Journey to the Hermit Kingdom: Australia VTL Trip Planning

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Singaporeans will be among the first in the world to visit a post-COVID Australia. What's life now like in the hermit kingdom?

Decades from now, Australian constitutional scholars will probably still be debating the legality of Australia’s border measures during COVID-19. 

Australia closed its borders to all non-residents in March 2020, which was par the course for many countries. What was unprecedented was its strict quotas on the number of residents who could return each week, stranding tens of thousands of its citizens overseas. Not only that, but Australians could not leave the country without a travel exemption from the Border Force. 

Australia has had some of the strictest border policies during COVID-19

Despite legal challenges, the draconian measures persisted, and at one point the plan was to keep the borders closed until at least mid-2022. This led Foreign Policy’s Amelia Lester to dub Australia “the new hermit kingdom”.

But little by little, the doors are opening. Singapore (well, Singapore citizens at least) has become only the second country after New Zealand to enjoy quarantine-free access to Australia, in an agreement covering New South Wales, Victoria and ACT for now. Further reopening is planned in December for fully vaccinated Japanese and Korean citizens. 

This means I’ll have the unique privilege of being one of the first in the world to visit a post-pandemic Australia, and here’s the plan. 

🦘 Journey to the Hermit Kingdom

Recap: Australia VTL requirements

First, a brief recap of the to-do list before you depart for Australia or Singapore.

✈️ 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 PCR test within 24 hours of arrival in Australia (day of arrival is Day 0)
    • Melbourne: Further test between Day 5 and 7
    • Sydney: Further test on/after Day 7
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 PCR test on arrival in Singapore
Official Resources
Singapore ➞ Australia
Australia ➞ Singapore

Flights

✈ Journey to the Hermit Kingdom: Flights
To Sydney To Singapore
SQ211
23 Nov 21
Depart
: 1030

Arrive: 2120
SQ222
30 Nov 21
Depart: 1610
Arrive: 2120

In a previous post, I mentioned that the plan was to fly on Qantas to Sydney, which would give me an opportunity to review both Qantas’ Business Suite on the A330-200, as well as the Qantas First Lounge in Singapore. 

However, there’ve been some new developments which have pretty much wrecked this plan. 

First, Qantas will not be reopening its Singapore lounges until December, and when it does, only the Business Lounge will be in operation. This is unlike the pattern we saw in Sydney and Melbourne, where the First Lounges reopened first and all lounge-eligible passengers were welcome (a very nice upgrade indeed, for some folks).

Artists’ impression of new SilverKris Lounge| Photo: Singapore Airlines

Second, Singapore Airlines has revealed that its new SilverKris Lounge will be soft opening on 23 November. While this is only Phase 1 of a project that’s expected to finish by Q1 2022, nothing beats being one of the first in the world to check it out.

And so I’ve rejigged the outbound flight to SQ211, which departs on the very morning the lounge opens. I’m half tempted to head to the airport at 5 a.m so I can literally be the first one in, but maybe I’m too old for that kind of craziness now. 

I’ve also changed the return flight to SQ222, in order to review the Sydney SilverKris Lounge. According to Executive Traveller, this facility is currently only open for the evening flights, so I assume passengers on the morning flight are sent to another facility (Plaza Premium?).

The outbound flight is on a regional A350-900 with the 2018 Regional Business Class seat, and the return flight is on a longhaul B777-300ER with the 2013 Business Class seat. So there’s nothing new to review in terms of cabin products, and I’ll skip these. 

2018 Regional Business Class seat
2018 Regional Business Class seat

Hotels

🏨 Journey to the Hermit Kingdom: Hotels
Night Hotel Cost
1 Meriton Suites Sussex St. A$119
2 QT Sydney A$270
3 Shangri-La Sydney A$280
4 Fullerton Hotel Sydney AS$307
5 Hilton Sydney Media stay
6 Park Hyatt Sydney 30,000 Hyatt points 
7 Sofitel Darling Harbor StayPlus night

I’m staying in Sydney for seven nights, which of course means seven different hotels. Thank you to everyone who shared their hotel recommendations; I’ve tried to review as many as possible!

Meriton Suites Sussex St.

Meriton Suites Sussex

I’m landing in Sydney at 9.20 p.m on the first day, which means there’s no point paying through the nose for a fancy hotel.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll have to slum it either. I found a great rate at the Meriton Suites Sussex Street that will cost just A$119 per night (~S$117). This 301-suite property opened in July 2019, and it’s just a short walk from the Town Hall station where the Sydney Airport Train terminates. 

QT Sydney

QT Sydney

“Sexy, sassy and stylish, QT Sydney boutique hotel has her party shoes on and is ready to dance.”

So says luxury hotels booking platform Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and while I’m not much for dancing, I’m all for trying the #3 ranked hotel on TripAdvisor, especially when I can find a lower-than-average A$270 rate (~S$266).

QT is under the DISCOVERY umbrella, and while there’s no more Local Experiences to earn (I’ve been meaning to write about the new programme, but only when they release the full details and stop this drip feeding) I’ll still get my regular Black benefits such as a two-category room upgrade and up to 6 p.m check-out.

Shangri-La Sydney

Shangri-La Sydney

The Shangri-La Sydney was a difficult choice, since I’d read rather lukewarm reviews about the property and in particular its breakfast. I mean, if there’s one place you shouldn’t tolerate mediocre breakfasts, it’s Sydney. 

But HoteLux was offering a pretty incredible Virtuoso rate- for A$280 (~S$276), I’d get a US$100 hotel credit, a one-category room upgrade, complimentary breakfast and a welcome amenity. I’d also be able to earn Shangri-La Golden Circle points as per normal, since Virtuoso bookings are treated the same way as direct bookings. 

Fullerton Hotel Sydney

Fullerton Hotel Sydney

I’ve already reviewed both The Fullerton Hotel and The Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore, so I figured I might as well complete the trifecta and visit the outpost in Sydney.

Just like the Singapore properties, The Fullerton Hotel Sydney is steeped in history, housed in the former General Post Office Building and within walking distance of landmarks like the Royal Botanic Garden, Barangaroo and the Sydney Opera House. 

The hotel was offering a “reopening special” with 20% off the BAR and daily breakfast for A$307 (~S$302), which books me into a Tower Premium King Room, a couple of categories above the lead-in. 

I also have iPrefer Elite status, which should give me additional perks like a room upgrade plus an F&B amenity. 

Hilton Sydney

Hilton Sydney

The “Hilton” name may conjure images of stodgy corporate hotels following tired old design templates, but as my recent visit to the Hilton Munich showed, the brand still has the potential to surprise. 

The Hilton Sydney could well be another case in point, having recently completed an A$25 million refurbishment that covered all 547 rooms and 40 suites. The hotel also has an executive lounge, and dining options include Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie restaurant. 

Full disclosure: this will be a media stay hosted by the property itself. 

Park Hyatt Sydney

Park Hyatt Sydney

The Park Hyatt Sydney is something of a pilgrimage for points collectors, and I’m finally doing mine this year. 

I’ll be staying on a Guest of Honor booking (30,000 Hyatt points), which means I’ll enjoy full Globalist perks like free breakfast, room upgrades and early check-in/late check-out. The Park Hyatt Sydney does not offer suite upgrades sadly, but I think I’d be happy enough with an Opera View room. 

Sofitel Darling Harbour

Sofitel Darling Harbour

I had more or less written off the Sofitel Darling Harbour because of its astronomical rates, until realised it had Stay Plus availability.

For the uninitiated, Accor Plus members enjoy up to two free hotel nights each year as part of their perks, along with discounts of up to 50% on dining. I have a complimentary Accor Plus membership courtesy of my AMEX HighFlyer Card, and decided this would be a great place to burn the certificate.

Unfortunately, the free night certificate books me into the base room, and doesn’t come with breakfast. I emailed to ask how much it would cost to upgrade to a club room, and was quoted a staggering A$390 for 1 pax/ A$450 for 2 pax. That’s…not economical, and I think I’ll pass. 

Lounges

New SilverKris Lounge Changi Airport

Artists’ impression of new SilverKris Lounge | Photo: Singapore Airlines

The obvious highlight will be Singapore Airlines’ new SilverKris Lounge at Changi Airport. Again, this won’t be the finished product (that only comes early next year), but it’ll give us a very good idea of the direction SIA is going in. 

Sydney SilverKris Lounge

SilverKris Lounge Sydney

While I’ve visited and reviewed the Sydney SilverKris Lounge in 2018, I think it’ll be good to get an update on what the amenities and F&B options are like during this time- whether they’ve been scaled back, and whether it’s still worth a visit. 

COVID-19 Testing

Histopath Airport testing centre

All fully vaccinated passengers (including unvaccinated children under 12 who are accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult) must take a PCR test within 24 hours of arrival, and on or after day 7 of arriving in New South Wales.

This need not be done at the airport; testing is free of charge and can be done at any of the locations below.

Free testing clinics in NSW

There is no requirement to isolate while waiting for the results, unless you have symptoms. 

However, pre-departure tests (for return to Singapore) are chargeable. You can’t 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.

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

Odds and Ends

A few other logistical matters which didn’t fit into any of the other sections:

  • For SIM cards, I paid S$20.90 for an ICC Australia SIM card with 35GB of data and unlimited calls 
  • I’ll take the Sydney Airport Train to and from 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
In the Australia Travel declaration, be sure to select the Singaporean option
  • While Sydney residents use the Service NSW app to display their vaccination status, the app is not interoperable with Singapore vaccination certificates. You’ll have to show your paper certificate to gain access to venues (it remains to be seen how widely accepted Singapore certs are, but I guess I’ll find out…)

Conclusion

This trip will be longer than my usual 3-4 day VTL jaunts because I’ll be taking some meetings in Sydney, but on the flip side, it’s a chance to review additional hotels plus the Day 7 testing requirement. 

I’ll also be posting regular updates on Instagram (yes, The Milelion has Instagram), so you can get some quick answers there before I have time to bang out a full post.

Stay tuned for the full report on the Australia VTL arrivals process, as well as post-COVID life in Sydney.

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Wan

I would recommend taking a cab rather than Sydney Trains (if there are 2 of you) cause usually Uber/Ola would only cost about $40 from the airport to CBD.

Unless you want to write a report about Sydney Trains lol
#pro tip: you don’t need Opal card, you can tap with your Mastercard/Visa/Amex

Also would suggest bringing your ID (passport/SG ID) along with your COVID Vaccine Cert as that was what happened to my mate (air crew), for proof of identity.

p/s: Any Milelion Syd meetup?

freedom

Does people with ABTC still have to apply Australia ETA? It used to be not required.

For airport train, there is an 18AUD surcharge from airport.

A T

Yeah, is ETA required with the ABTC?
I tried to apply for it but a visa check shows I already have an existing visa that supposedly lasts till 2027.

A T

Let us know if you can get in with your ABTC tomorrow! 🙂 Have a great trip!

anon

Did you try to apply for an ETA on top of an existing visa ? I tried to apply for an ETA via the app, but the system prompted me that I already have an existing visa (the ABTC) valid until 2025, and more importantly, that any ETA application will not be processed until the existing visa expires. So it looks like there is no point trying to be kiasu and applying for an ETA on top of an ABTC visa. As a precaution, one can use the VEVO (Visa Entitlement Verification Online) check to confirm the status of the… Read more »

A T

Milelion did the SQ check in counter ask for your ETA? Mine didn’t. Only asked for my ATD n PCR result. Wasn’t asked for ETA at SYD immigration too. So I guess the ABTC visa is valid. I didn’t apply for the ETA.

anon

Better to just pay than risk getting turned away..

freedom

turning away will happen in Changi. Go early and apply on spot if required. Pre-COVID, I traveled to Australia a few times without ETA with ABTC only.

Last edited 15 days ago by freedom
beezelbub

Yes ABTC should work. It is equivalent to a Class 600 (Business visitor) visa.

anonymous

Actually this may not be true. I was almost turned away at the check-in counter at Changi a few years ago because I had applied for an ETA, forgetting that I had also a valid ABTC business visa.
The QF counter said they pulled out 2 visas in my name and couldn’t proceed without contacting Canberra for instructions how to proceed. Luckily only had to wait an hour and they managed to clear this up.

James

Hi, Aaron, we will be checking into Shangri-La Sydney on 25/Nov too, hope to have a chance to say hello!

James

Unfortunately, just a Jade Member. Good to know our guru is in town.

Anonymous

Given all the places you are visiting, you would probably have been better off with a Starhub prepaid card for data.

anon

or just use M1 data passport.. you have your exact same singapore data..

Abc

i think the roaming guides need an update 🙂 for starhub prepaid, you need to play the data allowance and expiries – when you add a new data plan, both the data and expiry is extended. (max 30days expiry from memory) eg assuming you need 4gb 4wks of data (i presume that is why you mention the $25 plan) you can buy $25 for 4gb 4wks, or you can buy $10 for 1gb 4wks, and buy 3x $3 1gb 1d packs. that will give you 4gb and 31 days of data for $19 (dont activate all 1gb 1d plans straight… Read more »

Abc

scratch the optus thing – the free 7 days seems like its gone now, seems like its replaced by free 1 day…

Abc

oh i found it again, i was looking at 5g prepaid. it is 4g prepaid that has a free 7 day trial, with esim able to be provisioned by the app.

Anonymous

re:starhub prepaid, i’ll also add that i have always found the $50 sim card (which comes with $50 credit & 5GB roaming data) to be great value. depending on how you use the $50 credit, it could be 21GB for 46 days, or 10GB for 6 months (& a whole lot of combinations in-between).

& to be honest, unless you need to stream netflix on HD while on the move, you’ll be surprised how little data you would actually use if it was just WA & emails.

freedom

Don’t forget to turn off app update on mobile data. It can consume a lot of data. Nowadays, one app is easily more than 100MB.

anon

Im lowkey curious.

Did you ask for the hilton media stay? or were you offered one?

James

Aaron, SQ222 is operated by 777-300ER on 30/Nov.

James

Taking ART at Sydney airport on the day of departure may have a risk of long queue as the passengers may think likewise.

Nicholas

The rooms at Fullerton Sydney looked the same. Stayed there many many years back on a biz trip when it was known as the Westin, next to Macquarie building. Back then breakfast was great, but wow that was perhaps 15 years ago… must be lots of change by now but its a beautiful building. Had fond memories of it.

AT2

Any idea if there is any restriction for us to fly in to Melbourne but fly our from Sydney?

Tracy

Hi Aaron, may I know where did you get the info that the day of arrival in Australia is day 0? I could only find this in the Annex document for the Singapore-ROK VTL but not for any of the other VTL countries. This is important as Australia has additional PCR test requirements depending on the length of the stay.

Joel Lim

Do you have any idea if we can take the paid ART on day 7 to double up as the day 7 test as well as the pre departure test?

Asking as I am leaving on Day 8 so it may slightly more time efficient if I could plan it out that way.

James

The issue is we may not be given any result for tests required by Australia authority. Likely you may need to do a free PCR test as required and also a self-paid ART as PDT on Day 7. Just my understanding.

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