Melbourne is now home to another independent lounge, with the all-new Plaza Premium Lounge joining Melbourne Airport's Marhaba Lounge and American Express Lounge in the international terminal, to woo travellers away from the terminal concourse who may not otherwise be entitled to lounge access from their airline.
With many of the same features as you'd expect of an airline-operated lounge – such as WiFI, power points for keeping your gadgets recharged, all-day bar and barista coffee service and buffet dining – Plaza's lounge also appeals to travellers seeking choice, particularly regular flyers who want more variety in their travels.
Australian Business Traveller stopped by Terminal 2 at Melbourne Airport to bring you this review.
Location & Impressions
You'll find the Plaza Premium Lounge beyond international security screening and passport control in the terminal's satellite pier, where most other lounges are also located.
Just take the escalators downstairs and follow the signs to the right:
For regular Victorian flyers familiar with Melbourne Airport, the entrance is also to the right of the now-closed Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge – but one thing this space has which many others lack in Melbourne is natural light and tarmac views.
However, to take in those views, you'll need to look through the glass wall and across the airport's arrival concourse, where many of the passers-by (having just landed on international flights) seem to slow down or stop for a stickybeak into the lounge through those same windows.
To retain the view but with a bit more privacy, Plaza Premium has made the bottom section of that glass opaque, so that when you're relaxing in the nearby chairs your head can't be seen unless somebody is right at the window...
... while a separate dining area sits behind an internal wall, featuring a few styled openings to bring some of that light through:
In that dining room are both tables and booth seats...
... along with a space to stash any small bags and hang your coat:
The lounge opens from 6am until 11pm daily, catering for the majority of international departures from Melbourne – except for very early morning flights, such as Emirates EK409 to Dubai (which departs at 5am), and late evening flights like Cathay Pacific CX178 to Hong Kong, plus Malaysia Airlines MH128 and AirAsia X AK213 to Kuala Lumpur, among a few others.
- Australian American Express Platinum Charge Card and Centurion Card holders, plus two guests.
- As of April 24 2018, members of Priority Pass, in line with their usual membership plan.
- Guests purchasing access at reception at a cost of $60 for up to two hours, or $70 for up to three hours.
- Members of Plaza Premium's Arrture loyalty program redeeming Arrture points for a lounge pass.
- Holders of top-tier American Express cards issued overseas, including many Platinum and Centurion-grade personal cards, plus USA-issued Business Centurion cards, Chinese ICBC Platinum cards, and Business Platinum cards issued in selected countries, among others (no access here for Australian AMEX Business Platinum cardholders, however).
- International guests with other premium credit cards, such as those from China CITIC Bank International, Maybank and OCBC (Singapore), and Bank of China (Hong Kong).
Passengers can be travelling with any airline to any destination from Melbourne's T2 international terminal.
While members of Dragonpass and LoungeKey enjoy access to Plaza Premium's Brisbane lounge – as do Diners Club charge card holders – these agreements are not currently in place for Melbourne, and as such, these travellers cannot currently access the lounge (unless paying or otherwise eligible).
This is expected to change over the coming weeks as these arrangements are ironed out. At the time of writing, none of the airlines flying from Melbourne use the Plaza Premium Lounge as their 'default' lounge, as happens elsewhere.
When stopping by for a quick pre-flight drink, pull up a stool in the bar area...
... or if staying longer, make yourself comfortable in the dining room...
... conveniently located near the buffet counters:
That's where you'll find a range of fresh fruits, salads and yoghurts to start your day – along with macarons if you're so inclined...
... plus breads, pastries and a pancake machine...
... which works as expected, with maple syrup on the side:
Baked beans, bacon, sausages and hash browns also make an appearance in the mornings...
... with an egg chef on standby to whip up tasty omelettes:
Later in the day, the egg counter transitions into a live cooking station, where travellers can request a dish made to order – during my evening visit, that was fettuccine pasta with arrabiata sauce...
... which was fresh and tasty, and a good portion size:
Other hot items available from the buffet include spicy chicken, rice, penne pasta and frittata (the same as you'll find in the American Express Lounge next door)...
... and if you stop by at the right time, treats like mini bao sandwiches with slow-cooked pork belly, Asian slaw and a spicy plum sauce:
During the day and into the evenings, the buffet also expands with cheese, salads and crudités...
... and there's a tended bar open throughout the day, offering a selection of beer, wine and spirits...
... including two beers on tap:
Non-alcoholic drinks are also available for self-service, from the fridges...
... a soft drink station – which features chilled fresh juice and a boiling water tap once the side for tea also...
... and a separate counter for a quick glass of water, (long-life) juice or iced tea:
All the seats here feature somewhere to rest your drinks and snacks – in the relaxation seats, that's a cocktail table...
... and in the dining room, it's self-explanatory:
Those dining tables also feature power points underneath, so even if you're having a bite to eat, you can still recharge your smartphone.
Business travellers may have a hard time getting solid work done in this space, for several reasons.
Firstly, there is a quiet area in the lounge with seats and tables suitable for laptop work – of course, with power points and reading lights – but this area is mostly closed-in and is poorly-lit, especially in the far corners, and would be better-used in its current form as a nap area:
Next, while you can certainly use your laptop at one of the dining tables, I found them a tad too high to be comfortable for anything more than a brief email, and also found the edge of the table a little too 'pointed' for resting my palms on when not bashing away at the keyboard, which meant trying to work in the lounge's relaxation area instead.
The high-backed chairs, while private, also aren't ideal for laptop use, because the cocktail table juts out at the side, which means using your laptop on your lap at an angle, or squeezing it onto the cocktail table and sitting sideways, which became uncomfortable after about 20 minutes:
Finally, the smaller window-facing seats below do provide for easier laptop work, given there are no obstructions in front...
... and while these feature power outlets too (below), we'd really love to see a proper bench seat or working bench, to make what should be a simple task much easier.
Here's another struggle: even if you do find somewhere to work productively, you won't be able to check your emails through programs like Microsoft Outlook or the built-in OS mail apps on your smartphone or tablet, because the lounge's WiFi network appears to be blocking IMAP communications – one of the protocols used by computers to transmit email – or the 'ports' used for the same.
As such, my inboxes refused to sync on my laptop, tablet and smartphone, so when a new email came through, I was none the wiser until I disconnected from the lounge's WiFi and used my own service – or fired up webmail, or connected to a VPN: all things I shouldn't need to do in a lounge to make email work.
Upload and download speeds on the lounge WiFi hovered around the 5Mbps mark, which is acceptable when you're the only person connected, but it remains to be seen how the connection will cope once the lounge fills up.
Fortunately, the lounge is better-served for relaxing, with the high-backed chairs quite comfortable when sitting normally (rather than angled to the side to use a laptop)...
... while still providing easy access to AC and USB power – and if the light overhead isn't sufficient, you can switch on a personal reading light too.
The other seats in this space are also comfortable, and are a common staple of Plaza Premium's lounges around the world: also featuring access to power, and side lamps too.
Shower facilities are absent from the lounge, and the bathrooms here are shared between the American Express Lounge next door – but we're told showers will make an appearance in 3-6 months.
Overall, Melbourne Airport's Plaza Premium Lounge is more than acceptable for passengers hoping to dine and relax before their flight, but less-so for business travellers keeping in touch with the office or getting a solid chunk of work done before stepping on board a long international flight.
A broader access list to welcome LoungeKey and other membership programs would also make the lounge more appealing, once organised – allowing these cardholders to use a 'visit' within their existing membership plan instead of paying full price at the door for entry – and particularly for travellers taking overnight flights, showers would sweeten the overall proposition.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Plaza Premium Group and American Express Australia.