Review: Rex Boeing 737 business class

Regional Express is challenging Qantas and Virgin for capital city business travellers, so how does the Rex experience shape up?

Overall Rating

By David Flynn, March 5 2021
Rex Boeing 737 business class
Notes
The Good
  • A solidly familiar business class seat
  • Friendly and genuinely happy crew
  • Affordable fares, even at the pointy end
The Bad
  • Some meals need work
  • For now, no WiFi or frequent flyer scheme
X-Factor
  • A new challenger for east coast business travellers

Introduction

Long known as a regional airline flying nimble Saab turboprops, Rex has now joined the Boeing 737 jet set with an ambitious plan to challenge Qantas and Virgin Australia for a slice of key capital city markets.

That plan took flight on March 1 2021 with the debut of direct Rex Boeing 737 flights between Sydney and Melbourne. The airline has already announced that Adelaide and the Gold Coast will follow, while Brisbane and Canberra are also in the pipeline.

That network comes courtesy of six Boeing 737s, which ironically used to be leased to Virgin, with the option to add four more by the end of 2021.

Rex is taking on Qantas and Virgin Australia for the country's prime inter-city routes.
Rex is taking on Qantas and Virgin Australia for the country's prime inter-city routes.

Rex sees its position as being a value-oriented airline – again, similar to Virgin Australia after its rescue and reboot by US owners Bain Capital – with affordable yet all-inclusive pricing.

For business class, this means appealing to the self-employed – people who run their own business and treat the company's money as their own, because basically it is ;– as well as business travellers flying on 'best fare of the day' rules or working a project with tight budget constraints.

Also in the mix are the many leisure travellers who'd appreciate moving up to the pointy end of the plane for a little extra comfort.

With all that in mind, here's how the Rex Boeing business class experience shakes out. This review is based on flights between Sydney and Melbourne (ZL33 and ZL152).

 

How much does Rex Boeing 737 business class cost?

What you pay for your ticket is an essential yardstick in determining the overall 'value' of a flight, especially on short routes such as Sydney-Melbourne, where you'll spend around 90 minutes in the air.

As with any new entrant into a market, Rex rolled out eye-popping prices: Sydney-Melbourne business class launched at $299, with subsequent discounting across March to $199.

Looking at the back half of April 2021, after school holidays have ended, and Rex's Sydney-Melbourne fares are still sitting at $299.

These rates are still being matched by Virgin Australia, while Qantas is north of $700.

Rex is taking on Qantas and Virgin Australia for the country's prime inter-city routes.
Rex is taking on Qantas and Virgin Australia for the country's prime inter-city routes.

As for the second wave of routes: at the time of writing (early March 2021) Rex's Sydney-Gold Coast and Melbourne-Gold Coast business class fares were pegged at $299 and $349, respectively, with Melbourne-Adelaide business class also at $299.

The take-away: Rex's low pricing has to be taken into account in setting your expectations of its overall business class experience.

Rex airport lounges at Sydney, Melbourne

Speaking of 'setting expectations', Rex's Sydney and Melbourne lounges are simply not in the same league as those of the Qantas (even the Qantas Club) or Virgin Australia lounges.

As Rex's heritage is that of a regional airline flying regional routes, its lounges are closer to a pared-back regional model.

Don't expect anything fancy from the Rex lounges, they're essentially 'fit for purpose'.
Don't expect anything fancy from the Rex lounges, they're essentially 'fit for purpose'.

If anything, they represent the most basic and perhaps even the original definition of what an airport lounge should be: a quiet behind-closed-doors space away from the main public terminal and departure gate where selected travellers have no trouble finding a comfortable chair and can enjoy a complimentary cuppa (for coffee, think Nespresso rather than barista) and a light snack, with WiFi also on tap.

Those closed doors swing open for not only business class passengers but members of the paid Rex Lounge program, Priority Pass cardholders and, outside of peak weekday hours, casual 'walk-ups' at $33 per visit.

Don't expect anything fancy from the Rex lounges, they're essentially 'fit for purpose'.
Don't expect anything fancy from the Rex lounges, they're essentially 'fit for purpose'.

We've previously reviewed Rex's Sydney Airport Terminal 2 lounge in detail, and in the COVID-19 era all that's changed is food and drinks moving from self-serve to being available on request at the counter.

Request your food, drinks and snacks at the counter.
Request your food, drinks and snacks at the counter.

During our mid-morning visit the selection included breakfast cereals, fruit, wrapped muffins and pastries and a variety of instant noodles, plus chips, biscuits and nuts.

Some of the pre-flight bites available in the Rex Lounge.
Some of the pre-flight bites available in the Rex Lounge.

(Rex intends to open a new lounge at Sydney T2 before the end of 2021, boasting not only a larger footprint but an upstairs location with views over the airfield.)

Oddly, Rex's Melbourne lounge – nestled away in a distant corner of Terminal 4 – remained in self-serve mode during our visit.

Flying Rex Boeing 737 business class

All of Rex's first six Boeing 737-800 jets were formerly leased to Virgin Australia, which shed almost half its fleet (and thousands of pilots, crew, ground staff and office employees) in a dramatic downsizing under new owners Bain Capital.

Rex flies a fleet of ex-Virgin Australia Boeing 737 jets.
Rex flies a fleet of ex-Virgin Australia Boeing 737 jets.

Rex retained Virgin's fitout, including the same leather-clad business class seats, purple perspex divider and even the magnetic 'thou shalt not pass' cable separating business and economy cabins (which still boast Virgin's extra legroom and standard economy seats).

For Virgin flyers, Rex's Boeing 737 business class will look oddly familiar...
For Virgin flyers, Rex's Boeing 737 business class will look oddly familiar...

As such, any reader who's flown in Virgin Australia's Boeing 737 business class will find nothing new about the Regional Express equivalent, apart from the headrests which now bear Rex branding.

Rex's Boeing 737 business class.
Rex's Boeing 737 business class.

There are eight business class recliners, spread across two rows of four; each seat is 19.5" wide, with a centre console offering elbow room and a small (shared) extendable tray for drinks or snacks, and a business-only lav up front.

Rex's Boeing 737 business class.
Rex's Boeing 737 business class.

However, unlike Qantas' Boeing 737 business class, the Rex seats have no swing-up legrest at the front, nor handy AC/USB power outlets.

The lack of powerpoints is far from a deal-breaker, especially on short hops up and down the east coast, but nobody ever said "No" to a quick top-up of their smartphone, tablet or even laptop when there's work to be done.

We certainly hope that should Rex attack the east-west transcontinental market with its proposed second tranche of four more ex-Virgin Boeing 737s, they'll either come with AC/USB or see those slots fitted.

Row 1 of Rex' Boeing 737 faces the bulkhead, so even travellers of average height will find their feet propped up against the wall rather than being able to fully stretch out; you'll also need to place any carry-on bag (even a compact laptop bag or purse) into the overhead locker instead of keeping it within easy reach.

Row 1 legroom is on the cramped side if you like to stretch out.
Row 1 legroom is on the cramped side if you like to stretch out.

Choosing a seat in row 2, however, affords more useful legroom plus under-seat stowage.

(For what it's worth, it's not just the aircraft which came from Virgin: on our two Rex Boeing 737 flights, most of the flight deck and cabin crew were former Virgin Australia employees.

Several actually begin their careers in aviation at regional carrier Hazelton Airlines, which was eventually folded into Ansett Australia and later merged with sibling Ansett subsidiary Kendell Airlines to create Regional Express, so there was more than a bit of 'full circle' there.)

Virgin flyers may spot many familiar faces working on the Rex Boeing 737s.
Virgin flyers may spot many familiar faces working on the Rex Boeing 737s.

Finally, Rex permits business class passengers a flat 32kg of checked luggage and allows at-airport standby to move to an earlier flight at no charge, if your meetings wrap up early – as long as you're prepared to risk going to the airport in the hope of there being an empty seat on an earlier flight.

Rex Boeing 737 business class meals

So you've spent a brief spell at the Rex lounge (they're not ones you'd arrive early for), settled into your Rex Boeing 737 business class seat and are once again above the clouds... how's the food and drink?

On the Sydney-Melbourne corridor, you've got barely 90 minutes in the air, so inflight meals can assume outsize importance: when else in life can you not go 90 minutes without eating?

But in business class, meals are a given, and there are times when the schedule of a busy traveller – sometimes mornings, more often evenings – means that the only chance at having anything like a 'proper' meal at a normal time will be when you're flying.

Rex promises to explore the tastes of Australia with its business class meals and wines.
Rex promises to explore the tastes of Australia with its business class meals and wines.

Rex promises it business class flyers are served meals that "take in the flavour combinations of home-style country cooking with a weekly showcase of gourmet ingredients from some of our exceptional Australian producers."

Depending on the time of day, highlights are promised to include Tasmanian smoked salmon, Australian artisan cheeses from Bruny Island and Gippsland, and hand-made desserts.

Rex is going all-out on single-use recyclables.
Rex is going all-out on single-use recyclables.

On our evening flight, the dinner service offered a choice between

  • slow-braised beef in red wine with soft polenta and greens (accompanied by a delicious lime, yoghurt and coconut cake from Sydney's Little Secret Bakery)
  • Bruny Island cheese platter: wedges of a hard French-style 'raw milk' unpasteurised cheese, a medium with pinot-washed rind, and a soft white mould similar to a brie, served with wheat crackers, quince paste and some grapes

We opted for both, although thoughtfully shared the cheese platter with our seat-mate.

While obviously on the lighter side for a main meal, the cheese platter was delightful, as was the accompanying Robert Oatley GSM from South Australia's McLaren Vale.

Small but perfect: Rex's business class cheese platter.
Small but perfect: Rex's business class cheese platter.

(Other wines on pour were a Wildflower savblanc from Margaret River and an Oakridge Yarra Valley Rose; Rex says all its wines are "sourced from smaller boutique vineyards across Australia to give you a taste of what this beautiful country has to offer.")

On the other hand, the beef sounded promising but the presentation alone was unappealing, and as for taste, it fell short of the mark for what you'd expect from any domestic business class flight.

This beef dinner in Rex's Boeing 737 business class could have looked and tasted better.
This beef dinner in Rex's Boeing 737 business class could have looked and tasted better.

Rex's decision to adopt single-use 'environmentally-friendly' materials may raise some eyebrows from those who prefer more conventional dinnerware: the business class meals arrive on cardboard trays, in cardboard and paper containers, and even the cutlery is made from bamboo.

What Rex Boeing 737 business class doesn't have...

There are some areas where Rex falls short of the established expectations of many business travellers and frequent flyers.

The airline offers no app, and its website could be most charitably described as 'retro' – although there's still online check-in and DIY boarding pass printing, and in concert with the launch of the Sydney-Melbourne jet services, check-in kiosks and bag drop facilities now adjoin the Rex airport counters.

Rex has added check-in kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne.
Rex has added check-in kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne.
Rex has added check-in kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne.
Rex has added check-in kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne.

However, on our trip, there was no priority lane through Sydney or Melbourne airport security for business class passengers – another time- and hassle-saver normally enjoyed by Qantas and Virgin flyers.

And while Rex's ex-Virgin jets came fitted with inflight Internet and at-seat video screens, at the time of writing neither WiFi nor inflight entertainment were running.

Executive Traveller understands that Rex intends to flick the WiFi switch once the necessary contracts and approvals are in place, with free WiFi part of the package for business class flyers.

Finally, unlike Qantas and Virgin Australia, Regional Express currently has no frequent flyer program for individuals.

The airline plans to rework and reboot its old Rex Flyer rewards scheme potentially in 2022, while also refreshing the still-available Rex Business Flyer program aimed at businesses.

"We'll look at developing our own multi-faceted frequent flyer program in the future, but at this stage, we're just focusing on getting the airline up and running," Regional Express Deputy Chairman John Sharp told Executive Traveller in the lead-up to Rex's Sydney-Melbourne launch.

Read more: The (eventual) return of Rex Flyer

Summary: Rex Boeing 737 business class

You can use our experience to judge Rex's Boeing 737 business class for yourself, or – and this is not unrealistic, given the airline's very keen pricing – book a flight with Rex and make your own call.

If you're just doing a city-to-city trip such as Sydney-Melbourne, Sydney-Gold Coast or Melbourne-Adelaide, Rex's primary appeal will be price: but at the time of writing, Virgin Australia is matching Rex's Boeing 737 business class fares of $299 or $349.

Once Virgin launches its new business class catering (expected by the end of March) and potentially brings back free WiFi (which for now remains TBA), the combination of Virgin's better lounges and Velocity Frequent Flyer program may tilt the travelscape in its favour.

We get the feeling that the new battleground for Sydney-Melbourne business travellers is more likely to be Rex vs Virgin than Rex vs Qantas or indeed Rex vs Everybody Else.

However, Rex is still worth sampling and should be saluted for bringing a fresh dose of competition to the business class duopoly. 

The author travelled as a guest of Rex.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Nov 2019

Total posts 63

Looks fine to me thank you for reviewing, Im a self employed P1 who is swayed by the economical business fares , I dont need my ego rubbed.  Well done rex keep it up.

Rxm
Rxm

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 58

For the real budget conscious business traveller economy would be better bang for your buck. With P1 you still get business lounge access/food and priority boarding. And you will have even less ego rubbing. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Nov 2019

Total posts 63

Unfortunately at 194cm economy is not an option since Alan keeps adding rows of seats in economy. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2017

Total posts 24

Only a minor correction to the article, Rex Melbourne Lounge no longer accepts priority pass / Amex Platinum passengers. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Feb 2011

Total posts 11

The Priority Pass app shows that both Melbourne and Sydney are accepting the card at the Rex Lounge. I do accept that it also states that both lounges are temporarily closed

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2017

Total posts 24

What it means I would suggest is both lounges are closed to Priority Pass holders - as yesterday the lounge was definitely open but turning away Priority Pass.

I flew Rex business class yesterday, the guy at the Sydney lounge told me that Priority Pass access would recommence in the next week or so, seems there was just some  hiccup due to the Rex lounge being closed for the past year.

18 Jan 2017

Total posts 52

WiFi will be interesing as VH-PAG doesn't have a WiFi unit installed so there will be inconsitency when WiFi is offered until it's installed.

UA

30 Jun 2015

Total posts 26

As a VA Plat and UA 1K this looks like a good start ( and btw seriously exceeds most US domestic F class, including lounges).  

If one sets expectations per the price point ( or vs Jetstar) then its a solid offering. 

VA needs to get its game on.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 85

Not sure that "Virgin needs to get its game on", Virgin is already matching Rex prices and as the article agrees and any passenger would agree, Virgin has better lounges plus a real frequent flyer program, both of those are real advantages over Rex and good drawcards for business travellers. Once Virgin brings back decent inflight meals in its 'business class reboot' this month then it can probably even raise its fares a bit over Rex because it'll be clearly a better experience. I really hope Rex doesn't get squashed between Jetstar and Virgin.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 231

Yeah I'm a little surprised by this - what does virgin need to do exactly - they have a roadmap for new lounges, a new business offering coming, new value offerings which match that of Rex, a Frequent flyer program. What else is there?

So I flew Rex business class SYD-MEL yesterday, wanted to try the 'new' airline and had scooped up of of the $199 fares on sale last month. Everything pretty much as ET has reported here. No priority lane for business class passengers going through airport security, the lounge is really worth only a pit-stop while waiting for your flight to board so don't bother getting to the airport too early. No surprises in the business class seat, decent meal, great crew clearly thrilled to be flying again. At $199 Rex business class is insanely 'no-brainer' value, at $299 it's still excellent although Virgin as noted is matching that, but this really makes you question the value of $700+ one-way for Qantas when Rex and even Virgin are more than half the price. or to put it another way, I can fly Rex or Virgin SYD-MEL return for less than a Qantas SYD-MEL one-way flight!

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 238

Thanks for the review. At a price that is 50-75% cheaper than Qantas, this offering looks very compelling. Can do 4 trips for the price of 1. 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

As my nickname tell you, I'm a Qantas flyer, but bravo to Rex for competition, any competition is always welcome even when it's a very different model and offering, as is clearly the case here. I agree that this is going to end up a Rex vs Virgin fight.

18 Jan 2017

Total posts 52

I dont think this is a "Rex vs Virgin fight".  As others have said you can fly in business class much cheaper than Qantas.  So if the price of Rex / Virgin is 50-75% cheaper than Qantas then Qantas is part of this "fight".

NOTE: It would be interesting if an airline loyalist actually had their flights tracked and compared to other airfares.  The results would identify any premium paid / costs saved being a loyalist and if it was worthwhile.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 85

Yep, keep those prices at 50% of Qantas and Rex will win a lot of business class passengers, and not just 'business travellers' but a lot of regular people flying for leisure who will want to be in business class instead of economy if the price is right. That's a very different market to Qantas and one area Rex could really do well in.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 83

Flew Mel Syd yesterday. Paid the $299 before the $199 release (which annoyed me but c’est la vie). I found the experience great. They fuss over you at next level which if they keep up would be impressive.  The wine was a triple pour of the tiny mouthfuls at QF.  I found the food on par with QF and I really liked the recycled cardboard but fear none of it actually gets recycled. 

I’m a small biz owner and never fly j domestically but always internationally- at $199 I’d fly them every time, at $299, every now and then at $399, not. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 3

Flew in row 4 with my wife and my middle child today. These seats are the extra leg room economy seats Virgin sold. Very disappointed that the entire row in front of us board without mask, and sat through the entire flight without mask. This would not an issue, expect one person didn’t stop to sneeze and rub their nose. I asked the flight attendants on disembarking why no one said anything and they replied they didn’t notice. Sadly for this new service everybody around them did and were not happy. Sadly this overshadowed what would have been an excellent flight and service

15 Jan 2021

Total posts 8

There’s no virus in Australia mate, you need to relax. If you’d said anything to be, you wouldn’t be making this post, let’s just say that. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 3

There are no airplane crashing in Australia, so should we stop wearing seat belts? My point is rules are rules and was disappointing to see the lack of compliance, even if small. Same issue happened on my return flight

Oman Air - Sindbad

06 Mar 2021

Total posts 3

These prices are very competitive especially for frequent travellers on these routes. It is right, QF has a better service quality regarding lounges, catering etc. comparing to Rex. The question is what is important for you? Paying 299$ or 700$? It is simply about choices and what is matters to you when travelling business class. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2020

Total posts 5

When flying Rex's core business, half the time it is is more reliable and quicker to book a hire car (not my preference after a 12 hour day or a 6am start.

Unless Rex can quickly establish on time cred, then I can't fly their jets at any price (even if I would like to).  At Rex operational convenience trumps customer service and possibly even safety?

In their core regional business they are appalling  (that's what happens with monopolies). so thanks Qantas for miraculously staring new routes that include a number of Rex destinations.

13 Apr 2020

Total posts 9

Thanks for the review David. Were the wines served in glassware or plastic cups? Any pre departure beverages? Cheers. 

04 Dec 2013

Total posts 148

Let's hope they start using proper china and cutlery soon.  You can't have business class with disposable tableware.

rufus

no, no, no. Wooden cutlery etc. makes much more sense & is better for the environment.

Handling costs big dollars these days.


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