TALKING POINT | Whether it’s free Wi-Fi, complimentary food and drinks or just a secluded place to wait for your flight away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal concourse, there’s no denying that airport lounges are a godsend for frequent travellers.
But the question remains – are they worth paying for? Qantas, Virgin Australia and Priority Pass would certainly have you think so, with one-year unlimited memberships on the block for $895, $750 and A$520, respectively, inclusive of any joining or initial fees.
The irony being, of course, that if you fly frequently enough to justify paying for lounge access, you’ll generally get it for free from your airline and its frequent flyer program.
Yet that doesn’t apply to every traveller – here are a few common scenarios where it makes sense to pay, and where it doesn’t.
Paid airport lounge access: when it’s worth it
You’ve started a new job with regular economy travel
Without any frequent flyer status to your name – or if you’re switching from one frequent flyer program to another – paid lounge access is a great way to bridge the gap on solo travel until you climb the status ladder.
That’s especially the case if your trips are usually low-earners, such as flying between Sydney and Melbourne and earning just 10 status credits a pop on the cheapest tickets.
Looking at the membership costs, each visit comes in at around $13 with Qantas and $15 with Virgin before reaching Gold – easily justifiable when compared to what you’d otherwise pay for a bite to eat out in the terminal.
You’re often stuck in economy on long, overnight flights
Nothing beats jumping on a red-eye flight after a nice hot shower, but if you’re sitting in economy, you’ll be lucky if the main terminal even has those facilities, let alone if amenities such as towels, face washers and shampoo are available.
But choose your lounge membership carefully: Qantas Gold can be had after 12 return economy trips to the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong, which means up to 24 lounge visits at a higher $37 each.
We daresay that lounge access is more important before an 8+-hour journey than a 1.5-hour interstate hop as you’ll likely arrive earlier and make better use of the facilities, with the higher price still then a reasonable one.
Paid Virgin Australia lounge membership doesn’t get you through the door when travelling with partners Singapore Airlines or Etihad to Asia, so it’s not useful here.
Your international travel isn’t limited to one airline or alliance
For many business travellers, schedule and direct flights trump inconvenient flight times and unnecessary connections, even if it means booking airlines that are outside your home network.
Qantas handles this well with codeshares from Australia on airlines such as Asiana, China Airlines and LAN, which still provide lounge access to Qantas Club members when travelling on a QF flight number.
Further afield, Priority Pass becomes the better deal – the proverbial handcuffs are removed and you’d be just as welcome in a Priority Pass lounge when flying Emirates first class as you would travelling with EasyJet in economy.
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As long as you can physically access a partner lounge in the airport terminal, you’re all set: but note that Priority Pass only has Australian lounges in Melbourne and Cairns international airports, not in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth.
You’re a Virgin Australia Velocity Silver member
With the normal joining fee waived and a reduced annual charge, Virgin Australia Velocity Silver members can enjoy lounge access with VA and Air New Zealand for just $300 per year.
This is more relevant if your wallet already packs a Silver card rather than waiting until you earn one, as it takes a further 250 status credits of travel before hitting Gold and getting that coveted lounge membership for free.
Assuming you fly on those shorter routes using economy Saver or Saver Lite fares, such as between Sydney and either Melbourne or Brisbane, that’s still 13 round trips or 26 lounge visits at $11.50 each – not to be sniffed at.
Paid airport lounge access: when it’s not worth it
You’re close to reaching Gold frequent flyer status
Still a Silver or a lowly Bronze or Red member? Consider your future travel and how quickly you’ll take out the Gold – a few international trips in business class could easily get you over the line.
Just three business class return jaunts to Singapore would more than cover you with both Qantas and Velocity, so if your domestic travel is all-economy but you’re allowed to buy business class when jetting abroad, you may find that your patience will pay off.
Neither Virgin Australia nor Priority Pass will pause or refund your membership costs if you earn frequent flyer status along the way, so the closer you are to your Gold frequent flyer card, the less you’ll get from your membership.
Qantas, on the other hand, will automatically pause your paid Qantas Club membership on reaching Gold status or higher – and it’ll be there waiting should you eventually fall back to Silver or Bronze.
You can enter the lounge with your colleagues
Qantas Club, Virgin Lounge and Gold-level frequent flyers with either airline can each take one guest into the lounge for free – so if you’re travelling in a group and your co-workers have access, ask them nicely to guest you in while building up your own frequent flyer status.
Qantas Platinum members can bring a higher two guests into the lounge domestically, while Velocity Platinums are allowed three.
With the latter, just two Velocity Platinum members among a group of eight is all you’d need to get everybody through the door.
You already get free lounge access from your credit card
Flying out of Sydney with a bank-issued American Express Black card or an AMEX-issued Platinum or Centurion card?
Chances are you can unwind in the new American Express Lounge at Sydney Airport at no charge – either twice or a year or as often as you travel, depending on your particular card.
Pair that with finding a pay-in lounge at the other end or a cheap, pay-per-use Priority Pass membership (US$99 + US$27 for each lounge visit) and you’ll avoid spending significantly more on a redundant lounge membership.
ANZ’s Rewards Black and Frequent Flyer Black cards also come with free lounge access via the Velocé network, although it’s limited to overseas and coverage is patchy, so consider it more a back-up than your primary lounge card.
The scheme has no lounges where you’re travelling to
Try using your Qantas Club card in Paris, your Virgin Lounge card in Los Angeles or your Priority Pass card in Sydney – just three examples of major destinations where the biggies aren’t welcome.
So before taking out a lounge membership, check its lounge listings for your home airport and your most frequently-visited destinations: if they’re missing, spend your dollars elsewhere.
Do you pay for airport lounge membership out of your own pocket, does your company cover the cost or do you earn it for free through regular travel?
- The ultimate unofficial Qantas Club guide and FAQ
- The Aussie traveller’s guide to Priority Pass airport lounges
- How to buy Star Alliance business class lounge access
- Photos: Inside the American Express Centurion Lounges
- Singapore Airlines gives transit travellers free lounge access
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