Getting Australian Airline Lounge Access For Less

For regular travellers, having access to an airline lounge can make the process of travelling less stressful and more productive. But just how much does that cost, and is it possible to cut those costs? Road Worrier investigates.

As a starting observation, actually paying for airline lounge membership rarely makes sense unless you're travelling regularly for work (I'd suggest at least once a month if not more). If you're only hitting the air a couple of times a year, it will generally be cheaper to get to the airport early, buy yourself a coffee and then hunt down the nearest power outlets.

What are the principle benefits of lounge access? To start with, there's avoiding airport crowds. You should have free Internet access and the ability to plug into power outlets, plus tea, coffee and alcoholic drinks and the odd TV scattered around the place. There'll also be food on offer, though this will likely vary based on the size of the lounge and time of day.

In the event of a flight delay, you'll generally be informed before the main airport (though not always ahead of automated SMS alert systems), and you'll usually be able to rebook within the lounge rather than having to find a service desk. The Qantas and Virgin offerings also include showers, although I've had bad luck with the latter.

Below we've listed the costs, benefits and quirks of Australia's four main domestic lounge programs: The Qantas Club, The Lounge by Virgin, The Rex Lounge and the Jetstar Lounge. Obviously, if you live in a city only serviced by one of those airlines, your choices will be influenced by that availability as much as by overall cost. We've concentrated on domestic access here, but there's some discussion of how this affects international access after the listing.

Regardless of airline, lounge access rules have become stricter in recent years: where once it was possible to enter a lounge as a member if you weren't flying that day, that's now a definite no-no. Airlines also reserve the right to refuse entry to guests during peak periods. Late afternoons, Sunday evenings and Monday mornings are often crowded, regardless of which airline you're using.


The Qantas Club

What does it cost? $370 to join, then $435 a year. There's no option for pay for casual single visits.

Any way of saving on those fees? Multi-year memberships are cheaper (two years costs $785, four years costs $1,480). If you work for a large company, check if they offer a corporate rate. Occasionally, Qantas runs specials on the joining fees.

Gold frequent flyers get free Qantas Club membership; attaining gold requires 700 "status credits" (attainable with, for example, 35 return economy Sydney-Melbourne flights in a year). You can also use Frequent Flyer Points; a single-year renewal costs 75,000 points. (Quite frankly, you can better value for dollars spending those points elsewhere.)

How many lounges are on offer? 20 in total (11 major lounges in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Townsville, and 9 regional lounges in Broome, Coffs Harbour, Devonport, Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Launceston, Mackay, Port Hedland and Rockhampton). And that's not counting the overseas lounges run by Qantas, BA and American, which aren't the main point of today's discussion.

Other comments: Qantas' lounge network is easily the most extensive, though the lounges range from tiny rooms (Devonport) to massive taking up most of the upper story at the terminal (Sydney). In the East coast capitals, Canberra and Perth, Qantas also operates business lounges for business-class ticket holders and Platinum frequent flyers; these don't offer essentially different facilities, but can reduce crowding in the main lounges. Regional lounges are often landside, so you'll need to allow time to clear security before your flight.

The Lounge By Virgin

What does it cost? $199 to join, then $369 a year. A single entry pass costs $30 if booked online in advance, or $35 at the door.

Any way of saving on those fees? If you work for a large company, check if they offer a corporate rate.

Gold Velocity members get free membership; attaining Gold requires 50,000 status credits (which equates to spending roughly $10,000 on flights). You can use Velocity points to pay for membership; for new members, that requires 65,000 points. Renewal is 50,000 points, or 35,000 for Silver Velocity members. A single entry pass requires 4,500 points. (Again, you might well get better value by using your points for flights rather than membership.)

How many lounges are on offer? Six (Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth).

Other comments: The Melbourne lounge is landside, so make sure you allow time to clear security and board your flight.

The Rex Lounge

What does it cost? $299 a year. Extra visitors with a member are $20 each.

Any way of saving on those fees? None that we've spotted (but do tell us in the comments).

How many lounges are on offer? Three (Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide).

Other comments: Members can access the lounge on arrival as well as departure. Rex uses fingerprint security to stop companies swapping cards between members.

The Jetstar Lounge

What does it cost? A single entry pass costs $9.99 if booked online in advance, or $15 at the door.

Any way of saving on those fees? StarClass passengers get free admission.

How many lounges are on offer? Just the Gold Coast (plus one in Auckland).

Other comments: I reviewed this back in August. It remains the cheapest casual visit lounge in Australia. Jetstar says it is considering an annual membership, but not details yet. Contrary to online rumour, there's no discount for Qantas Club members.


If you're mostly concerned with overseas travel, then your options are slightly different. If you book business class or premium economy tickets, lounge access for that trip will generally be included. Membership of the Qantas Club will get you access to BA and American lounges (though not generally other One World lounges unless you're a Gold or Platinium member); Gold Velocity members get lounge access for some partner airlines. The PriorityPass group gets you access to a diverse group of airlines, and might be worth considering if you constantly swap airlines based on price. (Its cheapest option is $US99 per year plus $US27 for each visit.)

The other major airline alliances -- Star Alliance and Sky Team -- also usually offer lounge access to regular fliers, though the details can vary between different member airlines. As a very rough rule of thumb, joining the scheme of the airline you fly most frequently within a given alliance usually makes the most sense, as that will give you more potential flight rewards, upgrades and other potential bonuses.

Got your own tricks or tactics for airline lounge access? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman knows that the video above is of the "old" First Class Lounge in Melbourne, but he can't resist a bit of history even though the new one is far more OTT. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Having recently booked a Premium Economy ticket on V Australia (and considered Qantas as well), a PE ticket does not give you access to either the Qantas Club or the V Australia lounge. It does (on VA) give you access to The Lounge on if your next flight is on Virgin Blue.

    So you're out of luck unless you're right up the pointy end.

    Slight correction; Qantas Club membership only gets you access to BA and AA lounges (and then only when travelling those airlines or Qantas) - you don't have full access to all OneWorld lounges.

      Correct! Sorry for the error, have fixed the main text.

    Often on online auction websites such as GumTree or eBay, Qantas Club Complimentary Invitations will pop up. These are often given to people who have assocaited credit cards or whom are downgraded from Gold to Silver (thereby losing their Qantas Club entitlements). They're good for one visit to any Qantas operated lounge and usually sell for $30-$50 online. It appears to be the only way that people can obtain once off access without having to purchase a full year long membership. I think eBay has been cracking down on resale of these however (potentially due to Qantas' intervention); but they're often available on Gumtree.

    I recently visited Australia, I had paid to use the Jetstar lounge but also used a VIP service provided by yQ Now. I was met off the plane, fast tracked through customs and had used the meet and greet service to my car was brought to me at the terminal so I didn't have to carry all my luggage through the car parks. It was really great! The perfect accompliment to the lounges, it was the best air trip I have been on as I normally get rather stressed from all the hassles of an airport.

    My partner and I recently travelled return business class to Europe and with Etihad. Because I paid for air fares with my Visa, I was awared the points (approx 43,000). As a condequence, I received a goldguest card from Etihad. On taking a recent Virgin Australia flight to Cairns< I was able to use the card to get access to the Virgin Lounge. Also I acquired a Diners Club Frequent Flyer credit card prior to Europe trip and was able to use that at several lounges whilst travelling on other airlines around Europe. It costs $50/year.

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