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Melbourne (MEL) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Scheduled Departure: 9:00 AM
Actual Departure: 11:54 AM
Scheduled Arrival: 6:25 AM (same day)
Actual Arrival: 8:44 AM (same day)
Duration: 14h 25min (actual: 13h 50min)
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800 (Reg: VH-OQE)
Seat: 1A (First Class)
Note: I previously said my next review would be about The Bodrum EDITION, however I wanted to share this one with you guys while it’s still fresh. The hotel review will be coming in the next few weeks.
Qantas First Class is typically hard to come by when looking for award space, but it just so happened there was one seat available on a flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles at the tail end of my planned trip to Bali. In this review, we’ll talk about the booking process, the First Class airport experience (including check-in and lounge), as well as the in-flight experience and arrival services.
It’s rather uncommon to find award availability on Qantas in First Class. I was browsing flights on the Alaska Airlines website when I came across this one, and it just happened to be around the time I was planning my trip to Bali. Knowing that this was a rare opportunity, I booked the seat right away. It ended up costing me 70,000 Alaska Mileage Plan Miles, as well as $94.73 USD in taxes and fees. My route from LAX to YVR was a bit crazy as I wanted to try Horizon Air’s Embraer 175 on the flight from SEA-PDX so I ended up booking the following indirect route back home.
I earned the miles for this flight through a combination of the MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite MasterCard, and my Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express. The welcome bonus on the MBNA Alaska Card World Elite is 30,000 miles, which gets you almost halfway to redeeming for this flight. For the remaining 40,000 miles, you can transfer points from Marriott Bonvoy at a rate if 3:1. I recommend transferring in 60,000 Bonvoy point increments, as this gets you 20,000 airline miles, plus a 5,000 bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.
For the best value, I would recommend transferring 120,000 Bonvoy points which would get you 50,000 Alaska Mileage Plan miles. This would leave you an extra 10,000 Alaska miles after completing this redemption. Alaska Mileage Plan miles are extremely valuable, so I don’t mind having a stash of them leftover in my account for the next time I want to make a redemption. It’s also possible to purchase Alaska Miles, and they often offer discounts and bonuses. In this case, had I taken advantage of the current 50% bonus offer, 70k miles would have cost me approximately $1400 USD - a steal for long haul First Class.
A cash fare on this route goes for just over $12,000, getting me a value of over 17 cents per point (cpp).
I received a call around noon the day before my flight. It was a lovely lady named Helen from the Qantas First Class team in Melbourne. She confirmed all the details of my booking and advised me that there is a separate curb-side check-in lounge for First Class passengers. She gave a brief explanation of the lounge in Melbourne and asked if I would like to make an appointment at the spa. I gladly accepted and booked a 20-minute “Melbourne Signature” treatment. She thanked me for my time and wished me an excellent flight the following morning.
I called for an Uber and arrived at the First Class curb-side check-in at 6:25 AM for my 9:00 AM departure, giving me enough time in the lounge for breakfast and my spa treatment, before boarding the whale (aka the Airbus A380) that would take me to LAX in just over 14 hours. There was a security officer who asked a few questions about my trip, placed a sticker in my passport, and handed me off to one of the wonderful Qantas check-in agents. We had a good chat and they commented on my seat choice for all 4 flights - 1A. They had never seen someone with the same seat on all their connecting flights, let alone 1A.
The check-in agent handed my passport back along with my 4 boarding passes and a fast track pass for security and immigration. Security was quiet when I went through, so the fast track wasn’t of much use; however, it certainly would come in handy had there been more people. I was through within a few minutes and made my way to the Qantas International First Class Lounge, located between Gates 9 and 11 on the upper level.
Qantas International First Class Lounge Melbourne:
After a quick stop at a duty free shop, I arrived at the First Class lounge at 6:51AM. The check in staff must’ve communicated with the lounge, because I was greeted immediately as “Mr. Premji”, before even handing my boarding pass over. Imraan was the lounge attendant who checked me in, confirmed my 8am spa appointment and offered to store my bags. He then gave me a tour of the lounge, and introduced me to the waiter in the a-la-carte restaurant. I was seated at a table with a wonderful view of what was supposed to be my aircraft to LAX (more on that later). There were quite a few breakfast choices, and I went for the Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon. The eggs were poached to perfection and the dish was excellent overall, however the hash browns I ordered on the side never showed up. To drink, I started with a double espresso and sparkling water and then moved on to a few mimosas.
First Class Spa:
Spa treatments in the Melbourne and Sydney First Class lounges are complimentary for all passengers who have access to the lounge. This includes those who have OneWorld Emerald status, Emirates Skywards Platinum, and First Class passengers travelling on Emirates or Qantas. Appointments are on a first-come-first-served basis, with one exception; passengers booked on Qantas First Class can make an appointment beforehand.
For those who haven’t had a treatment at the Sydney or Melbourne lounges in the past, you need to fill out a short questionnaire before your treatment. It’s recommended to arrive a few minutes before your appointment if this is the case.
The decor in the spa is modern and there is a beautiful living wall behind the front desk, similar to what you find when you first enter the lounge. As you enter the spa, you’re greeted by a friendly receptionist who introduces you to the therapist. The treatment is 20 minutes long, and consists of massaging the chest, shoulders, head, hands, and feet. It was an incredible way to start the day and I felt completely relaxed by the time it was finished.
By the time the spa treatment was finished, it should have been time to board for the 9:00 AM departure, however...
As I was in the Uber on the way to Melbourne Airport, I received a notification saying that the flight had been delayed by one hour to 10:00 AM. “Great, more time in the First Class lounge” I thought. But that was just the first of many notifications I would get from Qantas that morning. While in the lounge, the staff explained that the delay was due to some maintenance which was required on the nose gear. Eventually, there was an announcement that the aircraft wouldn’t be repaired in time for our departure, so they found another A380 and we had a new departure time of 11:00 AM.
Boarding was now scheduled to begin at 10:15 AM, but no announcements had been made yet. I asked the lady at the front desk if we were still on schedule for the new departure time, and she said as far as she was aware, there were no further delays. I wanted to get some photos of the aircraft at the gate, so I made my way over to Gate 16 around 10:30am. When I arrived at the gate, there was a huge lineup to get to the seating area due to a secondary security check - thankfully there was a separate section for First Class and those who required pre-boarding.
While we were waiting to board, a few passengers started chatting about the delay, and it seemed like many of us had connecting flights that we were now going to miss. The airline was not proactive with rebooking, even for First and Business Class passengers. I asked if there would be any arrival service in LAX, and one of the gate agents quite rudely stated that there wouldn’t be “since everyone is in the same situation as you”. Alright then… She then came up to me a few minutes later with a paper stating the delay, in case I needed it for my travel insurance and mentioned the airline would rebook my next flight upon arrival.
It was a rough week for Qantas. One of their A380s was grounded in LAX recently for maintenance, and another apparently had a small fire on board. My flight from SYD-MEL the day before this A380 flight was on an A330 in their new lay-flat business class but was delayed over 2 hours (flight time between the two cities is only about 60-90 mins) so I was understandably rather frustrated with this delay, though not too surprised. While in the lounge, there were constant announcements of Qantas flights being delayed for many reasons, but the most common was due to maintenance. I don’t work for an airline and therefore don’t fully understand how ground operations works, but I’m sure there’s a better way to avoid so many delays by doing preventative maintenance or doing whatever is necessary while the aircraft isn’t scheduled to fly.
Boarding for First Class wasn’t officially called, but at 11:15am, the agent instead came up to those in line and informed us that we were ready and thanked us for our patience.
There were 2 jet bridges attached to the aircraft and First Class shares a jet bridge with economy class on the main deck. As I approached door 2L, I was thanked for choosing Qantas for my travels, and escorted to my seat at the front of the aircraft. I was then greeted by Andrew, one of the First Class flight attendants who was serving the “A” seats. Andrew - if you’re reading this, thank you for taking care of me. You were wonderful and I hope to fly with you again one day.
The First Class cabin on the Airbus A380 is located at the front of the lower deck and consists of 14 open “suites” in a 1-1-1 configuration. Similar to Cathay Pacific First Class, the “A” seats use the left aisle, while the “D” & “K” seats share the aisle on the right. There are partitions between the left aisle and the middle seats which can be raised after take off.
When I arrived at my seat, it was facing forward in the takeoff/landing position and there was a plush pillow waiting for me. The suite doesn’t have a door, although it still offers plenty of privacy. The walls surrounding the seat are quite tall and with the partitions raised, you’re unable to see other passengers and they’re unable to see you unless someone is standing.
Andrew offered me a set of pyjamas and an amenity kit, both by Martin Grant, and gave me an overview of the seat. Directly in front of you is a small fold out table, meant for drinks. Immediately below is the literature, including a safety card, Qantas Magazine, and a paper bag. Below and to the left is a power port, as well as two USB ports.
To the left of that is the entertainment screen, which can fold away while you sleep. There’s also a footrest, which doubles as a companion seat with a seatbelt if you choose to dine with a fellow traveller. There was another pillow, as well as a blanket on the footrest when I boarded.
To the left of the seat is a drawer containing a set of headphones, though they are not noise cancelling and were only branded with the Qantas logo. Come on Qantas, I’ve seen better in business class. This is something that can easily be improved, though it would cost the airline a small fortune to replace the headphones with Bose or Bowers & Wilkins like most of their competitors.
Below that is another identical drawer that is empty and for personal use. There’s also a spot to place a water bottle located right beside where the tray table is stowed.
As you’re seated, there’s a control unit used for everything within the suite immediately to your left. The controller can adjust the lighting, seat position, window shades, and the entertainment system. It also controls the seat massage function, a true treat at 35,000 feet.
Directly below the main controller was a smaller remote which was just for the entertainment system. It’s a bit dated, but still functioned as intended.
Not long after takeoff, I was presented with a couple of canapés - a beautiful caviar tartlet with cauliflower purée, alongside an ocean trout tataki topped with soy, jalapeño, and cucumber served on a skewer.
Andrew then came to clear that away, and take my order for the rest of the meal. I stepped away for a quick washroom break and came back to a beautiful table setting. I decided to start with the roast pumpkin soup and the prawn salad. The soup was fabulous and was topped with garlic and thyme croutons and crème fraîche. The prawn salad was refreshing and consisted of shredded cabbage, cucumber, finger lime caviar, sesame, and sliced roasted almonds, topped with a pepita salsa. The sliced almonds really made this dish, adding a crunchy texture to an otherwise average prawn salad.
For my main, I opted for the beef fillet which was served with a potato and cabbage gratin, a nice smoked salt, and broccoli. A good steak is tough to do in the sky, and Japan Airlines is the only one who impressed me in First Class with a perfectly cooked cut of Wagyu beef, but the catering team pulled this one off well.
I finished the meal off with a selection of cheese, and the chocolate mousse. I was also offered a macadamia chocolate to finish off the lunch service.
I’ve heard several remarks in the past that “Qantas First Class has the best beds in the sky”, obviously with the Etihad Residence being an exception. I was excited to try it out, so when Andrew came by and offered to prepare the bed, I happily accepted.
He invited me to check out the lounge on the upper deck while he was making the bed. It was quite crowded, so I just had a brief look. By the time I came back, my seat was transformed and it looked better than I expected. The seat goes fully flat and is covered with a mattress pad that makes you feel as if you’re floating on a cloud. The quilted duvet isn’t too thick, and is incredibly soft and has a luxurious feel. My first impressions of the bed had me comparing it to a hotel bed.
After getting some shuteye, I must confirm it is one of, if not the best beds in the sky. The thick memory foam mattress pad makes a huge difference. I spoke to Andrew about it, and he said they made the switch a few years ago from a very heavy lambswool mattress pad, and it’s been great for passengers as well as the crew.
I was woken up about an hour and fifteen minutes out of LAX and ordered a coffee and “green juice” which Andrew recommended. There was a good selection for breakfast, and I decided to have the poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon. Similar to other airlines in First Class, the crew prepares the eggs fresh to order. It was an excellent choice, and it’s the closest I’ve come to having Eggs Benedict in the sky.
We finally touched down in California at 8:28 AM, just over 2 hours later than originally anticipated. By the time we got to the gate, it was 8:44 AM. On arrival and there were several agents guiding people for their rebooked flights. Since there’s no pre-clearance facility in Melbourne, we had to collect our bags and clear customs in LAX.
On the last 3 flights I’ve taken with Qantas, priority bags were never the first ones out. I waited approximately 10-15 mins while at least a hundred or more bags came out before First Class bags started to drop. This is another area where the airline is lacking, and could easily be improved. When I finally got my bag, I noticed it had been damaged despite being tagged as fragile, though I suppose this could happen on any airline. I will be speaking to Qantas about this and will update the review with the outcome.
As you saw earlier in this post, I booked a strange route home so I could try out the new Alaska Airlines First Class Lounge in Seattle, and the Horizon Air Embraer 175 from SEA-PDX. Due to the 3 hour delay departing Melbourne, I missed my connection in LAX and was informed that I had been rebooked with Alaska Airlines on a 09:55 AM departure to SEA, and then to Vancouver later in the afternoon.
By the time we got off the aircraft, they informed me that I wouldn’t make the next Alaska flight either. They rebooked me on a full fare business class ticket with Air Canada direct to YVR. This wasn’t ideal as I had booked the itinerary this way for a reason, but kudos to them for taking care of their premium passengers.
Qantas First Class is a product which many people dream of flying, although it is usually quite difficult to come across award space. I originally wanted to do the longer SYD-DFW route and experience the world-class Sydney First Class Lounge, but I’m glad I had this opportunity instead. I really lucked out with the crew this time, and as we all know - the crew can make or break a flight for you.
Qantas really needs to do something about all the delays. I’ve now flown with the airline three times, of which two flights were delayed for more than 2 hours. Sure, it’s a small sample count, but unacceptable regardless. Despite this, it was still an enjoyable flight once we finally made it on board.
The staff throughout the journey were friendly and polite, and it’s obvious they truly love what they do. The hard product feels slightly dated, though it’s still an excellent seat that transforms into one of the best beds in the sky. Privacy is good, but can’t compare to airlines with enclosed suites in First Class.
With all that being said, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to give the airline another go, hopefully again in 1A on a flight departing Sydney.
What’s your experience with Qantas been like? Let us know down below.
Ijaaz has been fascinated by air travel since he was a child, and his goal is to become an airline pilot. Ijaaz’s family enjoys travel and takes a trip at least every couple years. His first trip to Asia was for a family wedding in 2015, when they visited Thailand and Hong Kong. Ijaaz was hooked at this point, and has since returned to Hong Kong at least a dozen times. He applied for his first credit card right after his 19th birthday, and has been in the points game ever since. His travels have taken him to over 30 countries all over the globe, and he is known to book flights last minute to new and interesting destinations.