This article has been updated to take into account the recent relaunch of Velocity Rewards.
This week we've been comparing the Qantas Frequent Flyer and Virgin Velocity Rewards programs in close detail.
Part of the lure of any frequent flyer program is lounge access, although this is typically restricted to business class passengers and anybody with a high level of status.
That's a problem if you fly often enough to need the haven of a lounge to work or wind down, but your domestic trips are mainly short hops in economy (not uncommon, especially along east coast routes) and you haven't yet clocked up enough miles to achieve 'Gold' frequent flyer status.
Fortunately, while counting down the months until you hit Gold status you can buy access to the Qantas and Virgin Australia lounges. So how do they stack up?
Virgin Australia Lounge
Buying a membership with Virgin Australia gives you access to Virgin Australia's own lounges, and Air New Zealand Koru lounges in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington (but only when flying between Australia and New Zealand).
It also includes free entry for an adult guest and two children aged under 12. Babies under two get in free. Additional adults cost $55 if prepaid online, or $65 at the door.
Virgin Australia Lounge membership doesn't bestow any other benefits such as extra baggage or priority baggage handling -- it's purely a lounge membership.
The quality of Virgin's lounges varies widely in Australia. The newly-renovated Melbourne lounge is one of the best domestic lounges the Australian Business Traveller team has seen.
The Sydney lounge, due for renovation soon, is adequate, but has a bit of a drab feeling about it. However, it does have the fantastic new kerbside entry which lets you get out of your car and straight into the lounge (provided you're willing to pay the valet parking fees).
The other Virgin Australia lounges are not yet comparable to Qantas Clubs. For example, our recent head-to-head of Qantas vs Virgin business class to Perth showed that Virgin's Perth lounge had surprisingly meagre food available.
Virgin's lounge membership used to be quite inexpensive in comparison to Qantas, but the airline has recently increased its prices considerably, bringing the cost closer to Qantas Club prices.
Joining the Virgin Lounge in the first year has risen from $568 to $700, and annual renewals have gone up from $369 to $420. Velocity Silver members can join or renew at a reduced rate of $300 per year.
However, you can also pay for Virgin Lounge membership via Velocity points, and these haven't changed, making them an attractive option. It's 65,000 points to initially join, 50,000 points to renew, or 35,000 points to join or renew for Velocity silver members.
Qantas Club membership is an expensive program to buy into, but offers access to Qantas lounges and British Airways and American Airlines lounges when flying on a Qantas, Jetstar or British Airways flight.
It's important to note that paid Qantas Club membership does not entitle you to get into all oneworld alliance lounges -- so it's not the equivalent of Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold status.
Qantas Club membership also doesn't let you get in to domestic business lounges -- they are only open to people actually booked on business class fares, or platinum frequent flyers.
Membership entitles you to enter a Qantas lounge with one adult guest, who must be travelling with you. If you want to bring more than one guest in, you have to buy an annual Guest Card, which costs $320 and can be used for any second guest throughout the year. (This is the only option; you cannot pay an entry fee at the door for a guest.)
Qantas has a huge network of airline lounges in Australia (including many small regional airports), New Zealand, USA, South America, South Pacific, UK and Europe.
They are generally very good, with consistent decor across most lounges, a decent food and wine offering (better than most international airline lounges) and comfortable seating with ample access to power points.
(Of course, if you are travelling in business class, you will be able to use the lounge as part of your fare, even if you haven't joined Qantas Club, and in fact, you'll be allowed into the special "Business Lounge" section, with better food and wine plus a generally higher level of fitout.)
A common criticisms of Qantas lounges is that while the food selection is good, Qantas doesn't refill serveries quickly enough, with empty food trays commonplace.
Another shortcoming is that the free wireless internet is often so slow that it's unusable -- many experienced travellers bring their own 3G modem to plug into their laptop.
Qantas Club also has other benefits beyond lounge access:
- priority phone assistance
- ability to request upgrades for points at the airport
- extra baggage allowance (see the comparison table below)
- domestic priority check-in
- international priority check-in
It costs $840 to join in the first year, or 150,000 Frequent Flyer points. Subsequent years cost $470 or 75,000 points to renew.
Before joining as an individual, check with your employer whether they have a corporate Qantas Club membership scheme. Qantas offers huge discounts to companies with 10 or more staff who want to join Qantas Club.
For example, at one large Australian company, two year Qantas Club memberships are offered to staff for $360 ($180 per year), which can be salary sacrificed, bringing the effective cost even lower. At those prices, it's an employee perk that's impossible to refuse, worth it even if you only fly short hops two or three a year.
Qantas Club compared to Virgin Australia Lounge membership
|Qantas Club||Virgin Lounge Membership|
|Purchase price||$840, or 150,000 points to join.
$470 or 75,000 to renew.
|$700 or 65,000 points for first year.
$420 or 50,000 points following years.
$300 or 35,000 points for Velocity Silver members.
|BOOKING, UPGRADES AND SEATING|
|Priority phone assistance||Yes||No|
|On-departure domestic upgrade request||Yes||No|
|Access to airline partner lounges||Yes but only when flying on a Qantas flight (some exceptions, see details in article)||Yes, but only some Air New Zealand lounges when flying between Australia and NZ with Virgin or Air New Zealand.|
|Access to lounge on arrival||No||Yes - but only if lounge is not close to capacity.|
|Domestic baggage bonus (economy)||Extra 9KG, no extra bag||No|
|Domestic baggage bonus (business)||Extra 9KG, no extra bag||No|
|Domestic priority baggage handling||Yes||No|
|International baggage bonus (economy)||Extra 23KG bag to USA. Extra 9KG to other destinations.||No|
|International baggage bonus (business)||Extra 32KG bag to USA. Extra 10KG to other destinations.||No|
|International priority baggage||Yes||No|
|CHECK IN AND BOARDING|
|Domestic priority check-in||No||No|
|International priority check-in||Yes||No|
So, which is better: Qantas Club vs the Virgin Australia Lounge membership?
If you can get Qantas Club cheaply through your employer, or if you fly internationally a bit but not enough to qualify for gold membership, Qantas is your best bet.
The $840 up-front joining fee for Qantas Club is definitely hard to swallow for an individual. That amount of money would buy an awful lot of coffee, cake and internet access at the airport's nicest cafes throughout the year.
Then again, Qantas offers lounges in many smaller regional airports too, where 'nice cafes' (and Virgin Australia Lounges) don't exist.
Virgin's lounge fees are also high but the points required to redeem membership through Velocity Rewards are quite low. Virgin also recognises the money pumped into the company by Velocity Silver frequent flyers and provides discounted lounge membership with no joining fee for them.
However, paid Velocity membership only gives you domestic and NZ lounge access -- it's no benefit at all for international flights.
Verdict: for international travellers, there's no contest for Qantas. If you mainly fly domestic, though, it's impossible to pick a winner as it depends entirely on your circumstances.
Qantas Frequent Flyer vs Velocity: the in-depth analysis
- Which program gives more points for domestic flights?
- Which program earns the most points for international flights?
- Which program gets you to silver/gold the fastest?
- Ease of getting upgrades
- How paid lounge membership compares [you are here]
- How silver perks compare
- How gold and platinum perks compare
Dan is a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.