Tips for speeding your way through Sydney Airport

By Chris C., February 20 2018
Tips for speeding your way through Sydney Airport

Nobody likes standing in line at the airport, but you don’t always have to be a frequent flyer or a business class passenger to skip the queues and fast-track your way to the lounge, a restaurant or bar, or the boarding gate.

Whether you’re flying within Australia or overseas, here are some of the ways you can save time when travelling through Sydney Airport.

Sydney Airport’s T1 international terminal (all airlines)

Begin your journey abroad with as little stress as possible by completing online check-in for your flight wherever the option is available.

That’s because many airlines operate an ‘online check-in’ or ‘bag drop’ queue at the airport, separate to the main economy line: and these queues tend to be shorter and faster, which means less time spent waiting and more time spent relaxing before you depart.

Also, if you’re eligible for Sydney Airport’s Express Path – generally by being a business class or first class passenger or by holding top-tier frequent flyer status – do make use of it, even though it can be quite a trek from some check-in desks.

For example, Singapore Airlines’ check-in counters are found at Row J at Sydney Airport, so to find the Express Path entrance, you need to walk past what seems like the correct departures entrance…

… before finding the separate door to the Express Path area:

Just note that American Express Platinum charge card and Centurion cardholders can no longer access the Express Path on presentation of their AMEX card, as was possible until July 2017: as with all passengers, they’ll need an invitation from their airline to use this channel.

After security and passport control, if you're heading to the southern wing of the terminal – where the Air New Zealand, Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines lounges live – you'll get there faster by veering right, through a channel marked 'TRS', which avoids navigating the duty-free maze to the left:

There is a TRS claims desk off to the right for any GST refunds, but straight ahead you’ll see signs towards gates 50-63 the associated airline lounges.

Also read: Sydney Airport's handy but little-known T1 shortcut

Sydney Airport’s Terminal 2: all Virgin Australia, FlyPelican, Jetstar, REX, Tigerair domestic flights

First things first: if you’re flying with Virgin Australia as a business class passenger, Gold or Platinum frequent flyer or a Lifetime Lounge member, the airline’s Premium Entry channel is usually the fastest way to clear security screening at Terminal 2.

While it’s designed for passengers arriving at the roadside without checked baggage, you can of course check-in your bags at the normal service counters in the terminal proper, before wandering outside to the Premium Entry door: avoiding the queues at the main security checkpoint, where there’s no fast-track lane.

Tested: Virgin Australia Premium Entry at Sydney Airport

If Premium Entry isn’t available to you, or you’re flying with another airline, there’s one more option to avoid that main checkpoint when the lines are long.

Instead of going through security right next to the check-in desks, take the lift or escalator downstairs to the arrivals level where baggage claim is located, and walk to the far right, where there’s another security checkpoint tucked away.

This checkpoint is primarily used by passengers arriving into Sydney on selected regional flights and continuing their journey onward from Sydney, but any passenger can use this checkpoint.

In addition to the ‘main’ security line for Qantas passengers in Terminal 3 and the priority screening channel to its left (for business class flyers, Qantas Gold and Platinum cardholders and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members), T3 also features a second security screening point.

You’ll find it down near the Qantas priority check-in desks, and while there’s no priority lane at this second checkpoint, I often find the queue here shorter than the 'fast-track' line at the main screening area – making this an even faster fast-track!

It’s for this reason you’ll often see Qantas crew members zipping through this checkpoint, as well as frequent flyers in the know:

Read: A time-saving shortcut for Qantas' Sydney T3 security line

One final tip, for Airport Link train passengers: Regardless of which terminal you’re arriving into at Sydney Airport, the lines to top-up your Opal public transport card can be long at the automated top-up machines found at the station – and if your balance is too low, you’ll need to do this before you can hop on the train.

However, the staffed service windows at both the Domestic and International airport stations can also process top-ups, and I usually find this the fastest option, and have rarely been kept waiting for more than a minute.

As an added bonus, you can use American Express at the service windows to pay for your top-up: useful for business and corporate cardholders, but also individuals maximising their points, because the self-serve Opal kiosks that everybody else queues up for don’t accept AMEX: only Mastercard and Visa.

There’s no surcharge, nor are these top-ups processed as a ‘government’ transaction, so you’ll earn points at your card’s full rate, before heading into the city or home.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

21 Apr 2016

Total posts 21

One can also top-up their Opal online which avoids waiting in line all together! One caveat though: it can (inexplicably) take up to 60 minutes for online top-ups to become available on the card.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2443

You can, although AMEX isn't accepted online, which rules out many business travellers who have to use their company-issued AMEX card for work expenses.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1377

Generally near instant for train gates as they are wired to a live network.

The 60min is more so for buses, where the top-up info is transmitted in batches over cellular network

21 Feb 2018

Total posts 1

I find topping up my Opal at the WHSmith shops in the terminal more convenient - and they take Amex and no queues.

02 Nov 2017

Total posts 34

I haven't been through SYD T1 in a while, but last time I was there you could take a shortcut through the tax refund area to skip some of the duty free maze.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Sep 2012

Total posts 236

Chris mentions this. Great little time saver.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

31 Jan 2013

Total posts 26

I am transiting next month in Sydney (ADL-SYD, SYD-HND). I haven't done domestic to international the transfer in Sydney in a long time. I am on QF J. Is the Express Path recommended for that? Do they give these out at the domestic transfer area before the interterminal bus ride?


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 702

I'm not sure about Adelaide but I know in Brisbane you normally get an express pass when checking in at the domestic service desk.

Before boarding the bus they'll also stamp boarding passes with an "express stamp" that entitles you to the express pass lane. Typically everyone boarding the transfer bus gets one if you're transfer is less than 2 hours but this just depends on the time of day as sometimes they'll stamp everyone boarding the bus (if you don't get one just ask and show you're in Business).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Mar 2017

Total posts 19

Hi Tancho

If you aren't given an express pass when you check in at ADL(I never have been) you can simply ask for one from the desk in the qantas club. Cheers

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1245

I've often found that, because the second security screening point at the SYD Qantas T3 is quieter, your chances of being selected for "random" explosive residue testing is also higher.

MarkJohnSon Banned
MarkJohnSon Banned

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 87

Thanks Chris, that little shortcut in T1 to avoid the "maze" is a bona fide lifesaver.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 163

Thanks Chris. Any chance of further articles about other tips for other airports?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 94

Transfers intl-dom and reverse are appalling. There is no "fast track" except avoid Syd all together wherever possible!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Apr 2016

Total posts 8


Thanks so much for this article. Having just belted through international at BNE, the early ticket suggestion worked a treat. Hang on to it, though, coz you need it for customs as well as passport control. Mrs B got pinged at premium entry even though she was with me and I’m platinum. She was let through with a mild curmudgeonly grump.

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