Updated: Jul 14
✦ International travel is back in a big way - with big ticket prices for long-haul flights to match. So, making the most of your outward journey is vital: starting out well sets the tone for the rest of your voyage. Conversely, a bungled departure means the thrill is spoiled, a pall thrown over your entire trip.
Congestion heading for Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport complex is inevitable: 3 million-plus passengers alone enter and exit the area every month – an average 100,000 a day.
Travel writer Susie Boswell has some top tips to avoid “tripping” up.
After all the planning, budgeting and excitement of settling on an itinerary and the duration of your overseas jaunt, you’re all set to go! But have you overlooked: getting to the airport, the international gateway to your holiday - on time - is the first most important step towards a successful sojourn at your overseas destination?
Fares up by more than 50 per cent. Based on searches by those wanting to fly between 1 July and 31 December this year, the average international return economy air fare has risen by 51% to $1826 compared with the same six-month period in 2019 - immediately before the pandemic.
Take Sydney International Airport for instance. If you live in the Sydney area, it’s hard enough to predict and avoid traffic and public transport snarls en route to the terminal. But for those in regional locations the situation is far trickier. And, today, you’re expected to be at the terminal at least three hours before departure time.
Cutting it fine means stress levels through the roof, and the potential for plenty to go wrong as you rush through all the preliminaries.
Not a week goes by without several intending travellers asking in local public forums: “How much time should I allow to connect from my domestic flight to the international terminal?” Or: “Is my [regional] flight likely to be delayed into Sydney?” Or even: “I’m booked on both legs with Qantas; will they hold my forward flight to London if we’re late arriving into the domestic terminal?”
A short reflection answers all these questions: it’s not only smart but essential to avoid anxiety by travelling to your Sydney departure point the day before your forward journey overseas.
It’s peculiar that holidaymakers happily spend many thousands of dollars on their trip, yet resist shelling out a mere few hundred more to stay over in Sydney - or other capital-city hub - the night before departure. But it’s the only way to ensure you’ll make your flight on time and go on your way relaxed, setting out hassle-free.
There’s one other proviso: it’s essential to make your stay at an airport hotel, otherwise you’ll negate the benefit of an early arrival in the city, risking the vagaries of heavy traffic on your way to the gate the following day.
Flying to Sydney from the regions means it’s logical to choose an airport hotel anyhow – moments from landing, and immediately handy on departure next day. If you’re driving from the regions there’s the benefit of secure on-site parking at a number of airport hotels, your car waiting for you instantly on return.
Dollars don’t daunt desire. The rise in costs hasn’t diminished Australians’ desire to get out there. International flight searches for the second half of 2023 are up by approaching 70 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, searches this year versus last year have grown by more than 200% for international flights and more than 100% for domestic journeys.
There are around a dozen hotels of various quality and comfort - and rates - in close vicinity to the international and domestic airport precincts. (At least one boldly admits they’d rather cater to overseas or interstate guests. Who knows why – perhaps because they can’t offer on-site parking?) So this month, and in following months, I explore the attributes of four hotels I’ve investigated by staying in person and checking the level of service and amenity of each.
PULLMAN Sydney Airport Hotel
Refer to the map at pullmansydneyairport.com.au to see how close to the boarding gate you’ll be.
This five-star hotel - the only five-star Sydney airport hotel - is my favourite. I’ve stayed in its welcoming embrace multiple times both prior to departure and on arriving back home exhausted from a long trip, needing the immediate cocoon of a soft warm bed, quietness and the chance to regroup before flying on, or driving, home a day later. Here, it’s all easy.
Pullman’s 230 rooms and suites are located on O’Riordan Street Mascot, a short walk from Mascot rail station, linking to both the international and domestic terminals in just five minutes. Moreover, if you’d like a departure-eve dinner or treat in the city centre, trains from Mascot conveniently have you in the CBD in a quoted 7-10 minutes. To reach the airport though, I prefer the door-to-door shuttle beginning in time for the first flights of the day, or a very cheap taxi ride.
Among the criteria for a five-star hotel rating is room size. At Pullman it’s not only the accommodating size but also the relaxing design and layout. The feeling’s of entering a salon with ensuite at a private club: an immaculately clean space, modern appointments, luxury furnishings - a cosy and cosseting ambience overall.
Best month to fly. Statistics show flying to London in October instead of December can save you almost $1000 on the average return economy fare. Similarly, choosing October over December, average return economy, saves $720 to Paris and $548 to Los Angeles.
For total pampering before departure or following a long-haul return, it’s just the ticket. Carpeting is warm and welcoming; big soaking bath, hand-held and rain showers, vanity (with magnifying shaving/make-up mirror) and toilet facilities sparkle; appointments including wardrobes, large mirrors, coffee-making and supplied fine-label teas, desk, giant armchair, mini-safe, super-comfy king bed or dual beds and flat-screen TV coupled with 24-hour room service create a feeling of coddling and contentment. Pullman makes guests feel special. That includes those wanting to take advantage of one of its 12 rooms specifically catering for disability travellers.
Outside your own private space Pullman offers superior hospitality facilities. A spacious ground-floor open-plan restaurant and bar adjacent to tall picture windows provide service from an early breakfast of the widest selections – with eggs cooked in an open kitchen to your order – throughout the day, onto evening cocktails and dinner: no need to exert yourself beyond strolling to the (very efficient) lifts and pressing the call button. For quick communications a complimentary mini office nook with Apple computer, printer and charging points is tucked into a corner of the lobby.
In its status as the leading airport hotel, Pullman’s Fit Lounge, a.k.a. gym, acknowledges that guests’ bodies are often attuned to global time zones, and so is open 24/7.
Complimentary changing rooms and top-notch cardio and weight machines are at your disposal; working out is doubly stimulating with full-height windows looking out onto a calming leafy terrace, letting the sunshine in.
Also, open 24/7 for its travelling clientele, Pullman’s reception desks ensure a swift and smooth transition; a round-the-clock concierge service assists with shuttle bookings, taxis, luggage and related inquiries.
One of the hotel’s biggest drawcards is the convenience of its short- and long-term parking. It’s in an excellent on-site under cover space, no concerns if a hailstorm hits – unlike at other hotels, at Blue Emu and other commercial (distant) car parks, and the open-air sections of the International Terminal. It is more secure than most – unlike my experience in the international terminal car park, when my return home from holidays was spoiled by finding an impact to my car that took ages to investigate and have fixed (and I was one of the lucky ones).
Additionally, you’re not obliged to hand over your keys, as is the case at many others. For example, too: passengers can park at Blue Emu for international flights but there’s no transfer to the overseas terminal: you must change at the domestic terminus to a bus or train – a long haul in all.
Current Pullman parking rates are a reasonable $40/day (unlimited entries/exits); $210 weekly. *For availability of special Stay, Park and Fly packages inquire by calling or emailing the hotel.
Children, as well as adults, will be captivated by one unique and quirky aspect of Pullman décor. Larger-than-life sculptures, in bronze or bright-coloured fibreglass, of characters known as Dogman and Rabbitwoman are dotted throughout its public spaces. The artists are Archibald-nominated Gillie and Marc, whose main studio is in the adjacent suburb of Botany. The pair say the unlikely companions represent diversity and acceptance. For kids, they’re simply an awesome introduction to public art. Next time: Mantra Sydney Airport Hotel.
Note driving directions
From the north/city, travel south on Botany Road to King Street intersection and turn right into King. Turn right at the next corner, O’Riordan Street.
Sydney Super Shuttle: $12pp pickup and drop off International or Domestic terminal. Book via Pullman Reception 8398 4600 + dial 4.
Pullman Sydney Airport
191 O’Riordan Street,
Mascot NSW 2020.
Tel: +61 (0) 2 8398 4600
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