Hong Kong Airlines' Airbus A330 business class service tempts travellers not just with fully-flat beds and direct aisle access, but also with affordable fares much closer to premium economy than a typical business class ticket.
In fact, a return booking on the airline's sole Australian route – Gold Coast to Hong Kong via Cairns – can be had for as little as A$1,880 return during sale periods. Yes, round-trip, for business class, broadening its appeal to Brisbane residents as well who don't mind the hour-odd drive in exchange for a great value pointy end fare.
Australian Business Traveller put Hong Kong Airlines' business class to the test on a recent return trip from the 2018 Commonwealth Games' host city.
- Frequent flyer program: Fortune Wings Club, but Australian travellers can choose to earn points and status credits in Virgin Australia's Velocity Frequent Flyer scheme instead. Just watch your fare type: the lowest-cost business class fares oddly earn no points or status credits in either program.
- Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg, plus one extra 23kg bag for Fortune Wings Club Silver and one extra 32kg bag for Fortune Wings Club Gold and Platinum. No extra allowance for any Velocity members, however.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x115cm bags, plus one 'small item' such as a laptop bag or backpack.
- Priority check-in, boarding: Business class check-in desks and lanes are clearly signed at the Gold Coast, Cairns and Hong Kong, with passengers also having access to in-town check-in when departing Hong Kong, but online check-in isn't offered to or from Australia, which would save time.
- Priority security screening: All domestic and international travellers from the Gold Coast clear security together after check-in – take advantage of the priority queue to the far right, closest to check-in, for faster processing – while those travelling internationally clear a second 'liquid check' elsewhere in the terminal before entering the international gate area, for which there's no priority queue.
- Priority passport control: Gold Coast Airport has no 'Express Path' lanes for international formalities, but SmartGate is available on departure and when returning home for faster processing. Hong Kong Airport also has no fast-track lanes for business class flyers, although Australian passport holders can register for access to Hong Kong's eChannel gates for faster border clearance.
- Booking tip: Hong Kong Airlines doesn't accept American Express for payments in Australian dollars, but if you change the currency to HKD (Hong Kong Dollars) when booking flights on the airline's website, the option to pay by AMEX appears at the end (including for Australian itineraries):
Business travellers, brace yourselves: lounge access is not provided on the Gold Coast, or in Cairns where you'll stop for about 90 minutes en route to Hong Kong (but not on the flight home, which runs non-stop).
Yes, even though Hong Kong Airlines is an alliance partner of Virgin Australia, Virgin Australia operates a suitable lounge at Gold Coast Airport and Hong Kong Airlines' parent company HNA Group owns 13% of Virgin Australia, a lounge agreement still hasn't been struck for premium passengers at Gold Coast Airport, which is pretty daft.
Instead, business class passengers receive $30 in meal vouchers to spend in the terminal: ample for a nice Eggs Benedict, latte, protein ball and a bottle of water at Blackstone Cafe in Gold Coast Airport's domestic departures area – admittedly a step up from the Virgin Australia lounge buffet, but without the added lounge amenities like private bathrooms, showers and power points.
Just remember to spend your vouchers before heading through to the airport's international zone, otherwise a solitary cafe is your only option.
In Cairns, the lack of lounge access is more understandable, as there's only one lounge in the international transit area – the Reef Lounge – and it's owned and operated by Cathay Pacific: Hong Kong Airlines' biggest rival. It's nothing flash but does welcome Priority Pass members, though.
Things are much better in Hong Kong, the airline's home turf, where business class travellers can visit the newly-opened Club Autus lounge...
... which offers a range of features conducive to international travel, including private shower suites, cooked-to-order food options, a manned cocktail bar with signature drinks, tarmac views, wireless Internet, and charging ports located by some seats.
Business class on the Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330-300 jets flying to Australia finds 32 seats in a 1-2-1 layout, spread across eight rows.
It's a staggered configuration where one row of seats is closer to the aisle and the next row is positioned further away. Lining the sides of the cabin, the 'A' and 'K' seats are closest to the windows (and the best for sleeping), while the 'B' and 'H' seats reside next to the aisle in the alternate rows.
In the centre, the 'E' and 'F' seats are found away from the aisles – sometimes referred to by travellers as 'honeymoon' seats – but if you're flying solo you can raise the large divider in between...
... with the 'D' and 'G' seats found next to the aisles in alternate rows...
... and while there's no adjustable privacy wall at these seats, the two large cocktail shelves between you and the next passenger ensure there's plenty of separation:
Each seat transforms into a fully-flat bed of approximately 180cms:
That's a little shorter than you'd find on many other airlines, but given the fare prices Hong Kong Airlines charges, it's a relatively small compromise to make – particularly when those tickets are cheaper than even Cathay Pacific premium economy, and one-half to one-third the price of Qantas and Cathay Pacific business class from nearby Brisbane.
On the overnight flight home, we were able to sleep for around six hours and felt pretty refreshed on landing: enough so that our drive home to Brisbane at the end of the journey wasn't a daunting or dangerous task.
Moving around the seat, a foot stool is fixed in place and can be used during take-off and landing: later forming the tail end of your fully-flat bed, and offering space underneath where small items can be stored, such as shoes.
Extra storage is provided in a small pocket beside the seat itself...
... perfectly-shaped to squeeze in headphones and a water bottle, but little else unless you take those out:
There's a document holder down by your feet: great for the inflight menu...
... and a larger storage pouch atop the cocktail shelf for magazines. That's also where you'll find a twistable and dimmable reading light, provided in addition to the standard overhead lamp.
Your inflight entertainment remote and the seat controls can be found nearby. We appreciate there being pre-set positions for the most common angles, plus the ability to simply track the seat forward towards the tray table (without messing up your perfectly-customised recline position), and a massage feature.
Looking for the headphone plug? It's hard to spot when sitting down, but is located just in front of the fixed arm rest...
... and while you're there, look further down to find an AC charging port. When the light goes green after take-off, you're clear to recharge!
There's also a coat hook in front of you and a sturdy tray table that's great for both eating and working on a laptop.
However, the bulky hinge for the table juts out precisely at knee height, which isn't particularly comfortable when sitting in a more relaxed position (as opposed to fully upright or lying down flat):
USB power ports – such as for recharging your phone – are also absent, although the main AC power outlet does accept Australian pins without an adaptor: you just won't be able to plug in your phone and laptop at the same time.
The service begins with an orange juice or water before take-off...
... followed by a muffin, which is all you'll get on the Gold Coast-Cairns leg of the journey.
Being a triangle route (Gold Coast-Cairns-Hong Kong-Gold Coast), that's understandable because business class passengers starting their journey from the Gold Coast will have just eaten a full breakfast on the ground courtesy of the supplied meal vouchers, while passengers travelling from Hong Kong to Cairns via the Gold Coast on this service will have just eaten breakfast on their previous flight, and a 9:45am departure is closest to morning tea, not lunch.
The next leg from Cairns to Hong Kong is where the 'real' meal service takes place, beginning with a glass of Champagne (Gonet-Medeville Blanc de Noirs Premier Cru Brut NV) and some nuts...
... although the Champagne wasn't particularly cold and the nuts were served at room temperature, as opposed to warmed on many other airlines.
The use of a plastic tray to deliver the meal also makes the experience feel less restaurant-like, whereas the crew could easily set the few dishes on your real table from their trolley, as happens on many other airlines in international business class.
To the food itself, lunch begins with a tasty starter of chilled prawns, salad and Marie Rose sauce. The side salad was also acceptable when later enjoyed with our main, as was the Australian Charlotte Street Chardonnay: better-chilled than the Champagne, with garlic bread our selection from the basket.
The next course offered a choice between braised barramundi, pan-fried chicken or grilled beef tenderloin (selected), served with demi-glace sauce, gratin potato and "seasonal vegetables" (green beans). While the potato was nice, the beef was far too tough and the sauce was much more watery than expected, lacking the richness of a classic demi-glace.
Dessert offers either a cheese plate or a "selection of ice cream" – we chose the latter, but found the only 'selection' available was Maggie Beer's vanilla. It's nice as far as plain vanilla goes, but one choice is not a 'selection', so a second option like Maggie Beer's delicious burnt fig, honeycomb & caramel ice cream would be welcomed, and as with warmed vs. room temperature nuts and tray vs. no tray, would again help reinforce a more 'premium' feel.
Tea and coffee are also available. You won't find a barista-made latte here, but our standard 'coffee with milk' proved acceptable (below), served in a cute cup to match the dinnerware. We always enjoy a good Hong Kong-style milk tea when flying with Cathay Pacific, and found the milk tea on board Hong Kong Airlines equally as enjoyable.
Closer to landing, a substantial refreshment is served. There's seasonal fresh fruit on the side and a flourless chocolate cake at the top, with choices for the main dish being a grilled pork loin or a chicken lasagne with more of those "seasonal vegetables" (a.k.a. green beans) on the side.
Recurring beans aside, this was our favourite dish of the flight: the lasagne was cooked perfectly, had a great flavour and was beautifully cheesy without being overly so – exactly how we like to enjoy one on the ground, and a great note to end the flight with.
As to the journey from Hong Kong back to Australia, there's fortunately no Cairns detour en route to the Gold Coast: instead, an evening departure and a morning arrival the next day, which is great for sleeping.
Like many seasoned business travellers, we took the opportunity to eat in the lounge before dozing straight after take-off – but if we'd wanted, a full three-course dinner was available on board.
Instead, we woke to breakfast the next morning with a choice between a typical airline meal of scrambled eggs with cheese, sausages, potatoes and veges; an Asian-influenced option of stir-fried noodles with shredded chicken, mushroom and spring onion; and a classic blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, which was hard to turn down.
The small fruit side salad was nice and fresh and the pancakes beautifully fluffy, but again in lacking the 'premium' touch, the maple syrup was served in a foil container rather than a small ceramic pot or pourer, which would again be a welcome improvement.
Entertainment & Service
An entertainment screen sits in front of each seat, and being fixed in place rather than swinging-out or popping-up, passengers can watch their preferred content from gate to gate after the obligatory inflight advert.
The screen was capable of displaying crisp, clear content – as noticed when viewing the 'moving map' – although all of the movies and TV shows we watched were considerably more blurry and certainly not encoded in high definition, with the supplied over-ear headphones neither noise-cancelling nor particularly comfortable to wear.
We quickly switched to our own Bose QC35s, but like the video, the accompanying audio files were also encoded at relatively poor quality, so even a $500 pair of headphones struggled to provide decent sound quality.
Service-wise, cabin crew were mostly friendly but distant on our outbound journey, but much warmer and more approachable on the flight home.
However, on our Cairns-Hong Kong leg, one of the crew stopped by, handed over an unsolicited 'compliment card', and in a rather insisting way, remarked "you need to fill this out".
Inflight surveys are nothing new and are a great way for airlines to obtain genuine, verified feedback from travellers about what they're doing well and what could be improved, but when Hong Kong Airlines' approach only seeks compliments rather than actual constructive criticism where due, we struggle to see the point.
Overall though, despite the many aspects that could be improved – lounge access, inflight dining and those daft compliment cards, for starters – there's still much to like about Hong Kong Airlines' Airbus A330 business class service.
When you can jaunt to Hong Kong in a fully-flat bed with direct aisle access for as little as A$1,880 return, the shortcomings we've identified may not matter as much as the significant cash savings enjoyed in return, compared to booking with other airlines.
Gold Coast residents will also appreciate having their local airport connected with Hong Kong, avoiding a drive to Brisbane or a flight connection via Sydney – while many Brisbane flyers (including yours truly) also value having an extra airline choice on future Hong Kong trips, particularly one with great-value fares and an acceptable onboard product, even if it means a 75-minute highway drive to and from the Gold Coast.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Hong Kong Airlines.