Dear Lifehacker, I am about to embark on two overseas trips by the end of the year with my mother and significant other. On both trips, we will have significant waits (roughly 6 hours) in airports in Sydney late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I'm not flying business class, nor do I have lounge access for Virgin or Qantas. I was wondering if there was a way to gain access to any lounges in Sydney for a one-off fee like you used to be able to do with Virgin, or if we will have to just suck it up out in the terminal? Thanks, Overtired Traveller
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Unfortunately, your options at Sydney airports are very limited. Airlines these days all restrict access to their lounges to existing members and business class travellers. As you mention, Virgin used to allow customers to pay a day access fee at its domestic lounges, but it has removed that option, and we're not aware of any airline in the international terminal allowing a single entry fee. (If someone knows different, please tell us in the comments.)
Arguably the most visible provider of non-airline-affiliated lounge access, Priority Pass, doesn't have a Sydney presence — its only Australian lounges are in Melbourne and Cairns. Reports suggest that its rival Plaza Premium will open a paid lounge in Sydney's international terminal by the end of the year, but that doesn't have a set opening date or prices as I write this. If you're lucky and it has opened by the time you travel, you'll have one option. (Plaza Premium recommends booking in advance online — you pay by length of time and the services you require.)
Other than "sucking it up" in the main terminal, your other choice if you want more privacy/space/rest areas/power outlets is to book a room in a hotel near the airport, even if only for a few hours. While half-a-dozen hotels promote themselves as being "Sydney airport hotels", all are a little distance from the airport.
The nearest to the domestic terminal is the Ibis Budget (which is also the cheapest we know of); Stamford Plaza, Mercure and Holiday Inn are also within walking distance of domestic, though it's not an ideal walk if you have luggage with you or it's raining. For anything else , you'd potentially need to factor the cost of a taxi to and from the hotel into your sums as well (and the taxi driver may well be nasty because it's not a large fare — welcome to Sydney). Some hotels may offer a shuttle transfer, though these aren't always reliable late at night.
Using a hotel won't work if you're transferring between international flights (since you can't leave the airport), but it's an option if you're transferring from domestic to international or vice versa and have enough of time to kill. If you're going to arrive late at night, be sure to let the hotel know so it doesn't cancel you as a "no-show".
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