>  Advice   >  Airline lounge access tips

If you’re a frequent flyer for business or pleasure, you will know the benefits of having access to the hallowed land of the airline lounge. Comfy chairs, complimentary eats and drinks and the possibility of a refreshing shower in transit or before your flight are some of the draw cards of lounge access. But the question most asked is “Is airline lounge access worth the cost?”. Here are half a dozen airline lounge access tips for regular (and not so regular) travellers plus how you can get airline lounge access for free.

1. Is airline lounge access worth it?

If you’re not a regular traveller with 20 or more flights per year on the same airline, then “No” as the cost of joining and annual fees add up. For example, you’re looking at a joining fee of around $500 and a $400 annual fee for QANTAS Club membership. This adds up to more than $40 a visit for 20 flights and only works if the destination has a lounge, you’re flying on a QF flight number and you have time to use the lounge before you fly out. You could also join a generic lounge group like Priority Pass which has a US$99 joining fee. Each visit to the lounge costs US$27 per person. This is a more sensible option for less regular flyers, those who don’t get to choose which airline they fly with or people who are more interested in the cheapest airfare than airline loyalty.

The only downside with Priority Pass is you will only find Priority Pass lounges at international airports, not domestic ones. In some instances, you don’t need to join a program to access an airline lounge. Some airports have general entry lounges that are available on a pay-per-entry basis to anyone. These lounges have no joining fee and offer a similar service to other lounges without all the membership fees, although you may have to pay for alcohol in some cases.

2. Is it worth joining an airline lounge?

If you’re not a drinker and particular about what you eat, again “No.” While there are lots of other benefits such as more comfortable seating and showers plus charging stations for your devices, it does come down to bang for buck. If you travel a lot with one airline joining their dedicated lounge program can be a good deal as apart from the food and drink you also get other benefits such as priority check in and an extra luggage allowance. However, it still comes down to how often you travel and how long you get to use the lounge.

3. Are all airline lounges the same?

Short answer: “No!” I know I’m saying no a lot but many lounges are not the same and many offer different facilities. Some don’t offer much at all. This all depends on the airport and airline as some have a lot more bling them others. An example of this is the Emirates lounge in Dubai. With this lounge you have all you could want and more with a long list of facilities and five-star service. Other smaller lounges and airports only offer limited services as I found out in Java where the airport lounge had drinks but no alcohol, limited food options and no shower.

4. Will I have access to partner airline lounges?

If you have your heart set on visiting lounges all over the world through the airline partner program, think again. Don’t get to excited if you think you have access, you probably don’t. For example, if you’re travelling on Virgin Airlines out of LA which only has an Emirates lounge, not one operated by Virgin, you won’t be allowed access, even if you’re a member of Virgin Australia’s lounge program. If you’re looking at purchasing lounge access, read the fine print and if in doubt call the airline. No matter what airline you travel with all have different rules for lounge entry.

Normally you will have to be a Gold or Platinum member to have access globally and even then, there might be fine print. Another thing to note is some lounges close if the host airline is not flying. You may have joint access to a lounge through a partner program but if, say, that airline’s last flight of the day has departed, the lounge will often close for the day. This happened to friends travelling on a Jetstar flight which was leaving later that night. They were able to access the QANTAS lounge when flying Jetstar, but only if it was open. In this instance, it wasn’t as the last QANTAS flight of the day had just left.

5. Are some airport lounges better than others?

“Yes!” See, I do know how to say the yes word. If you go with an independent lounge group like Priority Plus, look at all the lounges available at your departure airport. In some airports, it’s not unusual to find multiple lounges run by different organisations. On a recent visit to Singapore, I stepped into one Priority Pass lounge that was very busy and only offered one complimentary drink, one shower and limited wi-fi.

I checked the website to see what other options might be on offer and found another lounge 100 meters away. This one was very upmarket and offered unlimited drinks, a hot food selection, showers, was almost empty and cost exactly the same to use as the subpar lounge. I was clean, comfortable and enjoying a tasty beverage in minutes. Do some homework on the airports you commonly use and their available lounges and don’t make the mistake of walking into the first one you see on arrival.

6. Can I get free airport lounge access?

I recently joined American Express and received a Platinum card which gives me access to a selection of American Express lounges plus free entry to some Priority Plus lounges on request such as the Plaza Premium lounge in Brisbane. If you fly a few times a year, it can be worth paying a yearly fee for your credit card in exchange for lounge access. Shop around for the best deal on a card which includes lounge access.

Disclosure: The writer isn’t a member of any airline lounge programs and enjoys the benefits of pay-per-entry lounge access, especially a hot shower on long layovers.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.