Bonza flight review: Nice aircraft, shame about the routes
Can the low-cost carrier make a fair dinkum impression?
Australia's newest discount airline Bonza launched flight services at the beginning of 2023. I'm a travel tragic and a confirmed cheapskate, but I've only just flown on it for the first time.
Why? Because Bonza doesn't yet fly to Sydney. Its main base is at the Sunshine Coast, and it has Gold Coast and Melbourne as additional hubs. Great for Queensland, not so much chop for me.
So my sampling Bonza had to wait for a suitable opportunity. Last month that happened, and I took a purple-hued Bonza flight from Melbourne to Tamworth. Here's the bonza, the bad and the ugly from that trip.
Booking on Bonza: App-roach with caution
Unusually, Bonza only lets you book flights through its app. That makes it fiddlier if you're trying to compare prices or see which routes it flies.
The app itself works smoothly enough, with one notable exception. There's a long-running bug which means that while you can register an account with Bonza, you can't actually log into it and see or modify your bookings.
That's a major flaw which the airline needs to address, especially if it wants to really appeal to points addicts like me with a frequent flyer scheme. (I mean, even Rex has Rex Flyer now.)
All that said, the fares are really good. I paid $61 for a one-way Melbourne to Tamworth flight. Doing that with Qantas would cost me at least $330, and require changing flights in Sydney too.
I didn't splurge for extra luggage, but I did impulsively pay an extra $12 to score a seat near the front of the plane, which gave me an extra 10cm of leg room. That turned out to be a good move.
Checking in with Bonza
In typical discount airline style, you also use the app to check in. I'd recommend saving your boarding pass to your phone's wallet for ease of access.
If you need to drop bags in Melbourne, there are automated kiosks. Because I had no luggage, I didn't need to use those, but it didn't look too chaotic.
Right now, Bonza essentially has a whole set of downstairs gates to itself in Melbourne's T4 terminal (Jetstar is in a different wing and Virgin rarely uses this area).
That meant there wasn't much crowding to get on board, but that probably wouldn't have happened anyway. By my estimate the flight was only about 50% full.
Bonza in flight: Seats, Wi-Fi and meals
Relatively few passengers and my willingness to splurge on that up-front seat meant I had a whole row to myself. That immediately made for a pleasant flight experience. The crew were cheerful and helpful too.
Bonza is currently running 5 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. These still look fresh and refurbished, and there was indeed plenty of leg room for my 180cm height and undisclosed excess body weight.
If you want to charge your devices while at cruising altitude, you can choose between a USB port and a between-seats power outlet.
There's an in-flight Wi-Fi service of sorts, but it doesn't offer internet access. It just lets you use some basic entertainment options, including browser-based games, public domain books and some self-help-flavoured videos.
If that doesn't sound appealing, make sure you bring your own entertainment. But I'm not complaining at the price.
My favourite on-board innovation from Bonza is the food and drinks service. Rather than waiting to flag down the trolley when it passes, you order and pay for your food and drink through your phone, and it's brought directly to your seat. I'm very here for that approach.
It's not cheap to eat and drink on board - I paid $14 for a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers - but that's no worse than what you'll pay on Virgin or Jetstar. If you're really feeling stingy, just throw a Le Snak in your hand luggage instead.
In another nice touch, the wine was poured into a (reusable plastic) glass before serving. I've seen enough folks struggle to open those little wine bottles on planes to know that's a good idea.
I did draw the line at buying my own Bonza "budgie smugglers" in-flight though - no-one needs to see that.
Does Bonza have a future?
Australia's a tough market for airlines because of our size (large) and population (small). Long-term, we've only ever sustained two truly national carriers: Qantas (with Jetstar as a cheap offshoot) and Virgin (or Ansett way back before Virgin). Even Virgin barely scraped through the pandemic.
Tiger is just the most recent example of how hard it is to run a profitable airline if you're not one of the big two (even ultimately being owned by Virgin couldn't save it).
It will be tough for Bonza to buck the trend, especially as long as it isn't flying into Sydney, Australia's most populous city. That's no reflection on its service, which I was generally impressed by (app bugs aside).
It's just the reality of Australian aviation. It won't be sustainable to keep running on routes that are only half-full.
Bonza has shown willingness to adjust, ditching unprofitable routes and expanding where demand has proven higher. For the sake of more competitive airfares, I hope it manages to stick around a while longer. And I really hope it finally gets to Sydney.
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- Bonza flight AB1057 27 October 2023