Are domestic airport lounges really worth the money?

Price increases from Qantas and Virgin Australia might make travellers think twice…

By David Flynn, May 20 2024
Are domestic airport lounges really worth the money?

There was a time when airport lounges were special.

Stepping through sliding glass doors which left the outside world on the other side of their frosted facades, travellers entered a private, club-like vibe.

It was quiet. It was a place to relax and unwind, to enjoy complimentary cafe-style meals and a drink or two from the bar.

It felt civilised, sometimes even refined, compared to the untamed chaos of the terminal.

It’s difficult to argue the same applies to domestic airport lounges today, unless you’re talking about members-only havens like the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge and Virgin Australia’s Beyond lounges.

Yes, there are a handful of domestic airport lounges presenting an undeniable cut above the rest. Those tend to be dedicated business class lounges where Qantas has an edge – particularly Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth (we’re still waiting for Sydney’s long-overdue upgrade).

Qantas' Melbourne Business Lounge is up there with the best...
Qantas' Melbourne Business Lounge is up there with the best...

But as airports invest more in raising the quality of food and drink within the main area of the terminal, are airline lounges actually falling behind?

As reported last week by Executive Traveller, Virgin Australia is increasing the cost of annual lounge membership from $399 to $450 as of July 1.

Virgin is also bringing back an initial $99 joining fee. However, the cost of a single entry pass will remain at $65, while passes for children aged two to 17 years will drop from $65 to $45.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said these increases – the first since 2016 – reflected the higher cost of operating the airline’s lounges.

Virgin’s move follows similar Qantas Club membership increases earlier this year.

Qantas raised the one-time joining fee from $99 to $129, while annual rates increased from $600 to $699 for a one-year package, $1100 to $1299 for two years and $2000 to $2399 for four years.

A Qantas spokesperson said at the time the new fees “will help cover cost increases passed on from a range of suppliers.”

Of course, many frequent flyers and Executive Traveller readers don’t need to pay for airport lounge access – they’re either travelling in business class or enjoy lounge access through their Gold- or Platinum-grade tier in the Qantas or Virgin Australia loyalty programs.

But that still doesn’t shackle them to the airport lounge.

Indeed, despite that gratis lounge access, many long-time Virgin Australia Platinums and Golds made the sadly-gone Movida@T2 – a Sydney outpost of Melbourne’s Movida Spanish restaurant – their go-to for meals and drinks

And airports are continuing to add polish to the preflight or post-flight experience, and especially tapping into the later.

“A restaurant in an airport, not an airport restaurant” is how chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan describes his new Luke’s Bistro & Bar at Sydney Airport Terminal 3 – and his focus on good food, great wine and fabulous cocktails is proving a hit with travellers.

It will be joined mid-2025 by Icebergs Bar + Kitchen, spun out of the iconic Bondi restaurant and focussing heavily on coffee and Italian breakfast offering. “We’re bringing a slice of Sydney’s heart to the airport,” explains Icebergs’ Maurice Terzini.

Anchoring the other end of the busy Sydney-Melbourne corridor is The Square, a $20m dining precinct at Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 1, directly after Qantas security screening.

Among The Square’s dozen tenants are a host of local cafés and restaurants including Rustica, Pope Joan, St Ali, Mobo Moga, and The Grace Wine Bar and Eatery.

Local hero: St Ali at Melbourne's T1 The Square.
Local hero: St Ali at Melbourne's T1 The Square.

Brisbane’s 360-degree restaurant and bar dubbed The Local dominates the domestic terminal, combining the “warm hospitality of a Queensland beer garden” with classic comfort eats, fresh seafood and salads.

Perth Airport’s ongoing investment includes an alternative to the Virgin Australia lounge in the Otherside Brew Lounge at T2, with its locally-brewed craft beers and wines, Thai Beef Salad and Mexican pulled pork Barbacoa Burger – plus a riot of burgers, bagels, smashed avo, açai bowls and everything else across a clutch of venues at T3/T4.

All of which raises the question: are Australia’s domestic airport lounges really worth it, even for frequent flyers who don’t pay up-front for access?

How does the increased cost of lounge membership balance out against the increased variety and quality of food and drink elsewhere in the terminal?

And if you regularly skip the domestic Qantas or Virgin lounge for an airport cafe or bistro, which ones are your go-to favourites?

We invite Executive Traveller readers to share their thoughts below. Please note that comments need to be constructive and on-topic, rather than self-indulgent rants; comments may be edited or removed for those reasons.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 372

This article is correct when it suggests it really does depend on which lounge you're in, whether it's worth it or not. The Qantas Domestic Business Lounges in Canberra and Melbourne are superb. The Melbourne Qantas Club, however, just next door to the Business Lounge, is a shocker. It feels more like a cheap food court, with stains evident in a lot of the cloth chairs and carpets. Bring on the new Hobart Qantas Club later next year, the current lounge there was out of date and way too small 20 years ago.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 967

👎 to airport lounges the best option is to hop on the next flight out and the less time in an airport (including the lounge the better). Also I've been hearing horror stories coming from Chairman and Beyond customers so don't think that tier is doing any better than the rest of the travellers.

Turkish Airlines - Miles & Smiles

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 266

Unless it’s QF’s F Lounge internationally… Singapore to be precise… it’s worth it. Any domestic lounge is sub par. Or well below. I still don’t want to be making a “toastie”. Proper meal or larger selection of buffet options please. Australian lounges are a joke unless you head into an SQ/EK or even AirNZ! Lounges are great for a quick or long layover ideally with showers that are turned around quickly, I wouldn’t want to even brush my teeth in a Domestic lounge. 

26 Sep 2023

Total posts 9

Brisbane QF Domestic has the benefit of the separate security line which can be good in peak times but off peak (if it's open) it isn't a huge time-saver from the usual security queue. The QF First lounge is usually a good meal but I wouldn't mind more seating options if you're not eating (LAX F seems to do this better, but maybe that's just because it's not as busy?). The other big plus of the First in SYD is it must have one of the best views of any lounge.

I wouldn't pay for lounge access (except, perhaps, if I was planning for a long layover and wanted a shower) but I enjoy it as a perk, mainly for having somewhere quiet to sit and wait more than any expectation of eating or drinking.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 May 2024

Total posts 1

They are absolutely worth it, at least Virgin Australia lounges are. I use the on arrival lounge access often as it’s easier than me sourcing my own food after an evening flight, not to mention it’s free. And pre-flight, the amount you can save on breakfasts, lunches & dinners all adds up if you time your flight right! It would be hundreds upon hundreds of dollars a year if you travel each month or so. Honestly one shouldn’t expect champagne & a seafood buffet, Virgin Australia always have plenty of fresh salads, hot food options, good barista made coffee, love the spicy Thai soup they offer & the Chardonnay they have is delicious, 2 or 3 cheeky glasses are a must! So yes lounges are indeed worth it, I’ll cheers to that! 👏 🛫 🥂

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 386

If you get the benefit through gold/platinum just by flying or a credit card and you don't have to pay for an annual pass I would say use it. But that does not stop the fact in domestic lounges the food is average at best. Also, VA still only have beer and wine as an alcoholic option with no spirits offered. 

In summary (IMO) the domestic lounges are very average with some major changes needed to their offerings especially with food and snacks. VA needs spirits as well. 

International, is where the benefit kicks in.

24 Jul 2017

Total posts 5

The Virgin lounges are not what they once were. Pre 2020 I loved coming here. Now the food is on repeat, booze after 12 vs 11, coffee is usually good and I even miss all the magazines. Staff are always great, that has not changed. I’m more enticed by what’s outside the lounge now. Virgin needs to rethink things bc a huge part of status is the lounge & if it’s not cutting the mustard, the other inclusions aren’t enough to keep me aiming for status. Maybe I’m spoiled & understand we’re lucky to even have Virgin still flying.  

17 Jun 2024

Total posts 1

I’m a member of Qantas and Virgin’s lounges with status and their both still better places to relax, meet colleagues etc than in the terminal gates and foodcourts. But they’re both deteriorating fast. Qantas Club’s feel like RSL bistro’s but without the roast of the day and Virgin since changing food provider has really gone down hill. The fact you can’t make yourself a toasted sandwich in Virgin lounges anymore apart from toasting half of a pre-made chicken and sunscreen sandwich is lame. 

Surely it’s not a big cost to bring back. 

Thankfully Qantas still has the salad and cold meats to create a toastie. 

I think the environment in Virgin Lounges is better than Qantas Club. 


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Are domestic airport lounges really worth the money?