READER REVIEW: BA First on the Unicorn Route – London to Sydney booked on Avios.

buying aviosBA B787-9 First Class

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Today’s reader review is from Rob Rawlinson and one in a series of articles for TLFL’s competition. If you enjoyed Rob’s review let us know in the comments below. As usual we are also having some unpleasant comments which will not get published. If you can’t write something constructive then it will not get published.

 

First on the Unicorn Route – British Airways First to Sydney, booked on Avios

BA 15, April 2022

My partner and I flew at Easter 2022. The flight was only back in operation for approximately three weeks at this point. This led to a very specific and exasperating issue which I’ll cover at the end. Let’s just say I can now deftly navigate the rat run of back offices at Sydney airport.

 

The Fare + Back Story

An astonishingly inexpensive opportunity appeared for the most coveted redemption.  A flash sale offered London Heathrow (LHR) to Sydney (SYD) for just 85,000 Avios.  I combined that with the BA AMEX 2-4-1 voucher for LHR – SIN – SYD in First for an astounding 42.5k Avios each.   I flew back on Qatar in J, which my partner booked using AA miles (interesting for award flights that were not offered via BA).

Originally booked in 2019 for Easter 2020, but we all know what happened then.  Couldn’t let a fare that’s this good value slip away, so this was the re-booking timeline. Each time I re-booked the agent took 30-45 minutes to work through all the notes on the reservation!

— September 2019 booked for Easter 2020 travel

— March 2020 – Covid Cancellation. Rebooked.

— October 2020 – Covid Cancellation. Rebooked.

— December 2020 – Covid Cancellation. Rebooked.

— Easter 2021 – Covid Cancellation. Rebooked.

— Christmas 2021 – Covid Cancellation. Rebooked.

— Easter 2022. BORDER OPEN – FINALLY, IT’S A GO

 

Check-in and lounge

Our flight was arriving the day before Australia removed the lateral flow requirement, so we dutifully did our tests. I’m always nervous testing before a long-haul, in case it’s a positive/false positive. Both negative – phew.

Check-in was a breeze at the First wing. Not a soul in sight on our arrival at 6.30pm. Obligatory horse photo on entry.

The Concorde room was very quiet. It was also roasting hot, which I believe is typical. Three things I enjoy about the CCR:

  • Floral arrangements are stunning and give a lovely ambience
  • The Gordons Tree Bell on the bar – used at the flying boat base in Khartoum Sudan to announce the arrival & departure of services
  • The Concorde nose cone on the terrace & memorabilia

I do wish BA would cool it down and offer better, more substantial, food.  The menu is extremely similar to the other lounges, simply plated a bit differently with one or two additional options.  The price of this ticket for cash paying customers can exceed £10,000 (return) – the quality of the lounge food in no way reflects that cost.

 

Boarding

Boarding was a breeze. We made maximum use of the CCR Concorde Room) which made us the very last two to board (read: bit of an LPGS fuelled dash to C gates). LPGS stands for Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne which is a very good champagne served in the Concorde room and in First class on board. The flight attendant welcoming passengers on board, on seeing the First ticket, jumped into action and took us personally to our seats.

Pre-departure bevvies were served fast and with big smiles from the cabin crew. A strong sign that it’ll be a good flight. Full sized champagne glasses of the fabulous LPGS. If there’s one thing BA gets right in First, it is the champagne. I’m not the biggest fan of champers specifically (prefer prosecco) but this never fails to hit the spot. It took a while for the captain to get all the paperwork in order so we ended up having 2 glasses of the fizz before push back. And we had our glasses halfway to the runway too!

 

The seat and cabin

It was a B787-9 with the new First set-up. This meant more space, very large IFE screens and only 8 seats. Club was the old seven across. We had 1E and 1F – the front row of First in the middle. There was only one other person showing on the seat map when we checked in but on boarding the cabin was full to Singapore, but only one other person flew all the way to Sydney.

Perhaps someone bought an upgrade. I don’t blame them, considering the old business class! It is a set-up where those with gymnastics backgrounds tend to do quite well manoeuvring in and out. Us mere mortals end up pulling a muscle or virtually collapsing awkwardly on top of a complete stranger. The joy. I digress and apologise. Back to the review.

The seats are beautifully done with fine stitching in an elegant yet modern pattern. I highly recommend using the sheet when going down for sleep. My other half did not, and he woke up with a grazed arm from the fabric.

The space around the seat is very roomy, tons of leg room (I’m 5’8), and the lack of door makes zero difference in my opinion. In fact, a door may make it a bit claustrophobic. I’ve been fortunate enough to fly on the 747 in First, which was cool for obvious reasons, but it also had a partner seat to dine together, which was great. The 787-9 does not have a partner seat. Believe me. We tried! See photo later in the review for evidence.

 

Food and drink

One of my favourite things with long-hauls: examining the menu carefully and letting an anticipatory fervour build about the meal service.  It’s a bit of a ritual.    I emailed First guest services (You First), and they provided our flight’s menu.    However, it was not quite back to pre-covid levels. Turning Left for Less reported it will return to normal from August onwards; however, it was still a relatively strong showing. The second flight on this mammoth trip to Sydney was superior – read on!

LPGS was re-filled rapidly after take-off. Hats off to the crew. Water was delivered in a lovely crystal tumbler (super glassware!). And 3 canapes in small dishes.

For starter, I had burrata and two bread rolls. I love BA’s salt and pepper set, as well as having both butter and olive oil/ balsamic vinegar.

Burrata starter

Main course was prawns & scallops on a bed of rice and vegetables. It was tasty with an Asian flavoured tangy sauce. The prawns tasted fresh and juicy, but a bit small IMO.  The scallop was left to be desired as it was both rubbery and flavourless. Overall, it was nice but I was left hungry. I do have a large appetite.

I skipped the cheese and desert, opting for a nap. It was past midnight by this time and the champers raised my internal ‘time for bed’ alarm.

The crew made-up my bed while I was in the bathroom. On coming back, it was beautifully presented with a fitted sheet, soft but not too hot duvet, and a large comfy pillow. I kept the duvet and pillow for the rest of my flight, even when sitting up – it was so cosy!

According to my camera roll (LOL – that LPGS!), I slept for 5 hours. Which, for me, is unusual. I do like to lay down on a long-haul but I don’t tend to sleep well on planes because of the comfort of the seat paired with cabin noise & temperature. But in the First bed and bedding (aided by LPGS) I slept like a dream. I think the spaciousness of the seat contributed heavily too. I didn’t feel constricted at all.

I woke and had sliced fruit and crisps, part of the ‘snacks anytime’ selection. With a green tea, diet coke, & LPGS, I settled down queued up the new James Bond. All seemed perfectly apropos.   Not long after peckish struck and had a scotch egg – really good!

Scotch egg

Five hours remained so I had the cheese followed by the chocolate pudding & vanilla ice cream I turned down earlier.  Was a nice test of the ‘dine anytime’ concept which is only in First on BA. The ice cream was even in good form.

Chocolate pudding with ice cream + James Bond + LPGS!

The second meal consisted of some charcuterie followed by a delicious chicken and mash. It was more substantial and was much better tasting.  We both wished the meals were reversed (i.e. chicken was the first meal)

Landing meal sliced meats and veggies
Landing meal to SIN – chicken and mashed potato with asparagus & a light jus

 

Singapore Refuel – Approx. 1 Hour 50 Mins Turnaround

Everyone dis-embarks. The seats and boarding pass were the same. We had a new crew, freshly loaded food and beverages, and did a quick clean.

The BA and Qantas First lounge were both still closed for covid. Qantas business was open with white and red wines, beers, spirits and prosecco. Food was either chicken laksa with noodles or veg dumplings. We had the veg dumplings, freshly made, which tasted pretty good. In total, we had approx. 30 mins in the lounge as the walk to and from the gate was around 15 mins. We’re both fast walkers.

The annoying part about getting off in SIN: boarding requires clearing gate security.  Why is that a problem?   Any bottles of water bought in the terminal get thrown.   Not great as BA frequently runs out of water, exactly as they did SIN to SYD with more than 90 minutes to go.   (Completely ridiculous in any cabin, especially in forward cabins on a 24-hour flight).

 

Singapore to Sydney

On re-boarding, pre-departure beverages rapidly arrived – LPGS of course! Another great crew.

We both preferred the food on this leg as the catering picked up in Singapore was a much higher standard (the level that should be coming from the Heathrow hub).   The menu included grilled tenderloin of beef, which I haven’t seen on a First menu since pre-covid.

Menu SIN – SYD leg

First up, scallop and prawn roulade. Not at all how I envisioned it would be presented. It was fresh with the cucumber adding crispness. However, the inside was really just a seafood mousse.

Starter – scallop and prawn roulade

Main course: A well-sized, nicely cooked filet – served around medium/well, which is acceptable for a plane.  Potatoes and standard vegetables were nicely compatible sides.

Main – grilled tenderloin of beef with fingerling potatoes and veggies

Pudding was one of my fav puddings – vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and mini brownies. I had an espresso, which was excellent for on board, and a glass of red. The wines overall were pretty average so mostly stuck to the LPGS.

On this flight we tried to dine together – I made the other half awkwardly wedge between the edge of the table and the IFE screen. Clearly not practical, I allowed his retreated back to his side.

Partner dining attempt

I slept a few hours – No doubted aided by LPGS 😉

About 1.5 hours before landing I woke and ordered breakfast, which served approximately 30 minutes later. It was good – substantial and nice tasting eggs.

Breakfast – cheese and parsley omelette with roasted potatoes, tomato, spinach, and baked beans

23 hours of flying and many glasses of LPGS – something was bound to get left on the plane.   Annoyingly, that something was expensive – my iPhone.  It is somewhat ironical the final photo I took was of our plane flying over Rawlinson Range.

All these photos were recovered from iCloud thanks to the on-board Wi-Fi – so at least we know that works well!  WiFi is also free for First passengers.

It was only after passing through immigration that I realised my phone was missing-in-action. Knowing it was impossible to get back to the plane and resting my hopes in lost property, we headed into Sydney. Unfortunately, Find my iPhone was inoperable because my phone was in aeroplane mode.

 

The Lost iPhone….

I spent probably a dozen hours navigating the Byzantine process of trying to find lost property. 

Depending on who you speak with – you get wildly different answers.   Here’s what I learned. 

I Spoke with:

  • The Gold line 5+ times. Many leads from various agents, all of them wrong.  
  • The First Concierge. Helpful, but armed with outdated information.
  • Check-in Agent – Told us to go to airport lost property.
  • Airport lost property –said if it was on a plane, not their jurisdiction but to go to BA’s office
  • Fiji Airlines – Of anyone, ironically, the most helpful by far. With all the right answers, go figure.  

The airline offices are easily accessible warren of windowless rooms above the terminal.  At least four airport/airline workers gave us very precise, but wildly conflicting directions to BA’s phantom office in SYD airport.   But it was nowhere to be found.  Lost in the warren or airline back offices we stuck our head in an open door which happened to be Fiji Airways.  

Back Airline Office Map – Even Sydney Airport is wrong. (Photo courtesy of other Rob who found it all rather amusing)

A very helpful gentleman there advised BA’s office closed in 2020 and never reopened (someone should tell BA) and that Menzies was handling all those functions.   He even helpfully guided us over. 

So we trucked off to Menzies office (which is large at SYD), just missing opening hours. Some kind ladies saw my visible distress and red-face frustration (calm but obviously exasperated). They investigated, calling the relevant person in the airport, which was another Menzies office.   No phone.   After receiving misinformation from dozens of people – I was in no mood to trust and pressed to go to that office which they reluctantly guided me too. 

So off to the other Menzies office on the ground floor where we knocked, and the right person answered. Hurrah!   This was finally the right place. They even let us look at the current lost property from BA aircraft since they resumed the route.  Three weeks in service, they’d already collected an old iPad, several phones, + a laptop.    Any wagers on them all being LPGS related casualties?

If you leave something on BA15 SIN-SYD, this is the information you need.

We left Sydney for Brisbane empty handed.  Of course, the next day Find my iPhone came alive and said my phone was at Sydney airport. (Airport lost property said switching lost phones on and turning off airplane mode is part of the lost property process).   

To this day – never it has never been recovered.   I bought a new phone in Brisbane, ouch.

Bottom line – don’t relax too much in BA First on the 23.5-hour journey to Sydney, it’s an expensive mistake.    I’ve certainly learned my lesson. Or have I?

 

Conclusion

The flight was long, but the service was super & LPGS plentiful.  *iPhone wince*

After two years of delay and rebooking this flight 7 times, I was excited finally getting off the ground.  And at 85k Avios for two, it was a total steal – it felt a bit like a hole-in-one in the Avios redemption game.!

 

38 Comments on "READER REVIEW: BA First on the Unicorn Route – London to Sydney booked on Avios."

  1. Quentin DeCrisp | 21 August 2022 at 6:42 am |

    I presume it is a champagne, but which producer is LPGS or LGPS – both appear in the Boarding section? I didn’t count but it felt like this abbreviation appeared every second sentence.

  2. Great read, I do love a long haul First seat and that Burrata with the truffle is very good! Glad you made it to Sydney sorry your phone was never seen again! The Avios deal is phenomenal

  3. Multiple grammatical errors that could easily have been picked up with a spellcheck

    • Ok, boomer. It’s just their style. It’s an flight review on a frequent flyer blog, not the Booker Prize.

      • Deliberate grammatical mistake included above to REALLY get your goat.

        • CJ – just curious, do you have telepathic skills to conclude R is a boomer, or do you consider it hip to toss this term into your conversation? Michele invited constructive feedback – did you miss that bit?

          Personally I did not like the style of this article, it was too light and fluffy for my taste. I thought the repeated references to LPGS were supposed to be ironic – I guess not.

          I noticed at least two spelling mistakes in the piece, and guess what, I am an actual Boomer. Style is one thing, attention to detail is another. Shall you be getting my goat too?

          • Thanks Mark. I’m actually an arsey young gay man, so the boomer comment is laughably off-key. I love what Michele is trying to achieve, but I thought given this was a competition, real thoughts would be welcome. Obviously, we’re only allowed to affirm, so I won’t be contributing again.

          • Readers are not professional writers and usually contribute free of charge. Yes, this is a competition, but if the comments tear people apart no one would ever contribute anything again. This is why I try to discourage negative comments. In the past some have been truly appalling and offensive. Some of the comments today that I have not published have been homophobic, verging on misogyny too.

            I just feel that generally there is no need to make pointed remarks about people’s grammar or spelling. We all make the odd mistake and even Grammarly misses the odd thing. I asked for positive comments to see which review people enjoyed most, not so that people could pick them apart.

    • It went through Grammarly but I didn’t correct everything as it was their style and there’s no point in publishing it if I’ve completely changed it in a competition. However it appears that everyone else enjoyed it!

  4. A very entertaining and informative read with great photos! You got super lucky with that Avios deal (well done for your determination to keep this during Covid!) and you certainly took full advantage of the First offering. LPGS is rather irresistible but sorry that led to you losing an iPhone on board. That happened to me in Tokyo (in rather a sake haze) with an equally frustrating outcome! Hope you enjoyed the rest of your time in Australia

  5. Agree, great read. Wow, re the phone, if it was live, it was there, and should have been kept safely for you. I left mine in the CCR once on the way to KUL in F 241, full avios tho!. You got a steal, the best ever! Only realised l left it behind, when our daughter phoned to wish us a great time. And the CCR lounge manager answered her. It was a saga, but we got,it on return. Someone simply stole yours…
    Don’t think we will ever get an F 24q redemption again to Asia tho. Our last one being SIN last Nov. Sadly.

  6. how do you get to hear about such an avios deal?!

    • Usually by reading this website! BA have stopped doing any Avios deals in the last year or so. But normal flight on Avios are available with a companion voucher or upgrade voucher to get the price down. The trick is getting one. You need to call up at midnight on the day seats are released usually. They do sometimes release more in which case having Seat Spy or Reward Flight Finder which send alerts is the way.

  7. How do you manage to get cancelled flights rebooked a year plus later?
    I keep being told by BA that tix have one yr validity so cannot be rebooked.
    Have lost several 241s

    • Originally they were less fussy about the 12 months and also it depends if they actually cancelled and rebooked the ticket rather than changing it then they wouldn’t know the original issue date. Sometimes with Avios they have to do it that way if you change something on the ticket.

    • Did they have any champagne, they humbly don’t mention it?

  8. I have given up trying to get 2-4-1 Sydney.

    In fact now the price of 12k first to Sydney we have moved to Emirates.

    BA are going down the toilet if you ask me.

  9. It would be interesting to hear how Qatar J compared on your return trip

  10. Did you get to try the LPGS? 😉

  11. Hey this review was fantastic.
    How where you able to extend your booking so long? I booked my %50 Avios offer in October 2020 when Ba where crazy for a clash flow and they placed this astonishing offer never seen before.
    I got hold of two club world seats to Kuala Lumpur for 4th of June 2021. A few weeks later Ba cancels to route to KL all together. We’re left with dilema as I didn’t wanted to loose the offer at all. The only option was to rebook ton SIN as Ba uses mileage redemption system and SIN falls into the same bag. When the time came up Singapore didn’t allow us in yet so we tried to rebook and Ba said we wouldn’t be able to use the offer anymore because it was more than a year since the ticket was bought even when they cancelled the route we where originally booked in. Basically after all that we end up going to St Lucia but they didn’t apply us %50 avios offer anymore which is quite crazy when I supported Ba in the pandemic. I don’t know how you guys where able to extend that much.
    I also used American Express companion voucher so our original price was 96250 avios plus £1254.30 in Tax Teo people return to KL.

    • @Kepa you don’t really support a business you support the returns of shareholders. For a Mom n Pop business that’s decent, but for corporations….

  12. David Barnes | 21 August 2022 at 9:54 am |

    Agree with Bird – many pax say that QR in J is the equal of BA in F. Terrific ead – thank you.

  13. Would the ‘lost’ iphone be a genuine insurance claim ?

  14. Enjoyable read. It flowed well (like the bubbles!).

    It’s the little things that annoy me and running out of bottled water 1.5hr before landing is one! The plane is beginning to wake up and everyone will be looking for water!

    I have my first First coming up in Oct, so this article is getting me excited. I booked my ticket for 2 people return for 140k Avios back in March 2020 and similar to article it’s been moved many times! Can’t wait!

  15. I am a leisure traveller, not a avios bunny, and would never think to take photos of anything on a flight, but your articles are very valuable in helping me make decisions.I do understand why in your competition you want positivity, no airline likes to be criticised at length, but none are perfect, and in your general reviews I want to know the pitfalls of costs/routes/aircraft and staff,
    I am in the middle of a trip to Orlando to visit family, I travelled with BA First via Miami. The staff were excellent throughout, but other than that everything was very disappointing. Concord lounge is destinctly, unless you are an alcholic with expensive taste in wine, overrated. The ambiance and furnishings are excellent but the food offering is abysmal in both quality and choice.The food on board was no better, In fact it was so average I can’t remember much about it at all. The plane an A380 that had been rescued from a graveyard somewhere wast tired cramped and uncomfortable, not first class in any way ,. It was over 2hrs 40mins late which made Miami landing ninth out of eight arrivals within 30 mins. There were 3 immigration officials to deal with , say 9x 250 people , the biggest queue I have everv seen. I have a non mobility disability, and had asked for assistance, so I was able to cut the queue, but I reckon that passengers were up to 3 hours in the queue. The luggage from first was mixed with economy on an Iberia flight, and took 1 hour to arrive. Not directly BA’s fault but had they arrived on time Im sure the wait would not have been ss great.
    I would advise avoid this sprawling airport if you possibly can. my American clan agree !!
    I am travelling back via Philly tomorrow, the only way to get first to Orlando missing out miami on a 777 lets hope its is modern and comfortable, because I hope that my last experience of BA first is not typical

  16. Fascinating read! No wonder they ran out of water if everyone trying to rehydrate after 17 hours of LSGP, LGPS etc..:)

  17. Martin Dewfall | 21 August 2022 at 11:40 am |

    When you’ve had so much champagne you can’t remember how to spell it…😂

  18. James Harper | 21 August 2022 at 4:31 pm |

    Great review and thank you for pulling it together.

    This is one of my regular routes but I’m pretty loyal to SQ and I don’t see anything of the BA experience that would make me want to change particularly as I tend to fly on the A380 with SQ.

  19. Well, *I* enjoyed this review, despite the one or two negative comments above. It’s nice to read reviews in different styles, and it’s clear that Rob really enjoyed his flight, which comes across in his writing – good for him!

    I’ve only done the Kangaroo Route with BA once about 7 years ago, with op-ups from paid J to F between LHR-HKG and SYD-SIN, and it’s a shame that this review suggests the product has been downgraded since then (I miss the F tasting menu!), while Gulf and Asian carriers have been getting (even) better. These routes always seem to get consistently good BA crews, but there’s only so much they can do with weak catering and old seats. Hopefully there’ll be some improvement as pre-Covid menus are restored, and once the refitted 777-300ERs replace the 787-9s to SYD

  20. A long and interesting article with an amazing fare deal. But, for all that no way can BA First come anywhere near Emirates First on any count. I found BA’s comparable only to Emirates Business or Virgins New Upper Class.

  21. I enjoyed the review and the relaxed writing style.

    I don’t recall there being a 50% off Avios redemptions in First deal in 2019 though. 10% in premium cabins perhaps? The 50% off was in 2020 – perhaps a cancel and rebook which helped extend the travel dates?

  22. Amazing article we are on a return to Sydney in first class on Wednesday and simply can’t wait- very exciting and glad to hear it was a good experience (241 avios for us makes it the best 700 pound fare I have ever bought!)

  23. Found this very entertaining. Thank you. Pj

  24. Howard Davis | 23 August 2022 at 11:34 pm |

    Many thanks Michelle (and Rob)
    Could you tell me if BA release First Class Avios seats at midnight on the relevant date please?
    I know they allocate Economy/Premium/Club but it would be helpful to know about First (I’m NOT a Gold Card carrier!)
    Thanks. Howard

    • They don’t guarantee to release any first seats at any point sadly. However it’s unusual for them not to release 2 at d-355 so always worth ringing at midnight.

  25. Howard Davis | 24 August 2022 at 3:06 pm |

    That’s helpful to know.
    Many thanks Michelle.

  26. Really good read thanks. I appreciate the effort you put in on the champagne front and what looked like a glass of baileys with breakfast lol. I have been checking AA website for last several months but zero J or F on BA on the SYD-LHR route. In the last month or so Prem economy started appearing so I am hoping BA release first and business to American and other one world partners eventually. I had a AKL-BKK flight book pre covid for 50k AA miles with BA first on the SYD-SIN portion so hopefully it will come back.

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