All the very best in business travel

With 2012 drawing to a close, it's time to hand out the gongs in the Australian Business Traveller awards. The focus is on airlines that operate in Australian skies so that these awards reflect a uniquely Australian perspective on the best in business travel.

Best Frequent Flyer Program: Virgin Velocity

Many Australian business travellers spend as much time at airport lounges as they do in the air, so a good lounge is a highly-prized haven.

Simply put, while Qantas boasts more members, Virgin offers more benefits – especially ones that make life easier for the business traveller.

That includes free Gold and Platinum-level membership of hotel and car hire loyalty programs, upgrade certificates, a membership status pause for new parents, family pooling of points, and guaranteed reward seats for family holidays.

There are also some canny ways to earn points, from buying music and apps on iTunes to shopping online at Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Topshop.

Best Domestic Business Class: Virgin Australia

This category proved a close call but Virgin's new business class across its Boeing 737, Airbus A330 and Embraer E190 jets ticks all the boxes for quality, consistency, comfort, service and value.

Best International Business Class: Cathay Pacific

Cathay's new Cirrus business class seats are a dramatic turnaround from the previous generation of high walled cubicle-inspired Olympus seats.


The stylish design hits a perfect balance between privacy and accessibility, with plenty of personal storage space and direct aisle access for every passenger due to the 1-2-1 layout.

From January next year Cathay Pacific will offer these new seats on all flights out of Australia, giving Hong Kong-bound travellers a chance to see why we rate these seats so highly.

Best International Premium Economy: Qantas

With an increasing number of business travellers feeling the financial pinch, premium economy hits the value-for-money sweet spot.

It's a tight race between Qantas and Cathay Pacific but we feel the Red Roo edges ahead on the comfort of its sculptured Marc Newson-designed premium economy seat.

Best International First Class Seats: Qantas, BA

The push towards fully enclosed private suites makes it necessary to break first class into two categories: seats and suites.

It's a photo finish between Qantas and BA in the 'first class: seats' category with the two airlines on par for sumptuous furnishings, meals, service and overall ambience.

Best International First Class Suites: Singapore Airlines, Emirates

This one was another tie. Singapore Airlines has pretty much defined the 'suites' experience, and it's rare to hear anything but fervent praise for these plush private cabins.

And while many feel that Emirates goes overboard on the bling factor in its A380 suites, the opportunity to have a shower at 40,000 feet tends to trump decor excess.

Best Transcontinental Service: Virgin Australia

The coast-to-coast contest could be more evenly matched next year if Qantas makes good on its promise to upgrade the current Airbus A330 'business class' seats to something worthy of the name.

In the meantime, Virgin Australia wins the transcontinental turf war with the international-grade seats and service on its latest A330s.

As we observed in an earlier High Flyer column, Virgin's A330 business class is so good "that it's hard to believe you're not packing your passport and headed overseas."

Best Trans-Tasman Service: Emirates

Australia's busiest international routes are those which bounce across the pond to New Zealand.

Yet neither Qantas, Virgin Australia or Air New Zealand offer much in the way of actual business class – beginning with wide, comfortable seats offering plenty of legroom.

By comparison, Emirates' decision to run its Airbus A380s daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Auckland gives frequent flyers a true business class experience.

Best Australian Lounges: Qantas

Many Australian business travellers spend as much time at airport lounges as they do in the air, so a good lounge is a highly-prized haven.

Qantas' domestic dominance would count for little if the airline wasn't clearly investing in its lounges to the point where some – notably the Qantas First Lounge at Sydney Interntional Airport – are not just world-class but world-beaters.

But that's just part of a canny triple play which includes the mainstream Qantas Club and the Qantas Business Lounge for business travellers and Platinum frequent flyers.

Best International Lounges: Cathay Pacific

It's a given that an airline's most impressive lounge is at its home port. In the case of Cathay Pacific, this sees Hong Kong International Airport blessed with several excellent lounges.

Even before the flagship Wing First Class emerges from its make-over cocoon in early February, the stylish Wing Business Class with its noodle bar and loft cafe is impressive.

Better still is Cathay's rolling upgrade of all worldwide lounges – most recently at London Heathrow, San Francisco and Paris – with the same high standards and contemporary style.

Best Airline Alliance: oneworld

Of the three global airline alliances, oneworld already has a head start due to Qantas being a cornerstone member.

It's true that Star Alliance and SkyTeam have more member airlines under their wing.  But oneworld partner airlines can take you almost everywhere a business traveller needs to go and it's easy to rack up oneworld frequent flyer points and status through Qantas, even when you're shuttling around the country on domestic flights.

And that status counts for plenty, with the Platinum-level oneworld Emerald tier opening the doors at some stunning first class lounges even if you're flying economy.

Who do you rate as the best in these categories? Which airlines are the winners in your own personal business travel awards?

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

Twitter: @AusBT