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

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

With five daily flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong, this Asian corridor is one of Australia's busiest regional routes – and among the most competitive, with Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Virgin Australia in a three-cornered race.

Here's how the Melbourne-Hong Kong offerings of each airline stack up for the business traveller.

The schedule

Cathay Pacific trumps Qantas and Virgin Australia with three daily flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong, compared to one each for the Aussie airlines.

With Melbourne departures at 7.35am, 2.20pm and 11.40pm (plus one daytime return flight and two overnights) this provides maximum flexibility for business travellers.

Want to start early, fly to Hong Kong during the day and have plenty of time to check into your hotel, freshen up and meet a colleague or client or colleague for pre-dinner drinks at one of the city's amazing whisky bars? Done.

With five daily flights to Hong Kong, Melbourne travellers have plenty of choice

Prefer to put in a full day at the office and have dinner with the family, fly overnight and hit the ground running (after popping into Cathay Pacific's Hong Kong Arrivals lounge) or catch a connecting flight to China? No sweat.

By comparison, the single daily flight of Qantas (departing 9.35am) and Virgin Australia (departing 11am as of October 28, until then it's five days a week at 12.30am) requires that high flyers shape their schedule to that of the airline, not the other way around. 

Getting down to work

With 9½ hours of flying time between Melbourne and Hong Kong, business travellers can chalk up a productive day in the best business class seat that each airline has to offer.

Qantas' Airbus A330 Business Suite

We're talking wide and comfortable seats with direct aisle access, AC/USB power at hand, and ample personal space around the seat for your laptop and any related documents. 

Virgin Australia's Airbus A330 business class cabin

All of the seats are good, and as a result the issue of ‘which seat is best?’ comes down to preference.

Cathay Pacific's Airbus A350 business class seat

Note however that two of Cathay Pacific's three daily Melbourne-Hong Kong flights are on the Airbus A350 – those being the daytime CX104 and CX134 services – which has Cathay's very latest business class seat as well as inflight WiFi, so those flights will have the edge for corporate travellers. 

The lounges

How do things stand before your flights from Melbourne and Hong Kong?

Virgin Australia is the only airline of this trio without its own lounges: business class passengers and top-tier Velocity frequent flyers in Melbourne use the Etihad Airways lounge, while in Hong Kong they enjoy access to the Club Autus business class lounge (below) of Hong Kong Airlines.

Virgin Australia uses the Club Autus lounge at Hong Kong

In Melbourne, Qantas maintains its own international business class lounge – although it's a somewhat unimpressive bunker – and for Platinum-grade frequent flyers, a superb first class lounge, with the Hong Kong leg anchored by an impressive 'premium' lounge (below).

The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge

Cathay Pacific has a small and rather underwhelming Melbourne lounge, but thankfully the airline's membership of the Oneworld alliance means that business class passengers and high-ranking frequent flyers (in the airline's own Marco Polo Club as well as Qantas Frequent Flyer members) are entitled to skip the Cathay lounge for the better Qantas lounges.

However, in Hong Kong Cathay Pacific boasts its own collection of six lounges, with The Pier first class and business class lounges considered among the world’s best.

Cathay Pacific's The Pier business class lounge

(Qantas business class passengers and Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can also use the Cathay Pacific lounges, again because 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 your inbox before heading to your hotel or first meeting.

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

David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

30 comments

  • David Flynn

    David

    31 Jul, 2018 05:56 am

    Comments for this article will be temporarily held for moderation before being published. Readers are reminded to keep their comments on topic (ie, comparing airlines on the Melbourne-Hong Kong route for business class) and to ensure their comments add value to the article and the conversation.

    Member who gave thanks

    Smithy

  • Traveller14

    Traveller14

    1 Aug, 2018 01:03 pm

    David, just out of interest why did you add this warning to this story, and not to others? Is it particularly contentious because there's a price war on between the three airlines with nonstop flights on MEL - HKG - MEL and you perceive that there may be airline staff or contractors wanting to criticise the other two's offerings?
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  • David Flynn

    David

    3 Aug, 2018 06:46 pm

    Traveller14: it was simply a desire to keep comments on topic and adding value so that they become a useful adjunct to the story for people who want to read about MEL-HKG business class. The comments we have held back fail on either or both of those scores. I figured this article would attract a lot of comments (some of which might be rabid rants against one airline or another, or just pointless no-value asides), so filtering them to sort wheat from chaff for readers made sense, and the quality of published comments suggests to me that where possible we'll aim to do this more often with other articles in future.

    Members who gave thanks

    walterong, Jordan Rowland

  • James Zhang

    pkjames

    31 Jul, 2018 06:41 am

    i recently travelled to hk via cathay and back with virgin, both trips are on J. frankly the service on cx feels rushed, my dishes were cleaned in no time, when i was half finished. the food on virgin is awesome and the service is more personal. The seats are quite close between CX and VA but VA is newer and more stylish imo.

    the club autus that VA use in hong kong is super nice. Bright, with great tarmac view. There is a cool resting area with private cubicals, and there are very few people during the day. I could shower when i asked for it, no wait time. In contrast, the qantas J lounge feels dated and crowded. i'd rather grab a coffee and sit in a quite gate area.
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  • Mark Bringans

    Briggo

    31 Jul, 2018 10:11 pm

    Are you serious the QF lounge in HK is leading product plus you can to & fro now to CX the deck next door. [Comment edited to remove sledging]

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  • John Odlum

    John Odlum

    31 Jul, 2018 06:47 am

    This is a good summary of the options. CX pretty much wins for frequency, seat and lounges. Looking at meals and service which are a bit more 'subjective' things swing back in favour of QF and VA. I would put VA top of the list for meals over QF and definitely CX in my experience. Not that the CX business class meals are bad but they are not up to the standard of Virgin's Luke Mangan dishes, I am a bit 'over' the Neil Perry menus but they are still better than standard CX fare.

    When it comes to service Aussie airlines have a warmer and more natural service than Asian airlines I find, it's a cultural thing, the Aussie airline crews are just more relaxed and open to a joke and more personal interaction, CX crews can be a bit 'robotic' because they play it safe and stick to the rules, unless of course you make an effort as a passenger and 'click' with one, then they become less formal and I think they appreciate that as well.
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    Smithy

  • lind26

    lind26

    31 Jul, 2018 11:20 pm

    Completely agree with the CX approach to service that you and the prior commenter made. They are robotic and lacking warmth.
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  • Bernoulli

    Bernoulli

    31 Jul, 2018 08:46 am

    A good summary thank you. CX wins for schedule, breadth of network and seamless connections, outstanding HKG lounges and on-board service.
    Member who gave thanks

    walterong

  • Martin Haynes

    Martin Haynes

    31 Jul, 2018 09:41 am

    I prefer overnight flights to HKG. Eat in the lounge, take a sleeping pill and then I am out like a light for the whole trip. I
    didn't mind Virgin's 12.30am departure from Melbourne and tried this as an alternative to Cathay's 11.40pm but prefer CX as my QFF Platinum status provides access to the QF First lounge. The CX HKG arrivals lounge is much too crowded by the time I arrive for a shower, always long queues, but I can have a light breakfast and focus on email for a while, then catch the Airport Express train to Central and early check-in to my hotel.
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  • Traveller14

    Traveller14

    31 Jul, 2018 10:33 am

    For business travellers, punctuality may be one (though not the only) factor in choosing an airline.

    FlightStats hasn't monitored many VA69 northbo9und flights (MEL - HKG) - but it says VA punctuality is 100 per cent (higher than I'd have thought).
     
    CX104, the flight ex MEL at 1420 hrs has that airline's best record: 90 per cent of these were on time (which means 15 minutes or less late arriving).
     
    CX178, the overnight flight had 67 per cent 'on time' and 20 per cent 'very late' or 'excessively late.' I don't know whether thye 'excessive' category means 'an hour or more late arriving' as nowwhere does FlightStats define it.
     
    The morning flight CX135 had 66 per cent of its FlightStats monitored flights 'on time' with 16 per cent 'very late' or 'excessively late.' (There's also a 'late' category that may mean 16 to 29 minutes late arriving).
     
    Worst of all was QF29 that had only 56 per cent 'on time and 32 per cent 'very late' or 'excessively late.'
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  • Bernoulli

    Bernoulli

    31 Jul, 2018 11:21 am

    Yes, punctuality is a good point. In this case it is heavily influenced in most (but not all) cases by factors outside the airlines' control. These include worsening congestion at HKIA, the impact on HKIA's operations of PRC's approach to controlling its adjacent airspace and particularly at this time of year, the monsoon season throughout S and SE Asia which in the case of CX will impact across its Asian network resulting aircraft not being in the right place at the right time.
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  • Traveller14

    Traveller14

    1 Aug, 2018 01:00 pm

    The factors you mention are part of the story, but if that was all there was to it, the punctuality among the three carriers would be fairly close to uniform, especially for flights that have similar departure times.

    But it isn't, and QF is (based on about the last 60 flights If I recall) is the worst.
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  • Scott Wilson

    Libertyscott

    31 Jul, 2018 11:03 am

    Excellent piece, there's also the CX lounge at MEL, hardly worth mentioning (QF lounges are better), but CX will direct business class passengers to it. It doesn't come close to the CX options at HKG, which are excellent. Another element is that CX and VA have premium economy, but QF doesn't on this route (using the A330).
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  • David Flynn

    David

    31 Jul, 2018 11:12 am

    Ah yes, Cathay's little Melbourne lounge – good point, I'll add that into the article!
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  • Bernoulli

    Bernoulli

    31 Jul, 2018 11:24 am

    Haha. I actually think it is just fine! Sure, not quite in the same league as the HKG offerings or QF First upstairs but solid nonetheless, particularly taking into account the real estate made available by MEL airport.
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  • silvyvc

    silvyvc

    31 Jul, 2018 11:19 am

    Does VA have PE on their A330s? I thought it was only on their 777s
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  • David Flynn

    David

    31 Jul, 2018 11:48 am

    Virgin Australia doesn’t have premium economy on its A330s (which are what is flown to Hong Kong) - the closest is Economy X, which is the same seat as economy but with a few perks such as extra legroom.
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  • Skippybear

    Skippybear

    31 Jul, 2018 11:40 am

    Another element is that CX and VA have premium economy

    VA's A330 only offers Business and Economy on the HKG route. Extra seats are not Premium Economy.
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  • Scott Brown

    DownSouth

    31 Jul, 2018 01:36 pm

    VA for me, best awarded business seat, good flight options now either morning via SYD or evening direct with a fantastic seat for sleep up on evening and back on red eye flight. Onboard food being 2 full services is a plus as well, VA’s touch of Aussie humour in the cabin is always great, brings you home before you leave HKG.
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  • James O'Mahony

    Ourmanin

    31 Jul, 2018 03:31 pm

    Surely in terms of all round package (and considering that many business class flyers are not paying for their own tickets) Cathay Pacific would win hands down. When you combine the flexibility of their schedule and their fantastic array of lounges at HKG (albeit they are available to QF flyers assuming One World FF Status). CX also has fantastic onward flight options should HKG not be your final destination.
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  • Andrew Dwyer

    AKD

    31 Jul, 2018 05:36 pm

    I'll also add a vote for VA. I flew MEL-HKG-MEL in J class when it was still the daytime flight outbound. The personal service in the smaller cabin was phenomenal on both legs and the food was also fantastic.

    I find the entertainment offerings on VA also to be excellent - a few more arthouse TV series/movies (I got through season one of Top of the Lake on our trip!) than you'd find on some Asian/Mid East carriers.

    The EY lounge in MEL is lovely and is quiet when it's a mid-morning departure, as there are no EY flights leaving at that time. Similarly, the Altus lounge in HKG was not crowded at all and my partner and I were both able to shower without any wait times.

    Price-wise it has been a bloodbath on flights to HKG for some time now, but VA also won on that front.
    I accept that CX would win for business travellers who need the frequency but if schedule is not as important, VA is fantastic.
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  • Mark_S

    Mark_S

    3 Aug, 2018 02:58 pm

    CX wins for service and lounges. No contest really
    Member who gave thanks

    walterong

  • Blair Coull

    Notso Swift

    3 Aug, 2018 04:58 pm

    As long as you are on the A350 flights it is a no brainer, I think the 330 services are all line ball, I actively avoid the 777 overnight flight though, just because of the noise and rough ride (if going to CDG though you end up on one 350 and one 777 unless you do a lay over)
    MEL VA lounge is best, but CX HKG

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  • mrj

    mrj

    3 Aug, 2018 03:11 pm

    The Cathay A350 aircraft is superb. As pointed out these fly twice daily from Melbourne.The B777-300 which operates on the third flight daily suffers in comparison.

    It should also be noted that the food on CX business class is inedible and there is an extraordinary lack of non- meat options. I recently pointed out to Cathay that on their otherwise superb service from HKG to Tel Aviv it was probably inappropriate to offer seafood and meat with no vegetarian options. They didn't seem to get the point.

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  • Russjking

    Russjking

    3 Aug, 2018 03:32 pm

    David,
    Your decision to 'hold' comments and moderate is a good one as the quality of the comments on here shows: educational and informative with less personal animosity.
    I know it is a lot of extra work for your team but please do this for more articles as it makes your website once again a pleasure to use.
    Thanks
    Members who gave thanks

    David, walterong, Jordan Rowland

  • Smithy

    Smithy

    3 Aug, 2018 03:46 pm

    Qantas & Cathay win in their integrated network for both Australia & Asia & beyond.

    QF HKG Lounge maybe 'just' a combined class lounge but wins with warmth of service & consistent quality offerings.

    CX are suffering from changing (internal) times & some of this is playing out both on board & lounge operations. The hard product again both onboard & in lounges is fabulous.

    Pick your options on QF aircraft to 'make a difference' & QF are the only ones offering limited First direct to HK plus the 787-9 adding Premium ex BNE.

    Personal choice is always the selection criteria, but QF/CX offer a great partnership.

    Glad VA are the mix, certainly for fare levels, but the network really lets me down.

    As I said personal choice ...
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  • Gregory Barker

    Greg Barker

    4 Aug, 2018 06:53 am

    One of the main problems with Qantas is that they are often well out of their departure schedule. I missed two connecters to Taipei and was lucky to get on the last flight of the day arriving at my hotel at 3am.
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  • John Symons

    Jvs76

    4 Aug, 2018 04:21 pm

    David, Totally agree with Russjking's comment. This was so enjoyable reading relevant and civil comments without the juvenile personal attacks often found in Comments. Hopefully this will set an example to all of how to compose a comment. Thanks for instituting this policy!
    Members who gave thanks

    walterong, Jordan Rowland

  • Finsch

    Finsch

    4 Aug, 2018 09:56 pm

    CX stands out for frequency, service, and food.
    Melbourne lounge compact but perfectly formed. Hong Kong lounges superb. Arrivals lounge a bonus.
    No member give thanks

  • Ian_from_HKG

    Ian_from_HKG

    9 Aug, 2018 02:58 pm

    David, since you mention oneworld lounge access rights, and the CX arrival lounge in Hong Kong, and you also mention that (although you didn't phrase it this way) QF and CX passengers can "mix-and match" on departure lounges and use either QF or CX lounges, I think it would be helpful to clarify that arrival lounges are NOT part of the oneworld lounge arrangements. Accordingly the CX arrival lounge in Hong Kong is ONLY available to passengers on CX.
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16 Aug, 2018 04:15 pm

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