Why I switched from Qantas to Virgin Australia

By Shaun Ewing, March 25 2014

OPINION | I’ve been a loyal Qantas traveller since my first flight with them shortly after the first grounding of Ansett in 2001.

With the exception of a return Sydney-Melbourne trip on what was then Virgin Blue in 2003, I flew Qantas exclusively for ten years.

But towards the end of 2011, the newly-rebranded Virgin Australia did something that got my attention – the airline, eager to challenge Qantas, offered to match to my Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum status with the equivalent status its Velocity rewards scheme.

This meant I could 'sample' Virgin Australia by taking a few flights and still have the benefits of top-tier status such lounge access.

The following year Virgin launched its new domestic business class and commenced a refresh of their domestic fleet.

While Virgin's business class was excellent it wasn't yet available across the entire fleet, so for some time an unexpected change of aircraft could mean you might miss out on the new seats.

Today that's no longer the case.

Virgin Australia's entire domestic fleet has been reconfigured and no matter which aircraft you fly –  a Boeing 737, Embraer E190 or Airbus A330 on the cross-country 'Coast to Coast' service – its business class is excellent.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of my recent experiences with both Virgin Australia and Qantas, flying domestic business class, and why Virgin has won me over.

The seat

Virgin Australia has completely refreshed its domestic business class, and regardless of which plane you're on you pretty much know what you are going to get.

While there are differences between the first two Airbus A330s and the later models, most A330s and all Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 seats are excellent.

Qantas on the other hand has more types of business class seat than I can count.

While I love the new Recaro seats on the latest Boeing 737-800 aircraft with the modern 'Boeing Sky Interior', the seating on the older Boeing 737-800s and 767-300s is really starting to show its age.

And 'business class' on Qantas' Airbus A330 Sydney-Perth flights? it's not in the same league as Virgin Australia.

The service

My experiences with Virgin Australia have been consistently excellent with friendly and attentive cabin crew, with highly personal service and first-rate meals served individually from the galley.

I usually enjoy wine on afternoon and evening flights and I don’t think my glass has ever been empty unless we’re about to land.

On the other hand, cuts across the board at Qantas have not gone unnoticed.

Those small but welcome touches like hot towels and newspapers seem to have been removed, and there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the inflight catering.

It also seems that Qantas staff tend to have a habit of disappearing after the meal service, and the crew on my most recent Qantas flight didn't even perform a final cabin check, resulting in glassware being left behind in the cabin for landing.

The lounges

This will be a contentious point as many people have different requirements from a lounge.

There's no argument that Qantas has the edge. The domestic Qantas Business lounges are well ahead of Virgin Australia's lounges for meals, with a variety of hot dishes plus 'island dining' in the mornings and evenings.

But I don't ask for much from a domestic airport lounge.

All I really want is a quiet comfortable place to sit and have a juice or coffee in the morning, and a glass of wine in the evening. 

I’m not usually after a meal in a domestic lounge – a quick light snack is enough.

So on my modest criteria, the Virgin Australia lounges are good enough.

The premium entry at Virgin's Sydney lounge is marvellous – I love that I can be dropped off at the door and be sitting in the lounge one minute later.

Sometimes I'll finish my day ahead of schedule and head to the airport earlier than planned.

When I enter the Virgin lounge the staff have always offered to move me to an earlier flight if one is available, whereas I’ve found that the Qantas staff do't always extend that offer.

The ball is in Qantas' court...

For Qantas to get me back will require a refreshed and consistent business class cabin and some customer service training for their crew.

Unfortunately I can’t see the refreshed cabin happening any time soon, apart from the upgrade to the new Airbus A330 Business Suite, which won't even begin until late this year and  won't be completed until mid-2016.

The battle for my business class travel was always one for Qantas to lose. Now it's up to Qantas to win it back again.

What's your experience on Qantas and Virgin Australia domestic business class, and which one wins your business?

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swewing

A 'cloud computing' engineer by day and an aficionado of good food and wine on a 24x7 basis, Shaun's travel habits earned him the nickname "Mr Business Class" from his colleagues. Of course, they're all just jealous.

Virgin Australia - Gold Velocity Rewards

26 Feb 2013

Total posts 2

I'm in the same camp, I was with Qantas but made the switch in 2012. It's refreshing being an airline customer who is made to feel wanted, rather than expected to fly just because its the national carrier. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 335

Can I do an opinion article on "Why Virgin Australia will never get any of my business"? I have mentioned it many times on here but to say their product offering is inconsistent would be an absolute understatement

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Sure, there's nothing stopping you from emailing it to David or posting it as a Q&A post. I myself have started a thread whinging about breakfasts, after all.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2341

Hi aklrunway - definitely do share something in the Q&A section!

GG
GG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Feb 2013

Total posts 13

Qantas have raised the doubt - inviting us to put our toe in other waters.  A mathematician like Joyce cannot match a marketing man such as Dixon, when brand loyalty is at stake

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Aug 2012

Total posts 24

I appreciate many of the points that you've raised, though given this is an opinion piece I would like to express my own thoughts. I think Virgin service is poor in terms of network, frequency, on time performance and HVC recognition. 

Their "virtual network" is a complete flop. I've been denied access to Delta lounges in major DL hubs because my velocity platinum card doesnt have Virgin Australia written anywhere on it. Not Virgin's fault, but OW Emerald doesn't give me this problem. And earning around 340 points for a flight from SYD-SIN on SQ economy fares doesn't scream "contender" for my international travel dollar. 

I'm 23 years old, and many Virgin crew are around my age. I've found the service to be decidedly subpar and aloof from the majority of these crew members. Experience counts. 

On triangle flights I tend to spend more time in the airport than in the air. Virgin's lounges might be better than your average SkyClub but they don't hold a candle to Qantas. 

This is just my opinion. And for the record I'm platinum with both VA and QF. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2012

Total posts 582

Shaun, I agree with most of what you've said here.

However, as my flying patterns mostly consist of international sectors, QFF is my Australian based FFP of choice. Velocity just doesn't offer the same level of consistency across carriers that my oneworld benefits offer through QFF. Qantas is well ahead of Virgin Australia in it's own international offerings on it's own metal.

If my flying was primarily domestic, then I believe I'd be flying Virgin Australia a lot more even though I'd miss the perks of the Qantas domestic business lounges.

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

I'm in pretty much the same boat as Shaun, I switched from Qantas to Virgin Australia after Virgin got 'serious' about business travel and took advantage of their status match promotion on my Qantas Platinum card, so I could try them out with full Velocity Platinum privileges. Once the new business class was rolled out across most of the fleet I was pretty happy and definitely wanted to show my support of the new 'challenger' although its cheaper fares didn't hurt.

But I differ with Shaun on the lounges, this is where Virgin needs to really work harder. Okay I obviously have different needs when it comes to a lounge, due to my timetable and flight timings I am there to eat, I want a decent breakfast at the lounge so I can 'hit the ground running' on arrival and a decent dinner at the lounge because I head out of the city in late afternoon but don't get home until late at night.

Qantas of course has the advantage that it has two types of lounges, the Qantas Club and Qantas Business lounge. Virgin has only one lounge so this should be positioned in the middle. I don't expect it to be anywhere near as good as the Qantas Business Lounge but these days especially since Accor took over the Qantas Club is a lot better than it used to be and better than even the Virgin lounges.

So for me this is the big area where Virgin needs to make the most improvement to keep me a happy flyer!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Mar 2013

Total posts 66

Lets not loose sight of reality over a little subjectivity, Virgin lags well behind in most regional centres as far as lounge offerings go (great article recently on alternatives which could be implemented by Virgin immediately if they were serious) and I wouldn't exactly say that their "bright and youthful" staff are always cheerful or attentive. I still think Qantas has it all over Virgin as far as the business product goes, sure the competition might eventually help them to smarten themselves up but seriously that blue perspex doesn't do much for me neither does the chord across the aisle. I don't need the prima donna recognition as long as the product meets my expectations.

Now just imagine John Borghetti running Qantas instead of Virgin...OMG!!

Qantas Board - Epic FAIL! 

You are the weakest link. Goodbye.

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 544

Let's vote: take QF leave Alan Joyce, or take Alan Joyce leave QF? I lean towards the former.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Apr 2013

Total posts 11

I've flown TAA all my childhood life when in the lounge they only had a bar fridge with airline tray food and mini cans. I flew on one of the last couple of Ansett flights before Air New Zealand sank them. In April I'm going to try Virgin as a deflated Gold member free of charge. It will be an interesting experience comparing QF Platinum to the Virgin experience. They might keep me, they might not? 

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 279

I flew TAA and later Australian as a kid where from memory on a couple of flights They gave us kids free sandwiches to take from the plane and it was great.Had the same experience on Ansett back in 1989 going to Melbourne where as part of a school trip due to them not able to put me on the Overland Train(I am from Adelaide)they offered me a free lunch and a kids pack to take with me from the plane.Far better than the horror stories of what my fellow classmates and the accompanying teachers had to go through.I love the Virgin Experience and although the cabin attendants are all young and happy That's what people want I certainly will not fly domestically on a carrier that has flight attendants older than my workplace boss who turns 35 later this year.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 279

I am a convert too having first started flying them going back to the Virgin Blue days in 2007 as part of my cruises and more recently than that going to Tasmania just after the name change took place and love it.Qantas is more of a last resort for me these days unless someone else is paying for my flights.The only things I do miss now are the standard inflight entertainment and the ability to order a special meal on most domestic flights other than that I wouldn't go back to those stuck up's ON THE FLYING KANGAROO.It's a shame though that the ANZ bank is affliated with the wrong airline to earn points/miles on.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Apr 2013

Total posts 47

I cannot believe that Virgin are ordering new 738's with out IFE. Until Virgin fix up their meals, bags and entertainment I will fly Qantas any day. 

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 544

I'd take service over entertainment any day.

08 May 2013

Total posts 18

Ummm... All Virgin Australia new 737's are fitted with WiFi streaming entertainment which is free on equipped aircraft

QF - Red

23 Nov 2012

Total posts 32

Very cute but darned useless for those on the run without powerpoints or USB slots for charging...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Mar 2013

Total posts 66

Note free on equipped aircraft, didnt work when I flew them last due to a technical difficulty which took over 1 hour to announce. Lucky I had my own device. Also the older 73's dont look great with the old Pay per view sets in the rear of the seats in Y a bit tardy inconsistent and tired.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Mar 2014

Total posts 205

I guess it all depends on location I do a lot of ADL to DWN runs and I can't change to Virgin unless I want an 8 hour trip. Its pity as Virgin looks to be getting good reviews.

I don't do as many international trips as I used but the One World First Class Lounges compared to Star Alliance are ahead in my books.

All in all getting there safely, on time and the quickest route is top of my list.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 32

Sure QF has a lot to make up for, they just don't get loyalty.  But really, if you ever fly overseas, QF lounges are unbeatable but Virgin, especially if you are platinum has no match.

Besides, despite most QF FA's increasing age, I'd rather have one of them handling an emergency than one of the perky bubbly blondes on VA, I just don't trust them and let's face it, FA's ARE there for outer safety, the rest is just a bonus!

VA

17 Dec 2013

Total posts 51

Did OOL - MEL on VA last night.

New VA lounge in OOL was immaculate with a vey helpful lady on the desk at the door. Someone else wandered around handing out party pies.

Flight was full but boarded first and chatted to FA Stephen while waiting for the others to board. He was terrific despite the trials of doing the OOL run all day with that particular OOL crowd.

I fly VA a lot and I like their consistent product offering and I find the FAs generally very good. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Apr 2013

Total posts 11

Going to Try Virgin on Tuesday for the first time in many many years, just took 19 minutes to book the flight from Syd-Goldie   Bris- Syd on the same day. QF takes about 3 -4 minutes to book those flights so it's a good start to the experience.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Since 1 Apr 2003 (over the last year) I've flown 19 Domestic Business flights with Qantas, and 37 Domestic Business flights with Virgin Australia, and I'm Platinum in both Frequent Flyer schemes.

Fair to say I have had reasonable exposure to both, and can make an informed comparison between the two.

I find some of the jibes about VA Business cabin crew here completely unfounded - when comparing service in J cabin across QF/VA flights, FAs are generally better at service than their QF counterparts. Gross generalisations about a link between service and the age of FAs seems not only fatuous (the two are hardly hand-in-hand), but untruthful given I've yet to meet a FA teenager in a VA J cabin (I think some are making fanciful illusions here). Most Domestic J FAs I've encountered this previous year on QF/VA seem to hover around their 30s, with their respective ages having little to do with their customer service performance.

In the Business Cabin, I've found the food and beverage better on VA. Utterly sick of QF Cheese Box or Soup choice often lumbered with on Qantas Domestic Business flights - especially when those behind me in Economy often get better than that (that's just illogical).

I'm not blown away by the Qantas Domestic Business Lounge either - it's better than the Qantas Club, sure, but it's far from being all that much better a VA lounge (and I'll take VA's premium entry and premium security perks in preference). Now, if you could order bistro style meals (like in the QF First lounge) in the Qantas Domestic Business lounge, I'd change my mind but until then VA seems better.

All in all, VA just tries harder to keep you flying J domestically with them. Given similar J domestic fares on QF/VA, I'll take VA most times (even at the expense of bumping my QFF LTG count). 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Mar 2013

Total posts 66

Gippsflyer 50 % more J flights in VA gives you credibility with regard to commenting on VA J not comparing QF and VA as its a 2 to 1 ratio fly the same ratio on both then write a review. I dont know who you've been flying but the cheese box isn't a J menu item on QF. Never let a little subjectivity cloud the conversation.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

About 20 QF Domestic Business flights doesn't represent a decent sample? Get your hand off it dazzaredroo.

If you don't think a Cheesebox isn't regularly served up as a "meal" on QF Domestic Business flights, it's you that hasn't flown Qantas regularly.

I've just removed a handful of inappropriate comments on this piece.

While users are always welcome to comment on our articles, please keep discussions to the main topic and to sub-points being discussed, rather than taking aim at the particular user who is making those points.

Personal attacks on other users and comments designed to side-step word filters will not be tolerated here.

:)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

A welcome return to commonsense - this article was always about why one frequent traveller (Shaun Ewing) switched to choosing Virgin Australia Business, and the reasons why. These Opinion articles provide a personal take on the Australian domestic business duopoly, and I found it an interesting addition to AusBT's reporting fare. Well done AusBT.

11 Apr 2014

Total posts 1

Also, unlike Qantas, priority baggage is treated as just that, always first off the plane. That means a lot.

14 Feb 2012

Total posts 37

I fly home to Perth from Sydney 2 to 3 times a year, up until 2 years ago I would always fly Qantas in business.  At the height of the Qantas arrogance when it came to charging, I was paying $1,800 each way.  Then Virgin came along with $959 business each way so I decided to try them.  The difference between the Qantas767 / A330 "Business Class" seats and the Virgin Australia A330 business seats couldn't be more stark.  To me flying Qantas was more like Premium Economy, that's when Qantas lost me domestically.  Even now the Qantas business airfare is about $400 more each way than Virgin, it's a joke.  Qantas needs a huge product upgrade to compete on the transcontinental flights.

As for Frequent Flyer programs I couldn't care less, I always fly business or first so frequent flyer member level access lounges is of little consequence. Trying to use points is near impossible. 

Qantas

13 Dec 2012

Total posts 20

Shaun, interesting read and my experience mirrors yours. My brother switched to Virgin when Qantas stopped flying to the Gold Coast. What a slap in the face that was for business flyers! Use Jetstar, yeah right! He was a Qantas devotee, but that switched him across for good.

Eventually he convinced me to try eventually, so I too switched to VA from Qantas. Since I fly Melbourne to Perth pretty regularly I'm stoked with VA business class. Happy with the food, the aircraft, the seat, the staff, the safety. 

I'm mainly a domestic flyer, and apart from the Perth flight, I find it difficult to seperate the service on either. They're pretty much the same as far as I'm concerned. But I don't care so much about IFE, FA age etc. For the Melbourne to Sydney busrides I really don't sit in the seat long enough for it to matter.

And lastly, the national carrier debate is absolute rubbish! What's left of Qantas is TAA - a commercial domestic airline. Not a national carrier IMHO.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Apr 2014

Total posts 3

"And lastly, the national carrier debate is absolute rubbish! What's left of Qantas is TAA - a commercial domestic airline. Not a national carrier IMHO."

'Try Another Airline' it was called by those of us old enough to remember. Like many, I'm top tier in both currently ( although nothing lasts forever you young X 'n' Y flyers) , and all air travel is crap if you do enough of it.  I don't feel I ever get treated any better for being Pt by either mob.

Virgin tries harder, and it has taken 2 years for them to understand business class. The lounges are... 'interesting' . The Valet is Brisbane is a laughing stock, many people in the lounge treat it as if it were their lounge at home.. and yet....

Consistency always is an issue. If you want to feel better about it, fly American when in the US next.

If you have enough time to comment on this forum, and you fly enough to comment in an informed way ...well that speaks for itself... er..me included.

We could be at home doing something useful, rather than eating third rate food , second rate grog and getting dry airways hurtling toward another meeting.

Not really in the spirit is it. Sorry.


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