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6 ways to get airport lounge access

Peter Terlato avatar
Peter Terlato
- 9 min read
6 ways to get airport lounge access

Airport lounge access was once considered a privilege, reserved for elite and wealthy travellers or frequent flyers zooming around on business trips. Gone are those days. Now, almost anyone can access airport lounges. You just need to know how.

Let's explore the various ways in which you can gain entry to these exclusive areas of the airport, affording you a chance to kick up your feet, feast on buffets and wind down before or after your next flight.

1. Get a credit card with lounge access

A number of credit cards come with airport or airline lounge access as an included feature. Depending on the credit provider and type of card, you may be eligible for limited or full access to specific airport lounges. You’ll want to check the terms and conditions of the card you have or are applying for to find out your level of accessibility.

For example, some cards offer two complimentary visits every 12 months, while others may offer more but could require you to meet certain criteria in order to be eligible. Some cards may state that they give you access to an exclusive lounge but you may still be required to pay an entry fee each time you visit, charged to your credit card.

Your card may also allow you to extend your lounge access to guests, such as family members, friends and colleagues. However, it’s important to check the terms outlined by your card issuer to learn specifics.

The airport lounges you may have access to will depend on which airlines are affiliated with your chosen credit card. The most commonly affiliated airlines for Australian credit cards are Qantas or Virgin Australia. There are numerous lounges affiliated with credit cards including airline-exclusive lounges, LoungeKey, Priority Pass and others.

Many credit cards that include lounge access are often premium cards that charge higher fees to cover the costs of these bonus features. You’ll need to consider whether potentially paying higher annual fees is worth the benefits reaped from possessing that particular card.

Co-branded credit cards with lounge access

Some airlines offer co-branded credit cards that are issued through a partner banking institution. For example, Qantas and Virgin Australia offer their own branded credit cards. National Australia Bank (NAB) is the credit provider and issuer of Qantas Premier credit cards and Virgin Money credit cards.

Some of these cards include complimentary lounge access as an included perk, although it’s sensible to check the full terms and conditions of the card before making any commitments.

2. Get a Priority Pass

Priority Pass is a membership-based club that anyone can join, offering cardholders access to its extensive network of airport lounges around the world. 

Priority Pass members can access over 1,300 airport lounges around the world. You don't need to be flying with a specific airline to gain access, making it an appealing option if you regularly book low-fare flights but still wish to enjoy the luxury of a lounge.

There are joining fees, charged annually, and a one-off delivery charge (approx $15) to send out your membership card. Priority Pass has three different membership tiers:

  • Standard - Entry-level membership costs around $150 per year. You’ll be charged around $54 per lounge visit and the same fee again if you bring a guest.
  • Standard Plus - This costs approximately $503 annually and entitles the cardholder to 10 complimentary visits during the 12-month membership period. Guest visit fees are still around $54 per person, per visit.
  • Prestige - Membership will set you back nearly $717 per year but you’ll have unlimited complimentary lounge access for the entire year of your membership, however, guests passes will be charged at the usual $54 each.

The level of membership you choose should be based on how frequently you plan to travel during your eligible membership term, as well as how often you’ll want lounge access. For example, if you’re considering a Prestige pass you’ll want to be certain that you’ll be making at least 14 lounge visits over the 12-month period to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.

In addition to airport lounge access, Priority Pass also allows members to exchange their visits for drinks and meal credits at participating airport restaurants and bars. For example, at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport cardholders can use their lounge visit entitlement to receive $36 off the bill at either Mach2 or the Peroni Bar. 

You can’t claim a refund on any amounts lower than the $36 allocated and, in turn, you’ll need to cover the cost of higher bills. You could charge subsequent deductions (in $36 blocks) as additional single lounge visits but you’ll be charged in visits accordingly.

This exchange method doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of value for Standard and Standard Plus members because the cost of a lounge visit exceeds $50. This means you’re losing at least $14 of value per use. Prestige members would need to make at least 20 lounge visits to make a food/drinks exchange purchase worthwhile.

Getting into an airport lounge doesn't necessarily mean you’ll have full access to all amenities and offerings. Some lounges charge extra fees There may be extra fees for use of certain facilities like showers, massage or premium food and alcohol products. However, Priority Pass is relatively transparent about any added charges and restrictions in its digital directories and apps, so check before you travel to find out what’s included.

It’s also important to note that some credit cards offer Priority Pass access to their members as a perk, so it’s worthwhile checking with your card provider to find out if you’re already eligible.

3. Sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program

Many airlines, including Australia’s Qantas and Virgin Australia, operate airline lounges both domestically and abroad. These airline lounges can be accessed by corresponding frequent flyer members, usually depending on their membership status.

Many airlines offer free membership to these programs and rewards are often accumulated through travel on that airline and affiliated carriers, as well as via other forms of discretionary spending. 

As a member, you can often pay for lounge access. Prices differ depending on the program and the lounge. However, gaining complimentary entry is typically only possible through the acquisition of status credits.

For example, when you become a member of Qantas or Velocity Frequent Flyer, you'll start out as a Bronze or Red member, respectively. As you earn more status credits, you'll gradually improve your standing. As you earn more credits you'll score greater benefits, such as priority check-in and boarding.

Moving up the ladder, the next tier for both programs is Silver. But it's when you hit the third tier - Gold - that you really start reaping the rewards, like access to lounges and flight upgrades. If you're a frequent traveller that regularly clocks up miles, achieving Platinum status or higher can open up a whole new world of perks.

It’s also helpful to note that many airline lounges can be accessed by partner and affiliated frequent flyer program members. Entry will often be subject to payment or free for those with enough status credits. You’ll need to check with the specific airline or partner carrier to determine your individual eligibility for lounge access.

4. Join an airline club

Some airlines have separate club memberships pertaining predominantly to lounge access. These clubs are typically accessible via paid annual memberships, although some airlines allow you to use your frequent flyer points to cover the cost of the initial joining fee.

Qantas Club

In addition to a host of other benefits, members have access to Qantas Club, Qantas international business lounges, partner airline and associated airline lounges worldwide.

Most Qantas Club lounges feature complimentary refreshments, business facilities, Wi-Fi throughout and shower facilities. Qantas Club members and partner members are welcome at The Qantas Club when your next onward flight that day is on a Qantas or Jetstar Airlines flight number. When flying domestically members may invite one guest.

Virgin Australia Lounge

When flying on a same day Virgin Australia operated domestic flight, Virgin Australia Lounge members receive complimentary access pre-departure and can invite one additional guest, plus up to three children aged between 2 to 17 years, into the Virgin Australia domestic lounges.

Virgin Australia doesn’t currently operate any international lounges. However, if you are travelling on a partner airline operated flight, you may have access to one of its partner airline operated lounges. You can check the airline’s website for up-to-date information on availability and eligibility to partner airline operated lounges.

Other clubs

There are a range of international clubs that offer lounge access but determining whether the cost of these memberships is worthwhile will depend on your individual travel demands and frequency. Consider all the terms and conditions before signing up to any loyalty program.

5. Get a day pass

Some lounges offer travellers single-use or day pass entry, at a cost. These passes can be useful for infrequent travellers seeking a slice of serenity during their journey.

Passes can range anywhere from around $35 up, depending on the lounge. In most cases, you can book a pass in advance by visiting the lounge company’s website or by purchasing one when you arrive at the airport. Be aware that if the lounge is near capacity, you may be denied entry.

There are a growing number of independent lounges available in airports across the world that offer pay-per-use entry. For example, Plaza Premium Lounges are located in a number of Australian airports, along with 250 locations worldwide. 

These one-off access passes allow travellers a choice of different lounges. It may be worthwhile arriving earlier than usual at the airport to take full advantage of all the benefits on offer.

6. Be a guest of a member

A somewhat cheeky alternative to paying for lounge access is to befriend someone who already has it. Many of us know a frequent flyer or two and sometimes these individuals receive complimentary lounge passes.

Sending a message to your circle of friends prior to travelling to see if anyone has any passes available that they don’t plan on using could be a worthwhile endeavour. Just ensure that they’re transferable or valid for use by someone other than the person that they were issued to.

Additionally, most lounges allow guests. This means if your travelling companion can afford you entry, you can enjoy the amenities of an airport or airline lounge together. Guest entry rules vary depending on the lounge, airline or rewards program. Some guests are permitted free of charge, while others may need to pay a fee. Be sure to check these costs before you travel so you and your flying companion aren’t caught off guard.

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Product database updated 30 May, 2024

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Alex Ritchie before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.