Review: Virgin Australia Business Class, Sydney – Gold Coast

After staying in Sydney to see family there, we headed up to Gold Coast for six nights where my cousin, his wife and two kids live. My aunt, uncle, and my other cousin and her family actually went up there for three nights too and we stayed for six.

Sydney – Gold Coast, Virgin Australia VA519 12:20 p.m. – 1:40 p.m.

Choosing Which Airline To Fly To Gold Coast

Normally I’d be inclined to pick up Qantas tickets in coach for the short 1 hour 20 minute flight, using my American AAdvantage status for priority check-in and boarding, lounge and extra baggage. But those were pricing at around $300 in economy for the one way trip while Virgin Australia was asking $200 for business class.

I could have halved that cost flying Virgin Australia’s economy, which would have been fine for the hour’s journey. But I decided that the extra cost made sense since it would come with priority check-in (meaningful with lines at the airport on the Friday of a start to a three day weekend) as well as a greater checked baggage allowance. We were traveling for 17 days with a three year old and had luggage. The better seat, meal and lounge access would be bonus.

Awards were available through Aeroplan at 20,000 points apiece plus taxes, way too expensive for a flight of just $200. No Qantas award space had been open.

I credited miles from the trip to my Air Canada Aeroplan account. We were traveling just days into Virgin’s new partnership with United and I credited my wife’s and daughter’s flights to their MileagePlus accounts. Miles for all of us posted smoothly.

Sydney Airport Terminal 2

Local news was full of reports of packed airports, so we decided to turn up two hours in advance at Sydney’s domestic terminal 2 which houses Virgin, Jetstar, Tiger and REX. We knew that there wouldn’t be a premium security line, and we’d have to check bags. Even so we had way too much time to kill before our short one hour 20 minute flight.

The airport was packed but fortunately we only had to wait behind 5 or 6 people in the premium check-in queue to turn over our bags, and then we headed through security.

We kept our daughter in her stroller at this point, and we were directed to the assistance (‘family’) lane which had almost no line and so even without a priority queue we were able to skip security lines. And security is much faster in Australia for domestic flights anyway since there’s no ID check, no boarding pass check, and no liquid ban. We were through in just a couple of minutes, and had plenty of time to kill in the lounge.

Virgin Australia Lounge Sydney

The Virgin lounge was immediately past security and hard to miss because of the giant construction shroud around the entryway. It was a quick elevator ride up a floor from there.

The lounge was super busy but that’s not surprising given how full flights were and how many flights Virgin Australia is now operating out of the terminal (and that elite status provides lounge access, not just class of service or a paid membership). They also offer access to partner elites as well as having a buy-in option.

Drinks were self-serve, except the coffee where there was a barista, but the buffet was staffed where you’d request the item you wanted. Covid protocols are strange.

The number of food items were limited, but they were fairly substantive. You could have a wrap, a sandwich, salad, or tortilla chips.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737, Sydney – Gold Coast

We headed down from the lounge over to the gate about a minute before boarding. Boarding commenced on time and we were on the aircraft right away. Virgin Australia Boeing 737s have just two rows of business class, and we’d pre-reserved 3 of the 4 seats in row two for the underseat storage in front of us.

The first class flight attendant was a bit to the point, not super friendly but efficient enough. The plane boarded quickly, we taxied out reasonably fast for Sydney, and once we were in the air he took meal orders.

As soon as I’d finished my meal he cleared my tray, I watched an episode of the latest season of Billions on my phone, and soon enough we were landing at Gold Coast airport. (It used to be called Coolangatta Airport,Coolangatta being Aboriginal for ‘place of good view’, and that’s where the airport’s code OOL comes from.)

Once we landed and taxied in we disembarked via a ramp rather than jetbridge or air stairs.

Virgin Australia In A Nutshell

I was really curious to see what Virgin Australia was like after having been acquired out of bankruptcy (“administration”) by private equity. And the answer was… it’s fine. Indeed, for basic domestic service it reminded me of flying Virgin Australia before the pandemic.

As one expects in Australia (and Europe and Asia) a short business class flight offers a meal. Business class in Australia is a proper seat like it is in the U.S. (and unlike Europe). Staff were reasonable friendly though didn’t stand out in any way. The flight was on time. In effect, the flight was average and as-expected in almost every way.

Virgin Australia domestic business class flight (1-10):

    Seat (50%): 5/10
    Lounge (15%): 5/10
    Food and Beverage (20%): 5/10
    Service (15%): 6/10
    Weighted average: 5.15/10

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. @Billiken Frontier already uses ramps such as those at TTN (and I’m sure other airports)

  2. Whoo-hoo! Now try to get to Australia in business class with any kind of schedule to match a vacation, tour, cruise, etc. My 2,000,000 remaining FFMs won’t get it.

  3. @max, I made multiple trips there the past three months for work and the secret is to get redemptions to BKK (either over the Pacific or via the Middle East) and buy a cheap one way to Oz from there. Not convenient but, it is an option. Worked well for me and was even able to try Oman Air First and Qatar First on the A380 in the process. The r/t in business on Thai to SYD from BKK was around $2K.

    Agreed though, if you want to go the conventional way over the Pacific it’s virtually impossible now on a redemption and fares often approaching $10K R/T on some days in business.

  4. Australia domestic is what we should aspire to in the U.S. We were once like that here but lost our way. I love that even on a 50 minute flight they manage to serve a small meal in the premium cabins. Lounge access, quick security, and nice seating is all part of the package that makes domestic business travel in Oz an absolute pleasure on either Qantas or Virgin.

  5. @305, Thanks! I’ve seen ramps on a smaller scale for regional jets at IAH, I believe, but not for a larger airliner like a 737. I wonder if there’s room to squeeze in a ramp like that for the rear door also.

  6. Were the last couple of pictures taken in portrait mode? They look blurred except for a circular region at the center…

  7. I will never travel with Virgin Australia again.
    I was booked on a flight last Saturday week at 11:30am to be in Sydney by 1pm. (Approximately)
    Missed the 5pm wedding I was meant to be at as the rebooked flight didn’t land until after 5pm…
    Flight was canceled at 8am and I was put on the back of the plane in cattle class and being 6’3 it was the worst flight ever. No offer from virgin for compensation , no apologies nothing

  8. Love to know where you found Business for $200 unless you’re talking USD as VAs lowest is $299. Also Tiger was closed down a year or so ago.

  9. @ AgentGecko

    “Love to know where you found Business for $200 unless you’re talking USD as VAs lowest is $299. Also Tiger was closed down a year or so ago.”

    He’s talking USD, and, yes, lowest VA fares are in the AUD280-300 one way business class range.

    Surely, it can’t right about Tiger Airlines? @ Gary knows everything about Australia (especially the response to COVID – he considers himself an expert because he has family living there), so it’s extremely unlikely that he will get anything wrong, or change it when it’s pointed out to him that he is factually incorrect (some travel bloggers edit their articles when errors are revealed – but IME @ Gary is too busy or proud or whatever to do so). So why bother letting him know that Tiger stopped operating back in March 2020?

    What the article doesn’t tell is that a United Mileage Plus member could scoop the economy flight SYD-OOL on VA for 8,000 miles and about USD15 (@ Gary may not have known about the new partnership when he booked his flights). Also a member with status (Premier, Gold, Platinum, 1K) can access the usual benefits (priority check in, security (where operating), lounge access, additional checked bag, etc) – at some point in the future the “premium entry” facility (direct kerbside access, optional valet parking, flight check-in and a dedicated security screening point) may be reopened, but would not have been available when @ Gary travelled.

    Depending upon fares available on the day, he could have paid as little as about USD50 one way economy and enjoyed status tier benefits through United Mileage Plus (but probably booked before he knew that this was possible).

    Anyway, I only mention such because some readers may find it useful to learn there is a more optimised strategy depending upon their US-based airline status. And to add that there is third player of interest (if we ignore the LCC Jetstar), namely, Rex, about which US-based readers may be largely unfamiliar…;)

  10. @ JohnB

    Arguably VA offers much better “value” than QF on current pricing, which can be as low as half of that of QF.

    Unless you are doing a 5 hour flight between Perth and an eastern city (BNE, SYD,MEL) and pick a QF flight with an A330 with lie-flats in business class, or in a regional city with no VA lounge (like CNS), there is little benefit in paying extra for QF. And for those Perth flights you’d be using miles / points (Avios, AA, AS, etc) if you can to avoid a USD1500 one way business class fare!

    QF has as a separate business class lounge (from the standard Qantas Club) in some main locations, perhaps a better seat, perhaps better food (depending on your tastes). But arguably not worth the extra cash! It comes down to personal choice – or more usually unquestioning slavery to a relevant loyalty program.

    Remember that domestic flights in Australia qualify for lounge access unlike the USA (given a business class seat or relevant status tier).

  11. @ JohnB

    PS. Virgin’s Velocity is providing a significant challenge to the QF loyalty program. You earn more points, pay less points on redemption on some routes, generally pay less carrier charges, and can redeem onto United, Singapore, Etihad, etc., with Qatar and possibly ANA to follow, can earn status much more easily (including family pooling of status and points). Transfers of Velocity points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles to return in two weeks creating great flexibility.

    The upside is that international award availability on Singapore and Etihad and Qatar (to come) in premium outshines that available through QF FF on QF, BA, etc. Finding premium award on QF’s partner Emirates using QF points has become near impossible of late.

    The downside is closure of lounges in some regional cities.

    Velocity points are relatively easy to accrue in Australia through shopping, notably per the Coles supermarket chain and the Flybuys loyalty program, which offers attractive bonus point earn if you know what you’re doing…;)

    (FWIW QF points are also easy to accrue locally – supermarket shopping per Woolworths / Everyday Rewards, wine purchases from QF wine, etc).

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