A year of change for business travellers

For most Australian business travellers and frequent flyers, December 2014 looks nothing like 12 months prior – and there's no sign of things slowing down in 2015.

Here's a recap of the year that's gone, and a preview of the year to come.

The money-go-round

Qantas and Virgin Australia both lurched into 2014 with the spectre of record losses looming, and their shared mid-year loss of $857 million didn't disappoint.

Fast-forward barely six months and it's a decidedly different picture. An end to the 'capacity wars' in Australian skies, falling fuel prices and lower Aussie dollar have turned the CFOs' frowns upside down.

Qantas expects to see a $300-350 million profit for the six months from July to December, driven primarily by its dramatic cost-cutting and 'transformation' program, while Virgin Australia is also tracking back into the black.

The renewed battle for business class

During the latter half of the year, Qantas and Virgin Australia unveiled next-generation business class seats for east-west transcontinental flights and some international routes.

Both offer long, wide lie-flat beds; direct aisle access without stepping over your seatmate; ample room for inflight working, plus plenty of space to stow your carry-on kit while keeping it within reach.


The Qantas Business Suite (above) will debut on domestic Airbus A330 flights including Sydney-Perth before the year is out, followed by selected Asian routes (beginning with Melbourne-Singapore) from mid-January.

Virgin's 'business/first' A330 seat will launch on east-west routes in March 2015, with an international route tipped to follow.

It'll also be fitted to the airline's international Boeing 777s from November 2015.

Frequent flyers win some, lose some

The two airlines followed decidedly different paths with their respective frequent flyer schemes in 2014.

Qantas rejigged the way it calculated frequent flyer points and status credits from July 1, using the cost of the ticket as the yardstick rather than the distance flown.

The introduction of geographic zones and expansion of ticket categories or booking classes were poorly communicated, while the number of status credits earned on partner airlines such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific were slashed by as much as half.

Qantas trumpeted the changes as 'Fairer Flying' – a slogan which for the social media set was akin to painting a big red bullseye on the Red Roo's chest.

By comparison, Virgin Australia won cheers rather than jeers from its Velocity frequent flyers when it inked a 'points exchange' deal with Singapore Airlines.

The world-first program lets members of one airline's frequent flyer program convert their points into those of another.

Lounging around

2014 saw a surprisingly large number of new airport lounges open their doors.

Qantas built on the highly-regarded rep of its Singapore lounge with a similar yet unique lounge at Hong Kong, then headed stateside to open a swish new business lounge at Los Angeles.

This week sees a ribbon-cutting on the adjacent Qantas first class lounge at LAX, which will feature a Neil Perry restaurant with seasonal menus and a la carte dining.

Sydney Airport's T1 international terminal also gained new lounges for Etihad and, just this week, American Express and SkyTeam.

On the slate for 2015 is a stylish makeover for Air New Zealand's long-in-the-tooth Sydney lounge; all-new Qantas and Virgin Australia lounges at Perth's domestic terminals; and, in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific will reveal a contemporary refresh of its flagship lounge, The Pier.

Sky-high luxe

Etihad didn't so much raise the bar as blast it into orbit when it launched a three-room VIP suite for its Airbus A380.

Dubbed The Residence, it boasted a separate bedroom (with double bed), bathroom (with shower) and living room attended by a Savoy-trained butler.

The A380 and Boeing 787 first class Apartment suites featured individual armchairs and a full-length ottoman which transforms into a fully flat bed, while business class is in turn closer to first class on some of today's airlines.

We'll see all this first-hand next year, with Etihad flying its Airbus A380 into Sydney from June 1 while the Boeing 787 is bound for Brisbane from the same date.

Roam if you want to

International roaming with your smartphone continued to lose the fear factor as telcos dropped overseas voice and data charges and adopted jetsetter-friendly plans and travel packs.

Vodafone continued to expand the reach of its $5/day 'roam like home' network with almost 50 countries now on the roaming roster.

Last week it went one step further, dropping the $5/day charge for all Red plans above $100/month.

As the year wound down Telstra finally got a dose of roaming religion with International Travel Passes offering free calls and text messages plus an average of 50MB per day.

The downside? In most countries a handy three-day travel pass with a meagre 150MB of data will cost you $30.

But it's a start, and we hope to see even sweeter fruits of competition next year.

What do you see as the biggest win for business travellers in 2014, and what are you most looking forward to in 2015?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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