Compare credit cards that give cardholders complimentary entry passes into airport airline lounges in Australia and overseas.
Many premium credit cards come with complimentary access to airport lounges. This is a boon for travellers, especially those heading overseas. Early check-in times mean that there can often be a couple of hours to kill before boarding, or in transit between flights, and the standard passenger areas can be crowded, uncomfortable and noisy. It’s not the best way to begin a long journey. But if you have a credit card which grants airport lounge access, you can enter a world of comfort and privilege.
Types of credit card lounge access
The range of lounge access granted varies from card to card. Some (but not all) cards linked to a frequent flyer program (allowing you to earn frequent flyer points on your purchases) will give you access to that particular airline’s lounges (e.g. Qantas and Virgin). Other cards, usually rewards points cards aimed at regular travellers, are likely to grant access to lounge programs like Priority Pass or Veloce, which are not linked to any specific airline. American Express has its own lounges for its premium cardholders.
Depending on your card tier, you may get two single-visit lounge passes each year, or full membership of a single lounge program including unlimited visits, possibly incorporating additional free access for a travelling companion. Cards with a very high annual fee ($700+) may come with full membership of two, three, or even more lounge programs (e.g. Virgin + Priority Pass + Delta). Since there is no guarantee that travellers will find a lounge belonging to a specific program in every airport they may use, being a member of more than one program will maximise the likelihood of finding an affiliated lounge, wherever in the world they happen to be.
Not all lounges are created equal
Australia’s remoteness means that its airports are not busy hubs for transit passengers, unlike megahubs such as Atlanta, Dubai, Tokyo and London. As a result, some lounge programs have only a limited presence in Australia, and your membership or single-visit pass may only entitle you to a food and beverage discount at selected eateries in the standard passenger concourse.
On a domestic flight, you will have more choice if you are departing from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane (especially if your access is to Qantas, Virgin or American Express lounges) but lounge membership or passes are most valuable for use before and during long-haul international flights.
Some lounges are fairly basic, providing only comfortable seating, video entertainment, quiet work areas with Wi-Fi, newspapers and magazines, plus complimentary tea, coffee and small snacks. But at the top end of the scale you can expect a wide choice of complimentary full meals and beverages, plus shower amenities, and in first class lounges even spa facilities and massages, or personal transfers by electric vehicle between the check-in desk, the lounge and the boarding gate.
Before you leave on your long-haul flight, it’s worthwhile doing some research online to find out what you can expect in your program’s lounge at your departure or transit airport.
Affiliated lounge access
The lounges to which you have access may not always be badged with the name of the program to which you belong. As a result of airline alliances, you may be able to use another airline’s lounges. Non-airline lounge programs, like Priority Pass and Véloce, may cooperate with other lounge networks, such as Rex and Plaza Premium.
Frequent travellers will get the greatest benefit
Is it worth paying a higher annual fee for a credit card, just because it comes with airport lounge access?
Clearly, airport lounge access only has any value when you are travelling, especially on a long-haul flight. So if you only fly overseas once every couple of years, you’re not going to get much value from your benefit. You cannot ‘roll over’ unused single-entry passes into subsequent years: they have to be used within a limited period, usually not more than 12 months. Regular overseas travellers, especially business passengers, will extract the best value from this benefit.
What is a credit card lounge access worth?
Here’s a short summary of the most common Australian credit card lounge access benefits and cost:
You won’t gain admittance to the attractive lounges owned by Qantas unless you are travelling in Qantas Business or First, or are a member of Qantas Club, or have a very high frequent flyer status, or are granted access by virtue of your credit card. Qantas don’t allow non-qualifying travellers to pay for access to their lounges, and they have blocked the sale of surplus single-entry passes on eBay (although they still appear to be available at Gumtree). Qantas Club currently costs $399 to join, plus $450 per year. So getting access to a Qantas lounge with your card is very valuable if you have no other way of qualifying.
Virgin Australia’s joining and membership fees (which include reciprocal access to Air New Zealand lounges) are slightly lower, but they do allow any Virgin passengers to purchase single-entry passes for $65. So if your card comes with two Virgin single-entry passes, they are effectively worth $130 in any year that you use both of them.
For an American Express lounge you’ll need either one of their top-tier (and expensive) cards for unlimited access, or one of the lesser cards which gives two single-entry passes per year. There is no other way to gain access, such as paying an annual membership fee: the lounges are exclusively for AmEx cardholders, regardless of which airline they are flying with. Accompanying children up to 17 years of age are admitted free of charge, and for other guests you can pay $55 each. No-one else is admitted, even American Express cardholders whose card does not come with lounge access. So once again it’s a valuable benefit, and two single-entry passes appear to be worth $110.
The Priority Pass group have over 1,200 lounges worldwide, and at the time of writing were affiliated with seven lounges in Australia, in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney airports. Additionally, lounge program members and day pass holders can instead use their lounge access to obtain a substantial cash reduction (currently $36 per member or single visit pass holder) at affiliated restaurants and bars at Coolangatta, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney airports.
After payment of a Standard annual fee of USD99, members and their guests can access the lounge for a fee of USD27 each, per visit. Alternatively, the USD249 Standard Plus annual fee entitles the member to 10 free visits per year, while for USD399 the Prestige membership grants unlimited access. The guest fee is USD27 at all membership levels.
Unlimited Priority Pass lounge access via a credit card is therefore worth USD399 if you’re a regular traveller likely to make more than 10 lounge visits per year. Two single visit passes are technically worth USD153 (the annual fee + two visits, or AUD72 if used to obtain a bar or restaurant discount.
The USD495 annual membership fee includes unlimited lounge visits for members, plus USD29 per guest, to 223 lounges worldwide (including six Virgin and one SkyTeam lounge in Australia).
The Véloce program is affiliated with over 100 lounges worldwide, but none in Australia at the time of writing and very few in New Zealand, although there are plenty in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. It’s a program designed for holders of specific linked credit cards, so it’s not possible to pay for membership. Accompanying guests may sometimes be admitted at the discretion of the local lounge operator, but to be sure of gaining entry for a regular travelling companion (such as your spouse) the safest and cheapest option would be to request a supplementary credit card for them on your account, even if it means paying an additional annual fee.
Like Véloce, and American Express, Diners Club operates or is affiliated with airport lounges exclusively for the benefit of its cardholders, with no membership fee payable. There are currently six affiliated lounges in Australia, and over 800 globally. Once again, a supplementary credit card is the best way to guarantee guest access.
In summary, two single-entry lounge passes are probably worth somewhere between $75 and $130 per year in any year that you can use them, and an unlimited-visit membership could be worth more than $500 for a very frequent traveller.
Consider the card’s cost and other benefits when making your choice
Credit cards granting airport lounge access via single entry passes are likely to have a reasonably high annual fee, and those with full lounge membership attached may have a fee that is very high indeed. When considering the worth to you of the card, take into account any other attached benefits, such as rewards points, complimentary insurance (especially travel insurance) and any free flights or travel credits. If you travel regularly, it may be that the total value to you of the benefits is far in excess of the annual fee. On the other hand, if you travel overseas only once every two years, or even less often, it may not be worthwhile paying a high price for a card designed to benefit frequent flyers.
All the cards listed on this page offer some kind of airport lounge access to cardholders, and one of them could be a good fit for you.
Restricted-entry airport lounges range from basic to luxuriously opulent. At the lowest end of the scale, your ‘lounge’ may actually be a bar or café on the ordinary passenger concourse, offering a discount on food and beverages to members (or single-entry pass holders) of specific lounge programs. The most opulent lounges may offer luxuries such as spa treatments, five-star dining, and personal transport between the airline’s check-in desk, the lounge, and the boarding gate.
In most lounges you will find many of the following facilities:
If your credit card lounge access comes in the form of two single-visit passes annually, you can normally use the second pass for someone travelling with you. Or you may be able to pay a fee (usually between $35 and $65) for your guest’s entry.
If your card gives you full membership of a specific lounge program, you may be able to admit a guest free of charge, but this is not always the case. Check the terms and conditions found either in the small print at the foot of the credit card’s web page, or in the link to a file with full terms and conditions.
It depends on the level of access your card gives you, the quality of the lounge, and how often you travel.
Qantas lounges are mainly designed for Qantas Club members ($399 to join plus $450 per year), passengers travelling in Qantas business or first class seats, and high-tier frequent flyers. All of these lounge access methods require high expenditure, and Qantas lounges are very well-appointed, so even two single-entry passes are quite valuable.
Virgin Australia, Priority Pass and Delta SkyClub have similar programs, with joining and annual membership fees granting unlimited access.
Access to Véloce World, American Express and Diners Club lounges is limited to holders of specific credit cards, but it’s possible to argue that the value obtained is similar to that of programs with a joining and annual membership fee. For frequent travellers, membership of any program with unlimited lounge access is probably worth at least $500 per year.
Based on lounge programs which sell single-visit passes for guests or for travellers on their own linked airline, two single-visit passes are probably worth a total of between $75 and $130 per year.
Most lounge programs belong to a network of affiliated lounges, so you will probably gain access to at least one lounge (and sometimes more) at the world’s major airports. You may not be so lucky at lesser airports.
Qantas and Virgin lounge members will have lots of choice in Australia, and also find affiliated lounges overseas. In Australia, very few airports outside the state capitals have lounges.
Single-entry passes may have restrictions, such as being only available for domestic lounges, or only for international lounges, so be sure to read the small print.
No. Single-entry passes must be used within 12 months. In a year where you aren’t travelling, and can’t use the passes, you will forfeit the benefit.
Frequent air travellers are very likely to find it worthwhile to pay for a card granting unlimited lounge access in one or more programs, since it saves them the cost of joining a lounge program and paying an annual fee. It is also likely that the kind of premium card which confers full lounge membership will also have other valuable complimentary benefits, such as rewards points, travel insurance and free flights or travel credits, all of which also help to justify the high annual fee.
Infrequent travellers would probably struggle to justify the cost for this kind of premium card. Even a less expensive card – one giving two single-visit passes annually – may still not justify its cost in any year where you don’t use the lounge passes and travel insurance.