Combining an American Express card and a Mastercard on the one account, Commonwealth Bank's Platinum Awards credit cards give you the option of earning points with Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Australia Velocity, but how many points you'll earn can vary wildly depending on where you spend, which card you use, and indeed, which airline program you prefer.
Following CBA's extensive credit card revamp in 2017, using the Mastercard actually earns you more points on many purchases than whipping out the AMEX: and as the Mastercard isn't a particularly high-earning card to begin with, there aren't many reasons to consider this card over the many more competitive cards from other banks.
Australian Business Traveller puts CommBank’s Platinum Awards credit cards to the test.
Commonwealth Bank Platinum Awards credit cards: fast facts
- Grade/tier: Platinum
- Card type: American Express + Mastercard
- Loyalty program: Qantas Frequent Flyer Direct or Commonwealth Awards
- Qantas Points earned per A$1 spent (AMEX): 1.0 on all overseas spend and at supermarkets, department stores and petrol stations in Australia, but only 0.2/$1 everywhere else
- Qantas Points earned per A$1 spent (Mastercard): 0.4 on all spend
- Or, CBA Awards points earned per A$1 spent (AMEX): 2.5 on overseas, supermarket, department store and petrol station transactions, and 0.5 everywhere else
- CBA Awards points earned per A$1 spent (Mastercard): 1.0 on all purchases
- Converting CBA points to Velocity (2:1), that's: 0.25 Velocity points per $1 spent on most AMEX purchases, 0.5 points per $1 spent via Mastercard and 1.25 Velocity points per dollar spent on AMEX in those selected higher-earning categories
- Points capping and restrictions: Earn up to 120,000 Qantas Points per year via QFF Direct, or 150,000 CBA Awards points, equal to 75,000 Velocity points. No points are earned on ATO payments made using either card.
CBA Platinum Awards: fees, charges and interest
- Base annual fee: $249
- Additional annual fee if earning Qantas Points: $30
- Additional/supplementary cardholder fee: $10/year
- Interest rate on purchases: 20.24% p.a.
- Interest-free days on purchases: Up to 55
- Interest rate on cash advances: 21.24% p.a.
- International transaction fee: 3.0% Mastercard, 0% AMEX
- Minimum income requirement: No defined minimum
- Minimum credit limit: $6,000
Earning points for free flights: 0.5/5
We'll be frank: for a Platinum-grade credit card to provide just 0.2 Qantas Points or 0.25 Velocity points per dollar spent on most everyday charges is nothing short of pathetic, which finds CBA's credit cards some of the least competitive in Australia for earning points, and with some of the highest fees.
To compare, you'd need to pay CommBank $289/year to earn Qantas Points with an additional cardholder on the account: yet for no annual fee at all (and no additional cardholder fee), you could actually be earning five times as many points via the Qantas American Express Discovery Card, or eight times as many points via AMEX's higher-level Qantas AMEX Ultimate Card – which attracts a $450 annual fee but is offset by a yearly $450 travel voucher.
For Velocity points, the competing American Express Velocity Escape Card dishes up one Velocity point per dollar spent at no annual charge, or for $375/year (including a free return flight, Virgin Australia lounge access and AMEX lounge access), the American Express Velocity Platinum Card offers 1.5 Velocity points per dollar spent, uncapped.
On specific shopping categories such as supermarkets and petrol stations – where CBA provides 1.0-1.25 frequent flyer points per dollar spent – the $195/year American Express Platinum Edge Card instead churns out 2-3 frequent flyer points on the same spend, at a significantly lower cost than the CBA Platinum duo.
For everything else, there's the Mastercard: but with an earn rate of only 0.4 Qantas Points or 0.5 Velocity points per dollar spent, it's not an incentive to apply for CBA's combo either, as there are many higher-earning cards in the market for regular ‘non-AMEX’ spend, including the ANZ Frequent Flyer Black Visa, ANZ Rewards Black Visa and HSBC Platinum Qantas Visa cards: each delivering up to one frequent flyer point per dollar spent.
There's only one aspect for which CBA's product stands out, and that's the absence of an international transaction fee when using its AMEX abroad, paired with a more reasonable earning rate of 1.0-1.25 frequent flyer points per dollar spent on those purchases: but when you need to pull out your Mastercard overseas, a 3% fee applies: so you'll be paying more to earn fewer points.
Airport lounge access: 0/5
Airport lounge access is not available via this card.
International travel insurance: 3/5
CBA's Platinum Awards cards offer full international travel insurance, but with one critical catch: most of the protections are only unlocked if you remember to manually activate the insurance prior to each and every trip.
Unlike most other Australian Platinum-grade cards, this cover isn’t automatically activated when purchasing your airfares or pre-paying hotel accommodation using your card: if you don’t tell the bank where you’re travelling and when, you’ll only get overseas medical and personal liability insurance, rather than the full suite of insurance for things like travel delays, lost luggage or travel provider insolvency:
If you only remember to activate that cover after your journey begins, a three-day waiting period applies before the added perks kick in – during which time you're barely covered.
However, this opt-in style of travel insurance could be useful for business travellers jetting off on client- or company-funded tickets, or when travelling abroad on bookings made using frequent flyer points: provided the activation process is completed before each trip, of course.
Commonwealth Bank Platinum Awards credit cards: the verdict
As far as CBA Platinum goes, we can only see two reasons that new customers would apply: to earn points on overseas American Express payments without paying international transaction fees, and to save money on international travel insurance – but with an annual cost of $249-289, you'd need to be jetting off rather frequently to 'break even' on those numbers, let alone come out ahead.
Assuming you're paying the full $289 in yearly fees and charges, you'd need to be spending at least A$9,633 on international American Express transactions to begin 'saving' any money, compared to using a points-earning card that may already be in your wallet and paying a typical 3% international transaction fee.
But for most Aussie spenders, a standard earning rate of only 0.2 Qantas Points or 0.25 Velocity points per dollar spent isn’t reason enough to jump ship to CBA – and if this card is already part of your points-earning strategy, your best move may well be to cancel it and replace it with something better!
Getting the new financial year off to a rewarding start, this month's top Qantas Frequent Flyer credit card sign-up deals place over 1.1 million Qantas Points on the table, with a single card application pocketing six figures worth of bonus points.
Of course, that's only the beginning – continue to spend on a points-earning credit card and that next free flight or upgrade to business class gets even closer, as you're rewarded twice: both at the beginning, and when you keep spending on your card.
Here are July 2018's top Qantas Frequent Flyer credit card sign-up deals, covering offers from American Express, ANZ, Bank of Melbourne, BankSA, Citibank, NAB, Qantas Money, St. George and Westpac.
1. Westpac Altitude Black cards, American Express Platinum Business Card
Topping the charts this month, the Westpac Altitude Black American Express + World Mastercard credit card combo and the American Express Platinum Business Card, with up to 120,000 bonus Qantas Points on the table.
Westpac splits that offer into two chunks, beginning with 80,000 bonus Qantas Points when you apply by October 23 2018 and spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within 90 days of card approval using the Altitude Black Mastercard (issued and serviced by Westpac).
That's joined by 40,000 bonus Qantas Points when spending a separate $3,000 on eligible purchases within the same 90-day period using the American Express Westpac Altitude Black Card (issued and serviced by American Express), on which you can also earn 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 spent on most everyday purchases in Australia.
Business owners with the American Express Platinum Business Card could instead net 120,000 bonus points in the Membership Rewards Ascent Premium scheme when applying by August 29 2018 and spending at least $5,000 on purchases in the first two months, with those points converting into Qantas Points at a 1:1 rate.
The card carries a $1,500 annual fee, but up to 99 additional cardholders can be attached to the account at no extra cost, with your business also earning up to two frequent flyer points per dollar spent on many everyday expenses like travel, business lunches, advertising and computer equipment purchases.
2. NAB Qantas Business Signature Visa
Next in line but still with six figures of bonus points, the NAB Qantas Business Signature Visa credit card, with an even 100,000 Qantas Points.
Traders need to apply by October 7 2018 and spend $5,000 on everyday business purchases within 60 days of account opening to pocket their bonus points, with a $295 annual fee also payable.
3. St. George Amplify Signature Visa, NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
Offering 90,000 bonus Qantas Points this month: the $279/year St. George Amplify Signature Visa, and the personal, $395/year NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card.
With St. George, you'd need to apply by September 26 2018, select 'Amplify Qantas' as your loyalty option, spend $4,000 on purchases within 90 days of card approval and pay a $279 annual fee, while also earning 0.75 Qantas Points per $1 spent on everyday purchases, plus a 10% 'birthday bonus' awarded in the month of your special day, taking that to 0.825 Qantas Points per $1 spent.
NAB's offer instead requires new cardholders to spend $4,000 on everyday purchases within 60 days of account opening, with an annual fee of $395 and an earn rate of one Qantas Point per $1 spent up to $5,000 per month, and 0.5/$1 on monthly spends of $5,001-$20,000.
4. American Express Platinum Charge Card, Qantas Premier Platinum credit card
Tempting with offers of 80,000 Qantas Points: the iconic American Express Platinum Charge Card, and Qantas Money’s Premier Platinum credit card.
AMEX provides 80,000 bonus Membership Rewards Ascent Premium points (convertible into 80,000 Qantas Points) to eligible new customers who apply, spend $3,000 on the card within the first three months and pay a $1,200 annual fee. Cardholders can also earn up to three points per dollar spent (such as at most AMEX-accepting Australian restaurants).
Qantas Money instead splits your 80,000 bonus points into two chunks, when you apply by August 31 2018 and pay a $299 annual fee, with 40,000 bonus points awarded to new customers who spend $3,500 on the card in the first month, followed by an additional 40,000 bonus points in the second month after spending the same amount again.
5. ANZ Frequent Flyer Black Visa, Westpac Altitude Platinum
Apply for ANZ and you could earn that bonus – plus $200 back on your statement (reducing the $425 annual fee to $225 in the first year) – after your first eligible purchase within the first three months, along with one Qantas Point per $1 spent up to $7,500 per monthly statement period (0.5/$1 thereafter).
Over at Westpac, its Platinum-grade deal mirrors the Altitude Black combo by splitting your bonus points into two chunks: firstly, with 60,000 bonus points for new customers who apply for the Altitude Platinum card combo by October 23 2018 and spend $3,000 on eligible purchases within 90 days of card approval using the Altitude Platinum Visa (issued and serviced by Westpac).
Separately, you could also earn 15,000 bonus Qantas Points after spending $3,000 on eligible purchases within 90 days of card approval using the using the AMEX Westpac Altitude Platinum Card (issued and serviced by American Express), for a grand total of up to 75,000 bonus Qantas Points.
There's a $50/year Qantas Rewards Fee you'll need to pay as well, although the usual $150 annual fee on the Altitude Platinum Visa and the separate $50 annual fee on the Altitude Platinum AMEX are currently waived in the first year, cutting the usual yearly cost of $250 down to just $50.
Some of the other offers on the table this month include 70,000 bonus Qantas Points with Citibank's Citi Qantas Prestige Visa credit card (after your first spend within 90 days from card approval); 65,000 Qantas Points + $150 back on your statement via the ANZ Frequent Flyer Platinum Visa (after your first eligible purchase in the first three months), and 60,000 Qantas Points on the St. George Amplify Platinum Visa (spend $3,000 within 90 days of card approval via ‘Amplify Qantas’) and AMEX Qantas Business Rewards Card, among others.
If you want the flexibility to earn points on your credit card spend but to choose where they wind up at a later date, Westpac's Altitude Black World Mastercard credit card could be just what you're looking for.
You'll have the freedom to first earn points in the Altitude Rewards program before transferring them to the likes of Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and two other carriers, or if you're entwined with the Roo, simply opt for 'Altitude Qantas' instead.
New cardholders who apply by October 23 2018, are approved and spend at least $3,000 on eligible purchases within 90 days of card approval could also receive a bonus 80,000 Qantas Points or 80,000 Altitude points (equal to 40,000 Velocity points).
With reasonable earning rates and elevated income and credit limit requirements, we'd peg this card as a good fit for working professionals with heavy spending and travel habits: less so for those on lower incomes.
Westpac Altitude Black: fast facts
- Grade/tier: Black
- Card type: World Mastercard
- Loyalty program: Qantas Frequent Flyer direct or Altitude Rewards
- Altitude Rewards airline partners: Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines
- Qantas Points earned per dollar (Qantas Frequent Flyer option):
Everyday spend, excluding ATO payments: 0.75
Spend directly with Qantas: 1.75
- Or, Altitude Rewards points earned per dollar (Altitude Rewards option):
All spend, except for ATO payments: 1.25
- Altitude Rewards airline partners: Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines
- 1.25 Altitude Rewards points ($1 spent) = 0.625 Virgin Australia Velocity points, 0.625 Malaysia Airlines Enrich miles, 0.5 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, 0.5 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles, $0.00694 in Air New Zealand Airpoints Dollars
- Points capping: Earn uncapped points without tiering via either rewards option.
Fees, charges and interest: 4/5
- Annual fee: $250
- Qantas Rewards fee: $50/year (when earning points via Altitude Qantas)
- Additional cardholder fee: $0
- Interest rate on purchases: 20.24% p.a.
- Interest-free days on purchases: Up to 45
- Interest rate on cash advances: 20.74% p.a.
- International transaction fee: 3.0%
- 'Recommended' income requirement to apply: $75,000 p.a.
- Minimum credit limit: $15,000
Earning points for free flights: 4.5/5
Whether you choose Qantas Frequent Flyer or Altitude Rewards as your loyalty program, there's no limit to the number of points you can earn from your Altitude Black card.
Choose 'Altitude Qantas' and a near-free Sydney-Melbourne hop in Qantas economy is yours after spending $10,667 on purchases, or, choose the regular Altitude Rewards option and convert your points to Virgin Australia Velocity for a Sydney-Melbourne flight after a spend of $12,480.
Customers opting for Altitude Qantas also collect an additional Qantas Point per dollar when booking Qantas flights or paying for their Qantas Club membership, although an extra fee of $50/year now applies.
Also don't forget Westpac's offer of 80,000 bonus Qantas Points or 80,000 bonus Altitude points (equal to 40,000 Velocity points) for eligible new cardholders, which can get you flying even faster.
Inclusive travel insurance: 4.5/5
International journeys of six months or less are covered by Westpac's complimentary insurance offering – underwritten by QBE – provided you hold a return ticket and charge at least A$500 of eligible travel costs to your Altitude Black card before departing Australia.
That amount can be your flights, any airport and departure taxes, pre-paid accommodation and any 'overseas itinerary items' such as an arranged tour, so you could even book your flights using points and simply pre-pay a night or two of accommodation to still be covered.
Joining this is a generous array of other cover including transit accident insurance; interstate flight inconvenience insurance; purchase security, extended warranty and 'price guarantee' covers and even rental car excess cover of up to $5,500 when hiring in Australia.
Airport lounge access: 2/5
Altitude Black cardholders are treated to two airport lounge visits each year, depending on their frequent flyer earning preferences.
Cardholders collecting Qantas Points get two free Qantas Club visits each year, while those opting for Altitude Rewards points get a free Priority Pass membership, complete with two visits every year to any of the 1,000+ lounges in its network.
Westpac Altitude Black credit card: the verdict
With a $250 annual fee, the Westpac Altitude Black card appeals to higher spenders and frequent travellers, and may quickly pay for itself if you're poised to take full advantage of the benefits.
Included on that roster: complimentary airport lounge visits, uncapped frequent flyer points and the long list of insurance covers, which can help you wind up ahead.
Note that while an extra $50/year charge now applies when earning Qantas Points – taking the total yearly cost to $300 – that's still lower than the card's previous all-inclusive annual fee of $395, with even higher savings enjoyed by those choosing to earn Altitude Rewards points instead.
You can apply for the Westpac Altitude Black credit card here.
Domestic business travel takes a dramatic leap forward with the Qantas Business Suite.
The flying kangaroo’s next-gen business class seat fulfils the wish list of Australian business travellers with everything from a fully lie flat bed and easy access to the aisle to plenty of working space and storage space to keep your carry-on kit close at hand instead of out of reach in the overhead bin.
The Business Suite will most often fly on the transcontinental routes of Sydney-Perth, Melbourne-Perth and Brisbane-Perth, although it’ll also appear on shorter ‘triangle’ legs of Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane as Qantas works to make the most of its twin-aisle Airbus A330s.
Australian Business Traveller flew on the very first A330 Business Suite service between Sydney and Perth to bring you this detailed review.
Don’t want to read all the way through to the end? Here's the take-out: the Qantas Business Suite is the world’s best domestic business class. Yes, it's that good.
- Up close with Qantas' next-gen business class
- Best seats: Qantas Airbus A330-200 Business Suite business class
- 10 things you didn't know about the new Qantas Business Suite
We flew on the first Qantas Airbus A330-200 that's been upgraded with the new Business Suite – it also sports a 'refreshed' economy cabin with new seat fabrics plus an updated inflight entertainment system.
There are 28 Business Suites at the A330's pointy end, down from the 36 business class seats in the previous domestic layout, with the space divided into a main cabin of 22 seats at the very front of the plane, and a second smaller cabin (sitting immediately ahead of economy) of six seats.
The seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with one seat by each window...
... and a pair of seats in the middle of the aircraft.
Note that the partitions between the paired middle seats don't slide down – they're an integral part of the seat's design – which makes the Business Suite less than ideal if you want to chat away to your partner during the flight.
The Qantas Business Suite has all the hallmarks of the world's best and most modern international business class seats.
For starters, the 1-2-1 layout provides one-step access to the aisle – and that step doesn't involve squeezing past or clambering over your seatmate, as is the case with Qantas' current Airbus A330 or A380 business class (both of which are 2-2-2).
Another game-changer: the Business Suite converts to a 2 metre long lie-flat bed (shown in this PR shot dressed with Qantas' sleep service mattress and cover).
This is Australia's first fully-flat domestic business class bed and it's going to be a Godsend on overnight 'red-eye' flights from Perth, even though you've only got a few hours of kip time.
To help bleary-eyed business travellers make every minute count in their quest for sleep the Business Suite is also approved for a gentle recline during the taxi, take-off and landing stages.
Instead of sitting bolt upright until the plane is in level flight the Business Suite's 'relax and recline' setting allows the seat to tilt back on a 5 inch recline (equivalent to 21 degrees) and slide forward into an approximation of what you'd typically enjoy during the flight, except that the legrest can't be raised in this mode.
Here's how this position looks on demo models of the seats.
When you think about how long your soon-to-depart plane can sit at the boarding gate, or how often it slowly crawls along the taxi-way only to join a line of other aircraft waiting their turn for take-off, that's all time you can spend in a relaxed and snooze-friendly position.
This reclined position necessitates the use of a three-point seatbelt for maximum safety.
Qantas is among the very few airlines in the world to engineer a business class seat in this way – Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic have something similar, but the Business Suite has a greater degree of recline.
Of course, during the level flight stage of your journey you can hit a button on the control panel to bring out the legrest or convert the seat to a fully flat bed.
The seats themselves are covered in leather and range from 55cm to 58cm wide (depending on the location of the seat – more on that later).
On some seats the armrest retracts to effectively add an extra 5cm to the total seat width, so you don't feel quite as 'hemmed in' by the sidewall.
Not all seats get the vanishing armrest, however – only those with an armrest facing the aisle can do this trick, which is roughly half of all 28 Business Suites on the A330.
Want to make sure you get a solid serve of shut-eye? Hit the 'Do Not Disturb' button on the seat's control panel and the seat number glows red so that flight attendants know to leave you alone.
There's plenty of legroom, even for the tallest and most gangly-limbed traveller.
The generous footwell ends in a small cushioned ottoman, while the floor of the footwell is angled so that it becomes a comfortable footrest once you stretch your legs a little.
But the very first thing anybody will notice about the Business Suite is the copious amount of personal space it provides.
Every passenger has their own side table created by a console next to the seat.
This puts some 30cm of flat surface at your disposal – and if you're in a middle seat with nobody next to you, you can annexe some of that vacant space to claim a further 10cm.
That's ample room for magazines, tablets, ebook readers, work-related documents and what-not.
Running along the inner edge of this console is a deep L-shaped nook for stowing more stuff.
As a result, there's a riot of space to keep carry-on kit at your fingertips.
The recess also holds a crisp LED reading light with two brightness settings, a pair of noise-reducing headphones plus a small water bottle holder, while on the outside are sockets for the headphones, USB and AC power.
Got more gear that needs to find a home close at hand?
The pocket for the A330's safety card and Qantas' inflight magazine also has room for your own magazine or tablet...
... while under the console there's a deep pocket for your shoes or an amenity kit.
The overall effect is that as soon as you reach your seat there's room for you to offload whatever personal items you wish to keep close at hand – such as your smartphone, tablet, reading glasses, a magazine or book.
This isn't sparked by purely the amount of space provided.
It's the visibility of this, and the variety in the shape of those spaces and their proximity to you, which invites you to park your gear there and intuitively guides you as to what should go where. That's a trademark of smart, considered and well-informed design.
There are also several small yet thoughtful touches in the mix.
A mirror concealed inside the lid to the remote control makes it easy to touch up your make-up or do your hair before landing without having to queue for the loo.
A soft LED lighting strip built into the underside of the console's shelving provides gentle illumination around the workspace.
A cut-out slot in the shelf helps you spy any small items which you might otherwise overlook and leave behind.
Bulkhead seats get a pop-out hook for your coat or a coat-hanger...
... while the rest have a small plastic cut-out which serves the same purpose.
As you can see, there's plenty of goodness on tap.
However, the unique staggered layout of the A330's business class cabin means that not all Business Suites are the same – while some are potentially more comfortable than their siblings.
Here's why, and what it means to you when you're selecting your seat.
First, a quick revisit of the A330's business class seating chart:
You'll notice that the window seats (marked A and K) fall into two categories:
- seats located immediately next to the aisle, with the console bench between the seat and window (seats 1A and 1K, for example)
- and seats located immediately next to the window, with the console bench between the seat and the aisle
These alternate from one row to the next – window, aisle, window, aisle...
The same applies to the Business Suites in the middle of the plane. Each row has one passenger sitting immediately next to the aisle, and one passenger with the seat's console between them and the aisle.
Again, the layout swaps between rows.
This alternating arrangement is necessary because under each seat's console is the footwell for the seat behind it.
Now here's a shot of the space inside that footwell when the passenger stretches out...
... and when the seat is converted into a flat bed.
I've got average-sized feet which slip into an 8.0 to 8.5 shoe (that's Aussie sizing – equivalent to a European 42-43 or US 9.0 to 9.5). They sat well inside this cubbyhole, and no doubt would have a little more wiggle-room once I shed the shoes for sleeping.
But for passengers with much larger feet – say, size 10 and up – this is going to be a tight squeeze.
My tip is to book any of the seats facing the bulhead wall (rows 1 and 7), which don't need to neatly dovetail into a seat in front because there is no seat in front.
As a result, the footwell goes from being a cubbyhole to a cavern with a generously high ceiling.
The next point of difference between the Business Suites is the width of the seat, both in the actual seat cushion and whether or not the armrest slides down to give you a little more elbow room.
Business Suites which have the passenger sitting directly at the aisle have a 58cm (23in) seat width, with another 5cm (2in) once the armrest is pushed down into the seat's shell.
Business Suites with the passener next to the window and the console next to the aisle (as shown below) have the same 58cm (23in) seat width but the armrest is fixed in place.
However, the equivalent seat in the middle pair of Business Suites – the seat where the passenger has the console between them and the aisle – has a slightly wider 61cm (24in) seat.
A final obervation on the relative comfort factor of each Business Suite: if the seat's bench is between you and the aisle, the gap between the front of that bench and the rear of the seat sell in front is only 26cm.
That's the space you'll have to navigate every time you step in and out of your seat (to visit the toilet, for example). It's sufficient if you're of an average build, but 'plus-size' passengers will want to book the seats which let them step straight into the aisle without squeeing past the console.
AC and USB ports for each Business Suite are conveniently located at shoulder-height in the console rather than near floor level between the seats, so there's no clumsy fumbling around in order to charge your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
It's also a doddle to park your tech on the bench or in the recess while it's being juiced up.
The over-sized tray table has ample room for your laptop.
It's solidly constructed and firmly anchored to the console, but exhibits none of the bothersome 'bounce' of many large tables when you load them up with a laptop and start hammering away at the keyboard.
As the Business Suite's debut was a standard commercial flight (QF571) which left Sydney at 5.30pm I was offered a three-course dinner service of a 'small plate' entree, a 'main plate' and desserts.
So while this is primarily a review of the Business Suite itself, here are some notes and photos of the meal.
From the two small plate options I chose a trio of tiger prawns on a bed of sesame soy Asian coleslaw, which proved to be a tasty and sharp starter.
Sadly, the obligatory salad turned out to be just a handful of lonely lettuce leaves. Halved cherry tomatoes, some grated carrots and perhaps corn would go a long way to making this simple dish more rounded and more enjoyable.
For mains I ordered the pork and veal meatballs, served with a tomato ragout, oregano and herbed risoni (a very short-cut pasta shaped like large grains of rice), matched to a Victorian Heathcote Estate 2013 Shiraz.
This one really hit the mark: robustly flavoured without being too heavy.
Fortunately there was room left for dessert: a warm banana and salted caramel cake with double cream, partnered to a sweet Lillypilly Noble Blend dessert wine.
Putting the sad salad aside, the business class dinner was exactly what I'd expect from in a good mid-range restaurant or brasserie – except that I was flying 40,000 feet above the Australian outback.
And thanks to the large side table, you can easily watch a video on your iPad while enjoying the meal.
While we're talking meals, the Business Suite's dinner tray is among the largest I've seen – although a determined stab of the release mechanism is needed to spring it open.
This kidney-shaped table is 53cm across at widest point, and 26cm deep, with a wide range of forward-and-back movement to find best position if you're eating or working.
It's also hinged to swing vertically up so you can more easily get in and out of your seat (but the table won't stay standing by itself, so keep a firm hand on it.)
Entertainment & Service
Each Business Suite gets a supersized 16 inch touchscreen with a slick new interface.
The look and feel is derived from the modern mobile world of tablets, apps and tiles.
The screens themselves are far more response to taps and swipes than earlier models, although a more conventional handheld controller under the armrest does the job if you've got short arms or have put the seat into lie-flat bed more.
Some handy features in the new system include a pop-up flight information window (just tap the airplane icon at the bottom of the screen).
This sensibly pauses any video being played.
You can also browse the library of content and add specific films, TV shows and albums to a playlist.
However, on this domestic flight the screen didn't include the food and drinks menu which will appear on the international A330s.
The content itself is similar to what you'd get on Qantas' flagship Airbus A380s, although there's less of it because of the shorter flight time. Even so, a Sydney-Perth trip is sufficient to knock over a movie or some recent episodes from Suits or Downton Abbey.
There's also some clever thinking behind the scenes, or perhaps we should say behind the screens.
Copies of popular latest-release shows will be stored on a flash memory drive mounted behind the display so even if the connection from the screen back to the plane's media box (which holds all the videos and music) fails, you'll still be able to watch a few movies.
Each screen also has a degree of tilt so you can angle it up or down to suit your height and seating position.
There's less upwards tilt than downwards, so passengers close to 1.8 metres (6 feet) or taller will unavoidably find themselves staring down at the screen unless they do some serious reclining or slouching.
The upgraded A330s are also fitted with Qantas' Q Streaming technology, which can beam any of the inflight system's video or music content over Wi-Fi to a traveller's smartphone or tablet. The Q Streaming feature hadn't been activated on this flight, however, so I was unable to test it.
Although it's fairly common to see business class passengers travelling with their own noise-cancelling headphones (the Bose QuietComfort series always make a strong showing on any business class flight I'm on), Qantas outfits each Business Suite with a pair of noise-reducing headphones.
I found these to be quite effective, as well as very lightweight and comfortable.
They also have a novel audio connector designed to plug into a standard audio jack – the kind found on smartphones, tablets, laptops, MP3 music players and such – as well as the two-pin socket for using the inflight entertainment system.
The audio connector itself is conveniently located on the side console, near shoulder-height to the passenger and alongside the USB and AC ports.
Over the past few years Qantas has been steadily ticking off the boxes on the Australian business traveller checklist with improved business lounges and inflight meals, and at the same time pencilling in new boxes such as its smartcard-based 'tap and go' Faster Smarter Check-in.
The Business Suite is the latest and perhaps most important part of the mix.
It raises traveller's expectations as to just how good the domestic business class experience can be (read: very, very good), and despite a few wrinkles, as we zoom into 2015 it easily takes the crown as the best domestic business class seat in the world.
David Flynn travelled on the inaugural Qantas Airbus A330 Business Suite flight as a guest of Qantas.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT
With an increasing focus on connecting through the Middle East, I had my eyes peeled and camera at the ready to bring AusBT's readers the latest on what they can expect in Etihad's Pearl business class.
It was an early (yet already sweltering) start back to Sydney on the daily EY451 flight -- an overnight 14-hour trip that leaves at 1010 and arrives in Sydney at 0720 the next morning.
Etihad's Terminal 3 is the newest in Abu Dhabi, with older Terminal 1 (a 5-10 minute indoor walk away) used for a minority of the airline's flights.
My taxi dropped me off at the first and business class entrance, which is fully separate from the economy doors.
I understand there are supposed to be porters to assist with luggage, but none sprang to help me with my luggage this morning.
Inside, business class sees a row of half a dozen modern, clean desks, where a courteous and efficient checkin agent had me all sorted (and my bag priority tagged to Sydney) in under a minute.
Priority customs/immigration and security was only three passengers deep, and from picking up your carry-on it's just a few steps to the business and first class lounge complex.
Take note, airports of the world: there's no horrible duty free maze in Abu Dhabi, so you don't have to dodge milling shoppers, wandering families and scent-spritzing passengers. That's a big point in the plus column.
My first impression of Etihad's T3 business lounge is that it was, well, busy. The morning is rush-hour for connections, and the lounge is too small to be able to accommodate everybody pleasantly.
(The T1 business lounge is also available, but the T3 one is newer and larger. If you're connecting to T1, you're best off stopping in T3 and then heading over to the other terminal.)
The lounge's layout is roughly a capital-J shape, where you enter at the bottom of the J and walk through to your left. The corner of the of the J is the food area, the stem is the bar, and the cross-piece at the top of the J a bank of windows and a seating area.
My pick for seating is the light, bright area at the top of the J, but you'll want to leave a jacket or something to guard your seat once you've found one.
Food in the lounge at breakfast-time was pretty standard international buffet breakfast fare, plus some more interesting things like ful medames.
I did try some of the praiseworthy Drappier champagne, though. Hey, it's a fruit-based beverage, which makes it breakfast-appropriate.
Overall, it's not all that bad when compared with competitor Emirates' hectic lounge in Dubai or the Qantas-BA lounge in Singapore, but if a calm, quiet connection is what you're looking for then you might want to pick another airport.
Etihad announces boarding early (an hour beforehand, even for business), but with the lounge as hectic as it was, I wasn't particularly fussed to head on board and settle in.
The gate was just a few minutes down a moving walkway from the lounge, and while there was a big queue for economy the first/business class queue (marked by an unwisely subtle pillar) was empty.
(Note for passengers connecting to T3 from T1: there's a similar pillar at security so you can avoid the 200-person tailback that backs up between the terminals. Just skip the stopped travelator and breeze nonchalantly past on the left hand side of the corridor.)
My seat, 10K, was a window on the right hand side of the plane in the second of the two business class cabins, right behind the galley kitchens.
The location wasn't ideal, since half the economy passengers on the plane walk past going "is this first class, Mildred?" while you're getting settled, but there wasn't a window seat (the most private and best for sleeping) available in the turn-left-from-the-door front cabin.
My concern about overhead bin space proved justified: storage in the cabin is a real problem.
Etihad decided not to install centre bins on its A340s, which means that half the bins in business class are absent -- and the ones that are there are the smaller, Airbus bins, not the large swing-down Boeing type.
End result: there even wasn't space for my small laptop bag in the cabin when I boarded, so I'm glad I'd checked my bag at the airport.
Fortunately, there's a small space under the ottoman in front of you, but it wouldn't take a rollaboard and you're not supposed to have a bag down there for takeoff.
This issue is especially baffling for an airline that's almost entirely connecting traffic like Etihad: business travellers will want the chance to have a shower and change their clothes during the stopover in Abu Dhabi, which means they're even more likely to be carrying a larger bag on board.
My advice: board early to snag a spot for your bag somewhere near your seat. It's not exactly a hardship to relax with a glass of seriously good Champagne while you wait for everyone else to get on board.
Yes, seriously good Champagne: Etihad serves G. H. Mumm's Cuvée R. Lalou, which goes for around A$150 in the UK (the most competitive market for bubbles) and A$350 in Australia.
That's the best business class champagne I've ever tasted, and beats the first class bubbles on many airlines. Top marks to Etihad's wine people.
The flight itself was uneventful, over the Arabian peninsula, skirting the tip of India and taking the usual track across Australia. The Airbus A340-600 Etihad uses is a quiet plane, but not quite as quiet (nor as pleasant in terms of cabin dryness) as the A380 used by Emirates, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and others.
Etihad's amenity kit, meanwhile, is pretty disappointing: it doesn't exist. You get a net bag with your cleaned blanket, inside which is a socks-and-eyeshade combo. The crew come round with baskets of everything else. It feels, frankly, a little cheap, especially when other airlines are beefing up their offerings.
It might seem odd to praise an airline's blankets, but I'm going to: Etihad's reversible fleece and cotton blankets are a very clever touch, and chic with it.
Or at least they would be, if the cabin hadn't been absolutely roasting from start to finish, even after I asked the crew to turn down the heat twice -- and there are no overhead air vents either.
I'd been hot on the inbound flight, too, so had brought a pair of shorts for sleeping, but I was still hot even with bare legs, and didn't use the blanket. I tend to prefer a cooler cabin, but this was ridiculous.
The first generation (above) is in a sea-foam green (and featured on my outbound flight from Sydney) while the second generation is a stripey black-brown-beige (on my flight today).
(I'll assume that most business travellers know how a staggered business class is laid out, but if you need a refresher then our guide to business class seats and layouts is there for you. )
I'll be making a fair bit of reference to Emirates' customised version of this seat, seen on Emirates' Airbus A380 flights from Sydney and Melbourne.
The bottom line is that this is one of the most comfortable business class seats in the sky, second only to Cathay Pacific's new business class. But there are a few flaws that savvy business travellers will want to know about.
The seat is beige plastic. Very beige. It blends into the background, at least, but it's not especially inspiring and there's a lot of it, especially when the table's down. I prefer Emirates' version of this seat, with its greyer neutral colour and less "wall of beige in front of you" feeling.
Ahead of you sits the ottoman footrest, which is the cubby for your feet in bed more or when you're deeply reclined. Underneath it sits a nook for your shoes and above it is the entertainment screen.
While my bulkhead seat at the front of the cabin had a fully enclosed foot area, most seats have a half-enclosed one, as you'll see below. Aisle passengers' feet are open to the aisle, while window and centre seat passengers' are open towards the window or centre.
In seat mode, you can recline a fair way back -- but note that the seat pan has to slide forward to create the space for you to recline, which can feel a little tight with the tray table, although the table does swivel.
The table folds down and rotates across on a hinge at the corner where the seat in front of you ends. 11-inch MacBook Air and iPhone 5, to scale.
It's a fair size: big enough for the largest 17" laptops, although it's unlikely you'd be able to pop your phone next to a large laptop.
Unfortunately, the massive hinge for the table is a real pain in the knee for anyone over about six feet (184 cm) or so: it's right where your kneecap rests, especially if you're reclined. I'm stunned that this design ever passed testing.
A very handy universal (including the square three-pins used in the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East) AC power point sits 30 cm or so beneath the hinge. There's a USB slot underneath near the floor -- a daft place for it, since you'll either kick out your memory stick or snag the cord of whatever else you've plugged in.
There are a few drawbacks to the sturdiness of the seat too: you feel it every time the person behind you uses their table, since it's attached on the other side of your head. (Emirates' pops up from the armrest.)
The seat reclines into bed mode, but there's a missed trick here too: the hard shell by your head doesn't retract, which means there's about five inches of wasted space that you could have used to spread out when sleeping.
It's also not an especially long seat. I'm 188 cm (6'2"), and I couldn't stretch out all the way when on my back without touching the head and foot of the seat -- let alone be able to do so in my preferred position on my front. Fetal position, curled up, was the only option.
That said, the cushioning is ample: better, in fact, than Etihad's first class! If you like a soft bed, you might want to snag an extra blanket from the crew to lay down underneath you.
I slept for a good eight hours of the 14-hour flight, which is the mark of a decent seat for me.
Service started once the seatbelt sign went "ping", with a warm towel, a drink (you'll be stunned to know that I went for the champagne) and some warm nuts.
Around an hour in, the food & beverage manager came around to take orders for lunch. Here's the menu:
There's also a "Kitchen Anytime" menu if that doesn't take your fancy.
And a very respectable wine list...
...with a hidden Sauternes on the back!
Etihad's business class is unusual: you can eat what you want, any time, served individually to you. No "miss it and you're out of luck" trolley round here, nor the "doggy dish" of "reheated brown thing in gloopy sauce over carbohydrate, served with green thing and some sauce crusted onto the side". On a 14+ hour flight, where you're likely to be connecting onto another 5-9 hour flight, that's a real benefit.
Oddly, though, despite the individual service, Etihad uses trays to serve the main meals. I realise this is faster -- but surely only slightly, and at a time when crew timing is not meal-critical.
Of the three starters on the menu, I played to Etihad's strengths and picked the Arabic mezze, and was very pleased that I did. Crisp -- but not greasy -- warm nibbles, with delicious chilled leaf wraps and very moreish hummus. Top notch.
I paired that with a lovely glass of Meursault (a French, buttery Chardonnay from Burgundy), which was actually a better wine in the air than the first class French white I'd tried on the flight from Sydney.
For my main course I enjoyed the lamb thareed, a spiced (but not especially hot) stew that was very well crafted. The crispy, feather-light rgag bread on top was a great touch.
Also a great touch: the warm bread filled with tomato and cheese and topped with sunflower seeds in the bread basket, which was the best bakery item I've ever eaten on a plane -- even better than Lufthansa's famous pretzel bread!
I'd enjoyed the Stellenbosch Pinotage from South Africa on the way out in first class, and was very pleased to see that it was on the return in business as well. It's a very well-balanced drop with dinner.
Since it was about noon by this stage and I wasn't feeling like something sweet (yet), I finished with a plate of cheese -- three halal cheeses (since there are cultural issues around rennet) in the style of parmigiano, brie and danish blue. They were okay, but nothing to write home about.
During the flight I nipped up to stretch my legs and rehydrate -- the San Pellegrino sparkling water on board is just the right bubbliness for the sky, and enjoyed a bit of a chat with the international crew.
Six hours or so later, after a good snooze, I started feeling a bit peckish and went for the steak sandwich on the Kitchen Anytime menu. It was seriously good: chewy without being leathery, and with a great red onion compote. Do try the Mirinda (Pepsi's version of Fanta), which is very popular in the Middle East and has an unusual orange flavour.
A couple of hours before landing, I was woken by a bit of noise from the galley and the crew coming around to ask anyone awake if they wanted breakfast and offering the very tasty energiser smoothie to start with.
Breakfast is always a pain on a plane, with the usual choice bouncy eggs or bouncy pancakes, even in business.
No different here: my cheese omelette with turkey bacon, potato and chunky tomato sauce was just okay, and I reclined my seat for a bit more of a snooze shortly after getting rid of my tray.
Entertainment & Service
Etihad's entertainment system is a bit of a negative. The Panasonic system is clunky and slow, the remote control not particularly intuitive, and there's a two-minute series of adverts before everything you watch.
Unfortunately, the screen doesn't tilt, and isn't very bright, which is a drawback during the day flight from Abu Dhabi since you're plagued with reflections, especially if you're on the right hand side of the plane, which is the sunny side during the day.
The selection isn't especially enthralling either: just standard blockbuster stuff, with no especially interesting films or documentaries. I'm not a very hard person to please -- I ask for something interesting over a meal, something a little more thinky later, and some interesting opera or choral music -- but Etihad's system didn't live up to my expectations and I resorted to my iPad.
Compared with the competition, Etihad's entertainment fits in with the second tier of on-demand systems out there, but it lags behind Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and other airlines with a truly world-class offering.
Headphones in business class are over-the-ear noise cancelling varieties, which reduced the engine noise well but did nothing for the screaming child two rows back. You'll need a two-pin adapter if you want to use your own.
Overall, the service on board was fine, although some members of the crew were better at taking drink orders than others. If it's the middle of the night and a passenger asks for a bottle water, I don't think that's a huge or unexpected request. Yet several times it took five to ten minutes for the water to arrive (and twice it never arrived at all).
Etihad's seat is brilliant, behind only Cathay Pacific's new seat and Emirates' A380 business class. Its food and wine fantastic, but entertainment, storage and lounge offerings are all disappointing.
The prognosis for these problems? Entertainment and storage should improve with new planes. Etihad, like every other airline in the region, has many on order, and Australia's long flights mean we should get them sooner rather tahan later. But the lounge is less clear: there's no brand new terminal like Emirates' Dubai A380 base planned for Abu Dhabi until 2017.
Etihad needs to expand its lounges to keep up with the Joneses -- or, technically, the Clarks, since we're talking about Emirates CEO Tim Clark's airline as its major competitor.
There's a lot to like, though, and Etihad's business class would be up there in my top five overall choices for passengers connecting to Europe and Africa.
John Walton was a guest of Etihad.