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The Happy Slam Down Under 2022: Trip Planning

By January 12, 2022No Comments

It’s back to the skies for me again, and the first after a 22 month hiatus! I’ve put travelling on the back burners because I had commitments in Singapore, but time flies when you are busy collecting miles (while having fun!)

I’ll be spending time in Melbourne, Australia for more than half of January, while arriving back in Singapore just in time for the Lunar New Year. Compared to ‘The Long Way to New York‘ or ‘European Extravaganza 2019‘, I’ve taken a more conservative approach for this trip. Reasons are aplenty; Border restrictions are far too complicated in this moment in time, Omicron is raging across the world (not just Australia!), I will be catching the whole Australian Open for the entire fortnight (compared to just going for the semis when I was in New York), commitments for Dukes Stewardship… and the list goes on.

Nevertheless, this is a trip that seemed unlikely more than a month ago, so I’m glad that I was able to piece it all together and able to make it a reality!

Flights

It’s rather un-poetic that after 22 months, my first flight out would be in a BUDGET carrier, Jetstar. It’s rather melancholic but while there were many inclinations to kick things off with a glass of bubbles with a full flat bed in the sky, life ain’t a bed of roses you know. Please, allow me to explain.

  1. As many of you, I had to cancel many of my trips when COVID first ravaged. That left me with more than sufficient flight credits than I would have preferred, including some flight credits that I had with Jetstar for a trip I was due to make with my dad to Okinawa in July 2020.
  2. The idea was to take a red-eye flight since I was likely (at that time) to be in quarantine, and I could rest up at the hotel after the on-arrival PCR test in Melbourne. There was no point taking a night service flight which Singapore Airlines had reduced its service capacities to cope with Omicron – it wouldn’t be a fair representation of service commitments. As you would know, all these have now changed.
  3. Flight redemptions were notoriously difficult to find on the outbound leg to Australia, even after seeking help with PPS friends who somehow couldn’t find redemptions on their end. I wasn’t prepared to wait for 6 hours on the line with the SQ contact, nor queue 4 hours at its ION office.

With these 3 main factors, I quickly redeemed my flight credits and secured a flight to Melbourne, fuss-free. Of course, it’s much easier now since you now could freely move around Victoria after doing an on-arrival ART which tests negative, saving yourself precious time and a huge step toward quarantine-free travel once again.

On the flight back, no presents for guessing what I did! With the huge stockpile of SQ miles gained over its promotion, I redeemed a business class saver redemption for SQ228, an afternoon departure from Melbourne.

I must have been lucky because ever since Singapore announced a sanction on new VTL flights, redemptions have been severely limited. Moreover, because of my impending move to Thailand, I managed to use the stopover redemption trick once again, securing a business class ticket to Bangkok with no additional parlay of miles but just for another US$100. Perfect.

Hotels

Having checked out hotels in North America, Europe and Asia, it’s time to check out how the Hilton elite recognition holds up in Australia, namely Melbourne. While I have plans to visit Adelaide and Sydney, it’s unlikely that I’ll pull the trigger (but we’ll see!)

I previously stayed at an Airbnb next to Southern Cross with a friend during my last visit to Melbourne, so it’s my first time exploring the hotels scene in Melbourne.

view of Marvel Stadium over the Melbourne winter back in 2019

I’m thankful that I have friends in Melbourne and some of them have kindly offered me a place to stay. Nevertheless, I’ll still take time out to review the Hilton hotels along with my friends! There are 2 hotels associated with Hilton in Melbourne, namely the Doubletree By Hilton – Flinders Street and the new Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street, and these are places I’ll get my friends to come over too.

The Doubletree has been a mainstay in Melbourne; I still remember seeing it when I took the tram along Flinders Street when I took a short flight down to Melbourne back in June 2019 after a outback journey to Uluru. While I didn’t check it out then, I’ll be happy to check it out now! My only wish is that I will be given an upgrade, since there are room categories marked as ‘Interior’, seemingly suggesting that there are zero windows and no views of the Melbourne CBD..

On the other hand, the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street is a brand new addition to the Hilton family. As reported by Executive Traveller, Hilton has returned to Melbourne after a four-year hiatus, when the now defunct Hilton Melbourne South Wharf hotel was refurbished and rebranded as the Pan Pacific Melbourne. There seems to be plans of including an Executive Lounge, a place of welcome retreat, but it seems to be closed for now. Nevertheless, my correspondence with the team there reassures me that there will be some evening cocktails for guests with access to the lounge, which I will have with my Diamond status.

Lounges

It’s been a long time since I stepped into a lounge, and since I am not taking a SQ flight to Melbourne, I haven’t got access to the SilverKris lounge even with my Elite Gold Status. Nevertheless, I will have access to the more than acceptable Plaza Premium Lounge thanks to my OCBC Voyage card, which I had previously reviewed, but it will be interesting to see how the lounge holds up in the COVID environment.

It’s back to the Plaza Premium Lounge in Changi Terminal 1 after almost a 2 year absence! How was the experience hold up?

On the leg home, there’s actually a Plaza Premium Lounge in Melbourne, but it seems to be closed because of the pandemic. That’s a pity though, since it was a lounge I absolutely enjoyed when I visited it in 2019. Nonetheless, since I am flying back in Business, I will have the chance to review the SilverKris lounge in Melbourne, so look out for that!

Other Things to Note

It’s a new world we are living in, and gone are the times we can jaunt the occasional day trip or go for a mileage run. Below are some things I am paying special attention to when travelling in the times of COVID, coupled along with some tips with friends and fellow readers.

Travel Insurance

If you are one to skip on travel insurance, you are treading on thin ice that can catch you cold, especially in the world we are living in. While some countries have mandated a purchase on travel insurance before you can enter the country, Australia doesn’t. Nevertheless, I personally believe it’s important to get coverage, especially when we are seeing new peaks in relation to cases each day.

Do note that not all travel insurance policies provide COVID-19 coverage! I’ve listed the ones that do in this article; here’s how their medical coverage measures up:

ProviderCOVID-19 Medical Expense Coverage



Policy Wording
– Basic: S$50K
– Standard: S$100K
– Supreme: S$250K


Policy Wording
– Bronze: S$1M
– Silver: S$1M
– Platinum: Unlimited


Policy Wording
– Lite: S$10K
– Plus: S$15K
– Prestige: S$20K


Policy Wording
– Essential: S$75K
– Comprehensive: S$150K


Policy Wording
– Basic: S$50K
– Supreme: S$200K


Policy Wording
S$150K


Policy Wording
– Essential: S$100K
– Superior: S$200K

I’ve gone for the Allianz Platinum Annual Multi-Trip plan, which provides unlimited medical expenses coverage along with comprehensive travel cancellation, interruption plans. Be sure to read up on your own on what you need before buying the plan.

Recap of VTL Requirements

Here’s a brief recap of the to-do list before you depart for Australia or Singapore. There’s an unofficial chat for VTL travel between Singapore and Australia on Telegram, I frequent it for first-hand experience from other travellers. Don’t take it as official advice though, especially with the situation changes rapidly.

✈️ Summary: Australia  VTL
To Australia 🇦🇺
– Only valid for Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family, and Singapore citizens
– No restrictions on 14-day travel history
– Fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved vaccine
– Singapore citizens: Apply for ETA via AustralianETA app (Apple | Android)
– Complete Australia Travel Declaration 72h before flight
Melbourne: Apply for Arrival Permit and download Service Victoria app
– Take pre-departure PCR test 72h before flight
– Take non-stop flight to Australia (Melbourne or Sydney only)
– Take ART within 24 hours of arrival in Australia (day of arrival is Day 0)
Melbourne: Further test between Day 5 and 7
Sydney: N.A
To Singapore 🇸🇬
– 14-day travel history only features Singapore or any VTL country
– Purchase travel insurance with min. S$30K coverage (short-term visitors only)
– Apply for VTP (short-term visitors and long-term pass holders only)
– Fully vaccinated with any vaccine in the WHO EUL
– Take pre-departure ART/PCR test 2 days before flight
– Take designated VTL flight to Singapore
– Take on arrival PCR test in Singapore upon landing at Changi Airport’s designated facility

COVID-19 Testing

All fully vaccinated passengers (including unvaccinated children under 12 who are accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult) must take a ART test within 24 hours of arrival, and a further test between Day 5 and 7 upon arriving in Victoria.

For avoidance of doubt, there’s no need to do a professionally-administered ART; self-test kits are acceptable. According to some friends, you will be distributed some ART kits upon border clearance, but there’s no official confirmation on this. It’s best to bring your own.

This need not be done at the airport; although you are allowed to take the ART at the airport and if it reflects negative, you should be allowed to take the public transport. Of course, you are free to take private hires, and the Australian economy will thank you for it!

However, pre-departure tests (for return to Singapore) are chargeable. Please DO NOT use a free test to board a flight, since it won’t provide you with a results certificate with information like your passport number and date of birth. I’ve heard horror stories on this, and you won’t want to be denied boarding for something like this.

Thankfully, Singapore now accepts ART swabs as pre-departure tests, and the simplest option would be to do this at the Histopath clinic at Melbourne Airport. An ART swab costs A$59 with a 30 to 60-minute turnaround, and as far as I heard, this is one of the only (if not the only) professionally-administered ART in Melbourne that would come with the necessary certificate for travel. 

Other Tidbits

A few other logistical matters that may make your life easier when you visit Australia which didn’t fit into any of the other sections:

  • For SIM cards, I will be buying them at the airport for about S$25 for an ICC Australia SIM card with 35GB of data and unlimited calls (it should be similar to Sydney)
  • I’ll take the Melbourne Skybus to the airport, which will cost about A$18
  • Be sure to complete the following prior to travel:
    • Australia ETA: You’ll need to download the AustralianETA app (Apple | Android) to apply; it’s not possible to do it from your desktop. Application fees are A$20 per person, and the app works surprisingly well
    • Australia Travel Declaration: You’ll need to fill in the Australia Travel Declaration 72h before your flight. This is a long form, and make sure you do it somewhere with a stable internet connection- having to start over is a pain. No fee is applicable
  • Do take necessary precautions, such as buying your own ART kits over since supplies in Australia are low, wear a faceshield while on a flight, and abide to local guidelines.

Conclusion

The trip Down Under will be my first after almost 2 years, and you can’t imagine how excited I am! There were other countries I was thinking of but when it boils down to it, Australia is a safer option compared to Europe which I previously considered, especially with the winter outbreak. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to catch some live tennis too! If you are there at the Australian Open, dont hesitate to say hi!

I’ll also be posting regular updates on Instagram, so you can get some quick answers and visual pleasure before I have time to craft out a full post.

Stay tuned!

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