I love airport lounges, but the main thing I love about them is not having to pay for them.
So I’ll take advantage of my frequent flyer status, any credit card freebies and any business class tickets for some quality lounge time, but I won’t pay for a one-off entry. The main reason for that is that the value can be questionable.
As an example, Virgin will allow you to pay to visit its Australian lounges, subject to capacity, for a one-off $65 fee. That gets you a maximum of two hours in the lounge.
You’re going to need to do some serious boozing and stuffing yourself to justify that cost.
The food in particular is a real challenge, since what you get in most lounges these days is variations on salads and toasted sandwiches.
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Caviar and French champagne are not generally on offer in any lounge you can pay for.
Even at airport prices, $65 will likely get you a better meal and drink outside.
It used to be that lounges were worth paying for to get access to power outlets and Wi-Fi.
But these days, those are generally easy to find and free in the main part of the airport too.
If you really need a shower, then the lounge fee can be worth it, but you’ll often have to queue, especially in international lounges.
On a Singapore transit, for instance, if you’re not straight off the plane and into the lounge, you may well miss out.
With all that said, there’s one lounge where I now think it can be worth paying the entry fee: the Qantas International Lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3.
Qantas generally doesn’t allow any paid admission to the lounges it operates.
But since mid-2019, the airline has been testing letting passengers pay £55 (roughly $AUD100) to get into its London lounge, even if they’re not flying on Qantas or a partner airline.
That’s a business decision, since the lounge operates from 8am to 8:30pm but there aren’t Qantas flights departing all throughout that time. Obviously, $100 is not cheap.
The reason it’s still potentially a good value proposition is that Qantas only runs a single lounge in London, rather than the Business and First model it uses in most Australian cities.
That means you get some of the perks normally only available in Qantas First lounges, such as a table service meal from a Rockpool-inspired menu.
That option isn’t available all day, but if you’re on an evening flight it can be worth the indulgence.
Even outside those hours, the food selection in the lounge is impressive. I’m a big fan of the Indian options. The bathrooms are also great, and there are VIP pods and meeting rooms. And if you’re looking for a chance to live the first-class lifestyle, the £55 here is a lot less than what you’ll pay for a business or first ticket.
So give it a thought. But if you do decide a £6 sandwich is more your style, I’ll respect that decision too.
Angus Kidman is the editor-in-chief and travel guru for Finder.
For more budget-savvy travel advice, go to escape.com.au/tight-traveller.
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