Is flying Qantas first class ever worth the money?

The Flying Kangaroo's first class suites could be on their last legs, with the airline ruling out the purchase of more Airbus A380s and pushing ahead on a cutting-edge business class which closes the 'class gap' at the pointy end of the plane.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last week confirmed that the airline would stick with its current fleet of 12 superjumbos and ice the remaining eight on the order books.

With Qantas removing the outdated first class seats from nose of most Boeing 747s, this leaves first class flying exclusive to the A380s and its flagship routes to London (via Dubai), Los Angeles and Dallas.

The end of the pointy end?

It's on those long flights when first class comes into its own – especially between Sydney and Dallas. If you have to spend almost 16 hours on a plane, those well-appointed private pods are the place to be.

But how much longer will we see first class on the Flying Kangaroo?

The Boeing 787s which Qantas will begin flying from October 2017 will top out at business class, using a design similar to the airline's superb Airbus 330 Business Suite.

This is easily among the world's best business class seats and typifies the shrinking gap between business and first class.

Bridging the gap

Qantas has nodded to both the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777X series as potential replacements for the Airbus A380 around the mid-2020s, which means it could be a decade until we see a new Qantas first class … and by then, business class will have evolved even further and the gap to first class could be a step simply not worth taking.

If so, Qantas isn't alone. It would join the roll call of airlines which are walking away from first class.


That's partly because their current or next-gen business class is more than good enough, and also because demand for first class has been steadily tapering off.

Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, United Airlines and Qatar Airways are all keeping their existing first class cabins but won't fit them to new aircraft joining their respective fleets.

Super business

For instance, Qatar Airways' forthcoming 'super business class' seat – to be launched in November this year – will feature sliding doors to convert it into a suite-like cabin, creating what the airline has tagged as a 'business class bedroom'.

(Taking that one step further, the two middle seats will reportedly convert into a double bed if you're flying with your partner.)

Not all airlines are pulling the pin. Emirates and Singapore Airlines will reveal all-new suites over the coming year in their attempts to catch up with Etihad's world-beating A380 Apartments. British Airways and Swiss also remain in the first class club.

And with Qantas eyeing 18+ hour direct flights such as Sydney to New York and Perth to London, it could be argued that its future fleet – those long-legged Airbus or Boeing jets – could benefit from a handful of first class suites for travellers who want long-haul luxe and privacy and are prepared to pay for it.

But today, not 10 years down the track, is Qantas first class really worth it?

So is it worth it?

If the price is right, it's a steal. From September to October you're looking at $10,000 to Los Angeles against an equivalent business class fare of $9000.

It's a bigger jump if you're jetting to London, with $12,400 for first class compared to an average of $9000 for business class.

Qantas frequent flyer points represent the best value here, with just 60,000 points snaring you an upgrade from business to first class all the way from Sydney or Melbourne to London (depending on there being a first class suite available, of course).

I regularly use points to upgrade to first class on the long London trek.

You certainly get a much better seat than in today's A380 business class: it's a semi-private pod-like suite in a compact cabin of just 14 fellow flyers compared to the superjumbo's crowded 2-2-2 business class.

Better than business

And for me, that's what matters most: greater comfort and a much better sleep than in business class, which is especially important when many of my trips are a 'hit the ground running' affair.

The service is understandably top-notch, but while the inflight meals are better they're not a quantum leap over business class.

(There's an indulgent degustation menu if you want to spend hours grazing with matching wines, but I don't fly just for the eating and drinking.)

If you don't have Platinum status in the Qantas Frequent Flyer program then being able to use the first class lounge at Sydney, Melbourne, LAX or Dubai (during your stopover en route to London) becomes a compelling part of the experience.

However if you have that Platinum card, then you can get into those lounges regardless – even if you're flying in economy.

And if you enjoy a great pre-flight meal at the lounge you'd certainly pass on the degustation menu for fear of ending up like Monty Python's Mr Creosote.

What's your experience with first class – is it worth the extra money you pay over business class, or are today's best business class seats more than good enough?

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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