Why Oneworld Emerald is the best status a frequent flyer can have

Why Oneworld Emerald is the best status a frequent flyer can have

Frequent flyers pack plenty of plastic in their well-worn wallets, but when we're asked which is the best card to aim for – the single shiny card which trumps the rest – it's any airline loyalty card which equates to the Emerald tier of the Oneworld alliance.

This covers the top rungs of the ladder in the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme – such as Platinum and Platinum One – and equivalents in the likes of Cathay Pacific (Marco Polo Club Diamond), Malaysia Airlines (Enrich Platinum), Qatar Airways (Privilege Club Platinum) and British Airways (Executive Club Gold), to name a few of Oneworld's 14 members.

Gemstones 101

To unify all those different status tiers, Oneworld has three alliance tiers of its own, each represented by a gemstone: from top to bottom they're Emerald, Sapphire and Ruby.

Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman’s Lounge members are all part of the Oneworld Emerald club, noted by the presence of a green, emerald-like gemstone on the face of their membership cards, found underneath the Oneworld logo:

[You can click or tap on the image above for a closer look.]

Sapphire represents the more common Gold-grade frequent flyer status of most airlines (including Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar) and there's no doubt it's great to have when you’re stuck in economy class.

But for high-flying corporates jetting about in business class, the typical Gold card offers very few benefits that aren’t already included with their business class ticket.

This applies to the competing Star Alliance Gold and SkyTeam Elite Plus tiers, too. You'll typically have access to the same airport lounges and priority queues at check-in and boarding as business class passengers: so when flying up the front, the experience isn’t much different with or without status.

Why Oneworld Emerald has the edge

Oneworld Emerald elevates the experience to a new level, primarily by opening the doors to the flagship first class lounge of most member airlines even if you're not flying in first class.

The airline you’re travelling with doesn’t need to be the airline operating the lounge, either: so Oneworld Emerald passengers flying from Australia with the likes of American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and SriLankan Airlines all enjoy access to the Qantas First Lounge.

Read: Expert tips to make the most of your Qantas first class lounge visit

Another example: if you're in Hong Kong and flying with Qantas, Cathay Pacific or any other Oneworld airline, a Oneworld Emerald card gets you through the doors at Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class and The Wing First Class lounges.

(Even if you're a Qantas Platinum member flying Qantas from Hong Kong to Australia, your Oneworld Emerald status means you don't have to use the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge: you can visit one of the Cathay Pacific lounges instead!)

Naturally, also included as part of the parcel is the use of first class check-in counters and priority boarding lanes, where available.

By comparison, neither Star Alliance nor SkyTeam offer an alliance-wide, better-than-gold frequent flyer tier, which makes Oneworld Emerald – which sits a step above the Gold-grade Oneworld Sapphire level – a winner in our books.

Which status equals Oneworld Emerald?

The following airline frequent flyer tiers correspond to Oneworld Emerald, which unlock the same alliance-wide first class treatment as you’d get with a Qantas Platinum card:

  • Airberlin Topbonus: Platinum*
  • American Airlines AAdvantage: Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey
  • British Airways Executive Club: Gold and Premier
  • Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club: Diamond, Diamond Plus and Diamond Invitation
  • Finnair Plus: Platinum
  • Iberia Plus: Platinum
  • Japan Airlines: JGC Premier, JGC Diamond, JMB Diamond
  • LATAM Pass & Fidelidade: Black and Black Signature
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich: Platinum
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club: Platinum
  • Royal Jordanian Royal Plus: Platinum
  • S7 Airlines Priority: Platinum
  • SriLankan Airlines FlySmiLes: Platinum

* The Airberlin Topbonus program is currently suspended as part of the company's insolvency proceedings, but Oneworld assures us that Topbonus Platinum members continue to enjoy all of their normal privileges during this time when travelling across the Oneworld alliance.

Exceptions to the Emerald rules

As great as the first class perks of Oneworld Emerald can be, there are a couple of exceptions which high flyers should be aware of.

For instance, at London Heathrow and New York JFK airports, only passengers flying with British Airways in first class enjoy access to The Concorde Room lounges.

Want to visit The Concorde Room? You'll need a first class ticket (or a BA Concorde Room or Premier card).

Oneworld Emerald cardholders in all other classes (with the exception of BA's own Concorde Room and Premier members) are instead given access to the Galleries First or first class lounges. Despite their names, these are mainly for Emerald-grade frequent flyers who aren’t flying first class.

BA's first class lounges are still positioned as being better than business class, of course – so your Oneworld Emerald card is still delivering perks over and above those of a normal business class ticket – just not quite the same pre-flight experience as you’d get as a true first class flyer.

Oneworld Emerald status also lacks punch at the Doha hub of Oneworld alliance member Qatar Airways, where the ‘first class lounge’ isn't intended for actual first class passengers (who instead visit the exclusive Al Safwa Lounge): only for Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers booked in economy.

Flying business class? You’ll want to disregard your frequent flyer status and wander over to the far superior Al Mourjan Lounge instead – which welcomes only business class passengers, but not Oneworld Emerald travellers booked in economy.

(In other airports with first class lounges operated by airlines other than Qatar Airways, such as Sydney and Melbourne where Qantas first class lounges exist, Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers traveling with Qatar Airways can access first class lounges as normal.)

Some exceptions work in your favour, though: such as in Helsinki when travelling with Oneworld airline Finnair.

Here, the Nordic carrier runs two ‘non-Schengen’ international lounges: one for business class passengers (known as the Finnair Lounge), and the other for top-level frequent flyers, including Oneworld Emerald (being the Finnair Premium Lounge).

Have a Oneworld Emerald card? You'll be upgraded to the Finnair Premium Lounge.

Even though Finnair doesn’t have first class on any of its flights, the Premium Lounge is significantly better than the Finnair Lounge next door: which is all your business class ticket will provide access to, unless paired with a top-level Oneworld Emerald frequent flyer card for Premium Lounge perks.

Some Oneworld Sapphire members also receive access to the Finnair Premium Lounge, but Finnair tells us that access for Sapphire members can be restricted during peak times – which is when it pays to be a Oneworld Emerald frequent flyer.

Despite those few bothersome inconsistencies, we still rate Oneworld Emerald as a pretty powerful piece of plastic and the one which frequent flyers should aim for, if they have the chance.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin (ChrisCh)

[email protected] / @ChamberlinChris

Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin 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!


  • Michael Kao

    Michael Kao

    11 Sep, 2017 08:06 am

    I guess one worth mentioning is that with AA executive platinum, you don't even get lounge access if flying AA domestic only, but you do if you hold status with other OW partner, even if just sapphire. Bizarre!
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin


    11 Sep, 2017 10:39 am

    Yeah, the USA operates on its own set of rules - but at least Oneworld Emerald members (with the exception of AA's own Exec Plats) get AA lounge access on domestic itineraries (AA ConciergeKey members do also get domestic lounge access, at least).

    The same can't be said of SkyTeam Elite Plus, which affords no lounge access at all when flying domestic, which isn't exactly competitive to the rules of Oneworld and Star Alliance!

    No member give thanks

  • mviy


    11 Sep, 2017 08:29 am

    OWE is great! It's great being able to access First Class lounges even on the cheapest economy fares.

    There are benefits that Emerald members get with the airline they are loyal to, over and above OWE benefits etc. QANTAS Platinum, Platinum One get upgrade priority on flights that are both QF operated and marketed. Can't use QF points to upgrade on OneWorld partners. There's also priority access to classic reward seats on QF flights when they're released.
    Member who gave thanks


  • Bob Burgess

    Bob Burgess

    11 Sep, 2017 08:49 am

    Best card = OneWorld Emerald, second-best card = OneWorld Sapphire especially if it's Qantas Lifetime Gold. OneWorld gives you access to a much wider and much better network of  lounges than Star Alliance, which probably needs to introduce a 'Star Alliance Platinum' tier to cover the many top tiers of Star Alliance airlines. Right now it's not hard to get to Star Alliance Gold and then there's nothing above that.
    No member give thanks

  • Teejay Cal


    11 Sep, 2017 09:01 am

    It's great globally, but parts of Europe I'm not so sure. I have plans to fly between France,Switzerland,Belgium and Denmark or Portugal .I'm currently struggling to leverage the network without potentially loosing half a day or so transiting through another country I'm not planning to visit (if I want to get the status credits and lounges) Be great if I was skyteam or Star alliance, but they might think the same about flying within Australia.
    No member give thanks

  • David Zrobek


    11 Sep, 2017 11:27 am

    Star Alliance and SkyTeam both have cornered the alliance market when it comes to European airlines. Although Oneworld does have a few European airlines in its membership - Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia (and S7 in Russia) - they are not always convenient or the most direct routings.

    Going by your itinerary, it appears  SkyTeam (Air France, KLM) and Star Alliance (Brussels, SAS and TAP) are your best direct options. Unfortunately, you won't find any OW codeshares on these flights. (It sure makes me miss SK being a QFF partner on intra-European flights).

    On a side note, it does pose an interesting hypothetical question (to everyone) - with SkyTeam and Star Alliance being so heavily saturated with European airlines, which one(s) would you dream to see switch to or join Oneworld, or just be a QFF partner?

    No member give thanks

  • David Zrobek


    11 Sep, 2017 11:34 am

    Similarly, Star Alliance and SkyTeam also have cornered the African market. There are very slim or no pickings of airlines for OneWorld to expand in Africa (if it wanted to). Even considering rumours of Royal Air Maroc wanting to join OW, it would still not be a convenient or direct way to get around Africa.
    No member give thanks

  • Nick  Sydney 348

    Nick Sydney 2

    11 Sep, 2017 12:03 pm

    Unless I guess a QFF is flying codeshare on EK in which case EK access applies?
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin


    11 Sep, 2017 12:13 pm

    Just re: Africa, if you're in need of a Oneworld airline, Comair (based in Johannesburg) is recognised as a Oneworld affiliate member as its parent company is British Airways (kind of like how Cathay Dragon, QantasLink and JetConnect are Oneworld affiliates), so when you travel on Comair on a Oneworld (BA) flight number you'll normally earn points and status credits at the usual rates, with status benefits too.

    Member who gave thanks


  • mviy


    11 Sep, 2017 12:56 pm

    What about on Aer Lingus with a BA flight number? Can you access the BA Lounges if you do that?
    No member give thanks

  • Ross


    11 Sep, 2017 02:29 pm

    Not in DUB, seperate terminals.
    No member give thanks

  • Morgan


    11 Sep, 2017 07:44 pm

    What if you are a oneworld sapphire (as am Qantas Gold) flying out of Doha on a oneworld airlines what lounge will you get access to?
    No member give thanks

  • Alan Su


    12 Sep, 2017 12:52 am

    I believe you get to use the inappropriately named "Business Class Lounge", which like the "First Class Lounge" are just for elite frequent flyers in economy.

    If you're flying in either Business or First then you use either the Al Mourjan Business Lounge or the Al Safwa First Lounge depending on your travel class, and only your travel class.
    No member give thanks

  • drgmarshall


    11 Sep, 2017 08:29 pm

    I just flew back from Heathrow to Perth with Cathay Pacific in Premium Economy which was the first time I've flown CP in 15 years.  The lovely Flight Manager came and said hello and had a chat for at least half-hour.  Very personal and even got the cabin crew to bring up G&T in actual glasses from down the J class end!  I never get that kind of thing happening on my usual Australian airline of choice!  Even though I'm PLatinum and Emerald card holder! So big tribute to CP!

    No member give thanks

  • mviy


    11 Sep, 2017 08:42 pm

    As a OWE I got a drink in a glass just recently on a QF domestic flight in Y. I was at the front of the Y cabin though.
    No member give thanks

  • Flying Fish


    11 Sep, 2017 10:51 pm

    After almost 10 years as OWE, with three years at QF P1, my flying habits will make it difficult to requalify for OWE with QF in the next year so I'm hopeful the downgrade to LTG won't be too harsh :-(
    No member give thanks

  • Himeno


    12 Sep, 2017 11:51 am

    Didn't mention the oneworld member arrivals lounges (ie, AA and BA at LHR and CX at HKG) where oneworld status doesn't get you in.
    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin


    12 Sep, 2017 12:02 pm

    Arrivals lounges are excluded from all Oneworld alliance agreements, so being an airline-by-airline offering only, they're not an 'alliance benefit' for us to mention. That said, Cathay Pacific does actually make an exception for Oneworld Emerald members arriving in Hong Kong, who do receive access to the arrivals lounge.
    No member give thanks

  • Himeno


    12 Sep, 2017 01:27 pm

    I know, thus why I mentioned it.
    People may see the lounge with a oneworld member branding and think it is a oneworld lounge.

    The arrivals lounges are as much part of the oneworld agreement as the BA concord room/bar is, yet that is mentioned in the article.
    No member give thanks

  • backload


    15 Sep, 2017 04:41 pm

    Platinum also doesn't get you into QF Singapore lounge anymore either.esn
    No member give thanks

  • Morgan


    16 Sep, 2017 12:01 pm

    Plantium does still get you into QF Singapore Lounge
    No member give thanks

  • Rob Willett


    17 Sep, 2017 02:35 am

    Re Africa One World: QR have good coverage as does BA and as a previous poster mentioned, But you won't get any First class lounges LOL. 
    No member give thanks

  • crosscourt


    20 Sep, 2017 05:40 pm

    This paragraph makes no sense to me: Oneworld Emerald status also lacks punch at the Doha hub of Oneworld alliance member Qatar Airways, where the ‘first class lounge’ isn't intended for actual first class passengers (who instead visit the exclusive Al Safwa Lounge): only for Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers booked in economy..... In fact it is intended for actual first class passengers. You can be emerald flying business and they wont let you in, which is wrong and a bad attitude from Qatar. You cannot compare their lounge situation with that of BA with the Concorde Room which is for 1st passengers only - BA has an actual 1st Class Lounge. With Qatar its the bustling business Al Safwa lounge you are palmed off to.
    No member give thanks

  • crosscourt


    20 Sep, 2017 05:44 pm

    I think Qantas should stop Qatar passengers from using the 1st class lounge if they are not flying 1st, even if they are emerald. Tit for tat!
    No member give thanks


24 Nov, 2017 04:53 pm


Forgot Password

If you’ve forgotten your password, simply enter your email address below, then click 'Submit'. We’ll send you an email to re-activate your account and enter a new password.