Flying Qantas from San Francisco? Here's your airport lounge strategy...

By David Flynn, May 16 2016
Flying Qantas from San Francisco? Here's your airport lounge strategy...

The good news is that Qantas is once again flying between Sydney and San Francisco.

The not-so-good news? That'd be the sub-par 'business class' lounge experience ahead of your return journey.

The Air France/KLM lounge

As we've previously detailed, Qantas directs all eligible passengers on the outbound QF74 flight to the Air France/KLM lounge.

This ranges from business class travellers to top-tier (Platinum and Gold-grade) frequent flyers and Qantas Club cardholders.

The issue is that this is a woeful lounge, especially when measured against the usually high standards of Qantas (and to be fair, this isn't a Qantas lounge).

It's small enough to get very crowded in the lead-up to QF74...

... has a sub-par selection of food and drink...

... and there no showers where you can freshen up before the long overnight flight to Sydney. 

There's a lounge upgrade in the works, but no timeline as to when that'll happen.

So what are your options?

Based on a recent trip to San Francisco, we've put together a little 'lounge strategy' guide.

The Cathay Pacific lounge

Directly upstairs from the Air France/KLM Lounge is the Cathay Pacific lounge, to which selected Qantas travellers have access based on both airlines' membership of the Oneworld alliance.

Those 'selected' travellers include passengers booked into business class on QF74 along with Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold, Platinum and Platinum One members.

And there's no doubt that this is the lounge to be in.

Recently expanded to house up to 175 guests, Cathay’s spacious lounge boasts a modern design and plenty of comfortable seating.

There are also six shower suites – three at either end of the lounge.

You can dine on freshly-prepared bowls of noodles..

... while a range of hot dishes, salads and sweet treats (along with barista-brewed coffee) are available from 10pm, ahead of the 12.50am departure of CX873 for Hong Kong.

But there's a catch: the 11.25pm departure of Qantas flight QF74 sees an overlap with the influx of passengers for CX873 - and, on three days a week, the 1.20am wheels-up of CX893.

So due to concerns of overcrowding in the lounge and a subsequent shortfall in service, Cathay Pacific imposes a strict limit on the number of Qantas passengers it will allow into its lounge.

Lounge staff informed Australian Business Traveller that they accept only ten Qantas travellers booked on QF74 – be they business class passengers, or Platinum or Gold frequent flyers – along with high-status passengers (typically Chairman's Lounge members) whose names are provided in advance by Qantas.

If you're early enough to be among the first ten QF74 passengers to lob into the CX lounge, well done – otherwise it's back to the Air France/KLM lounge for you.

(Don't bother arguing the toss at the CX lounge: airlines are within their rights to limit lounge access to their own passengers, with Oneworld rules allowing that "Some lounges may get busy at peak times, and access to them may be restricted as a result.")

There's a question of how early is too early to arrive for QF74, however: the Qantas checkin desks at SFO open at 7.30pm, some four hours before the flight departs.

And while even two hours may be too long to spend in the Air France/KLM Lounge, four hours is probably too long in the Cathay Pacific Lounge – but if you're intending to get to the airport early, you may as well play it to get into the best lounge, have a shower and enjoy a decent meal. 

The Japan Airlines lounge

Fellow Oneworld member Japan Airlines has its own lounge down the corridor from Cathay Pacific, although it doesn't open until 10.35pm (ahead of the 1.35am wheels-up for JL1 to Tokyo).

That's only minutes before QF74 starts boarding – but if QF74 is delayed, or provided you don't dally too much, the JAL lounge does allow a quick pit-stop to grab some California rolls, onigiri rice triangles and assorted snacks.

The British Airways lounge

Before axing its Sydney-San Francisco route in 2011, Qantas used to share the BA lounge at San Francisco.

However, even during the peak northern summer period BA's two daily flights from San Francisco to London have departed by 7.15pm, after which the lounge is closed.

San Francisco Airport terminal 

Given the parlous state of the Air France/KLM Lounge, there's a school of thought among frequent flyers that you're better off enjoying dinner and some last-minute shopping in San Francisco, then heading to the airport around 9pm and grabbing a cuppa, a glass of wine or a light bite at one of the airport's own restaurants and cafes.

If you've flown out of San Francisco on Qantas QF74, what was your 'lounge strategy'?

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

20 Nov 2012

Total posts 20

Why doesn't Qantas just make a deal with Japan Airlines to open their lounge earlier?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 95

I have reported elsewhere my dissatisfaction re the lounge at sfo. In my case i was flying Calgary sfo syd darwin.. a long flight by every measurement. But what made it all that much more worse was 4 plus hours in the AF/KLM lounge. Staff are very pleasant, but that is it. I did go up to the CX lounge and it was great, however loking after their own customer, food and drink dont really come out until not long before the departure of the qf flight.

Either get BA to open theirs for longer, or JAL to open earlier would be ideal.

18 Dec 2012

Total posts 9

Also worth trying (if you have the right amex)  is the Centurion Lounge. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2015

Total posts 124

Would make sense for Qantas to share the lounge with BA since it would be easier for them to work out costs given there are no QF flights near BA times. Plus they have done it before. 

04 May 2016

Total posts 34

Yes that would make sense. But is there any evidence - from anywhere - that they are even on speaking terms after the big divorce ?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Jun 2014

Total posts 34

Is it possible to walk post security between the international terminal and termianl 3 to get into the Amex lounge. There is talk of a connect walkway between the 2 terminals online but is it possible to move freely both ways?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2011

Total posts 28

Unfortunately International is split into two concourses - A and B. QF74 goes from A.

It's possible to get between Terminal 3 and International B airside and indeed use the Amex lounge. 

It's not possible to get between International A and B without clearing security again. I'm not sure if it's possible to enter T3/Int-B with an outgoing flight from A.

If you could stay airside then the Amex lounge would certainly be where I'd go.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Jun 2014

Total posts 34

Thanks Shaun 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 416

Very poor to hear all this. OneWorld fails badly here.

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 118

Good review.  I'm going to do a same day flight change on American Airlines, so I stay longer at DFW and use AA's Flagship Lounge on my way to SFO and back to Sydney.

18 May 2016

Total posts 2

I was early for check in at SFO for QF74 in March so was one of the very first to check in.Was refused entry at Cathy.KLM lounge appalling .I am returning in June and October and will get something outside of this situation persists.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Dec 2010

Total posts 11

Wish I had seen this prior to my flight last month on QF74! The AirFrance lounge is beyond woeful, however I was still amazed to see every seat in it was full. It was hot, noisy and the food was inedible, and to be frank at that time the terminal outside is relatively empty and was actually much more pleasant. If you go to the very end of the concourse, on the right hand side there's a pizza place and bar with heaps of seating and it was nearly empty, so I grabbed a fairly decent pizza and California red prior to boarding. Sometimes you just have to think outside the lounge!


01 Jun 2014

Total posts 3

No mention of AA lounge?

I am QF74 in August - Y - and was intending to buy the AA 1month lounge pass.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 95

Admirals lounge is in terminal 2, not international. Not sure how far apart they are, but likely to be inconvenient...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Jun 2014

Total posts 34

Had a visit to the Admirals lounge at SFO 2-3 years ago. From memory it was a modern lounge, wifi was slowest I have used in a lounge, had to pay for just about everything, only AA lounge where I have come across this, left thinking what a waste of 1/2 hour, should have gone to the bar orr restaurant instead. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 May 2016

Total posts 2

My family and I just got back from flying QF73 and 74 last month.  We had 6 hours to kill on arrival awaiting an onward flight to D.C. with Virgin America.  Wanting to use the Amex lounge meant quite a trek to terminal 3 and a long queue to go through security but we thought it worth it.  Until we arrived.  The lounge looks great and the staff did their best, but it was packed.  All 6 of us were directed to sit around the one spare tiny table with our carryons.  We took one look and left, besides the food was a bit achingly hipster for my boys who just felt like something simple at that time of the morning.  As for our way home,  we skipped the lounges alltogether.  After arranging a late checkout at the Fairmont we headed into Chinatown for an early dinner, before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags and on to the airport.  Kids became peckish again before the flight, and availed themselves of the made to order pizza, and I hit the deli for a snack.  Both outlets were of great quality and far exceeded anything you would get at an airport food court at home.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 May 2015

Total posts 8

My recent experience pre-QF74: At check-in I asked the representative if I (as a Qantas Gold) could access the CX lounge to which I was told “unfortunately it is full” which seemed strange 3.5 hours before the flight.

On approaching the CX lounge, there were no questions asked on entry. So I had a very pleasant 3 hours in the CX lounge. It is was definitely not full, which I assume the AF lounge was. 

Perhaps I was one of the first 10, perhaps I was just lucky, but I never saw anyone refused entry. It appears there may be some inconsistency on this one - it pays to ask.

Qantas - Platinum (Lifetime Gold)

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 55

By way of update, I was advised at checkin at SFO on Monday evening 18/07 that the Cathay lounge was booked out "but you could always go there and try".  I was 2.5 hours before boarding and had no problem at the Cathay lounge, no questions asked.  The lounge was relatively empty and was starting to fill up for CX flights by the time I headed to the gate at 22:40.  Must admit that, as I walked down the concourse past the closed BA lounge, that I thought it would be a more convenient location but, as far as SFO lounges go, no better than the CX lounge and I believe previous experience with direct boarding to BA flights would not be relevant to QF's location.

I am flying on QF74 tonight and had no trouble getting into the Cathay pacific lounge at all. They did look a little curiously at my Alaska airlines boarding pass and but entered in my frequent flyer number from my membership card. Mind you the lounge was not at all full. This was about 8pm so few Cathay passengers were in the terminal. I agree with the comments that the British airways lounge is the most convenient location for the boarding gates. 

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