I’m a frequenter between Hong Kong and London, and plan to find the best premium economy product between Hong Kong and London. When I created that goal, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d fly Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class anytime soon, but now that I have, I’m also keen to fly British Airways’ business class product, so I can compare and contrast the business class products flying between Hong Kong and London as well.
One city that I’m also fine with originating from is Shenzhen. It is quite aways from Hong Kong – it’s a 90-minute, HK$100 bus ride from Sheung Wan, nowhere as convenient as the 25-minute Airport Express to Hong Kong Airport – and customs isn’t the most pleasant (they’re much more thorough with checking your belongings, e.g. if your portable charger doesn’t clearly list its capacity, you won’t be allowed to take it onboard). However, the airport experience is quite pleasant, and the terminal is absolutely stunning – and most importantly, the prices out of Shenzhen are usually cheaper, as it’s less of a premium market compared to Hong Kong.
Last year Shenzhen Airlines took delivery of their first A330. In the comments section of a recent trip report, commenter usr22 was kind enough to share US Credit Card Guide’s review of Shenzhen Airlines’ new A330 in business class. It’s in Chinese, so I struggled through the review, though the pictures are awesome. Today Airlineroute reported that Shenzhen Airlines will begin flying these A330s to London thrice-weekly from October 30, 2018.
Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport
While the airport is quite aways, it will more or less go head-to-head with the three current products flying between Hong Kong and London – Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways.
Shenzhen Airlines’ new A330 business class seats are fine – they’re standard forward facing seats that are slightly angled away from the aisle, similar to what you’d find on Lufthansa (if you’ve flown Qatar Airways’ A330 business class, EVA Air’s new A330 business class or Ethiopian’s A350 business class, the seat is more or less identical).
Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class (credit: ryantheworld)
However, based on the review, the airline seems to provide good bedding and amenities.
Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Bed (credit: ryantheworld)
The food looks quite good as well.
Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Food (credit: ryantheworld)
I was especially intrigued by the fact that they have a VIP check-in area for business class passengers. They also have a lounge in Shenzhen that I’ve heard very good things about.
Shenzhen Airlines Dedicated Check-in Area Shenzhen (credit: ryantheworld)
Now, while I’m 100% sure this is better than British Airways based on what I’ve heard (despite not having flown them before – though, of course, I have plans to), Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific both offer business class seats with direct aisle access on their flights between Hong Kong and London.
Cathay Pacific’s business class will continue to be the best hard product flying between South China and London
Shenzhen Airlines will presumably fly into Heathrow’s Terminal 2, as it’s part of the Star Alliance; this means passengers will have access to Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, United, and Lufthansa’s lounges (I’ve heard really good things about all of these lounges, except Lufthansa’s). So while the ground experience at Heathrow won’t compare to Virgin Atlantic or even Cathay Pacific (who has a brand new lounge in Heathrow), Shenzhen Airlines passengers will still have access to some great lounges on both ends.
I haven’t personally been to any of Heathrow’s Star Alliance lounges, but I know they can’t beat Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse, which I’ve ranked the best business class hub lounge in the world
This means that, if everything I’ve heard is true, Shenzhen Airlines will offer a product between Shenzhen and London that’s slightly inferior to Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic, with access to slightly inferior lounges. It’ll also be somewhat of an inconvenience to people living in Hong Kong electing to fly this route, since there’s the additional hour of travel time needed to get to Shenzhen.
But all three airlines flying between Hong Kong and London charge upwards of HK$30,000 roundtrip for their business class products.
Shenzhen Airlines currently has a base fare of HK$19,800 across the calendar on their route between Shenzhen and London, though they have a hefty tax surcharge of HK$6,647 (?!), at least when booking on their website. This brings the price up to ~HK$27,000, which is optimistic, but still much cheaper than Cathay Pacific, British Airways, or Virgin Atlantic. I hope we’ll see some promotional fares on the route soon.
Even at the current fare they offer, I’d be quite glad to save HK$8,000-HK$10,000 and still be able to fly a business class product between the vicinity of Hong Kong and London. I know not everyone feels the same (and would rather elect to fly a premium economy product for cheaper with the added convenience of flying direct), but if we see the price lower on the route, Shenzhen Airlines’ flight sure seems quite compelling.
There are a few caveats, however. The first is the schedule. Shenzhen Airlines plans to fly the route thrice weekly, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, as follows:
Shenzhen Airlines 9067 Shenzhen to London dep. 14:10 arr. 19:40
Shenzhen Airlines 9068 London to Shenzhen dep. 21:40 arr. 17:40
The flights are timed this way so the A330 will only be sitting in London for two hours, which is good aircraft utilisation for Shenzhen Airlines, as they only have five A330s as of today. However, this means it’ll be hard to catch much sleep on the Shenzhen to London flight, since it departs in the afternoon (though the return flight is quite well-timed, in my opinion).
The main caveat is that the airline will only fly the route thrice-weekly. In comparison, Virgin Atlantic flies a daily flight between Hong Kong and London, British Airways flies the route twice daily, and Cathay Pacific flies the route five times daily. So there’ll be a lot less flexibility to when you’re flying if you’re flying Shenzhen Airlines between Shenzhen and London. Furthermore, the airline doesn’t fly a premium economy product, so it won’t be able to compete with Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in that regard.
Also, you’ll be subject to China’s rather asinine aviation policies – for example, you won’t be able to use your mobile phone onboard (though they seem to be lifting that policy as of late).
I’m very glad Shenzhen Airlines has plans to fly between Shenzhen and London. While they’re only flying thrice-weekly, they seem to be offering a good product. If they can get their pricing down despite the hefty taxes, I can see them also driving down their competition’s costs, which in this case are the three “big” airlines currently flying between Hong Kong and London.
I sure hope Shenzhen Airlines can fill their planes on the route, though Shenzhen is a growing business city that’s much more populated than Hong Kong is, so I don’t suspect they’ll have a problem with that (despite the hefty tax surcharge – jeez). If anything, I see the airline starting to increase their route frequency, as the Shenzhen to London route is probably one of the most underserved routes out there, with no nonstop flights.
I will make a point to try the route (hopefully in business class) while I’m in university if the price is right.
Would you take this flight between Shenzhen and London? Do you think we should expect the price for this flight to decrease over time?
(I did write a sizeable chunk of the post before realising exactly how hefty the tax surcharges were, so if I contradict myself anywhere, let me know in the comments below.)
The “taxes” are mostly a carrier imposed fuel surcharge that is definitely not a tax and really should be part of the fare. The other major part is the UK APD which is high for premium tickets but charged on all premium tickets on all airlines departing the UK.
@ Laurel — Cathay Pacific charges HK$2,000 for taxes and fees, including APD as well as Hong Kong’s own airport tax. So that leaves ~HK$4,000 as a fuel surcharge, which is insane (that’s HK$72,000 for 18 business class passengers).