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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.

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.

Twitter: @AusBT

35 comments so far

  • As a qantas gold flyer I accumulated points but generally couldn't used them where I wanted which was international flights unless I booked as soon as the seats became available (11-12 months out). Virgin at the time had basic lounges and economy product. with little international connection.

    I recently transfered myself and small buiness across to Virgin (much screaming and wrist slashing amongst my 4 regular frequent flyers) for some key reasons - Links with Eithad mean access straight to other than London and Frankfurt destinations, cost savings (Qantas charges a premium price for average international travel - excluding 380), ability to use points anytime (sometimes with a cash element) and increased comfort and service, including flight frequency.
    Overall we have saved around $35K in travel to date since starting in February. Even the hard core qantas FF have recognised the advantage, they still whine of course, bit like Qantas

    Regular Flyer
    Date and time
    May 15, 2012, 2:29PM
    • I think Virgin is miles ahead. I've flown business class a few times with them and the seats, service, food, lounges - everything - is just a world ahead of QF. It can be the small things, like being addressed as "Mr Abc" correctly every single time, to the lounge staff noticing I had fallen asleep (very long day!!) and waking me with plenty of time to freshen up before my flight.
      I think even Virgin economy is miles ahead, it's just the feel of the service.

      Date and time
      May 15, 2012, 2:30PM
      • Its certainly easier to gain status on Virgin compared to QF. 800 for Platinum and the earning rates are almost the same for Status Credits. So it comes down to who treats their customers better?

        Date and time
        May 15, 2012, 3:01PM
        • We have just returned from Hong Kong flying VS in Upper Class from Sydney. The service over was good not great but the return trip was most disappointing. Our designated attendant was a robot she did not make you welcome and was extremely unapproachable. Oh wait there she did show a lot of interest to the "men" travelling just not the 4 women she had to look after. The seats that convert into a bed are hard as rocks and the pillows that are provided have no substance at all, a doona is provided and pyjamas. I asked for a hot towel upon waking in the morning something I have received on other flights and was presented with the hottest towel it burned my fingers and the biggest tut sound, I mean she was in such a rush where did she have to go, we were still 1.5 hours out of Sydney. You where never referred to by name just Madam but she seemed to know several of the other passengers. We will never fly with VS again the Asian carriers are much more polite and attentive something QF and VS can learn some lessons from.

          Never Again with a Virgin
          Date and time
          May 15, 2012, 3:20PM
          • I agree they need to do a bit more training for the flight attendants doing international they do fall behind the asian and middle eastern airlines.

            Have to disagree on the beds I actually found them quite comfortable but each to their own.

            Regular Flyer
            Date and time
            May 15, 2012, 4:37PM
          • You do understand that Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic are VERY different companies... ? Virgin Australia is closer to Etihad than Virgin Atlantic.
            Personally I cant fault Virgin Australia, I flew back to Sydney from LA a week ago and was so impressed by the professionalism of the crew in business class. Smiles and genuine warm welcomes by all crew made a nice change from the old QANTAS bittys who barely crack a smile let alone a warm genuine welcome.

            VERY frequent flyer
            Date and time
            May 15, 2012, 8:54PM
        • As a QF Plat who was matched to DJ Plat only good things and helping bring down the price of business fares.

          Pluses - Direct Sydney lounge access, new Bris and Mel lounges are great
          - Lower SC renewal requirements (800 SCs) and presently booseted by double promotions
          - Generally more points earnt per flight. As a Plat (at 10x $s, average 2000 points for short flights versus QF at 1000 fixed)
          - Good value upgrades from Flexi fares (half points at present)
          - The food in business is good.

          - The website is pretty hopeless. Step from logging in to velocity to manage booking to select seats is crazy
          - Flexi isnt great value for money. Food (generally just a reuben sandwich or wrap is ok) but price of most flexis jump in last few days so still up for change fees. Cancellation fee is higher than saver.
          - Still weird that you get food as flexi, but your seatmate may not
          - Schedule not as good as Qantas (eg hourly syd-bne)
          - Aircraft changes with the old 737-700s with no business, and the lack of IFE on the newer aircraft
          - Almost no buy on baord food after the menu reductions

          matt adams
          Date and time
          May 15, 2012, 4:32PM
          • I predicted to my wife some time ago, that airlines will go back to more first and business class seats as the cattle class has got out of control.
            It makes business sense to have more bums on more expensive seats than the other way around which is the current trend in this class.
            So airlines, reduce the cost of business travel and hey presto! Your bottom line will be in better shape as well as your passengers bums.

            Date and time
            May 15, 2012, 4:36PM
            • You can not be more correct. But what always bugs me is that even though economy is better and cheaper than EVER, the cattle in economy demand more than the passengers in business, yet economy passengers dont make airlines money, just give the crew headaches.

              Ban cattle class
              Date and time
              May 15, 2012, 8:57PM
            • Ben, maybe its because you are squashed in like sardines while those in business class are generally not paying for their own ticket. Airlines charge ridiculous amounts for business which companies pay as long as they get their tax deduction

              Date and time
              May 16, 2012, 1:41AM

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