A Series Of Unfortunate Events #3: Last SECOND Award Travel

Okay, this will be the third and last edition of ‘a time when things didn’t go quite to plan,’ and I’m hoping I’ve saved the best for last (you can find the first and second edition here). After this one, all my travel is going to be smooth sailing with no hiccups (fingers crossed).

Two years ago I moved from Australia to London. The Queen of England is Australia’s Head of State, and Australia is a proud member of the British Commonwealth. As such, there are generous working rights given to Australians wishing to move to and work in London. My grandfather was born in the UK (while both my parents were born in Australia) so I was entitled to apply for an ancestry working visa, which, if approved would give me five years work rights in the UK, with the option to extend for a further five years.

I was pretty terrified of packing up my life and moving to the other side of the world when I’d only lived in Australia before, so began meticulously planning every detail to try and make it as smooth as possible. I wrote a master to-do list, starting six months in advance, with each task listed with a due date (i.e. ‘6 weeks before leaving,’ ‘2 weeks before leaving,’ etc.). I then diligently completed each task on the list, everything from sorting through the junk in my garage, to booking the flights, to interviewing property managers to manage my rental property, to emptying the fridge.

I used Virgin Australia Velocity points to a book  a one-way Etihad first class award to London. I’d picked Tuesday April 26 as the date to leave Australia, though was flexible in my travel as I did not have any commitments in London until 4 days later. I chose first class over business class because it was a special occasion, I only needed a one-way flight and I needed every ounce of luggage allowance to move my life overseas.

I also held Etihad Guest Gold status so was able to take something like 110 kilograms of combined luggage.

Everything was going smoothly.

5 weeks to go

5 weeks before the move, I was about to fly back to Adelaide for Easter to say goodbye to my family there, when my partner asked ‘how is your visa application going?’

The one thing I had forgotten to include on my master to-do list, was the most important thing I needed to do to move overseas.

Yikes.

By the way, the main reason I had not thought to apply for the visa 6 months in advance, is that once approved, you must collect your Biometric Residency Permit in the UK within 30 days. This means you need to be ready to go as soon as it’s ready.

I madly contacted the UK Embassy in Australia, and they advised I would need to attend an interview to submit my application and paperwork. With public holidays in Melbourne for the Easter break on Good Friday, and Easter Monday, the earliest appointment they had was the Tuesday, exactly four weeks before my date to leave.

4 weeks to go

I quickly prepared my application, and then attended the interview straight after the Easter break. The embassy official ‘interviewing’ me was able to ask me questions, but not give me any advice. I had carefully read the visa eligibility questions, and thought I had a very good chance to be approved. I had been carefully saving money to support myself, as well as applying for London jobs for several months. I had attended job interviews via Skype, and had even been offered a job in London already, although turned it down.

My sister had previously been approved for an ancestry visa using the same ancestry evidence.

The embassy agent checked all my application documents and then asked:

‘would you like to submit any supporting documentation?’

I asked what this was, but she said she could not give any advice. She said I could withdraw the application and resubmit with this documentation, but it would be a further week until I could obtain another appointment, and the application would take ‘about 3 weeks.’ This was cutting it too fine as it was now only 4 weeks until my flight.

I decided to chance it and submit the application anyway, which included my passport. If successful, the ancestry visa would be affixed to one of the passport pages and returned to me. An annoying quirk of this process is that I would not find out if the application was successful until I received my passport back and opened it to see if there was a visa stamp.

I raced home, did some research and found that ‘supporting documentation’ was usually evidence of the ability to support yourself financially (i.e. bank statements) as well as evidence you would seek employment (i.e. job applications). I had both, I just didn’t think to submit them with the application. It wasn’t listed on any application documentation, but several people on forums said it would help your application chances if you could provide maximum reassurance you would not be a ‘burden’ on the state.

I managed to call the Embassy advice line and explain my situation. They told me the application was being sent to Manila for processing, but I could submit additional documentation via email with my reference number. This would need to be received before the application assessment was made and could delay the application decision slightly.

Within an hour of the bank branch opening the next day, I had a letter from my bank confirming my balance amount, as well as copies of loads of emails from recruiters, thanking me for my application over the past few months and organising interview times.

I submitted all this by email, crossed my fingers and waited.

Wednesday (less than one week to go)

It was now just under a week before I was due to leave. My passport was due back any day and I had been checking my emails every few hours, knowing I would be notified by email when the passport arrived back in the Melbourne embassy office.

No email yet.

Thursday

I called the Embassy office. They had not received it.

No email.

Friday

This was my last day of work and I went down to the Embassy office in person at lunchtime, and asked if my passport had arrived. They checked and it had not. I told them the timeline, they advised that ‘there were some delays at the moment’ and it would ‘probably’ arrive the next business day. They also said I would receive an automated email the second their mail room received the passport.

The problem was that the next business day was Tuesday, as the Monday was a public holiday in Australia for Anzac Day. That was especially problematic because although I could change the date of my flights to a later date for only $60 with Velocity, I had to do this at least 24 hours before the flight left, meaning 24 hours before 3pm Tuesday, so 3pm Monday.

And I would not know until 9am Tuesday, at the earliest, whether or not my passport had arrived. If the visa application was unsuccessful I could apply again from within the UK, but I could not leave Australia without my passport as it was my only passport.

I finished up work, fare-welled by co-workers, and was then moving out of my house that evening. I then had to decide before 3pm Monday, whether to change the date of the flights, to build in a buffer in case my passport didn’t arrive on Tuesday morning.

I had a very sleepless night.

Saturday

I called Velocity, moved the flights 24 hours later as a buffer. While I could book first class on the Melbourne to Abu Dhabi Boeing 777 leg, there was only business class available for an award on the Abu Dhabi to London legs, meaning I would miss out on experiencing the famous First Class Apartments. But I had little choice so booked a mixed-class itinerary leaving Wednesday.

I had professional cleaners prepare my house for the new tenant and ran some last-minute errands.

Sunday

I had a big farewell drinks party with my Melbourne friends to say goodbye. Everyone asked me the same question – so when do you fly out? To which I had to give the honest, yet humiliating answer of:

‘Well hopefully Tuesday, but I don’t have my passport right now so I’m not really sure’

Monday

I was staying at my best mate’s house, and I used the day to spend some quality time with him as well as carefully double checking my packing during the public holiday.

I was also carefully monitoring Etihad award availability. The flights on Tuesday that I had ‘released’ were still available, but only one seat on each flight in first class which could go at any second. I really wanted to hold those Tuesday seats in case the passport did arrive Tuesday, but Velocity does not allow holds on award seats.

So I decided to do something that you might think was either genius, or selfish (feel free to let me know in the comments below).

I knew AAdvantage did allow holds on awards.

I wasn’t going to use AAdvantage miles to book the flights, because they didn’t allow Australia to Europe on Etihad as a single award (and I had few AAdvantage miles but loads and loads of Velocity points). So I rang AAdvantage and asked them to place the Tuesday Etihad flights on hold for me. They advised because it was so close to departure they could only do a 24 hour hold, which was fine by me.

Tuesday

The big day had arrived and I was a nervous wreck. I kept cursing myself over and over for leaving the most important thing until the last minute while things like having my car polished before selling it were done in enough time!

So I had no idea what today was going to bring, but fare-welled my best mate as he went off to work and said ‘if I’m here when you get home tonight, it means things didn’t work out.’

I fully packed and sat, fully dressed in smart ‘first class’ attire on his couch, refreshing my emails every 10 seconds.

At 10:50am I received an automated email from the Embassy, advising me that my passport had arrived and a decision had been made. I raced into the city immediately to collect it. At 11:20am, as soon as I stepped outside of the embassy office, I ripped open the envelope to find a shiny ancestry visa affixed to one of the pages.

I jumped on a tram back to my best mate’s place to collect my luggage. As I did I called AAdvantage to cancel the hold, and crossed my fingers that the seats would be released back into the award pool. Sure enough, like clockwork they were. I then called Velocity and trying to speak discreetly whilst on a packed Melbourne tram explained I needed to change my flights to a day earlier, to leave today.

I did get a few funny looks on the tram when I was saying ‘Etihad first class please.’

By this time it was 11:45am. I managed to speak to a pretty competent Velocity agent but she kept putting me on hold. When she came back to me I was becoming increasingly anxious because the flight was leaving in just a few hours. While Ben makes a habit of booking travel on the way to the airport, cutting it this fine was certainly a new one for me.

I asked her what time the ability to book this flight as an award would stop and she said:

‘When check-in for the flight opens, which is three hours before. Then it’s handed over to the airport check-in and we can’t book awards as a partner airline.’

The flight was scheduled to depart at 14:55, so check-in would open at 11:55.

It was now 11:50.

I communicated to the agent that we had less than five minutes to book these flights, before the award travel window closed. Fortunately she realised the urgency and was able to finish it quickly. I asked her to stay on the line as I received the email confirmation to check there was a ticket number attached.

There was, I thanked her for working her magic, raced inside, grabbed my luggage and called an Uber-XL.

My Etihad booking had entitled me to chauffeur transfer to the airport which would have been amazing with all my luggage, but of course that needed to be booked 24 hours in advance.

So I arrived at Melbourne Airport stressed, sweating and pretty out of breath as I dragged my five bags to first class check-in. The check-in agent didn’t believe I had only booked the flight less than an hour ago but was able to find my reservation and check me in.

I was VERY ready for that first glass of champagne on-board!

Of course, once I boarded all the stress and drama was quickly forgotten. I sent a number of friends a photo of my boarding pass, as they knew the drama I had been going through after telling them on the weekend I still didn’t have my passport.

The flights were wonderful and I now just look back on it as a funny story.

Bottom line

Don’t leave visa applications to the last minute.

Comments

  1. Why you always post old stuff @@ You don’t have any new stuff talk about? Almost all articles you posted are experience from awhile back.

  2. Had a similar story trying to get a tourist visa for Vietnam, I had assumed you could get one at the airport, but I did a quick search 1 hour before we left the hotel. I saw you needed some sort of recommendation from the government or something, so I quickly went to a government page, which gave me a phone number. The guy said he would be able to get it for me in an hour. An hour later, and a lot of money sent to a sketchy paypal account, I received the letter by email, printed it out in the business centre, and left Hong Kong.

  3. Thank you for this amazing story ! I’m crying au laughter because I can relate to it so much :’)

    I mean each and every one of your “Unfortunate Events” serie is something that more or less happened to me at some point… The great thing is that you take a laid back approach to everyhting afterwards !

    My only regret is not hearing it from you directly with an audience !

  4. Great article! Just a slight confusion: earlier in the article you said the visa must be picked up within 30 days in the UK after it’s approved, but then obviously it was attached to your passport when you received it back in Australia. Perhaps you meant the biometric resident card must be picked up in the UK in 30 days after receiving the visa?

  5. I don’t understand why you went through such stress to rebook yourself last minute on the Tuesday flight when you’d already succesfully pushed it forward to the next day. Especially since you didn’t even have a job lined up yet…

  6. No offense, but this doesn’t really fall under the category of “unfortunate events.”
    Unfortunate events include flight cancellations, lost hotel bookings, missed connections, rejected visa applications on arrival, say, in Turkey, natural disasters, food poisoning, insect and snake bites, a switch to lower-quality champagne in first class, crowded airline lounges, insane Uber drivers, false arrest, screaming quintuplets in business class, involuntary downgrades to non-reclining economy seats, broken IFE on a 14-hour flight, two broken toilets on a 737, four hours stranded on the tarmac, an equipment switch to the old business class coffin seats on AA, and candiru attacks.

  7. @ AS – my partner was booked (separately) on the flights leaving Tuesday and I wanted to travel with him.

    And after 32 years in Australia I was very eager to get to London.

  8. You say that you picked up your passport at the embassy. Unless you were living in Canberra, wouldn’t have you retrieved your passport at a consulate?

  9. I enjoyed your story but had to give it a second read over to make sure I’m getting things correct.

    1. “I used Virgin Australia Velocity points to a book a one-way Etihad first class award to London. I’d picked Tuesday April 26 as the date to leave Australia, though was flexible in my travel as I did not have any commitments in London until 4 days later.”

    2. “that once approved, it(visa) must be collected in the UK within 30 days.

    3. “I called Velocity, moved the flights 24 hours later as a buffer. ”

    I understand the anxiety not knowing if when your visa would be approved or even if it would be approved. But after approval, what was the urgent rush that you absolutely needed to leave on Tuesday as you made it sound? Why not just leave on Wednesday, reduce the panic, and take advantage of the chauffeur?

  10. @putout you receive a temporary one month visa to get you to the UK. As I understand it, the BRP is technically the document that will carry your full visa (and must be collected in the UK)

  11. Like others I didn’t understand the urgency of getting on the Tuesday flight. I know you explained it in the comments but perhaps add that detail to the story too.

  12. @ Leo Guam, @ Huy – I knew there was a good reason why I wanted to leave on the Tuesday, and I’ve gone back to look at the multiple itineraries to check. Sure enough – the AUH-LHR flight on the Wednesday only had business class awards available, so I had to book a mixed-class award when I built in the buffer and would have missed out on the A380 Apartment altogether (MEL-AUH was operated by a 77W).

    First class all the way was available on the Tuesday hence I was very keen to leave then. I’ve updated the post to reflect.

  13. RonPaul DON”T BE SUCH A FUCING ASSHOLE!!!!!!!1!!!!!! YOU’RE NEGATIVE ‘FEEDBACK ‘ IS ONLY NEGGATIVE IS IS NOT EVENN FEEDBACK!!!!!!!!! FUCK OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!1!!!!

    JAMES THANKS FOR CONTRIBUTING!!!!!!!!!

  14. Thanks for the story James.

    I will add that i have greatly enjoyed your articles since joining the team. You definitely writing talent and a way of expressing yourself that communicates an element of joie de vivre that I think is very engaging. Looking forward to more stories and articles.

    Cheers!

  15. The Queen of Australia is head of state of Australia, not the Queen of England (which title fell out of use after the Union of the Crowns in 1707). Although the person is the same at present, the office is distinct.

  16. I was sweating for you as I go through the story. Glad things workout in the end. Happy you are part of the OMAAT family.

  17. It wasn’t until the restrictions flowing from the UK’s entry to the EU that there were any constraints on Australians ( and Canadians, Kiwis and other commonwealth countries) living and working in England. London in the 60s was full of Australians; many of them are still there.
    Living/working abroad for a period, even studying, is a very healthy thing to do and should be encouraged.

  18. “The Queen of England is Australia’s Head of State, and Australia is a proud member of the British Commonwealth.”

    Really?? The head of state isn’t the prime minister of Australia? I will truly never figure out all this UK/commonwealth stuff. Queen Elizabeth as I understand things (which is admittedly a very limited understanding) has no power whatsoever and is purely a figurehead. Can she declare war? Can she ultimately command armies? Can she force Australians, Canadians, etc. to fight in a war declared by the UK? Can she abolish Australia’s government and institute a monarchy with an appointed regent? I always thought the answer to such questions was “no.”

    Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Great article James!

  19. @Jay: There’s a BIG difference between “head of state” and “prime minister”.

    @James: I can’t tell how old you are from your picture (you look awfully young), but I find that as I get older, I do more and more of these sorts of stupid things like forgetting to apply for a visa. Not that I’ve ever done that, specifically – but anything that involves remembering to do something at some unspecified time in the future has a pretty good chance of not getting done, especially if there’s some unpleasant aspect to it (like dealing with bureaucrats).

    Sucks to get old, and it’s only going to get worse. The only way to avoid this forgetfulness bug is to set hard deadlines, put them in my calendar, and apply willpower to not just blow them off.

  20. @James – two glaring issues:

    1. Elizabeth II is the ‘Queen of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)’, not the ‘Queen of England’; also in her capacity as Australia’s head of state, she is the ‘Queen of Australia’.

    2. Australia isn’t a member of the ‘British Commonwealth’, it is a member of the ‘Commonwealth of Nations’.

    Your terminology is out of date by centuries for the first and half a century for the second.

  21. WOW what a nail bitter! So glad it worked out at the 11th hour and 55th minute! So great to read a blogger who is can relate to so many of us who experience our own woes as we navigate the travel process! May your fish & chips be crispy and delicious!

  22. Hi James, great story… but just one thing, being Australian gives you no rights whatsoever to move to the UK and work there. Unless you have the right – and recent – ancestry connections like you have, or another approved means, e.g. as the partner of a Brit or of an EU national (well, until Brexit happens), Australians can’t just up and move to the UK apart from on a 1-2 year working holiday visa for those under 31. Having The Queen as Head of State and being part of the Commonwealth means very little for Australians where UK immigration is concerned. (Speaking as an Australian who lived in the UK for 7 years with no recent ancestry options).

  23. “there are generous working rights given to Australians wishing to move to and work in London”
    This is not true! These rights are only available to those with recent British ancestry, like a parent or grandparent. They are not available to all Australians. The only country with generous working rights given to Australians (as far as I am aware- happy to be corrected) is New Zealand.

  24. This may sound extremely selfish, but James, I do kind of hope more of these unfortunate events happen to you, because they sure do make for one hell of a good blog post!

  25. Thanks James, that was a gripping story. It also reminded me to go and organise my passport renewal so that I can go to the USA later in the year. Really enjoy hearing travel stories from a fellow Aussie.

    To all the people who consistently make negative comments about people’s posts, I hope that you eventually find a way to make an escape from whoever it is holding against your will and forcing you to read and comment on this blog.

  26. @ Emily Moss
    Ancestry rights ( and obligations) can be double-edged sword. EG, my dear friend born in Italy but moved to Australia at 3 months old. Went back to Italy for the first time on his honeymoon…promptly landed in jail for failing to complete his national military service. 3 days in the clink before he could get temporary release and it took forever/a lot to have it resolved. 40 years on he can laugh about it.

  27. @Robbo

    MY reaction to your comment:
    What a load of drivel. WGAF. This only demonstrates what a DH you are.

    (now if only I knew what WGAF and DH stood for)

    @RonPaul
    There is nothing old or dated about James’s post; it could have happened yesterday. And it was most enjoyable regardless of when it occurred.

  28. HM The Queen is the Queen of England – not by title but by fact. I don’t suppose James was quoting her formal title but giving information on why he could apply for a visa. So please back off such negative pedantic comments.

  29. Nigel, you are wrong. While it may seem pedantic to you in this context, understanding this detail has significant constitutional ramifications.

  30. Another great story James. Well done, how did you like the lounge in Abu Dhabi ?? I think it’s great on a trip to the uk from Aus. Any chance of a review for us velocity members on best ways to earn and redeem VA points esp on international long haul

  31. James , unless they have changed the rules recently (which they may well have done) it would have been a lot easier if as you state your grandfather was English for you and also your father to get a British passport ,, no problems with work visa,s. Dual nationality is allowed in Australia (unless you are a politician- joke).

  32. Frederic Great Britain includes England, HM The Queen is Queen of Great Britain therefore she is Queen of the countries that make up Great Britain. Queen of England is not a title she holds for constitutional reasons, but I am speaking about territory, as I am sure James was. The Land Registration acts give to the Queen all the land in England, and we only own our homes by her gift ( that is why there can be legal compulsory purchase by the state to build motorways etc). She owns all the land in England because she is Queen of it.

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