Qantas Vs Virgin Australia For Business Travel

Virgin Australia is increasingly promoting itself as a business travel alternative; domestic business trips are a core part of Qantas' profitability. But how much difference is there really between the two? Road Worrier decided to find out by flying both in a single day.

Last Wednesday, I had a last-minute (by my standards) day trip to Canberra for work purposes. Following Lifehacker's standard advice on the subject, I researched flights and discovered that the best arrangement was to fly Qantas in the morning and Virgin Australia for the return to Sydney in the evening. Regular readers will be aware that I tend to fly Qantas most of the time; for the morning flight, its schedule was the only one that was suitable, and there wasn't a particularly pronounced pricing difference. However, in the evening, Virgin was notably cheaper, which made it the more appropriate selection for what is, ultimately, a very brief flight.

Since I took advantage of Virgin's offer last year to status-match Qantas frequent flyers, my economy Virgin ticket still included lounge access. As such, the trip seemed like a good opportunity to test out just how the two airlines compare when you're on the road for work. Canberra is in many ways the ultimate business travel destination; hardly anyone flies there for pleasure. This was the first day in almost nine months that I actually wore a suit, and if I hadn't, I'd have definitely been in a minority on both flights.

I didn't fly in business class. That was partly because most business travellers don't, and partly because it's often not an option anyway for Canberra. My morning Qantas flight was with QantasLink, which is a single-class plane; Virgin's E190 has two rows of "business", but the seats are identical and the only real point of differentiation is a hot meal. In transit terms, what's on offer in the terminal is just as relevant to having a productive day.

Below, I've compared how the two airlines performed in the areas that matter from a business travel perspective. It's fair to say that in most departments, there's really not much that separates them, and both offer a notably better experience than the budget alternatives (Jetstar and Tiger). But in a crucial area, one did fall behind. Read on to find out which one.

Booking and check-in: tie

Both airlines let you check in and print boarding passes in advance, which is the fastest way to speed through an airport. Qantas' super-speedy boarding option where the pass is printed at the gate wasn't a choice I used this time, since you can't select your seat in advance on QantasLink flights without going through the online check-in process anyway.

Punctuality: tie

My flights both called on time, boarded on time and landed on time. Individual experience will vary with this, but punctuality statistics suggest that there's little variation between the two. (It also helped that the flights weren't full and most people had minimal luggage.)

On-board food: tie

You can't serve much food and drink on a flight that's barely in the air for 30 minutes, but both airlines did their level best. Qantas offered up a muffin, trail mix, juice and a hot drink on the morning flight. More surprisingly, Virgin Australia gave out free alcoholic drinks and a snack (cheese and biscuits) to everyone on the evening flight. This is not something Virgin does on most flights, where paying for everything you consume is the norm. Indeed, our cabin crew went out of the way to point out that this wasn't a new, standard service; rather, it's an apparently essential step to persuading Canberra types to consider the airline. Regardless, I wasn't objecting.

Lounge facilities: Qantas

This was the one area where Qantas definitely won out. Virgin's Canberra lounge is serviceable enough — it has food and drink and Wi-Fi and power outlets — but in every department, it pales next to the recently revamped Qantas facilities there, or what I'd experienced that morning in Sydney. My biggest objection was the cube seating around the tables which offer power outlets, which was really uncomfortable to sit at. When I arrived at 4:30pm, the lounge was also close to maximum capacity; if I had been 15 minutes later, I'd have had no outlet access at all.

The free Wi-Fi was easy to access (just connect up, no sign-in screen), but didn't offer the same speed as the recently revamped Qantas offering from Optus. In Sydney, I routinely see 20Mbps download speeds; Virgin's offering was lucky to crack a tenth of that. That said, it wasn't so slow as to be objectionable.

Virgin is due to have a new and expanded space in Canberra when terminal rebuilding is finished, which might solve the space and rubbish furniture problems. However, I don't think it will fix the other area where Virgin lags behind somewhat: hot food and drinks. As a platinum flyer, in a Qantas lounge, I'd have a couple of hot meals (plus soup) to choose from in the evening, along with salads, snacks and a selection of wines and bears. With Virgin, the one hot food option I had was toast. The wine was also notably cheaper than the Qantas selections. I'd planned my day around dining in the lounge, and toast was, honestly, not what I had in mind.

If you aren't going to use the lounge anyway, there really was nothing much else to separate the two airlines on this flight, and you might as well choose on price and schedule. But where those are equal, right now I'd still argue Qantas has the edge for working on the go.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman does not recommend fly-in fly-out visits on a regular basis. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    As someone that flys with both often, I find the big thing for me is the express queue to board the plane for gold and above on Virgin is a massive win for me. I like walking straight from the lounge on to the plane without having to wait and settling in.

    "and a selection of wines and bears"

    Polar or brown bear?

    I'd suggest a second test return flight, such as Sydney to Melbourne, is possibly warranted to test out the inflight facilities for a longer duration, but in regards to Virgin Australia's Lounge, Melbourne is pretty identical to Canberra's, so it looks like a second win to Qantas in this category.

      Errr, Virgin Australia's lounge in MEL is completely different to the one in CBR. The MEL lounge had a revamp last year.

    While I miss the hot meal in the Virgin lounge, I really like that they have a sandwich toaster. Why can't the Qantas lounge just have a simple sandwich press to turn the pretty poor offering into a meal?

    Plus you're comparing the Qantas business lounge with the lower-spec (they only have one type) Virgin lounge. You should compare apples with apples - the pleb-spec Qantas lounge doesn't have multiple hot meals, just a dodgy macaroni and cheese.

    For me the big win with Virgin is that they empty the plane out of both the front and rear doors. If you've lucked out with a seat up the back this can mean 15 minutes waiting, and if you're arriving in Canberra, 15 minutes is a lot if there aren't enough taxis!

      A few points:

      * no dual-emptying on the return flight to Sydney
      * Given I'm the same status with Qantas and Virgin, it seems reasonable to compare the standard of lounge I get offered at that status. But even the 'standard' Qantas lounge has more hot food options in my experience (and more than the zero from Virgin)
      * it was a toaster, not a toasted sandwich maker :)

      Ah, OK. I haven't used the Melbourne Lounge for some time.

    I think Angus may have mentioned this in a previous post, but for those who don't know, Virgin now have a "Capital Connect" program where they give out snacks and drinks plus free newspapers on board for flights before noon and give out wine on flights after 4pm on all flights from Canberra - Sydney and Canberra - Melbourne (both ways). Apparently the Canberra - Sydney route is one of the most lucrative routes in Australia, and Virgin are trying to take some of the business travellers away from Qantas from that route.

    I travel extensively around Australia and would cringe when I had to fly Virgin, this has all changed I now balk at Qantas. The aircraft are tired, the staff are even more tired. The express lane for boarding Virgin is the clincher - what with every man and his dog bringing huge luggage allowances on board, if you are not on first you will have to sit with your bag. The Virgin lounges serve hot food - I had a lovely curry in Mel last Friday and the food and coffee is great. Qantas time to lift your game!

      Big fan of the Sydney and Melbourne Virgin lounges but have a hard time being positive about the "new" Brisbane revamp. Less is not always "more".

    Have to agree with Steve - am in the Brissy Virgin Lounge now.

    So few powerpoints, and the poor toaster is sounding tortured.

    A bit of oil would not go astray, poor thing is squealing :(

    Cleaning leaves a little to be desired too.

    Still the wine is nice and headphones drown out the errant appliance - fortunately!

    You can't beat the side door access to the Virgin Sydney Lounge. You never have to queue to get security screened.

Join the discussion!