Is paid airport lounge membership worth the cost?

Is paid airport lounge membership worth the cost?

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.

At that rate, it’d take 35 round trips before reaching Qantas Gold or 25 round trips for Virgin Australia Velocity Gold, which is up to 70 and 50 opportunities to use the lounge, respectively.

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.

Just $37 per visit to the Qantas Hong Kong lounge? Easy.

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.

The new SATS T1 Premier Lounge in Singapore welcomes Priority Pass members

See what awaits at Changi Airport: SATS T1 Premier Lounge review

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.

Treat a colleague to the lounge and it's smiles all around

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?

Also read:

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Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

13 comments

  • Hugo

    Hugo

    4 Mar, 2015 09:06 am

    Contra the picture, my colleagues aren't good-looking. 

    No member give thanks

  • watson374

    watson374

    5 Mar, 2015 12:47 am

    Do they at least adhere to the dress code?

    No member give thanks

  • Mike_M

    Mike_M

    4 Mar, 2015 09:19 am

    I purchased VA lounge access when I was only Velocity Silver as I was flying twice weekly. Saved my sanity and even as a silver the lounge staff would nearly always give me fly ahead. Within a few months I reached Gold and Virgin then refunded me half of the cost of the lounge membership. Wasn't even expecting that but who am I to refuse :)

    No member give thanks

  • jimmylikesitwet

    jimmylikesitwet

    4 Mar, 2015 11:17 am

    I purchased membership to the Qantas Club in August last year knowing that I had a decent amount of economy travel (mainly trans Tasman and a couple of trips to the US) coming up. I'll hit gold later this year so it's been great to have lounge access while I did the flying to get me to gold.

    No member give thanks

  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    4 Mar, 2015 01:26 pm

    I find Virgin the easiest to deal with when it comes to lounge entry.

    No member give thanks

  • otternz

    otternz

    4 Mar, 2015 01:34 pm

    OR join Air New Zealand Koru for $580NZD and get access to Air NZ and Virgin lounges...

    No member give thanks

  • dls1976

    dls1976

    4 Mar, 2015 03:53 pm

    Afternoon all. I have been travelling to the US for the past few years but not frequently enough to get gold status on qantas. I had always thought about purchasing QC membership but have always been too tight with the coin and felt it was just a waste of money. Last year I bit the bullet. Best money I have ever spent. Its great to kick back in a comfy chair in the relative peace and quiet with some food and wine and then grab a quick shower before the flight. Perfect way to start a business trip or holiday.

    No member give thanks

  • Satoshi Takayama

    Michael Kao

    4 Mar, 2015 05:25 pm

    Also it's worth it when you have 2 kids under 12. All I need is one membership and bring the whole family of 4 into the lounge. Both Qantas and Virgin allow up to 2 kids under 12 as well as an adult guest. Whereas for QF/VA gold, I'm not sure if they'll allow you to bring kids as well as your wife. 

    Lounge access before a red eye 14 hr flight from LAX with 2 exhausted kids is a real life saver. Trust me!

    No member give thanks

  • Seb81

    Seb81

    5 Mar, 2015 11:13 am

    "...or just a secluded place to wait for your flight away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal concourse"

    If you are a frequent flyer in Australia, you'll know this statement is a load of rubbish. The lounges are more packed than the concourse more often than not - I find myself staying downstairs for peace and quiet sometimes.

     

    No member give thanks

  • John Corbett

    JohnC

    23 Mar, 2015 12:05 pm

    When you haven't got corporate membership or aren't flying often enough to justify a lounge membership, Air New Zealand has it nailed with its casual entry passes which range from $25-$35 in its NZ domestic lounges, to A$55 in Australia. I use them all the time and the opportunity to get away from the madding crowd is priceless.

     

    No member give thanks

  • Des Porter

    Des des

    23 Mar, 2015 08:36 pm

    One  of the few advantages of getting older I  took advantage of senior life membership on turning  60with Qantas and Ansett clubs. Both  cost around $1600 ....you win some and you lose some....Ansett has gone but while  

    qantas no longer offers life membership it is not a retrospective decision....I have had this membership for nearly 15 years and hope to avail of it for as long as I live. A collegue took Qantas life membership for around $3000 when he was 35 so a real bargain for him,no wonder Qantas  stopped selling life memberships

    No member give thanks

  • Andrew Herborn

    floydian1

    23 Mar, 2015 09:54 pm

    I know that Qantas offers discounted QC rates to professional organisations like GPs and lawyers as well. 

    You can also salary sacrifice QC membership as a benefit using pretax dollars which for certain job positions is not subject to FBT.

    No member give thanks

  • John Nesbitt

    John-in-Sydney

    6 Apr, 2016 12:32 pm

    I had an odd visit to a Priority Pass lounge in Jakarta recently.  I went there specifically to get a shower.  They do not provide a towel or soap.  They served one drink only, a local beer on tap.  Might give that lounge a miss next time.  And I will try to maintain a small towel and soap in my bag!

    No member give thanks

Guest

21 Jul, 2019 04:36 am

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