Years ago when I first saw “CIP” marked on a Denpasar airport lounge door I thought it was for Comparatively Important Persons. Why not? Adjacent was a much grander door for VIPs. Airport lounges of many sorts have proliferated around the world, some catering for persons Very Important as well as those Commercially Important, while others serve airline premium passengers. But what about the rest of us, the unaffiliated and/or economy travellers who often endure long waits between flights or for whom there is no accessible airline lounge?
There is clearly demand for dedicated facilities in which any traveller might put up his or her feet, enjoy a coffee and a snack, snooze or go online.
It has been met by user-pays lounges, accessible to travellers regardless of their carrier or ticket class.
Facilities might range from a spacious room with reception desk, seating, refreshments, internet access and newspapers, to purpose-built complexes featuring meeting rooms, extensive buffet, sleep zone, showers and much more.
Australian airports have been slow to accommodate “pay-in” lounges but a number have gained a foothold, airside, in capital city international terminals.
Plaza Premium Lounge Brisbane
Brisbane and Sydney airports have lounges run by the Plaza Premium Group who operate lounges in 35 airports across 15 countries.
Pauline Cheung, Plaza Premium’s Sales and Marketing Director, sees the lounges providing, “premium services [that] every traveller can benefit from, not just the business class and first-class traveller.”
The well appointed Plaza Premium Lounge Brisbane, opened in late 2016, accommodates up to 100 clients and features an adjacent Wellness Spa.
Its basic package starts at $66 for five hours lounge use, while eligible credit card holders and lounge program members also may enjoy complimentary access.
American Express Lounge and SkyTeam Lounge
Sydney International Airport hosts two adjacent lounges for SkyTeam and American Express respectively.
The American Express Lounge services eligible, upper-tier AMEX cardholders and affiliates.
Next door, the larger and better appointed SkyTeam Lounge, with sweeping tarmac views, plus showers and a substantial buffet, is for premium class flyers on SkyTeam Alliance airlines, as well as Delta.
A “day pass” visit here costs a serious $77 for five hours. However, anything that saves you from hours of wandering the terminal, trying to sleep where you can’t and paying the airport’s hefty food and drink prices ultimately might be a good investment.
Priority Pass Australia
One of the main players in airport lounges worldwide is Priority Pass. Although it doesn’t operate its own lounges, it runs a large membership program that gives its cardholders entry to over 1000 lounges in 130 countries.
While Australia so far has only a few listed Priority Pass lounges (at Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin), a pass can soon prove its worth overseas where major airports often have multiple lounges.
Singapore’s Changi Airport alone has eleven Priority Pass facilities, several of which offer facilities superior to those of the terminal’s major airline lounges.
Priority Pass Membership
How does lounge pass membership work, what’s the cost and is it worth it? Priority Pass offers three levels — all of which allow access to the group’s affiliated lounges worldwide upon presentation of your membership card and a boarding pass.
Standard membership costs US$99 a year, plus US$27 for each visit. Standard Plus, costs US$249 per annum, which allows 10 free visits; beyond that, visits cost US$27 each time.
Prestige Membership is priced at US$399 a year and gives unlimited entry to affiliated lounges everywhere. Across the three categories, members’ guests are welcome, again at US$27 a go.
Prestige level appears to offer the best value for a frequent traveller who anticipates using lounges at least 15 times a year. Standard Plus works best for those who will make around 10 visits, while infrequent flyers — with fewer than six annual visits — might opt for the Standard option. Unused visits don’t carry over to the following membership year.
Free Lounge Access
You might already have limited Priority Pass lounge access courtesy of your credit card.
A number of premium cards such AMEX Platinum and Westpac Altitude Black include two free annual visits to these lounges. Check your plastic provider’s fine print.
To decide which membership is for you and how to optimize it, there are various online tools and apps, starting with the Priority Pass website.
If your needs are mostly for one-off lounge visits rather than an annual membership, check out the useful LoungeBuddy website and app to research (and book) lounges, including their accessibility and fees.