Qantas vs Virgin: have your say
Business travellers and frequent flyers will be the winners in the turf war at the pointy end of the plane.
Tired of cut-price economy fares while business class tickets remain pegged at a premium?
That's about to change, as Qantas and Virgin Australia cry 'game on!' in the continuing battle for Australia's business travellers.
Business travellers and frequent flyers are the winners in the Qantas vs Virgin turf war...
The latest stoush sees a surge of extra seats hit the market as the airlines increase the number of daily flights and roll out larger aircraft for domestic routes.
And that's going to translate into cheaper fares at the pointy end of the plane.
The reason? Qantas is primed to protect its often-quoted 'line in the sand' of 65 per cent market share as Virgin Australia edges ever closer to that same line, looking to woo lucrative corporate travellers over to their side.
Business travellers and frequent flyers are the winners in this turf war.
It's war which kicked up a notch almost one year ago when Virgin Blue was rebranded, or more accurately reborn, as Virgin Australia.
Since then we've seen better business class seats and service, better meals (both in the air and on the ground), upgraded lounges and, at least on Virgin's side of the trenches, a more rewarding frequent flyer scheme.
This week we're asking Executive Style readers to rate the airlines on their business travel offerings.
There's plenty to consider.
For starters, the latest broadside in this battle will this week see Virgin Australia add two more Airbus A330s to its fleet for flights between Melbourne and Perth, mirroring the Sydney-Perth 'Coast To Coast' service launched last year.
More significantly is that each of these factory-fresh A330s – which list at $200m apiece – sport a new lie-flat business class bed, a boon for the long transcontinental trek.
Qantas will bring back the Boeing 747 with its Marc Newson Skybed sleeper seats which it introduced on the same Sydney-Perth route last year to compete with Virgin's first A330s, and then quietly withdrew in recent months.
If nothing else, then, the past year has been a very good one for raising the standard of trans-continental flights. Score one for competition.
Virgin Australia has also bet big-time on refreshing its workhorse fleet with new Boeing 737s and replaced premium economy with a business class service that's worthy of the name.
Airport lounges have also come in for a make-over.
Qantas made an early move to revamp its domestic Qantas Business Lounges for business class travellers and Platinum frequent flyers.
Already among the world's best domestic airport lounges, their most recent upgrade of note saw Telstra's slow-when-it-worked-at-all wireless internet ripped out and replaced with a blitzing Optus connection that's proving faster than most home or office ADSL lines.
Virgin Australia's riposte? New-look lounges at Melbourne and Brisbane with a chic modern design. The long-awaited Gold Coast lounge is soon to open, and work is well underway to give Virgin's tired Sydney lounge a Cinderella-like transformation to a swish split-level affair, with the upper floor tipped for an invitation-only lounge to take on Qantas' exclusive Chairman's Lounge.
Something that Virgin Australia can't easily replicate is Qantas' impressive Next-Gen Check in, which the Red Roo has now rolled out at all its Australian airports.
I find this is a terrific time-saver when travelling with only carry-on hand luggage for a quick day trip or overnighter.
The tables are turned when it comes to frequent flyer programs.
Qantas has made little significant advancement beyond introducing its Platinum One status level, offering more advance notice of successful upgrades and finally launched the promised 'express boarding lanes' at domestic airports.
(If only they'd let us guarantee an upgrade with points, instead of just requesting it and hoping for the best.)
Virgin pulled ahead by recasting its Velocity frequent flyer scheme to add family pooling of points and status credits, an innovative 'parental leave' pause which retains your status, plus free top-tier membership of hotel and car hire reward schemes.
As you can see, it's been a bountiful period for those of us who clock up plenty of in-flight hours.
So here's your opportunity to write a business traveller's report card for Qantas and Virgin Australia. How do you rate their efforts to win your business - and what do they need to do still better?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.