When Qantas first class is the best business class...

Savvy business class travellers to Hong Kong can snare the original Qantas superjumbo suite.

By David Flynn, March 5 2024
When Qantas first class is the best business class...

For the past few months, and for one more week to come, Qantas has been flying its flagship A380 between Sydney and Hong Kong – with the superjumbo’s first class suites being made available to business class passengers as a free ‘upgrade’.

Of course, we’re talking about the seat being the upgrade, not the food, drink and service.

That’s because Qantas isn’t selling first class on the Sydney-Hong Kong route: it simply treats the A380’s 14 first class suites as an extension of the business class cabin, with those suites available during the seat selection process, by clicking yourself into rows 1 through 5.

More often than not, this A380 has been the one red-tailed superjumbo still flying in its original circa-2008 form and those old Marc Newson-designed Skybed berths in a 2-2-2 layout.

The original Qantas A380 business class.
The original Qantas A380 business class.

And while some days have seen a made-over A380 with the newer Business Suites flying as QF127/QF128, those Qantas First suites remain arguably better in most respects – especially when the click of a button (or mouse) can let you escape into the A380’s calmer, less crowded and more refined first class cabin.

On each daily Qantas flight between Sydney and Hong Kong until March 11 – after which the Airbus A330 takes over – 14 savvy business class passengers settle into these spacious semi-private suites nestled downstairs at the front the superjumbo,.

The original Qantas A380 first class.
The original Qantas A380 first class.

They get the same meals, wine and service as the business class cabin upstairs – and at the same price as any other business class ticket.

However, this all takes place in the A380’s high-walled first class suites.

On QF127 and QF128, business class meals are served in the first class cabin.
On QF127 and QF128, business class meals are served in the first class cabin.

And while Hong Kong tourism continues to rebuild towards 2018-2019 levels, these red-tailed A380s have steadily shown a decent amount of availability for points-based Classic Reward booking across all cabins – including business class, at a bargain 64,000 Qantas Points.

(That said, if you’re rolling the dice on getting a bump from business class to first class on the Qantas A380, we’d consider the Cathay Pacific A350 flight shown above with its superior business class – at least compared to those old A380 Skybeds – as better value for your points.)

So spying a Classic Reward for business class, I jumped at the chance for a quick visit to Hong Kong – which remains one of my favourite cities – but flying in the Qantas A380 first suite.

Not that the spruced-up superjumbos deliver any major change to these ‘flagship’ first class suites.

There’s new upholstery (to cover more than a decade of wear and tear), a higher-res 18” screen compared to the clunky old 17” panel, better options on the seat control panel and, well, not much else.

First class gets a refresh on the refurbished Qantas A380s.
First class gets a refresh on the refurbished Qantas A380s.

That said, there’s still plenty to enjoy by plonking yourself in these original A380 First suites compared to the being stuck in a sad old Skybed business class seat.

Foremost would be the privacy – not just from the seat and how it’s wrapped in a tall, deep cocoon-like shell, but that there are only 14 suites in this cosy cabin, further enhancing the feeling that you’re in a world of your own (doubly so if you get a front row suite like 1A).

The suite’s large footprint also includes a generous shelf at one side, with two drawers for your travel knick-knacks.

The Qantas A380 first class suite is a cosy yet largely functional cocoon.
The Qantas A380 first class suite is a cosy yet largely functional cocoon.

We still love the creative way this deep, wide comfortable seat swivels around to face the corner of the suite.

Pay a business class fare, but travel in a first class suite...
Pay a business class fare, but travel in a first class suite...

This not only boosts your privacy even more but lets the ottoman be used as a companion seat for sharing a meal, a drink or even a game of cards with a fellow traveller in first class (or in the case of this particular A380, a friend stuck in Ye Olde Skybeds upstairs).

The ottoman can be used as a footrest or 'companion' dining over the large table.
The ottoman can be used as a footrest or 'companion' dining over the large table.

And who couldn’t get a kick from the tall windows with two sets of concertina blinds – one to simply reduce the glare, the other to block out the light itself –  which rise and fall at the touch of a button?

Concertina blinds in the Qantas A380 first class suite.
Concertina blinds in the Qantas A380 first class suite.

Perhaps best of all, though, is how the Qantas A380 First seat transforms into a superbly soft bed.

Still a superbly comfortable bed...
Still a superbly comfortable bed...

It’ll give you as good a sleep as possible on the QF128 overnight leg from Hong Kong, and it’s a bonus if the 10.30am departure of QF127 from Sydney means an early morning start and a mid-flight nap.

And as mentioned before, even in these first class suites you’ll be served the same food and wine as everyone in business class.

On my flight, this began with a roast pumpkin and mozzarella arancini, followed by a choice of three starters:

  • Potato and leek soup (in regular and ‘plant-based’ versions)
  • Salad of prawn with fioretto, farro, snow peas, confit chilli and orange dressing
  • Pork and shiitake mushroom dumplings with pickled cucumber and sesame chilli dressing

The crew happily served me both the prawn salad and pork and shiitake mushroom dumplings, and both were delicious.

The aperitivo and two starters on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.
The aperitivo and two starters on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.

For mains, we had four choices:

  • Korean-style sesame baked eggplant with stir fried green beans, jasmine rice and pickled vegetable
  • Bannockburn chicken Kyiv with lettuce, peas, bacon and potato purée
  • Seared snapper with black bean sauce, seasonal greens, jasmine rice and salted chilli
  • Seared Grasslands beef fillet with thyme roasted carrots, silverbeet and Cafe de Paris butter

I opted for the beef fillet – not my usual choice when flying, but I was keen to see how well done (no pun intended) this turned out to be.

Seared beef fillet on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.
Seared beef fillet on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.

The answer: pretty decent for a slab of meat cooked in a galley oven some 38,000 feet above sea level.

To finish off, I declined the ice cream and dark chocolate cake in favour of the cheese platter with matured cheddar, ash brie and blue vein.

Cheese platter on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.
Cheese platter on QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.

The wines accompanying the main and dessert courses were a well-rounded 2019 Penfolds Bin 82 Shiraz Mataro and a Nugan Estate Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon with surprisingly fruity undertones.

The two wines I enjoyed on Qf127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.
The two wines I enjoyed on Qf127 from Sydney to Hong Kong.

Midday hunger pangs at bay, I took the opportunity to focus on some work.

The massive and solid dinner table, designed with ‘dinner for two’ in mind, makes a stable base for your laptop, with AC and USB-A power outlets down at the base of the seat.

Alas, there’s no WiFi to stay connected above the clouds – although Qantas promises fast free WiFi for all intenational flights, including the A380s and Boeing 787s, will be “progressively switched on” from the end of this year.

A few hours’ of work was followed by a light snooze, and before long the ‘moving map’ showed we were getting close to Hong Kong.

That was the cue for the cabin crew to offer a pre-arrival dish of

  • Crumbed snapper roll with pickled cabbage and tartare sauce
  • Stir fried noodles with wombok, cucumber, sesame and chilli oil

I’d heard the snapper roll was the go-to, but this small dish seemed more like a mere ‘fish burger’ which proved an underwhelming finish to the inflight dining.

The crumbed snapper roll proved an underwhelming finish to the flight's dining.
The crumbed snapper roll proved an underwhelming finish to the flight's dining.

QF127 reaches Hong Kong around 4.35pm, and across recent weeks it’s been generally on time.

With no checked luggage to slow me down, and my Australian passport being registered for use at the airport’s automated e-Channel lanes, I tapped onto the Airport Express train with my Octopus card and in little more than 30 minutes was back in the thick of this buzzing Asian metropolis.

Getting that A380 ‘business to first’ upgrade

If you’re travelling in business class on the Qantas A380 between Sydney and Hong Kong, how can you land yourself in the first class cabin?

As has been the case with previous A380 ‘first-sold-as-business’ ventures, the first class cabin actually shows up on the seat selection chart for business class, so it’s just a matter of choosing a seat between row 1 and row 5.

The A380's first class cabin shows up on the business class seat map – and yes, I couldn't resist 1A.
The A380's first class cabin shows up on the business class seat map – and yes, I couldn't resist 1A.

Executive Traveller understands that Qantas Platinum One frequent flyers, along with Chairman’s Lounge members, are the first to see the primo cabin exposed when choosing their business class seat.

For everyone else, use the Qantas T-80 rule as your departure date nears, where the seats usually kept aside for top-tier frequent flyers are unlocked 80 hours before a flight departs.

For example, for the 10.15am departure of QF127, the ’80 hours prior’ dictated by T-80 is 2.15am (Sydney time) three days prior: just go back three days (72 hours) and then turn the clock back an extra eight hours.

Any A380 First suites remaining unoccupied in the days prior to the flight can be assigned by Qantas to selected frequent flyers, or they may even appear on the business class seating chart if you use the Manage My Booking page to check or change your seat.

You can even ask at the check-in desk or the lounge if there’s a vacant suite still up for grabs; on the day of the flight, Qantas will likely offer any unallocated First seats to top-tier frequent flyers.

As to which suite to choose: suites 1A and 1K generally give you that ‘private jet’ feeling, while 2F – also known as the Harry Potter suite – delivers a cosy nest, and 5A and 5K amp up the privacy.

2F is the 'Harry Potter suite' below the stairs in Qantas' A380 first class cabin.
2F is the 'Harry Potter suite' below the stairs in Qantas' A380 first class cabin.

For the best view on the daytime flight to Hong Kong, opt for 4A and 4K, while on the overnight return leg, light sleepers should avoid 5F.

If you’re not in business class, Qantas is selling premium economy on the Hong Kong-bound A380s – and if you’re on the classic config A380, there’s also that delightful economy mini-cabin tucked away at the very back of the upper deck, from rows 32 to 36.

Headed to Hong Kong? Here’s how your Australian passport can be used to skip the immigration queues at Hong Kong Airport via the automated e-Channel lanes, plus a complete guide to Hong Kong’s Oneworld (Cathay and Qantas) lounges.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Apr 2016

Total posts 6

I flew business class on this aircraft (VH-OQL) from LAX to SYD on the 7th after they changed the aircraft a few weeks prior. It was a disgrace, the seat 18k was dirty, only 2/3 of the seat was flat with the foot 3rd angling down to an inch off the floor. The seat had a mind of its own and wouldnt return to an upright position after being put into bed mode, take finger off the button and it would return to a bed. Massage function didn't work. Its hard to be loyal to qantas when they serve this garbage up.  To charge people what they do for product is a disgrace.

09 Feb 2021

Total posts 11

The "droop" on the Skybeds is notorious.  A cabin baggage suitace wedged under the seat can make a big difference.

14 Nov 2015

Total posts 42

I used this to sit in an F seat on a J ticket on this route years ago - around 2016.  When I asked if we could make the bed to sleep, the flight attendant pulled a patronising face and told me that since it's a business class service, there's no F bedding.  No J bedding either!  Since it was an overnight flight, I'd have probably been better just assigning a J seat.

Was very surprising.  Has anyone else ever had this experience?

No, even the daytime flights I've flown it on have had J bedding, as they should at the very least. I don't expect the F bedding or service, but would definitely expect something.

Same with the AY operated QF flights to SIN (and soon BKK), sadly they use QF bedding, rather than AY, but one takes what one is given.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 316

A small downside not usually mentioned in reviews of sitting in the First cabin of QF127/128 is the level of service.  The ratio of flight attendants to passengers is very different in this situation.  First Class passengers normally expect 1 Flight Attendant to about 4 pax, whereas Business pax will have a ration of 1 to 10 pax.  That's half the level of service and it will be noticeable.

22 Mar 2023

Total posts 3

The Marc Newson Skybed was the worst business class seat ever inflicted on passengers. The first version was flat but tilted. The second version was flat. Neither has any privacy. Qantas persisted with them long after all after their competitors had vastly superior product. The fact that they still have A380s with these appalling seats, and still charge a premium to other airlines, says it all.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 55

Or, just go with Cathay. Better product, better price.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 673

It's a well known fact that even when 'First' is sold as first-it's very much the worlds best business class.

I've managed to get the F cabin on a J ticket twice now, first time the seats were available from booking for some reason (I'm only WP), second at T-80 as you say. Even at 2:15am, the remaining 8 or so seats filled up within 4 minutes, I was not the only one with a 2:10am alarm set!

OQL is in terrible condition though, bits are falling off and a lot of things are non-functional or require assistance to get things to work, like window blinds, privacy dividers and even IFE. But anything is better than the Skybed II, and other than that they are very comfortable seats/beds, so no complaints really.


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