The best business class experiences of 2016

While many airlines are cutting back on their first class cabins, some of the biggest players are doubling-down at the pointy end of the plane.

Next year we'll see all-new first class suites from Singapore Airlines, with the airline cutting back on the number of suites on its flagship Airbus A380s but increasing their size.

Emirates could also pull back the gold-trimmed curtains on its A380 and Boeing 777 suites, which airline CEO Tim Clark describes as a "bedroom concept which will take [privacy] to the next level."

"We're talking fully enclosed rooms, with all the touches and amenities that you'd expect in hotel or a private bedroom on a luxury yacht, room service and so on."

But right now the world's best first class belongs to Etihad, thanks to the spacious and well-appointed 'apartment suites' in its Airbus A380 fleet.

This is the one which Singapore Airlines and Emirates are eager to best … but it's worth noting that Etihad designed its super suites to be two generations ahead, by studying what Emirates and Singapore Airlines already had and envisioning what those airlines would do next, so that Etihad could conjure up something a step beyond.

Best new business class seat

2016 saw no massive leaps in business class – Qantas and Virgin Australia kept rolling out their respective and superb business class seats, while Qatar and British Airways are due to reveal their new product in the coming year.

On paper, US carrier Delta Airlines has raised the bar with fully-enclosed business class suites for its forthcoming Airbus A350 jets, which we could see headed to Sydney by the end of 2017.

But for this calendar year, Cathay Pacific's measured upgrade to its existing business class seat on the airline's new Airbus A350 struck me as a winning move.

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This was a good seat to begin with, so Cathay folded passenger feedback into the mix to add more storage space around the seat, more knee-room when the seat folds into a bed, more lateral movement in the meal tray and a much larger HD video screen.

Winner: Cathay Pacific A350.

Best new lounge

Qantas has been beavering away on a rolling refresh of its lounge network over the past few years, and in October opened an all-new international lounge at Brisbane.

Designed to follow the airline's new-look lounge template – already seen in Qantas lounges at Singapore, Hong Kong and Perth's T4 domestic terminal – the Brisbane international lounge is arguably the best of its Aussie siblings, barring the Sydney and Melbourne first class lounges of course.

Now we just need the airline to revisit its sub-par lounge at Auckland and commits to an upgrade for the Sydney and Melbourne business lounges.

Winner: Qantas Brisbane lounge.

Best new route

Qantas' decision to take the Melbourne-Tokyo route off Jetstar and bring it back under the wing of the Flying Kangaroo was a solid win for business travellers bound for Japan, and we're hoping to see more of the same in 2017.

But also big on the new year's calendar is Virgin Australia's promised launch of daily flights to Hong Kong, which to date is served only by Oneworld airlines Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

This will be another example of Virgin bringing much-needed competition and choice to the market.

Winner: Qantas Melbourne-Tokyo.

Best frequent flyer scheme

Having ditched Qantas Points at the end of 2016, Woolworths soon discovered how much Aussies love their frequent flyer points and executed a backflip so that shoppers could once again earn points at the checkout.

But Virgin Australia outflanked the Qantas-Woolworth alliance by inking a deal with Coles and the Flybuys scheme.

While the actual points-per dollar earning rate is the same, there's a far wider web of Flybuys partners – and you can also earn Velocity Frequent Flyer status credits into the deal.

Virgin already had the best points-for-petrol scheme through its Velocity partnership with BP, and the Coles Flybuys play transformed Velocity Points into a valuable coin in the frequent flyer realm.

Winner: Virgin Australia.

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 . His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of 51698009 readers.