Jetstar will begin a daily Melbourne-Beijing service from November 24, although the flight will involve a stop-over in Singapore rather than be a direct journey.
Qantas will offer the daily service as a codeshare in what's tipped to be the first of many such arrangements using the Red Roo's low-cost sibling rather than Qantas' own planes and people.
The rack rate for 'Star Class' business class tickets on the Airbus A330 will be $999 each way, with economy at $499.
Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan says the new route "represents a critical step in the continued rollout of our Pan Asian strategy" and also talked up the expansion of services from the airline's Singapore hub, which now hosts onwards connections to almost two dozen destinations.
Qantas is set to recommence regular flights to Beijing flights, but using its low-cost Singapore-based Jetstar Asia franchise.
The announcement will be made today in Beijing by Jetstar's CEO Bruce Buchanan and Jetstar Asia's CEO Chong Phit Liang, according to The Australian's Steve Creedy.
Qantas axed its direct Sydney-Beijing (and Shanghai-Melbourne) flights in early 2009, leaving only Sydney-Shanghai on the timetable. This service has suffered from the fact that there's no oneworld alliance airline in China to provide connections from Shanghai to the rest of the country.
Nor has geography helped Qantas. Airlines based in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have their hubs strategically placed en route to other Chinese destinations -- but business travellers with Qantas who need to visit the Pearl River Delta manufacturing area, for example, have to fly from Sydney to Shanghai and then back down south again.
The Australia-China market has become even more competitive in recent years, with several Chinese airlines flying to and from Australian cities on new planes with full business class offerings.
Jetstar's route map shows the Australian airports that may have potential connection options via Singapore: Darwin, Melbourne or Perth.
But it's hard to believe that business travellers will swap fully flat business class beds on Air China -- or even angled-flat seats on China Southern, Hainan Airlines or China Eastern -- for Jetstar's so-called business class. The new Jetstar business class is just a rebrand of its old Star Class, which is really a Premium Economy seat.
Here's Jetstar's offering:
And here's the competition from Air China:
Is Jetstar's offering too little, too late to make a dent in the Australia-China business class market? And, of course, is this a taste of what we'll see as part of the "strategic renewal of Qantas international" promised by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce?