Many airlines have long rewarded Gold-grade frequent flyers with access to business class lounges, but 'business class only' facilities are slowly becoming more widespread, creating a private space for passengers flying up front that's separate to the lounge used by frequent flyers booked in premium economy or economy.
Air Canada is one of the newest entrants in the 'business class only' club with its Signature Suite lounge in Toronto, which is not only restricted to business class passengers but also locks out travellers who used points or miles to book or upgrade their flight: you'll only get through the door here with a fully-paid business class ticket in-hand.
The idea is simple: for an airline that doesn't have true first class, provide a lounge with 'first class' service to the passengers spending the most money on their journey – those being fare-paying business class travellers – where the costs of providing extra services like à la carte dining and free-flowing Champagne are better-justified, with everybody else directed to the regular Maple Leaf Lounge instead.
Fellow Star Alliance member United Airlines is also taking a similar approach with its expanding network of Polaris lounges, which only cater for United and Star Alliance business class and first class travellers on long international flights, with Star Alliance Gold cardholders, paid lounge members and the like all sent to the standard United Club when flying down the back.
That said, if you've booked your pointy-end flight using points or miles, or upgraded using the same, United doesn't discriminate: as long as you're flying up the front, you're welcome to stop by the Polaris lounge.
Qantas partner Qatar Airways adopts a policy for lounge access in Doha that's similar, yet different: passengers who book business class (or first class) outright are invited to visit the airline's exclusive business-class-only (Al Mourjan) or first-class-only (Al Safwa) airport lounges, including if their journey was paid for using frequent flyer points – but travellers who use their miles or cash to upgrade only get the same lounge access that their ticket originally provided.
As such, if you purchased an economy airfare and used your hard-earned miles for an upgrade to business class, you won't receive access to the business-class-only Al Mourjan lounge – and even if you have frequent flyer status with Qatar or Oneworld, you'd only be able to visit the so-named "business class lounge" or "first class lounge": purpose-built spaces just for frequent flyers travelling in economy, being a world apart from the 'real' business class and first class lounges.
Gulf neighbour Etihad Airways isn't quite as strict on access to its true business class lounges in Abu Dhabi, rolling out the welcome mat for Etihad Guest Gold frequent flyers, but cardholders from some partner airlines like Virgin Australia – namely, Velocity Golds – are still sent to a third-party lounge unless actually flying business class.
Even if you're lucky enough to have that magic Etihad Guest Gold card, business class passengers take priority: so when the lounge starts to fill up, Etihad Gold members are the first to be sent elsewhere. (Etihad and Velocity Platinum members, however, are interestingly invited into the 'real' Etihad first class lounge.)
Over in Asia, Star Alliance member EVA Air divides passengers across four separate lounges at its Taipei Taoyuan Airport hub, with Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers and paid lounge members receiving access to the aptly-named 'The Star' lounge, but only business class passengers welcome in the higher-tier 'The Infinity' lounge:
Singapore Airlines also directs its own KrisFlyer Gold and most other Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers to a separate lounge at Changi Airport – which even lacks showers and toilets – reserving its true 'SilverKris' business class lounge (and the Champagne inside) for actual business class flyers, and for the airline's PPS Club members.
Keep in mind, a PPS Club card can only be earned through regular business class or even first class travel with Singapore Airlines or SilkAir: not via any of its Star Alliance partners, and not even from premium economy or economy bookings with Singapore Airlines: so most of the time, these members would be flying business class anyway.
That brings us to Qantas, and while the airline doesn't have any a standalone 'business class only' lounges, on the domestic front, Gold frequent flyers can only visit the true domestic business class lounges when actually flying business class: otherwise, the Qantas Club awaits.
That's a detour from the standard Oneworld alliance rules, which normally invite Gold-grade members to visit business class lounges and Platinum-tier flyers to use first class lounges, for which Qantas gained an exception: restricting its domestic business class lounges to business class flyers and Platinum (Emerald) cardholders, given the absence of domestic first class lounges.
(In international terminals, however, Qantas Gold frequent flyers and business class passengers share the same lounge.)
British Airways gained a similar exception for its 'business class only' dining rooms in places like New York, a restricted section within lounges otherwise shared by frequent flyers and business class passengers: and then, there's The Concorde Room, but that's first class territory.
As international business travellers, what's your take: should airlines continue offering something better for business class passengers than what's available to Gold frequent flyers, or does doing so make frequent flyer status irrelevant? Share your thoughts via the comment box below!