Having access to an airport lounge can make travel, especially over long distances, much more relaxing and productive. Here's how to get into an airport lounge and the reasons you might want to.
An Oasis In The Airport
Airports are hostile environments. After being herded through long security lines, travellers have to face noisy, crowded gate areas -- unless you head to an airport lounge. While lounges are rarely free to access, the benefits can be worth the price, especially if you travel frequently.
While the exact facilities vary, lounges typically offer comfortable chairs and tables, food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages), free newspapers and magazines, free Wi-Fi, access to power outlets, and a quiet area to wait for your flight -- whether you want to take a quick nap or get some work done. (Heck, you can even party for free in one.)
In addition to those perks, access to an airline lounge can be very helpful if flights are delayed -- you won't be in such a long queue to organise alternatives. Lounge staff can also help with changing seat assignments and seeing if you can get an upgrade.
For domestic Australian flights, Qantas has the most extensive lounge network, with a total of 24 domestic lounges stretching to quite small regional towns and separate business and Qantas Club lounges in major capital cities. Virgin covers all the capitals and a handful of regional cities; Rex operates in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Most international airlines offer lounge access for business class passengers when departing from Australia, though many use a "partner" lounge rather than their own facilities.
How To Get Into A Lounge
Broadly speaking, there are four main options for lounge access:
Buy a business-class or better ticket. The majority of airlines both domestically and internationally offer travellers in the premium seats access to their lounge. Lounge facilities on their own aren't worth the steep difference in fares you'll pay, but it's a handy extra if you have scored a better seat.
Improve your airline status. If you fly regularly with an airline and reach gold or better status, you'll usually score free lounge access. That's one of the reasons sticking with a given airline can make sense -- if you constantly hop airlines seeking cheaper fares, you're much less likely to maintain status.
Pay for a membership. Paying for annual membership is the most obvious way to gain access, but isn't especially cheap. Qantas Club membership costs $485 a year; Virgin Velocity membership is $420; Rex costs $299 a year. (You might be able to claim the cost as a tax deduction if you travel for work; check with your accountant.)
Unlike their overseas counterparts, Australian lounges generally won't let you purchase a day pass for casual visits. Rex and Virgin offer that option for members who want to bring extra visitors, but not for solo travellers.
If you travel a lot overseas, then a scheme such as Priority Pass, which offers access to lounges in multiple cities, might be worth considering if you aren't loyal to a particular airline. For domestic Australian travel, it's a bust, however, and even for flying internationally, it only supports two airports (Melbourne and Cairns).
Travel with someone who's a member. Most lounge schemes allow members to bring visitors in with them (the exact number allowed varies, and all reserve the right to refuse visitors if the lounge is especially crowded). I personally wouldn't have the cojones to beg a stranger to let me in, but it's an outside possibility.