an area for 'Baggage Drop'.  If your bags are only checked to LAX, you'll have to go to the general check-in counters to have them tagged to the next destination. Once you have checked those bags in, you then have to go through the local TSA.  This is the security line for departures at LAX. In the morning I have found that the lines don't tend to be all too bad, but you still want to give yourself 15-30 minutes to deal with it.  If you hit LAX at peak times, the lines become huge. In summary of this, for connecting a flight you have:
    • Walk from the plane
    • Clear Immigration
    • Collect Bags
    • Pass Declaration
    • With boarding pass and bags previously tagged (in Australia) to final destination
      • Go to Bag Drop
    • No Boarding pass, checkin again
      • Proceed upstairs to checkin, or other terminal
      • Checkin bags, boarding pass
    • Proceed to TSA
    • Go to Gate
    If you are departing on another airline, once you exit your arrival terminal, you'll then need to jump on a Free Shuttle that runs around the Terminals of LAX. It's pretty frequent and if you need to, let the driver know which airline you want to check in at and they'll tell you the stop to get off.  Terminal 1 is located at the North East corner of LAX and continues in an anti-clockwise direction.  LAX Terminal Map I often like to connect to a SouthWest flight which departs from Terminal 1. Delta will arrive in Terminal 5, Qantas (and now Virgin) arrive at Tom Bradley. As you can see, connecting in LAX can take a bit of time.  You're ill advised to have a short connection, though not having to move terminals makes things a bit easier and this under 3 hours is possible. If renting a car, then it really couldn't be easier.  Once you've cleared immigration and declared your goods, then it's as easy as proceeding outside and going to the shuttle stops and hailing the free shuttles that take you to the Company with whom you've booked.  Warning: Some companies have multiple rental locations, make sure you keep an eye on the front of the shuttles to make sure you're going to the right one.  Picking up your car before 10am is very possible for flights arriving 6:30-7am. Now for a few little side issues some of you might like to know.  If you're looking for a Burger, I suggest going to In&Out though they don't open until 10am.  To get there it's as easy as catching the Rental Spot shuttle (it's yellow with black polka dots), just make sure it's going to Sepulveda.  Once at the parking garage, you can easily head towards the south of the garage (usually to your right when you get off) and exiting the garage.  Great burgers and fresh cut chips, go Animal Style if you're daring. Seeing as I go for longer durations, I like to have mobile phone access.  I go for the AT&T prepaid SIM.  If you haven't bought one off the Net before leaving Australia, you can pick one up while you're awaiting your connection.  I take the shuttle as per going to In&Out above and instead head out the other side of the garage.  AT&T is on the corner and opens up at 9am.  The employees there are great and will get you the right plan and also get you access to the network if your phone is not unlocked.  While you're there, there's a Wells & Fargo ATM on the corner as well if you want to withdraw some cash. The shuttle is quick and takes less than 10 minutes to and from. When it comes to departing from LAX, it's much easier than arriving.  Virgin depart from Terminal 3, Qantas from TB, Delta from Terminal 5Air NZ from Terminal 2.  It's the same process as any other airport, checkin and then pass through the TSA.  Slight variation maybe that instead of leaving your bags at the checkin counter, you actually have to take them to the TSA baggage screening after checkin and tagging the bags.  There's no Immigration clearance like in Australia. If dropping a rental car off, simple once again.  Go to your rental depot and drop your car off.  If you have status sometimes you can either drop it off at the airport terminal or someone will drive you in your rental car to the terminal so you don't have to haul luggage out of your car and onto the shuttle.  If like the most of us though, you'll simply drop your car off and go catch their shuttle which will drop you off at the terminal you need.  All you need to is tell the driver your airline, they know where they are going. LAX can be confusing, there's no doubt.  It's most confusing for first time arrivals. The most important rule is, don't make your connection time short, it's better to have to sit around a little.  Other than that take it easy and you won't have too much issue.  
  • 23 Jun 2013

    United Airlines we fly to LA, on a budget

    For the budget conscious, United Airlines should be considered. If you're flying out of Melbourne or Sydney, United Airlines is also a choice.  Connecting from a different airline for other departure points would be ill advised. United have a single flight across the Pacific that collects passengers from Melbourne and Sydney.  It is basically a MEL-LAX flight with a stop in SYD. Thankfully it's also a late departure out of Melbourne as well (11:20am), so you don't have to get up at a silly hour to board your flight.  This is because the return leg as per other airlines is an early morning arrival. It's been a long time since I've flown on United, though from reports of people on them recently, very little has changed and there hasn't been much news of them updating the interiors either. When looking around for flights, you'll often notice that United is the cheapest, sometimes even having flights to the US for less than $1000.  If you see Flight Centre or STA advertise cheap deals, it usually involves flying United.  If you're on a budget, every dollar counts and so this is a good budget option.  Sometimes you can get a good special, for these types of deals, you need to keep an eye on ski forums like ski.com.au. So the question is why is this the cheapest option.  There is a few reasons for this, you have to compromise on some luxuries in order to get the cheaper price.  The interiors are a little on the old side and the craft does feel a little claustrophobic with old seating.  The seating pretty much predates the introduction of Video on Demand (VOD) so there's no seatback TV screens.  Instead there are screens mounted from the roof that everyone can watch from a distance and you plug your headphones in to listen to it.  You have no choice what to watch and have to watch the selected features. For those of us who have equipped ourselves electronically, this can be easily overcome by loading your iPad or laptop with your desired viewing playlist and watching that instead.  A little bothersome but by the same token, less of an issue if you're saving money on your flight, though watch you don't run out of power (use your power on the laptop to recharge your iPad. United naturally arrive at their own terminal as well so you'll not have to deal with Tom Bradley (always a bonus).  You can also book your onward flights with United which should be done on the same ticket so that the 2x23kg baggage limit carries over to the next flight as United Domestic will charge $25 for the first bag and another $35 for the second each way. Baggage on United has changed as well.  You receive 1 x 23kg bag and they will now charge $100 for a second bag on their flights.  This charge is most likely to negate any price advantage if you're flying with a pair of skis on top of your luggage.  Only Gold Status Star Alliance members will get the second bag for free. So why fly United? If you're a budget conscious traveller without any skis to take with you, United is definitely an option for you.  If you have an iPad, even better as you can at least entertain yourself. United is probably not for those who want to take bags with skis and the likes with them or who like me, can't live without VOD on a flight and don't have an iPad. To check out their flights, goto www.united.com Happy Flying :D
  • 18 Jul 2013

    Touched by a Virgin for the very first time

    Virgin Australia wanted my business and they got it in 2013. [caption id="attachment_169" align="alignleft" width="150"]My plane ride to Lake Tahoe on a Virgin Australia 777 from Melbourne to LAX My ride to Lake Tahoe 2013[/caption] 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. [caption id="attachment_168" align="alignright" width="150"]Seating for Virgin Australia Melbourne to LAX My seating for Virgin Australia economy from Melbourne to LAX[/caption] 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