Which airline is the best to fly from Australia to Hong Kong?

If you're one of the 2.68 million travellers who each year jet between Australia and Hong Kong, get ready for some fierce competition.

Virgin Australia is edging its way into the route which to date has been a cosy two-horse race between Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

The uppity challenger began its push into Asia with the launch of Melbourne-Hong Kong flight in July 2017, and plans to start a Sydney-Hong Kong service in the middle of this year.

Sydney and Melbourne account for just over-two thirds of passengers to and from Hong Kong, according to the federal government's Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (now that's an impressive workplace name to drop at parties and impress your dinner date).

Add Brisbane – which also hosts daily Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights and is likewise on Virgin's radar – and it's a market of some 2.2 million passengers.

Little wonder that Virgin Australia wants to carve out its own slice of that pie, especially the juicy bit containing corporate high-flyers.

So how do these airlines compare for the HK-bound business traveller?

The schedule

Virgin is promising a mid-morning departure from Sydney, in a timeslot bracketed by two daily Qantas flights – with all three airlines listing an overnight return from Hong Kong.

In Melbourne, Virgin's daily flights will be trimmed back to five per week from mid-year in order to accommodate the new Sydney service – and they'll leave at 12.30am (yes, just after midnight).


But Cathay Pacific comes up trumps in both cities. With four daily flights from Sydney and three from Melbourne, the Hong Kong flag carrier lets business traveller choose a flight which suits them rather than the airline.

This is especially useful on the return leg from Hong Kong because many road warriors prefer to fly back to Australia during the day, have the evening with their family and reset the body clock with a good night's sleep in their own bed.

The seat

The best of all three airlines on display, and they boast the best traits of modern business class. The seats are wide, comfortable and convert into a fully lie-flat bed, with ample personal space so you can spread out your work during the flight.

Choosing from this highly-rated selection makes the question of 'which seat is best' rather subjective.

Out of Melbourne, Cathay's CX104 and CX134 flights feature its very latest Airbus A350 business class with a markedly improved seat compared to the airline's Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s.

Just be careful of the Qantas flights from Sydney, as some feature an Airbus A380 or Boeing 747 whose last-generation Skybed II seats have a bothersome 2-2-2 layout, a tendency to sag in bed mode and very little space for keeping your kit close at hand.

Cathay's A350s are also the only jets on the route with inflight Internet, which is prices at a very reasonable $25 for the entire flight.

The meals

The best inflight meals en route to Hong Kong also depends on one's own taste, quite literally so.

I usually dine in the lounge and then opt for something lighter during the flight.

But all else being equal, I'd vote for Virgin Australia. Resident chef Luke Mangan's meals are absolutely restaurant-grade but not overly heavy or fussy, and consistently calibrated at the right portion size and flavours to enjoy above the clouds.

The lounges

Without its own international lounges, Virgin Australia relies on that of partner Etihad in Melbourne – it's not yet known which lounge it will use in Sydney. In Hong Kong Virgin shares the excellent business class lounge of Hong Kong Airlines.

The Qantas business class lounges at Sydney and Melbourne are underwhelming for what should be 'flagship' lounges: thankfully the Sydney lounge is in line for a high-end make-over next year.

However if you hold Platinum status with the Qantas Frequent Flyer program you'll have entry into the superb first class lounges.

At the other end of the journey, Qantas' Hong Kong lounge holds the crown in its international business class network.

Cathay Pacific's business class flyers have access to these Qantas lounges, including the first class lounges should they hold Qantas Platinum or Cathay Pacific Diamond status.

But Cathay boasts its own collection of five stunning lounges at Hong Kong, and I rate its flagship The Pier first class and business class lounges as among the world's best.

Qantas business class passengers and Gold and platinum frequent flyers can also use the Cathay Pacific lounges as both airlines belong to the same Oneworld airline alliance.

Cathay Pacific will later this month open another lounge in Hong Kong – dubbed The Deck, it features an outdoor terrace and is conveniently located right next to the Qantas lounge.

Finally, if your overnight Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong lands early in the morning there is also an exclusive Arrivals lounge where you can freshen up with a shower, grab breakfast and get on top of you inbox.

I find this very handy when I'm on CX138 from Sydney, which often lands an hour before the airport express train to the city begins running at 5am.

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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Have you flown to HK recently? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.