The joy of turning left

I’ve never really understood why people travel business class for short domestic flights. All that money spent on a slightly larger leather seat and an orange juice or champagne before take-off. Really? I’d rather save money, buy my own drink and put up with the slightly reduced legroom. But when it comes to the 24-hour long haul flight to or from Europe, I totally get it. At least once a lifetime we all deserve the treat of travelling business class.

I recently enjoyed the experience of travelling in seat 16K on a Boeing 777, Cathay Pacific flight CX292, from Rome to Melbourne. Here’s why.

First up, the access to the Pier – the brand-new business class lounge at Hong Kong International Airport – is a real bonus. With made-to-order noodles and dumplings, a full bar and incredibly comfy armchairs, it’s a haven for the transit-weary.

Next there is the ease of boarding, particularly if we’re talking about an A380. These planes are huge, causing check-in and boarding to take forever. Travelling business means that you are fast tracked – not just at check in, but also through security, sometimes passport control, and always when boarding. So you can slowly organise your possessions and really make yourself comfy for the flight ahead. And yes, after all the rigmarole, that welcome drink (Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne) is a special start to a long flight.

By now the reason business class rocks has become apparent. If you are a solo traveller, you are most likely seated near a window in your own private capsule. There’s endless legroom, a fully reclinable seat and a two metre-plus flat bed with a high quality doona. Not to mention the special space to stow your handbag or personal items. Plus there’s also the amenity bag with socks, eye mask, toothbrush and paste, and Jurlique products including lip balm, day cream and hand cream.

The food is truly first-class with especially created menus. Leaving Rome, the emphasis is, of course, on modern Italian cuisine. The starter is salad with Grand Padano cheese and balsamic dressing, and a side serve of prosciutto. Next up the Milanese Veal Osso Bucco, saffron risotto, sautéed porcini mushrooms and asparagus is simply delicious. The main course is followed by a cheese and fruit platter and a heavenly Tiramisu with freshly brewed coffee. The wine list is supplemented with five especially chosen organic wines from France, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. Cathay Pacific also serves freshly prepared illy’s coffee.

Nothing is too much trouble for the staff. There’s plenty to keep you entertained with the latest movies, music and documentaries on a 15-inch TV, and today’s newspapers. Or you can simply enjoy the comfort of the flat bed with its cosy doona and noise-cancelling headphones.

Business class fares
As most savvy travellers realise, airfares vary considerably and there are many early bird rates on offer at different times of the year, for flights leaving at different times of the day.

So let’s get down and dirty and talk about the price. Short of marrying a pilot, there are two ways of experiencing business class. Paying the full fare, or using points for an upgrade.

Typically, full business class return airfares to Rome can cost around $8000. However, it does pay to shop around and keep an eye on deals –  signing up for email updates is a great way of knowing when prices are most affordable. At the time of writing Cathay Pacific had these early bird return airfares for Melbourne to Rome: Economy Class $1507, Premium Economy Class $3078, and Business Class $7074.

Your second option is to buy an upgrade with points. There are a few ways of doing this, but it’s best done at the time of booking, rather than purchasing economy and hoping that business will have availability on the day. Many flights are now fully booked so your chance of having a late requested upgrade come through are minimal – yes, it happens, but not as often as most of us would wish.

Travelling business class may be beyond most of our retirement budgets, but it’s always worth checking the fares just in case you can treat yourself.

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Written by Kaye Fallick

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