Best of Business Class options on Trans-Tasman routes

Neglected business travellers on the Trans-Tasman route are finally getting some love.
Neglected business travellers on the Trans-Tasman route are finally getting some love. Photo: iStock

New Zealand is Australia's most popular international destination, but it's one of the most poorly served for business travellers looking for business class seats and service.

According to government statistics, an average of 508,000 travellers jet across the pond each month.

Yet of the three airlines flying most frequently between Australia and New Zealand, only Qantas offers business class on all flights.

That's soon to change, with Virgin Australia launching trans-Tasman business class from March next year.

The Sydney-Auckland route will receive Virgin's first pointy end seats across the pond, with Melbourne and Brisbane flights to follow.

Virgin will be fitting eight 19.5-inch-wide leather-clad business class seats with a 38-inch pitch to all 10 of its Boeing 737-800 jets plying 'The Ditch', replacing their current premium economy cabin.

Virgin ups the trans-Tasman ante

Virgin says it's about more than just the seats. Creature comforts will include international-style amenity kits for flights over three hours, a 'coat check-in service' with free coat bag, and a "Luke Mangan gourmet full-service dining experience".

If those strokes sound familiar, it's because they're from the same playbook Virgin Australia used to challenge Qantas on the lucrative transcontinental routes between Australia's eastern cities and Perth.

That was a market with a sub-par business travel experience until Virgin Australia raised the bar with its lie-flat Airbus A330 business class seats.

This goosed Qantas into upgrading its east-west flights with the all-new Business Suite, an impressive leap-ahead seat that will debut on domestic cross-country routes in December this year.

Virgin's response is its own next-gen business class seat, which is expected to be revealed on Wednesday.

While the Qantas-Virgin trans-Tasman turf war won't see a repeat of this expensive exercise, it's enough that Virgin Australia's appetite for a larger slice of the corporate travel pie is delivering better seats to the suits.

The pick of the NZ crop

Virgin's Kiwi partner Air New Zealand mainly flies all-economy planes over the Tasman. The airline's 'Works Deluxe' ticket ensures primo position on the plane and an empty seat next to you, but it's still a normal economy seat with the same legroom.

Savvy business travellers know to look for Air New Zealand flights where the flight number is in the 100s – such as NZ100/101, which darts between Sydney and Auckland.

Those flight numbers are assigned to the larger twin-aisle jets such as the Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, all of which sport an international-grade business class cabin.

(Conversely, flight numbers in the 700s run on the economy-only Airbus A320 jets, while four-digit NZ flight numbers in the 7000 series are on Virgin Australia planes.)

Air New Zealand's lounges are a weak link in the Virgin/NZ alliance, especially compared to Qantas's exceptional First lounges in Sydney and Melbourne which are available to Platinum-grade trans-Tasman frequent flyers.

However, Air NZ will soon begin an extensive upgrade of its lounges at Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland, along similar lines to the excellent Star Alliance lounge at Los Angeles that Air New Zealand built and manages.

Ditch done deluxe

But if you want to snare the very best business class seat to NZ and back, jump on one of Emirates' three daily Airbus A380s that fly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Auckland and back.

The flights you want are EK412/413 for Sydney, EK406/407 for Melbourne and EK434/435 for Brisbane.

These super-jumbos arrive into Australia from Dubai in the early morning, then do a quick same-day trip to Auckland and back before continuing to Dubai. Emirates also flies a daily Boeing 777 from Sydney to Christchurch offering business class seats .

They're not nearly as good as the A380's, though, which are wide and comfortable with plenty of legroom. There's a table large enough to use your laptop and eat dinner at the same time, and AC power to keep devices charged.

An inflight bar with cocktails and top-shelf tipples encourages socialising at 30,000 feet, and there's a five-star meal service.

To give you a taste (literally), he week I wrote this column, dinner on the EK413 Auckland-Sydney service included duck confit, lamb loin and pan-friend salmon as mains, with poached prawns as the starter and a chocolate salted caramel tart to finish off.

The best bit? When booked through partner Qantas under a QF flight number (to earn the maximum number of frequent flyer points and status credits), these seats cost the same as Qantas' standard business class benches.

That's around $1740 for a Business Saver return ticket between Sydney and Auckland booked in late September.

A cheaper choice

A more affordable option for business travellers on a budget is South American airline LAN, with a daily flight (LA800/801) between Sydney and Santiago bouncing through Auckland en route.

LAN's lie-flat business class seat (albeit not quite horizontal when deployed) doesn't match that of Emirates A380, but it's plenty comfortable.

And as long as you don't mind the 6am departure from Auckland back to Sydney, it's insanely priced, down to around $777 return at the end of September.

There's just one big caveat: LAN's Aussie-Auckland leg is well known for running late or even being cancelled, which is the last thing a business traveller needs.

That said, in the event of a cancellation you'll usually be rebooked onto LAN's Oneworld partner Qantas.

Which airline is your choice for trans-Tasman travel, and why?

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

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