Sydney-Hong Kong business class: Cathay Pacific vs Qantas vs Virgin

By David Flynn, May 22 2018
Sydney-Hong Kong business class: Cathay Pacific vs Qantas vs Virgin

If you’re among the many business travellers who regularly jet between Sydney and Hong Kong, Virgin Australia is about to bring competition and choice to the Oriental route which has long been a two-horse race between Oneworld frenemies Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

Virgin wants to carve out its own slice of the Sydney-Hong Kong pie - but how do these three airlines compare for the HK-bound high flyer?

The schedule

Virgin Australia's daily flight VA83 will leave Sydney at 10am to reach Hong Kong at 5.40pm.

Qantas runs two flights, departing Sydney at 10.35am and 2.20pm, for arrival into Hong Kong at 6pm and 10pm respectively, while both Virgin and Qantas list an overnight return from Hong Kong.

Frequency of flights is where Cathay Pacific comes up trumps, with four daily Sydney-Hong Kong flights allowing business travellers to choose a flight to suit their schedule rather than that of the airline.

This is especially useful on the return leg from Hong Kong as some road warriors prefer to fly back to Australia during the day and reset the body clock with a good night’s sleep in their own bed.

The seat

The best of all three airlines are on display between Sydney and Hong Kong, and they boast the best traits of modern business class.

The seats are wide, comfortable and convert into a fully lie-flat bed, with ample personal space so you can spread out your work during the flight.

Choosing from this highly-rated selection makes the question of ‘which seat is best’ rather subjective, with one exception: Qantas' flight QF127 currently features a Boeing 747 fitted with last-generation Skybed II seats. That means a bothersome 2-2-2 or even 2-3-2 layout (depending on which business class cabin you’re in), a tendency to sag in 'bed mode' and very little space for keeping your kit close at hand.

The meals

The best inflight meals en route to Hong Kong also depends on one’s own taste – quite literally so -  but all else being equal, my personal vote is for Virgin Australia.

Resident chef Luke Mangan’s meals are absolutely restaurant-grade but not overly heavy or fussy, and consistently calibrated at the right portion size and flavours to enjoy above the clouds.

The lounges

Without its own international lounges, Virgin Australia relies on that of partners – it’s not yet known which lounge will be used in Sydney, although in Hong Kong Virgin shares the excellent Club Autus business class lounge of Hong Kong Airlines.

Qantas' Sydney business class lounge is frankly underwhelming for what should be a ‘flagship’ lounge, and the airline knows this – hence the extensive make-over due next year.

However, if you hold Platinum status with the Qantas Frequent Flyer program you’ll have entry to the superb Sydney first class lounge.

At the other end of the journey, Qantas’ Hong Kong lounge holds the crown in its international business class network.

Cathay Pacific’s business class flyers have access to these same Qantas lounges – including the Sydney first class lounge, should they hold Qantas Platinum or Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Diamond status – by dint of Cathay's membership in the Oneworld airline alliance.

But Cathay boasts its own collection of five lounges at Hong Kong, and of those I'd rate The Pier first class and business class lounges as among the world’s best.

(Qantas business class passengers and Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can also use the Cathay Pacific lounges, as both airlines belong to Oneworld.)

There's also the Cathay Pacific Arrivals lounge at Hong Kong airport where you can freshen up with a shower, grab breakfast and get on top of you inbox before heading to your hotel or first meeting.

I find this very handy when I’m on CX138 from Sydney, which sometimes lands before the airport express train to the city begins running at 5am.

Which airline gets your vote for the best business class experience on the Sydney-Hong Kong route?


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.

06 Dec 2017

Total posts 110

BASED on advice from my own family BASED IN HONG KONG go cathay pacific which is what they do.But me I PREFER virgin,people need to give the new fellas a chance on a sector that with the exception of the decade VIRGIN ATLANTIC USE TO DO IT ON THE WAY TO AND FROM LONDON EX SYDNEY has been since the end of Ansett in 2001 long been a CX/QF dominated market.

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 177

Easy on the CAPS there, Puppy :>

23 May 2017

Total posts 10

+1 Luke mangan menu on Virgin. As good as you'll get in the sky.

04 May 2018

Total posts 30

Yes better than QF

27 Aug 2015

Total posts 26

Flew business dxb-hkg-syd with CX at Easter. The hkg lounge was awesome, but the crew service and meals on the flight were very average.

Just returned from LA with VA last sat. If the business hard product, meals and crew are similar to that flight, for me, it'll be VA all the way!

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 233

Have flown Mel - HKG with Virgin in J the business class seat and crew service is fantastic.

02 Nov 2017

Total posts 34

All things considered, it sounds like we have ourselves some pretty even competition here, which is great to hear.

02 Jun 2013

Total posts 55

Having flown all 3 airlines on the HKG route, VA wins for me for inflight dining, service and the seat (everything inflight).

As for lounges, I wasn't sold on Club Autus in HKG... The QF and CX lounges in HKG are far superior in my opinion.

It will be interesting which lounge VA uses in SYD. Given it's likely to be either the SQ or EY facility (going by what they do for other international services), they will likely have the edge over the QF J lounge (currently), but obviously don't compare to the QF F lounge.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 440

I've flown all 3 on MEL-HKG too and while all 3 are excellent, I thought VA was the best.

20 Jun 2014

Total posts 59

Great summary. I travel CX because the schedule is the most important thing. Everything else is the tail wagging the dog. A couple of nit picks:
(1) Daytime flights from HKG to SYD don't generally get you home in time to spend the evening with your family - at best on CX139 you arrive home at 9:30pm so the kids are asleep. Generally I avoid these flights as I find I can't sleep when I get home because I'm still on HK time.

(2) CX138 often arrives well before The Arrival Lounge opens. I caught this flight occasionally when I lived in HK, because I could just get a taxi home. But it is a ridiculous time for visitors to HK to arrive, there is nowhere to go.

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 177

Like you and David I've caught CX138 and HKG is like a ghost town when it arrives so early, in our summer it's regularly well ahead of the Airport Express and so you really have no choice but to check into the Arrivals lounge. Should also note that this lounge is available to Qantas Platinums even if they are not in business class.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

CX138’s been decent of late, averaging 5am arrival and even when it’s a bit before 5am by the time you get through into the public area of the terminal it’s close enough to 5am to make no never-mind... but yes, I’ve been on several CX138s which arrive well before 4.30am!

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 177

As far as I am concerned it's always "Bring on the competition", Virgin has a great business class and agree that Luke Mangan's meals are better than the dated Qantas Neil Perry approach and the very tired CX dishes. Doersn't have the lounge advantages and choice of a OneWorld airline like QF or CX but most business travellers only need one decent lounge anyway.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Apr 2012

Total posts 57

It is about the network as well & VA do not have that in Asia like CX / QF. I can leave regional or capital cities in Aus & continue on to any Asian city or beyond to US or Europe etc thanks to the network.

VA's times are & have been 'random' ex MEL & while the Sydney slots are better, & if you are in BNE etc you need a transit to SYD or MEL. If I need to be in HK I can grab the CX A350 arriving into HK at 0730 !

Loyal to QF but CX is very useful with schedules & is such a great partner out of HKG, with lounges worldwide that can be used if flying either QF or CX.

Happy for the competition with yields lowered for cheaper fares ! :)

05 May 2016

Total posts 619

Personally I'd go with QF but because I'm chasing lifetime status and with status I have a better chance of a successful upgrade request than most. If I reach Lifetime Gold and QF hasn't created a LifeTime Platinum to aim for I'd be more open to trying other options.

It will be interesting to see what QF replaces the 747 with on this route as they will be gone by the end of 2020.

Another A330 would be a cut to capacity at a slot constrained airport. A 787 would cut the capacity not by as much but QF doesn't currently have any 787 based in SYD. The A380 would be an increase to capacity.

23 Mar 2018

Total posts 21

Qantas had life platinum for a short time a fewcyears ago. 28000 sc were needed.


02 Nov 2012

Total posts 48

Really? Could you please post a link to the info.

27 Sep 2011

Total posts 37

Fake news. Qantas has never had lifetime platinum.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 148

Are we really calling this route "Oriental'?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2555

We’re using that term once as a descriptive for the sake of a little variety and colour in language, so let’s keep discussion on the topic of the article.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 462

It is a route to an a region traditionally described as "the orient", so "oriental" is appropriate and accurate, if a little old-fashioned.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 388

David, this was a terrific review because you pointed out some shortcomings of various offerings. As with many review sites, this one's at its best when it doesn't look like an 'advertorial' or is full of platitudes.

If business (and leisure) travellers behave rationally, they'll patronise VA to encourage competition.

It's great to see three mainline carries slugging it out on both the MEL and SYD routes to this major business centre and gateway to southern mainland China.


13 Sep 2013

Total posts 115

I did the HKG-MEL flight in J recently and it was faultless!

Definitely true about the Luke Mangan meals. The Peking duck was so light and tasty. Great for a small dinner before bed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 May 2018

Total posts 67

Have gone QF return ex Brisbane- good experience, service and food - with a very welcoming lounge in HK (possibly as it was my birthday).

CX to Brisbane.. a bit average (not as good as the LHR to HK leg).. made worse by a screaming kid in the middle of business class, with both parents/staff being ineffective in controlling it.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 388

It'll be interesting if the increased nonstop competition encourages growth in passenger journeys, although this can be hard to isolate from other factors like economic strengths or weaknesses.

If the ending of a duopoly follows classical economic theory, fares will drop (though unrelated factors like fuel surcharge imposition may partly or totally negate that.)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 219

If departing from Sydney I use CX on the overnight flight.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Nov 2017

Total posts 2

With a CX 3 hour stopover in Hong Kong, keen to know which of the 4 business lounges would be best: The Pier; The Deck; The Bridge or the Wing?

British Airways - Executive Club

28 Mar 2014

Total posts 70

Depends where your gate is. Pier and Wing are both excellent. Try the QF lounge if you fancy a bit of friendly banter with your drink :-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 413

I was recently transferred to the QF 747 service from HKG to SYD (always in business) because the later A330 flight had been cancelled. I didn't eat dinner on the plane but elected for breakfast, or so-called breakfast - they called it Café Breakfast. To be absolutely blunt it was disgusting. The quality and standard was hideous and you were essentially allowed one item - (very) small fruit salad or something akin to a slice of brioche with dried up egg that was literally stone cold or a Danish.

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

23 May 2018

Total posts 5

The days of fying Qantas are long gone as CX trumps them every time. Hopefully bringing Virgin to the competition will bring the prices down . This is a route we all get ripped off on and when you pay your own fares this will ultimately be the deciding factor !

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

11 Jan 2018

Total posts 1

I flew business CX hk to syd 2 weeks ago and the service and meals on board was excellent. The lounges - particularly the Pier is prob best lounge I’ve been to.

So hands down CX for me over the others.

12 Aug 2017

Total posts 75

I'd go for night flights so I have more time in Hong Kong. Nice distance to be able to eat and sleep.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 May 2018

Total posts 8

CX or QF for me because of the Oneworld alliance. Big fan of CX178 from Melbourne which arrives into HKG at around 7:00AM and CX134 that arrives at around 3:00PM.


30 Jul 2015

Total posts 108

VA is always bashed on here by the QF PAID and unpaid crowd. I have never heard a bad thing about VA J class from anyone here in LA, so I suspect VA will do well.

06 Dec 2017

Total posts 110

VA for me.It is time another Australian operator since the Ansett days(1994-2001)gave this route a fair go.if we exclude Virgin Atlantic for a minute from 2004-2014 for a minute it's been a QF or CX monopoly like we had from 1974-1994 and again from 2001 onwards.

21 Aug 2015

Total posts 86

And QF still fly the aged 747's into HK. Very tired and noisy and last time I was stuck on the flight the crew was the worst crew I have ever encountered in the sky!....They did not want to be there. Catering is woeful, and seats are awful.


18 Aug 2017

Total posts 39

Why does people say this is a duopoly before VA comes in when China Eastern flies to Hong Kong and Southern to Guangzhou and then on to Europe, are these airlines not worth travelling on?


07 Jan 2011

Total posts 53

You have no idea what you're talking about.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 388

sid, neither do we poor readers!

08 Mar 2013

Total posts 28

Agree with the comments here, its been long overdue. At the end of the day, we (as the Australian public) need a competitive 2nd carrier to keep Qantas honest. Hope the next person does this.

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