Oneworld lounge access: why some frequent flyers are shut out

Oneworld lounge access: why some frequent flyers are shut out

Access to airport lounges around the world is a cornerstone benefit of building up frequent flyer status within a particular airline alliance, and it's the one which business travellers appreciate the most.

In the case of the Oneworld alliance – which counts Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, British Airways, American Airlines, Qatar Airways and JAL among its 13 members – holding the equivalent of Oneworld Sapphire status with any member airline opens the doors at the business class lounges of all Oneworld airlines.

Likewise, Oneworld Emerald status – a tier which includes Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum , Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Diamond and British Airways Executive Club Gold cards – sees the welcome mat rolled out at first class lounges.

That's the idea, anyway. Most of the time it holds true, but there are exceptions to every rule – including when it comes to lounge access for Oneworld frequent flyers.

First class yes, frequent flyers no

For example, British Airways' Concorde Room is available only to BA first class passengers and its most elite frequent flyers (Concorde Room Card holders and invitation-only BA Premier members). Emerald-grade frequent flyers, along with first class travellers on other Oneworld airlines, are directed to seperate and far less impressive 'first class' lounges.

Qatar Airways' Premium Lounges at London, Paris and from this week Bangkok, are open to first class and business class travellers on any Oneworld airline, but not frequent flyers of any stripe.

British Airways' arrivals lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 5 is exclusive to BA first class and business class passengers arriving on long-haul flights and British Airways Executive Club Gold members in any class – but only BAEC Golds, and not their equivalents from other Oneworld airlines.

However, Cathay Pacific's Hong Kong arrivals lounge welcomes Emerald-grade frequent flyers from any Oneworld airline (such as Qantas Platinum) and its own Marco Polo Gold and Diamond members, as long as they're arriving on a Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon flight.

American Airlines' Flagship Lounges in the USA will let in Oneworld Emerald card-holders travelling in economy on even the shortest domestic flight, but bars its own top-tier AAdvantage frequent flyers unless they're on an international flight headed outside of North America.

Oddly, Finnair flips things around in favour of the frequent flyer: Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire passengers enjoy entry to the upscale Finnair Premium lounge while business class travellers have to make do with the lesser Finnair lounge.

Oneworld makes the rules, but members can bend them

Doesn't this amount to a lot of inconsistency and confusion for the business traveller?

Dennis Tierney, Oneworld's Vice-President for Customer Experience, says that the alliance's rules "stipulate the minimum standards to which all alliance member airlines must adhere in all areas of customer experience, including lounge provision and access."

“But all member airlines are free, if they choose, to offer their own customers, and indeed customers from their partner airlines, services that exceed those minimum requirements," he tells Australian Business Traveller.

“Some member airlines choose to offer a range of lounges at some airports, with varying access criteria. There is no Oneworld requirement for these airlines to open the doors to all of these lounges to top-tier frequent flyers from all Oneworld airlines, whether flying in premium cabins or not – so long as at least one of these lounges is available to them under the usual Oneworld rules."

Tierney cites Qatar Airways' Premium Lounges as an example.

"Qatar Airways has a number of Premium Lounges, where access is restricted to customers booked in its own first or business class cabins, or in the first or business class cabins of any of its oneworld partners."

"At the locations where it offers these Premium Lounges, it also makes available other lounges in which top-tier frequent flyers (equivalent to Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire) from its own Privilege Club or any other Oneworld partner’s frequent flyer programme who are booked in the economy cabins on Qatar Airways or any oneworld partner airline are welcome."

In short: as long as there's somewhere for Platinums, Golds, Diamonds and others of their shiny ilk to put up their feet, airlines are free to operate even more exclusive lounges and set the doorlist as they please.

Meanwhile, arrivals lounges fall outside Oneworld's control altogether, Tierney adds.

“Arrivals lounges are not included as part of the oneworld offering – although, again, some member airlines go ‘above and beyond’ in this area."

"Cathay Pacific, for instance, welcomes Oneworld Emeralds into its Hong Kong arrivals lounge if they arrive on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon, no matter in which cabin they were booked."

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

25 Comments

  • Jeh

    Jeh

    12 Feb, 2018 09:13 am

    Thanks this article forced me to sign up with abt.
    We travelled on Finnair last year bne/sin (qf)sin/hel/cdg return business class and delayed on the way home for 24 hours in HEL.The business normal business class lounge looks good thats about it On the initail delay 3 hours nothing was offered to the 30 plus pax who did not have access to the oneworld lounge next door.The food was very unattractive and was not refreshed at all in our 8 hour visit ,I dont lnow what was available in the One world lounge but the offering in our lounge was very poor.BTW I world in the airline business for 37 years and finnair ground staff attitube and delay protocols are abysmal.We travel to Europe every year full fare business class ,never again in Finnair.Best
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  • Brian Williams

    evilbrian

    14 Feb, 2018 03:13 pm

    Not just Finnair, but Finns in general are some of the rudest people I have ever come across while travelling.
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  • rebekkap

    rebekkap

    20 Feb, 2018 10:44 am

    Finns in general were uniformly polite and accommodating when I was in Finland. Perhaps you weren't being polite to them and got back what you were giving out?
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  • drgmarshall

    drgmarshall

    13 Feb, 2018 01:04 am

    WRT your comment about the BA 1st Lounge at Heathrow "Emerald-grade frequent flyers, along with first class travellers on other Oneworld airlines, are directed to seperate and far less impressive 'first class' lounges". The BA First Lounge is in fact excellent. Breakfast is great. The tarmac view is excellent. And if you pick up the landline phones, you can even call back to Australia for free! Not too bad me thinks.

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  • Dean

    deanr

    14 Feb, 2018 03:24 pm

    It's not bad, but it's still not the real first class lounge. It's a very reasonable for a business class lounge, though, haha. (You could probably say the same thing about BA first class flights, actually... one of the world's best business class experiences, LOL.)
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  • AJW

    AJW

    15 Feb, 2018 12:52 am

    Tough audience. It’s been 7 or 8 years since I set foot in the T5 first lounge and frankly it was right up there. Yes there was something better that I only ever sampled the once, but still was great first class lounge.
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  • Robin Ryan

    RobJ

    14 Feb, 2018 03:18 pm

    One wrinkle is that Qantas Gold/OW Sapphire doesn't get you in to OW lounges when travelling Jetstar Business, as I discovered at Japan Airline's Lounge at Osaka - although the CIP used by Jetstar there is really rather good and uncrowded.
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  • Dean

    deanr

    14 Feb, 2018 03:23 pm

    That's not really a "wrinkle": Jetstar isn't a Oneworld airline. Qantas just lets its own frequent flyers use its own lounges when flying Jetstar to be nice, but it doesn't mean Jetstar is part of Oneworld. You can buy Jetstar business class tickets that include lounge access though, but they tend to be a bit more expensive than the basic business class fare.
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  • Glenn Gould

    kajdes

    14 Feb, 2018 03:24 pm

    I have economy seats on a flight to Rome out of Perth coming up, Qantas flight but operated by Emirates, a stop in Dubai. I have Platinum QFF but my wife and 16 year daughter are only silver. Will we all be able to access to the First Class Lounges or will we be excluded? - Thanks in advance Kajdes
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  • sdtravel

    sdtravel

    14 Feb, 2018 03:41 pm

    Yourself +1 can get into the QF First Lounge with your status. You wont be able to bring a 2nd guest in without a First Lounge pass. I think QF had a rule about under 18's not counting as guests. But i cant find it so perhaps it was enhanced.

    DXB is the Emirates Lounge so their rules apply. You will only be able to again bring 1 guest in. Qantas Lounge passes dont work in Dubai.
    Assuming your are flying Emirates out of Rome. The same would apply. I have no idea what Lounges they have there.

    This of course doesnt exclude the possibility of the agent at the door being nice and allowing you in anyway. But you should probably expect not to be and pleasantly surprised if it happens.
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  • rstephenp

    rstephenp

    15 Feb, 2018 08:27 am

    Qantas First class lounge allows +1 and two kids under 18 for economy class travel too.
    I travelled overseas with my family. Emirates (Dubai First Class Lounge), I flew with +1 and 2 children under 12. I travelled on a QF ticket Emirates flight through Bangkok (Lounge at Bangkok) and my son is 14yrs old. He was allowed into the business class lounge as the person checking us was nice.
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  • Glenn Gould

    kajdes

    14 Feb, 2018 03:37 pm

    Continuing from above message we would want to access a lounge in Perth, Dubai and Rome. Thanks again
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  • BevanMcBevan

    BevanMcBevan

    14 Feb, 2018 03:48 pm

    Wonderfully informative David. I also believe manners and some courtesy can help when needed at the Lounge door. Cheers.
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  • autvlr

    autvlr

    14 Feb, 2018 04:02 pm

    Although this doesn’t answer the question whether an airline must treat entry level emeralds of other airlines the same as their own entry level emeralds when it comes to lounge access. There’s no example where a entry level emerald is treated better when flying their “home” airline than entry level emeralds of other airlines flying that same airline.
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  • crosscourt

    crosscourt

    14 Feb, 2018 05:07 pm

    I don't think the above article, with due respect, offers any new info. I can understand BA providing access to the Concorde Lounge only to their 1st passengers and not OW emerald in business; they (BA) have in my view a very good actual 1st lounge. Unless Qatar have changed policy, you CANNOT get into their 1st lounge if you are OW emerald (I am OW emerald via CL and Plat1) and flying in business despite the fact that most of their flights don't have a 1st cabin eg: as I have flown MIA/DOH, JFK/DOH, DOH/HKG, DOH/CPT etc. They do not have a separate 1st lounge a la BA and QR (in my view their business lounge is a zoo) do as they please ... alliance players they are not. I find them a frustrating and annoying airline. Eh, what do they care.
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  • John McCubbery

    RickBlain

    14 Feb, 2018 05:32 pm

    No matter how many problems Oneworld may have, Star Alliance is usually worse. At one stage I had SQ Gold and had to fly through SIN in Economy twice in a few months and both times I was not allowed in the business lounge. That's okay, their published rules, all acceptable. But Oneworld airlines treat their FF much better.
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  • AJW

    AJW

    15 Feb, 2018 01:10 am

    That’s a bit like the qantas domestic situation where the base level ‘Gold Kris’ lounge is for frequent flyers in economy FF and the Silver Kris lounge being for business class passengers and higher tier passengers.

    I wouldn’t call that a failing as such, and at least SQ don’t confuse things by using terms like business class lounge. Though of course it is confusing that their base level lounge is called gold but the higher level silver.
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  • John McCubbery

    RickBlain

    15 Feb, 2018 10:00 pm

    Really good point. The Silver/ Gold thing was my big mistake. I had not experienced the word "gold" being so devalued before. It taught me a lesson. Now I have Emerald with QF and JAL - just about all my travel/lounge needs are taken care of! (Except departing from Frankfurt for anywhere in East Europe...)
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    14 Feb, 2018 07:11 pm

    Always a good topic to discuss. I am just amazed how complicated, restrictive and limiting status with airlines FF schemes has become, and will become in the coming years, Soon I believe only F and J will have lounge access, with all other passengers, no matter their tier, only being able to generate points and bonus points - which they will be virtually unable to use on the ever decreasing number of seats available and will no doubt lose once their 12 month expiry is reached.

    FF schemes were great in the 80's, rewarding and available to all, now and no doubt in the future, a marketing scheme with little to no benefit except to the airlines.

    Maybe time for passengers to start choosing carefully!

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  • John McCubbery

    RickBlain

    15 Feb, 2018 10:08 pm

    An excellent post and good point about "choosing carefully". I gave up on Star Alliance because it just all became too hard with SQ and have concentrated on the 2 airlines I have decided to fly the most. And it is working better for me, but yes, what will happen in the future and things keep getting cut back and restricted (and monetised)?!
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  • paul271

    paul271

    14 Feb, 2018 08:08 pm

    Regarding BA arrivals lounge Heathrow. I am flying Doha to Heathrow soon in J on BA metal but codeshare booked with another airline. Do I have any chance of using the arrivals lounge I wonder?
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  • Gary Lottering

    GaryJ

    14 Feb, 2018 08:08 pm

    QF Platinum - has anyone experienced difficulties using the Emirates First Lounge - Travelling Business on Emirates from Dubai to Sydney arriving into Dubai at midnight and departing the following morning
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  • princess fiona

    princess fiona

    28 Apr, 2018 07:00 am

    You won’t have any trouble accessing DXB F lounge as QF Platinum
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  • AJW

    AJW

    15 Feb, 2018 01:01 am

    The article misses the abnormality much closer to homes, Qantas domestic business class lounges. Gold and One World sapphire members are not welcome based on status alone.

    The reason makes sense in that Emerald and business pax having the ‘better’ lounge and others the lesser lounge, just like international but non the less would be confusing to One World customers in particular.
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  • Tristan

    tris06

    18 Feb, 2018 02:08 pm

    If people think that is bad try flying CZ as an elite plus member the lounge provided to all members with elite plus and their own gold and silver members (no higher status in this program). The lounge provided is very basic below the standard of the business lounge. This from my experience in Guangzhou. Luckily I don't fly them much because of this.
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22 May, 2018 02:41 am

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