Five paid airport lounge schemes you should know about

By Chris C., March 2 2015
Five paid airport lounge schemes you should know about

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.

Qantas Club

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.

Use your Qantas Club card to visit the Qantas Hong Kong lounge...
Use your Qantas Club card to visit the Qantas Hong Kong lounge...

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.

Read more: The ultimate unofficial Qantas Club guide and FAQ

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.

Relax at Virgin Australia's espresso and wine bars in the Melbourne lounge...
Relax at Virgin Australia's espresso and wine bars in the Melbourne lounge...

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.

Priority Pass

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.

Read more: The Aussie traveller’s guide to Priority Pass airport lounges

United Club

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.

Use your lounge membership to access the superb SilverKris lounge in Sydney.
Use your lounge membership to access the superb SilverKris lounge in Sydney.

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.

Read more: How to buy Star Alliance business class lounge access

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.

There's plenty of room in AA's Admirals Club lounge at LAX...
There's plenty of room in AA's Admirals Club lounge at LAX...

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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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 112

As a frequent OW traveller, I rarely have to worry about lounge access.  However, when I'm off the OW track and usually that means I'm in some weird airport a long way away and often in Y with no perks (such as a recent trip on SATA), Priority Pass (which I get from my credit card) has been a life saver especially when there is a delayed flight and no seats in the terminal.  More often than not the lounges are average (we have it good with QF and I'll even concede VA is good from my infrequent visits) but having a quiet place to get a drink (even just water) and wait for the plane is worth it.  If I didn't get it free, I'd definitely pay for Priority Pass, but it's only worth it if you travel o/s. 

British AIrways

08 Feb 2011

Total posts 21

I've got Oneworld Emerald and "free" Priority Pass as well for my own needs but if one didn't and only needed lounge access infrequently, it's good to remember that most 3rd party lounges offer access for a one-time fee.  If you don't need the lounge more than a few times a year, it's cheaper than paying hundreds for a card.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Jan 2017

Total posts 3

I appreciate this is an old article, but can anyone confirm that Priority Pass still has a Melbourne lounge? I can't seem to find one on their website.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

There hasn't been a lounge in Melbourne since United cut ties with Priority Pass, unfortunately.
In Australia, Priority Pass currently gets you into Brisbane's Plaza Premium Lounge, the Reef Lounge in Cairns and the Catalina Lounge in Darwin: all located in the international departure areas of each airport. No access in Melbourne, Sydney or any other city.

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