Business class compared: Qantas vs Virgin Australia vs Rex

Premium travellers are now spoiled for choice, but which airline is best in business class?

By Chris Chamberlin, July 15 2021
Business class compared: Qantas vs Virgin Australia vs Rex

Competition for business class flyers in Australia has never been more fierce, with Qantas, Virgin Australia and Regional Express (Rex) all fighting for a share of the domestic premium travel market.

Executive Traveller puts the three airlines head-to-head across the 10 areas business class flyers value most.

Priority perks: check-in, security, boarding

Priority check-in and boarding are ubiquitous for business class flyers across the three airlines, although the experience at security highlights key differences.

Qantas offers priority security screening at a number of airports including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane (via Premium Lounge Entry), Perth, and in places such as Adelaide and on the Gold Coast where the priority lane is shared between airlines.

Virgin Australia, on the other hand, continues to keep its own Premium Entry facilities closed in Sydney and Brisbane, with no alternative priority screening paths here.

The airline’s Premium Exit facility also remains unavailable in Melbourne, owing to its lounge renovation works, with priority screening also not promoted at the general checkpoint.

This leaves access only to shared priority screening paths in places like Adelaide and the Gold Coast, being the only two airports where Rex business class passengers can also skip the economy queues.

Winner: With fast-track security at Australia’s six busiest airports – unmatched by its competitors – Qantas takes the gong.

Travelling with checked baggage

Have a suitcase to check-in?

Qantas and Virgin Australia allow 2x32kg bags (64kg total) for all business class passengers, or 3x32kg (96kg total) for Platinum-grade frequent flyers and above. This includes Oneworld Emerald cardholders on Qantas, too.

Rex instead provides a flat 32kg baggage allowance for all business class passengers.

Winner: First place is shared by Qantas and Virgin Australia, which provide higher checked baggage allowances than Rex.

Carry-on bags

Here’s where things get interesting: both Qantas and Virgin Australia allow up to 14kg of total cabin baggage for business class flyers, although Qantas permits one bag to weigh up to 10kg, while Virgin Australia caps that at 7kg per bag.

Rex instead provides just 10kg for those on Biz Saver fares, but a higher 15kg on Biz and Biz Plus tickets (with up to 10kg in a single item).

Winner: With Rex having both the most and least generous allowances, Qantas providing more flexibility than Virgin Australia in how a traveller packs, but Virgin Australia matching Qantas in total cabin baggage weight, we’re calling this one a draw.

Business class lounges

With Qantas offering lounge facilities for business class flyers at 22 Australian airports (24, once refurbishments in Port Hedland and Rockhampton conclude), the Flying Kangaroo is unmatched here.

It’s also the only Australian airline with dedicated Business Lounges, found in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.

These sit a rung above the neighbouring Qantas Clubs – with Qantas also the only domestic airline to afford business class passengers one complimentary lounge guest, without also requiring frequent flyer status or a paid lounge membership.

Virgin Australia is the Roo’s nearest competitor in the lounge stakes, but offers a smaller network of seven domestic lounges, found in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and on the Gold Coast.

Rex has just three established lounges – located in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – plus a temporary lounge in Canberra while a purpose-built facility is constructed.

Winner: With lounge facilities in more than three times as many airports as its closest competitor, Qantas wins this trophy.

The business class seat

On domestic flights, Qantas offers business class across its Boeing 737, Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 fleet, in addition to many Boeing 717 flights as well, when served by a two-class aircraft.

Aboard those single-aisle jets (that's the Boeing 717, and Boeing 737), expect to find 12 business class recliners with leg rests, some of which also provide AC and USB power.

On Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 flights, you’ll instead have a flatbed at your disposal – much appreciated on longer flights, such as between the east coast and both Perth and Darwin.

Virgin Australia and Rex offer business class aboard Boeing 737s only, with eight reclining seats at the pointy end (but sans leg rests). On Virgin Australia, you’ll find AC power outlets on some aircraft, but don’t expect AC power on Rex.

Except for the embossed logo, the seats are otherwise identical between Rex business class and Virgin Australia, given Rex took over the leases on some of the planes Virgin Australia trimmed from its own fleet during administration.

Winner: While all three airlines offer comfortable and spacious seating, the leg rests on Qantas’ recliners give them an edge, also being the only airline with flatbed seating in the domestic skies.

Business class food and beverage

Travellers taking to the skies are offered meal service aboard all three airlines, with a few distinct differences.

Qantas generally skips the pre-departure drink but delivers a meal with beverages after take-off, offering a bread plate, sweet item, and a hot or chilled main. Beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary, although spirits are yet to return to the menu.

Qantas business class lunch.. Michael Corrigan
Qantas business class lunch.
Michael Corrigan

It’s also the only airline catering to dietary needs with diabetic, gluten-free, vegan, Kosher, Halal, and children’s meals available for pre-order on all domestic and trans-Tasman business class flights.

A Qantas diabetic meal on a lunchtime business class flight.. Keith Smith
A Qantas diabetic meal on a lunchtime business class flight.
Keith Smith

Virgin Australia is back with plated meals, too. They’re available on every domestic business flight, and adopt more of a café-style offering.

On the plus side, pre-departure drinks are normally provided ahead of the inflight meal service – where spirits feature on the menu too – but without the ability to request a dietary meal in advance, which could see some travellers going hungry, depending on what’s on the standard menu that day.

Rex offers pre-departure drinks as well, with hot food options in the air, plus beer and wine (but no spirits).

These are all served via single-use packaging and utensils, along with plastic cups for wine and cardboard cups for coffee, making the overall presentation more akin to traditional economy, rather than edging towards restaurant fare in the air.

Winner: With Qantas offering the broadest variety of meals including those catered to dietary requirements, but Virgin Australia including spirits on the menu in addition to pre-departure drinks, this one is a tie between Qantas and Virgin, as some travellers will prioritise inflight food, and others, the refreshments.

Business class fare pricing

Qantas has so far ranked or tied on most of the ‘experience’ fronts, but its ticket prices certainly reflect this premium.

Here’s how the one-way business class fares of Qantas, Virgin Australia and Rex stacked up across four routes flown by the trio, plus Brisbane-Sydney as a benchmark, on which Rex doesn’t currently fly.

Route / airline

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Rex

Sydney-Melbourne

$716

$299

$299

Sydney-Gold Coast

$685

$299

$299

Melbourne-Adelaide

$665

$299

$299

Canberra-Melbourne

$892

$249

$249

Brisbane-Sydney

$900

$299

N/A

In every quote we obtained – searching in mid-July, for travel in mid-September – Qantas was consistently the most expensive, being at least twice as pricey as its rivals, and sometimes with fares triple or even close to quadruple those of Virgin Australia and Rex.

This means passengers could take a return business class flight with Virgin or Rex for less than a one-way business class ticket on Qantas.

Winner: With Virgin Australia consistently price-matching Rex, this title is shared by these two airlines. However, it’s great to see that Virgin’s cut-price fares are also appearing on routes where it only competes with Qantas, such as between Brisbane and Sydney.

Business class flight changes

When your plans change, all three airlines allow your business class flight to move with you – although each has a slightly different policy.

Qantas doesn’t impose a fixed ‘change fee’ on any domestic business class fare, but levies a fare difference where one applies. The exception is Platinum One frequent flyers booked on flexible business class fares making a same-day change, where any price difference is waived.

Virgin Australia normally imposes a $70 change fee on its most attractively-priced tickets (Business Saver), although this is temporarily waived when travelling before February 28 2022.

A fare difference still applies with any change – as it does on all other business class fares – although same-day changes made by Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers (plus up to three companions on the same booking) see this waived, under the airline’s Fly Ahead program.

Rex instead allows every business class passenger to standby for an earlier same-day flight at no charge (known as ‘Get Me Home’), while earlier changes for Biz Saver and Biz tickets are subject to a fare difference.

A $33 change fee is also payable with Biz Saver for changing flights within seven days of departure, although no fare difference applies for Biz Plus guests, given this is already Rex’s most expensive fare.

Winner: The best-fit airline here will depend on when you’re changing your ticket, the type of fare purchased, and any frequent flyer status you hold, so we’re calling this one a draw – but with notable mentions to Virgin Australia for its Fly Ahead flexibility, and to Rex for its Get Me Home initiative.

WiFi and inflight entertainment

The importance of entertainment and connectivity will no doubt depend on the length and timing of your flight: but where that’s a factor for your journey, here’s how the airlines stack up.

Qantas provides complimentary entertainment on all its Boeing 737, Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 jets – either through seatback screen, or streaming to your own device – along with free inflight Internet aboard selected Boeing 737s and Airbus A330-200s.

Virgin Australia also streams entertainment content to your own device across its Boeing 737 fleet, but inflight Internet connectivity remains paused, even on aircraft equipped with the technology.

Rex doesn’t offer inflight entertainment (aside from a magazine in the seat pocket), nor does it provide fleet-wide WiFi, although the airline is currently trialling the latter on selected departures, with its future (along with the pricing structure) not yet announced.

Winner: As the only airline providing both entertainment and inflight Internet, Qantas wins here – but it’ll be very interesting to watch what Virgin Australia and Rex do in this space over the coming months.

Frequent flyer programs

As Rex doesn’t currently offer a personal frequent flyer program and its existing Rex Business Flyer scheme is closed to new applicants, this becomes a battle between Qantas and Virgin Australia.

On that front, here’s how many frequent flyer points and status credits travellers can earn on what’s normally the most popular domestic route in Australia, Sydney-Melbourne – mirrored on other short domestic hops too, like Sydney-Brisbane, Brisbane-Townsville, and Melbourne-Adelaide.

The figures below reflect the earn rates for an entry-level frequent flyer: that’s Qantas Bronze or  Velocity Red.

Earn on Sydney-Melbourne

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Business class

1,400 Qantas Points
40 status credits

5 Velocity Points / $1
50 status credits

Flexible business

1,600 Qantas Points
45 status credits

5 Velocity Points / $1
55 status credits

Reward seat business

0 Qantas Points
18 status credits*

Not eligible for earn

*For Qantas Points Club members only

At five Velocity Points per $1 spent, Virgin Australia’s $299 Sydney-Melbourne business class fares deliver 1,495 Velocity Points. If fares rose to match the $716 price tag of Qantas, that’d instead provide a chunky 3,580 Velocity Points, aside the same number of status credits within each fare family.

Qantas and Virgin Australia also provide additional points for Silver, Gold and Platinum frequent flyers (plus Platinum One, at Qantas).

When it comes time to spend those points, here’s how many you’d need for a one-way flight on the same route:

Spend on Sydney-Melbourne

Qantas

Virgin Australia

Business class booking

18,400 Qantas Points*

15,500 Velocity Points*

Upgrade from flexible economy

5,400 Qantas Points

4,900 Velocity Points

Upgrade from discount economy

10,900 Qantas Points

10,000 Velocity Points

Upgrade from Reward economy

13,000 Qantas Points

Upgrades not available

*Plus taxes, fees and carrier charges

Winner: With Velocity members earning more points and status credits than Qantas flyers on many business class journeys, paired with needing fewer points to book or upgrade those same flights, Virgin Australia delivers on ‘earn and burn’.

However, being able to earn status credits on reward flights will be a significant drawcard for some Qantas Points Club members, and more broadly, high flyers may also appreciate the potential of earning Qantas lifetime status after many years of travel.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia vs Rex business class: the verdict

There’s no doubt that when measured on this 10-point scale, Qantas trumps its rivals as Australia’s top airline for the business class traveller – especially on the core experience of seats, lounges, and airport priority services.

However, that premium service is reflected in the asking price: Qantas’ fares are more than double that of Virgin Australia and Rex on every mainline domestic route we searched.

In keeping with its new mid-market value positioning, Virgin Australia strikes a pleasing balance between the overall business class offering and the price you pay for it. More affordable fares, a network of lounges in key airports and several aspects of the Velocity Frequent Flyer program result in a formula geared to appeal to small business owners and premium leisure flyers.

As the newest entrant to the business class skies, Rex also isn’t to be ignored, with sharp fares alongside seats and aircraft mirroring its nearest rival – but it’s clearly the ‘budget’ airline in this 10-point business class assessment, and the lack of a personal frequent flyer program certainly needs to be remedied.

Also read: Did Qantas really ‘invent’ business class?

ET readers: we welcome your informed first-hand opinion on which airline you choose for business class travel, and why, as well as where the others need to catch up.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

Very good comparison! Well as my handle here indicates I fly Qantas, although I am first to admit that Virgin has become a lot more appealing lately due to its much lower fares. On short flights between the east coast capitals I'm happy to fly Virgin business class to stay under my client's budget, and I like the Fly Ahead option of my Velocity Platinum status. Of course if the client's budget stretches to Qantas pricing, that's where you'll find me! East-west though, there is simply NO beating the Qantas A330 or Boeing 787 if you can get one.

Virgin for me. Happy to fly Qantas business class if the price is right but it's increasingly hard to justify that price, when Virgin charges so much less but ticks the boxes for what I want. The new business class meals are pretty good and show you don't need a big name celebrity chef.

I like the extras of Qantas like a dedicated business class lounge and WiFi, the Boeing 737 business class seat is more comfortable but that's not a big deal on flights of maybe 90 minutes. That said, Virgin should get its WiFi sorted instead of leaving it dangling in the wind, and should bring in Lifetime Gold and Lifetime Platinum to level up against Qantas for long-term loyalty.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 85

I've flown business class on all three airlines this year, took advantage of the 'price war' as Rex launched new routes to get good fares on Virgin and Qantas because I was keen to compare them for myself across the same SYD-MEL route.

Rex very much the budget end of the market, you get what you pay for, forget about the lounges really but you can't argue about the price for what you get. Qantas is obviously top dog but only makes sense when you can afford the fare which is normally very high, and one good thing about Rex and Virgin is that they've made people think twice about those Qantas fares.

For my budget and SYD-MEL, I am now a pretty loyal Virgin Australia flyer. Got my Velocity Gold membership and status for when I've got to fly economy or economy X, but very happy with Virgin business class on SYD-MEL and also BNE.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

Honestly Qantas Business doesn't really excite myself overall, Virgin needs to copy the meals on Rex and Qantas add P1 status etc and go head to head with Qantas to pick up marketshare . Rex I don't think is a long term solution, was a good idea but will they last? On saying that at least their keeping Qantas and Virgin as honest as they can be in Business Class.

I don't agree that Virgin needs to copy the meals on Rex or Qantas, those are very different meals, I think Virgin's current business class meals are actually pretty good in terms of what you pay and how they fit into the airline's positioning. You don't need fine dining on SYD-MEL but Rex is a bit 'average'. My 2c is that Virgin pretty much nailed business class food and drink, already has a solid seat, the lounges could do better for food and drink but nobody is flying for the sake of f&b.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

The quality of the VA business meal misses the mark due to size, a fraction larger would be better and bring back the Serendipity Ice Cream (O how that hits the spot).  VA saving on costs they don't even have enough meals on the plane for all of the business class passengers one of their VIP tier customers missed out on a meal altogether on a flight longer than 2 1/2 hours and at dinner time. The hostess got hostile with him when he said I'm starving it's dinner time and they couldn't even get him a sandwich from economy anymore. A VA meal in business is more like a snack.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 468

Here's why, with minimal forethought, VA really should fully, and I do mean FULLY cater for ALL business class seats on every flight.  Even if there are unsold seats in J-Class, VA should have the CRM capability to 'bump up' any Eco passengers a recent travel history (i.e. within last 12 months of that flight) that 'qualifies' them for a complimentary upgrade.  That upgrade capability should be limited to pax having the Virgin Mobile App loaded and active whilst in the terminal, with the seat upgrade actioned in the last 20 minutes before boarding commences.  

If done intelligently (a big 'if' at that), this approach has been proven conclusively (elsewhere) to deliver a high change-up in spend by those with discretionary spend (be it hotel rooms, air fares, prestige car hire, loan cars offered by prestige vehicle dealerships to service customers).  

I still recall with bitterness having been a successful bidder for a seat upgrade (the day before travel) only to learn in flight there were insufficient meals (and hence the reason I was always the last to be offered service).  

I'm spending more time in Australia than usual thanks to border closures, used to be in Asia a few times a month, but this drives home that our domestic business class is pretty good for what's an average flight time of 90-120 minutes between the major capital cities. I'm basically splitting my business travel between Qantas and Virgin based on pricing and a few other factors, eg flexibility, and to make sure I keep status in both, although I'm sure Qantas will do another round for status extensions. Tried Rex but when Virgin doesn't cost much more, Virgin is way better for lounges, meals and the Velocity program.

21 Apr 2019

Total posts 10

Still no desert on Virgin. A bit mean spirited.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 83

A Lindt ball on Qantas doesn’t qualify as desert though 😂

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 83

I find the airport experience of Virgin at both ends (MEL SYD) quite awful. Their food is mediocre and their lounges are zoos. 

Rex is simple and easy and I quite like their meals and their crew are amazing. $299 is appealing as as I am a biz owner, I’ll fly J on them. It’s like flying in the 90’s  

I’m addicted to my Qantas WP status and fly their J on MEL CNS that I have have done this year a few times, but TBH domestically it’s no better than the others onboard (no desert is amusing) and I don’t care about wifi. Their crew are tired though. But their lounges are great, as is reliability and schedule. When they have J sales I bulk buy

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 468

Personally, priority check-in, screening and boarding are more important to me that a dedicated business lounge, as always happy to mix with other travellers in the airline's lounge.  I'd imagine Virgin not likely to afford this on $299 fares with only eight business class seats per flight, but happy to pay an extra $50 per flight to avoid the masses in the communal hall.  

Hopefully, in due course and the fullness of time, VA will figure out/resolve the terminal logistics/challenges and offer this service to business class fare paying pax.  

16 Jul 2021

Total posts 1

A good comparison - which highlights what matters most to people, so readers can go with the option which is most suited to their needs, depending always on who is footing the bill.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 May 2018

Total posts 16

Flew to Darwin Qantas and back virgin on 737 and was really annoyed at no separation on Qantas between business and economy with a kid kicking my seat from behind and no rope to stop people entering business toilets and rushing forward on departure 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 106

Wow, for the price difference I could have a very very nice meal for 2 at a 3 hat restaurant. So Virgin for me with its great service, priority boarding that works, and very flexible change policy.


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