Business travellers benefit in raft of improvements

From better seats and first class suites to new lounges, there's plenty of goodness ahead for Australia's business travellers and frequent flyers. Here's a look at the milestones of 2015 through the High Flyer lens.

Throughout 2015 we'll see a solid rollout of Qantas's new A330 Business Suite in business class cabins on domestic and international routes.

The first of the refurbished jets is already flying on the Sydney-Perth and Melbourne-Perth routes, along with some shorter Sydney-Melbourne jumps, and will be joined by a second early next month.

Qantas has also launched an international version of the made-over A330 on its Singapore routes, with this plane shared between Sydney-Singapore and Melbourne-Singapore.

As more of the international birds roll out of Qantas's Brisbane hangar, Singapore-bound business travellers will see them on every flight, with Hong Kong reportedly the next city on the list.

Scoot off to Singapore

February 5 will see Singapore Airlines' low-cost offshoot Scoot begin Boeing 787 flights between Perth and Singapore.

The business class seats are more akin to Qantas premium economy in legroom and recline, and there are no lounges or even frequent flyer points on offer.

But Scoot's aggressively low prices – which start from $300 each way on sale – plus the modern comfort of the Boeing 787 will attract many business travellers on a budget.

Scoot will bring the Boeing 787 to Sydney mid-year and Melbourne in November.


Qantas: no new planes, but new routes?

At the end of February, Qantas and Virgin Australia will report on their financials for the July-December 2014 period.

Qantas will be the big winner, expecting to land back in the black with an underlying pre-tax profit as high as $350 million, compared with a $252 million loss in the same period one year earlier.

But don't expect an announcement on buying those on-hold Boeing 787s any time soon, with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce saying the company's first priority is to quickly pay down its billion dollar debt.

However, rumours are circulating of additional routes for the once-again-profitable Qantas International, including a return for Sydney-San Francisco and ongoing flights to Vancouver.

From the end of February, Virgin Australia will launch business class across the pond as it brings the trans-Tasman fight to Qantas by replacing the current premium economy cabin on all 10 of its Australia-NZ jets.

First up will be Sydney-Auckland from February 28, with Melbourne and Brisbane flights to follow from March 31.

Virgin Australia's next-generation A330 business class will also take to the skies in early April, placing Qantas and its challenger neck-and-neck on the competitive transcontinental route.

Also in April, South America's LAN Airlines will begin flying the Boeing 787 between Sydney and Santiago – with a stopover in Auckland also providing a quick trans-Tasman dash on the advanced Dreamliner.

However, it's the longer 11-hour flight between Auckland and the Chilean capital where the Boeing 787's jetlag-busting traits such as lower cabin altitude and higher humidity will be most evident.

Emirates, Etihad raise the bar

By May, Air New Zealand should be ready to cut the ribbon on its new flagship lounge at Sydney, which will take some design cues from the Star Alliance lounge at LAX operated by the Kiwi carrier.

Similarly swished-up AirNZ lounges will open their doors in Auckland mid-year and Brisbane by year's end.

Qantas partner Emirates will begin flying its flagship Airbus A380 between Perth and Dubai from May 1 on the daily EK420/421 service.

Boasting private first class suites as well as inflight showers and a bar for first and business class passengers, the superjumbo will be welcomed by Perth's many pointy-end passengers.

Emirates' Gulf neighbour and rival Etihad Airways treats Australian business travellers to a double upgrade from June 1, with its flagship A380 moving onto the Sydney-Abu Dhabi route while the new, larger Boeing 787-9 is added to Brisbane-Abu Dhabi.

The Brisbane flight will ditch the route's current Singapore stopover to become a time-saving direct service.

Both the A380 and the Boeing 787 will feature Etihad's all-new Business Studio business class cabin, plus first class suites.

But bragging rights will go to whoever snares the A380's three-room VIP suite.

Christened The Residence, this penthouse in the clouds has its own living room, bathroom/shower and bedroom, with a Savoy-trained butler on call.

The cost for this slice of sky-luxe? A return trip from Sydney to London in The Residence will cost a staggering $86,000.

New lounges for Qantas, Virgin, Cathay Pacific

This takes us through to mid-year, by which time we'll see an extension to the Qantas business class lounge at Los Angeles plus the re-opening of Cathay Pacific's The Pier first class lounge at Hong Kong.

The new wing of the Qantas LAX lounge will make room for another 200 travellers and include its own dining room featuring a substantially wider range of meals – including a 'plate of the day', similar to what's already seen in the Singapore and Hong Kong lounges.

Also on the cards: seven more shower suites, a family zone, and a business zone with six desktop computers.

Closer to home, long-running upgrades to Perth Airport should draw to a close around the middle of the year.

This will allow Qantas to open a new business lounge and upgrade the travel experience for business class passengers and Platinum-grade frequent flyers, as well as alleviate overcrowding in the current Qantas Club.

Virgin Australia will open its own flagship lounge along the same lines as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, plus its invitation-only The Club lounge (similar to Qantas' Chairman's Lounge).

Virgin will also use the opportunity to roll out a new check-in system to speed the path for business class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers.

Qantas sharpen its focus on Japan with the July 31 launch of direct flights between Brisbane and Tokyo's Narita airport, and shift the current Sydney-Narita flights to land at Tokyo's Haneda airport, which is closer to the CBD.

That's just seven months into what is shaping as a packed year for the business traveller. Which of these developments are you most looking forward to?

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

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