When Rex launched Boeing 737 jet services last week in direct competition with Qantas & Virgin, it also introduced Business Class for the first time. Rex’s Business Class fares are priced sharply, but what’s the new Rex Business Class experience like? I found out on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney…
|Route||Melbourne (MEL) to Sydney (SYD)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-800|
|Class of travel||Business|
|On-time performance||We arrived 11 minutes late|
I paid $203.38 for a promotional Biz Saver ticket during last month’s launch sale. This comprised of the $199 airfare, a 1.1% online booking fee for booking on the Rex website and a 1.1% credit card surcharge for Mastercard payments. (The American Express surcharge is 3.6% including GST.) The only way to avoiding paying the booking handling fee and credit card surcharge is to pay cash at an airport counter. (Yes, seriously.)
The $199 Business class fares were a limited-time promotion. Business class tickets on the Sydney-Melbourne route normally start from $299 one-way.
By the way – Rex promises to offer a full refund or fee-free changes to any passengers affected by cancellations or COVID-19 border closures. However, I was unable to manage my booking online at all and it appears this functionality has been unavailable on the Rex website since last December. After entering my booking details on the Rex website, I received an error message and was advised to call the Rex contact centre (which is not open 24/7).
Rex flights depart from Terminal 4 in Melbourne, which is the same terminal used by Jetstar.
When I arrived at Melbourne Airport, there was a large queue waiting to check in and only three staffed Rex check-in counters. Luckily, there is a dedicated Business Class check-in queue and I was served promptly, but it took a long time to get checked in because they were having problems with the luggage belts. The agent’s computer system also tried to charge me for excess luggage, even though my suitcase was well below the 32kg Business Class limit.
All of the ground staff were professional and polite, but it did seem like there were a few teething problems and they seemed slightly understaffed.
The good news, if you don’t feel like waiting in line, is that there were also some self-service check-in kiosks available.
Rex Business Class passengers are entitled to two hours of complimentary lounge access before their flight. I reviewed the Rex Lounge at Melbourne Airport in a separate review, but overall I found the lounge quite small and underwhelming.
In my view, Qantas & Virgin Australia offer far better lounges, and a better overall airport experience than Rex.
Boarding for ZL102 to Sydney commenced on time at 11.40am, with special needs and Business passengers called for boarding first. There did seem to be a priority boarding lane for Business class, which was enforced, but there was no signage.
On this particular flight, 6/8 Business class seats were occupied and Economy class seemed almost full, with lots of families travelling. Perhaps they were all taking advantage of those $49 Economy fares! Passengers were still boarding after the scheduled departure time, and we ended up leaving 15 minutes late.
The Hard Product
Once on board, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on a Virgin Australia flight. In fact, all of the Rex Boeing 737-800s used to belong to Virgin Australia.
Rex has made very few changes to the cabin, keeping the same seating layout and even the purple cabin divider & magnetic rope that separates Economy from Business class. Virgin’s signature red, purple and grey headrests were still fitted on the Economy class seats.
As it happens, I’ve previously flown on the same plane (VH-REX) when it was flying for Virgin Australia (as VH-VUU). This is a photo I took of the Business class cabin while the plane was flying for Virgin Australia:
Just like on Virgin Australia’s 737s, Rex has two rows of Business seats in a 2-2 configuration. The seats are identical to the Virgin Australia 737 Business class seats, except that the seatbacks have been reupholstered to remove the embossed “Virgin” logo. While some of Rex’s 737s now have “Rex” branding on the headrests, this wasn’t the case on my flight.
The leather recliner seats are comfortable for a short flight, and there is a reasonable amount of legroom and recline.
There were no power outlets (these were some of Virgin’s older 737s), nor any in-flight entertainment or wifi available. This is a little disappointing, as Rex had promised when it started selling its Sydney-Melbourne flights last December that “on-board Wi-Fi will be free for Business Class”.
There was a copy of the Rex True Blue in-flight magazine in the seat pocket. “If you read me, take me home!”, it says on the cover.
The Soft Product
The on-board service also reminded me a lot of Virgin Australia – in a very good way. The cabin crew were so enthusiastic and the service was surprisingly polished for an airline that had only started offering Business Class three days earlier.
I spoke to a few of the cabin crew, and they all told me they had previously worked for other airlines but had lost their jobs due to COVID-19. There were former crew members from Virgin Australia, Tigerair and even Emirates on my flight, and they were delighted to be back in the air.
Before take-off, I was offered a choice of orange juice, still or sparkling water served in a plastic cup.
Although the boarding music wasn’t the same as Virgin Australia’s, it seems to have been supplied by the same content service partner (Stellar Group). And before the safety demonstration, the cabin manager introduced each of the crew members in exactly the same way as Virgin does.
Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer
A light lunch was served after take-off as we winged our way on a beautiful afternoon towards Sydney.
According to Rex’s marketing, the Business Class menus “take in the flavour combinations of home-style country cooking with a weekly showcase of gourmet ingredients from some of our exceptional Australian producers”.
On this flight, the meal choices were described as braised beef with polenta or an artisan cheese plate. Due to a catering mix-up, the hot meal was actually a quiche – although it didn’t matter as there weren’t enough hot meals loaded anyway and they ran out before they got to my seat. (Tip: the meals were offered first to row 1, from left to right across the cabin. So if you would like a choice of meals, don’t sit in 2F as you’ll be the last person served!)
The meals are served on a single cardboard tray and everything was individually wrapped. I’m told that the trays and plastic cups are returned to the caterer after each flight to be recycled, and that the rest of the packaging is biodegradable. Nonetheless, the excessive reliance on single-use packaging can’t be great for the environment – and the cardboard cutlery is not exactly a premium experience.
This was the cheese plate featuring cheeses from Bruny Island, served with a tasty red wine in a plastic cup, once I’d removed the packaging:
The cheese plate was served with crackers, a warm bread roll and a sweet cupcake.
A choice of complimentary drinks were available including water, juice, soft drinks, beer and wine. There were two beers available – One Fifty Lashes or Furphy (same as in the lounge) – and three wines. The red wine was a GSM (grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre blend), and there was a rosé and sauvignon blanc for the white option. All of the wines are sourced from boutique Australian vineyards.
Tea and coffee were offered after the meal.
The flight attendant was very apologetic that there were no more hot meals available, and offered to get me an additional snack. This consisted of scones with jam & cream and two sandwiches.
The cheeses were nice and, individually, all of the food was fine. Although, as a complete package, I thought there was too much bread and found it all a bit too sweet. Hopefully, Rex will load enough of the hot, savoury meal option next time I fly with them!
While I found the catering not quite as good as Qantas in Business class, it was a vast improvement over the snack boxes Virgin Australia is currently still serving in Business class. This could change when Virgin Australia relaunches its Business Class menu within the next month.
We arrived at Sydney’s Terminal 2 at the pier used by Jetstar (and formerly, Tigerair). At the end of the flight, a crew member stood at the back of the Business class cabin to allow the Business passengers to disembark first – again, just like on Virgin.
My suitcase had a Rex “priority” tag, and sure enough, it was one of the first to appear on the luggage carousel.
Rex Boeing 737-800 Business Class
Overall, I found Rex Boeing 737 Business Class to be comfortable, unpretentious and good value. The polished service provided by the enthusiastic cabin crew was a higlight.
Although the experience on the ground wasn’t perfect, once on board, the whole experience felt very similar to being on a Virgin Australia flight. The main differences were the food (which is currently better than Virgin), and the lack of in-flight entertainment (which Virgin continues to provide). Oh, and the staff uniforms.
Rex is not pretending to be Qantas – and it shouldn’t, as in my view the Rex Business Class service (particularly on the ground) is relatively basic in comparison. But Rex’s Business class airfares are also considerably less expensive than Qantas. For the price, the Rex product is more than adequate for a short domestic flight.
In my opinion, Virgin Australia has some competition on its hands. That said, Virgin does have the advantage of a larger route network, better airport lounges and a proper frequent flyer program. Once Virgin improves its in-flight catering, I might find it difficult to justify flying Rex over Virgin as long as Virgin continues matching Rex’s cheap domestic airfares.
Either way, more competition on domestic flights is great news for frequent flyers. Even if you never fly with Rex, you’ll probably benefit from the lower fares and competitive pressure they place on Australia’s other airlines.