There’s no denying that free airport lounge access is the Holy Grail of frequent flyer perks, but there’s no reason that less-frequent travellers should be left sitting out in the terminal.
Passengers in economy can still pony up cold hard cash for their spot in the lounge by finding an annual membership scheme that best suits their travel habits, or even by buying a short term pass to cover a month of frequent travel.
Here are our top five picks of the airport lounge schemes for Aussie travellers.
Where it works: Australian domestic Qantas Clubs and Qantas-operated international business lounges with a Qantas or Jetstar flight number on your ticket; the Emirates business class lounge in Dubai and selected partner lounges in other ports when booked on a QF flight number; plus American Airlines Admirals Clubs when travelling on a QF or AA flight.
Where it doesn’t: As a rule and with the exception of Admirals Clubs, Qantas Club members only have lounge access at airports served by Qantas’ own aircraft – so there’s no lounge access at London Gatwick, Paris or Rome before Emirates flights, even if you have booked on a Qantas codeshare.
What it costs: New members pay a one-off $385 joining fee, plus yearly ongoing membership costs of $510 for members new and old. Discounts apply to corporates buying 10 or more memberships, travellers living outside Australia and when pre-paying for several years of access.
X-Factor: It’s more than just a lounge card – you’ll also enjoy priority check-in when travelling with Qantas, a higher baggage allowance with both Qantas and Emirates and can book airport meeting rooms at a discount.
Virgin Australia Lounge
Where it works: You’ll have access to the airline’s nine domestic lounges in major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, to Air New Zealand international Koru Club lounges when flying on a Virgin Australia VA-coded ticket to selected destinations, and to NZ’s domestic Koru Clubs before flights with Air New Zealand.
Where it doesn’t: Lounge access isn’t offered to guests on the airline’s longer flights to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, or with its other partner airlines such as Delta, Etihad or Singapore Airlines.
What it costs: $420 per year for entry-level Red frequent flyers, plus a $330 joining fee for new members. Joining fees are waived for Velocity Silver travellers with a reduced yearly fee of just $300, while lifetime lounge membership can also be purchased for $9,750.
X-Factor: Lifetime lounge members can use Premium Entry in Sydney to side-step the queues at the airport, although year-on-year lounge members don’t enjoy this privilege and can instead use Premium Exit in Melbourne.
Where it works: Over 700 lounges worldwide, including major transit hubs and destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York, London, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Where it doesn’t: Namely, in Sydney. Priority Pass only has two Australian lounges – one in Melbourne and the other in Cairns, both for international passengers – making the program a better fit for globetrotters than domestic travellers.
What it costs: A choice of three membership plans in line with your expected usage, starting at US$99 (A$127) per year plus US$27 (A$35) per lounge visit, through to US$399 (A$511) per year for unlimited access to every Priority Pass lounge whenever you’re travelling.
X-Factor: Airline alliances and loyalty schemes become irrelevant: you’re free to travel with any airline on any ticket, knowing that a lounge awaits at the airport before your journey in cities covered by Priority Pass.
Where it works: In United Airlines’ lounges of the same name, Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges and in over 200 Star Alliance lounges globally whenever travelling with a Star Alliance airline – including the Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge in Sydney and the Star Alliance business class lounge at LAX.
Where it doesn’t: There’s no access provided to Star Alliance ‘contract’ lounges – those operated by a third party or a non-Star Alliance airline – keeping you out in the terminal in cities such as Mumbai, Shenzhen and Cape Town.
What it costs: US$500 (A$637) each year plus a joining fee of US$50 (A$64). Discounts apply to frequent flyers with United Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K status.
X-Factor: Enjoy the freedom to travel with any Star Alliance airline worldwide – including Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Lufthansa, and of course, United – while relaxing in the same lounges normally afforded to business class passengers.
American Airlines’ Admirals Club
Where it works: AA’s Admirals Club lounges, Australian domestic Qantas Clubs and international Qantas business class lounges and selected Alaska Airlines Board Rooms.
Where it doesn’t: Lounge access isn’t offered when flying with other Oneworld airlines such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines – in contrast to the United Club scheme which provides lounge access across the Star Alliance.
What it costs: US$500 (A$641) in the first year and US$450 (A$577) every year thereafter. 30-day passes can also be purchased for US$99 (A$127) for access to the same lounges.
X-Factor: Buy a 30-day pass during periods of heavy travel with Qantas, Alaska Airlines or American without shelling out for a full year’s membership.
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