Some premium credit cards have complimentary airport lounge entry as an added feature. Is it worth it?
- How does credit card lounge access work?
- Which lounges can you access?
- Which credit cards offer access to airport lounges?
- How much do airport lounges cost otherwise?
Airport lounges are near the top of people’s lists when it comes to satisfying air travel – 22% of respondents in the International Air Transport Association’s 2018 Global Passenger Survey said that access to airport services (such as lounges) would best improve their travel experience, while a similar survey from Priority Pass found that nearly two-thirds of frequent flyers considered airport lounges a ‘very important’ or ‘important’ factor when selecting airports.
For passengers on long-haul flights, relaxing in the sweet embrace of a comfy lounge chair can be a dealbreaker, especially while the other schmoes slum it at the gate.The good news is that one of the many perks offered by certain credit cards is complimentary access to some of these airport lounges. With international borders scheduled to open again in August 2021 according to Qantas, and the federal government encouraging people to travel domestically via cheap flights, having a feature such as airport lounge access could be worth looking into for planning your post COVID-19 travels.
How does credit card lounge access work?
Airport lounge access is a feature offered by select credit cards, alongside other features like rewards programs, travel insurance, concierge services and more. This feature offers either free or discounted entry to certain airport lounges both domestically and overseas, and depending on the card you can also purchase access with your rewards points. Having such a feature is an easy way to get into these semi-exclusive areas hassle-free, but there are usually some limitations, so check your card’s terms and conditions:
- You will probably have to buy the plane ticket with the credit card, and the ticket may have to be valid for that day
- You might also have to reach a minimum spend limit each year to be eligible
- You might be restricted to certain airlines (e.g. only Qantas, no Virgin)
- You might have to enrol in programs like Priority Pass to be granted entry
- You might be restricted to one guest per cardholder, so families might not be granted access for every member
- There may be a limit to the amount of visits per year (this tends to be around two to four)
Since airport lounges can be fairly fancy places, there will probably be a dress code you’ll need to adhere to as well. That means no thongs!
Which lounges can you access?
This again will depend on the card. Some of them grant you access to a wide variety of lounges, while others just a few. For example, Qantas-branded credit cards will allow you to enter the Qantas Club, but not the Virgin Australia lounge. Conversely, Virgin-branded cards won’t let you into the Qantas Club. American Express cardholders meanwhile can access two American Express lounges in Sydney and Melbourne airports.
Some cards, however, grant customers access to more than 1,000 airport lounges across the globe through Priority Pass. This is a paid service with an annual fee, but certain credit cards can grant subsidised or free memberships to this program. If you have it, then you can use the airport lounges in countries like China, the USA, the UK, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and more.
What credit cards get you into airport lounges?
There are more than a few dozen credit cards that offer airline lounge access, most of which are high-end cards. This means they are more likely to attract higher fees and interest rates. The table below shows premium credit cards with lounge access, sorted by lowest interest rates (low to high).
Looking at the market, there are no cards offering this feature that also have a $0 annual fee, so the term ‘complimentary’ should be used loosely. Having this feature means you’ll always be paying something in the form of an annual fee (although some will waive the fee for the first year or offer a travel credit). Annual fees on these cards can be higher than $700 in some cases, while the lowest Savings.com.au could find is $129.
These cards can sometimes compensate for this high fee by offering lower international fees.
In terms of interest rates, those are also higher on the average credit card with lounge access. You’ll be hard pressed to find such a card offering a purchase rate below 18% p.a: low-rate and low-fee cards on the other hand can have interest rates as low as 7-8% p.a. So while these cards might grant you access to airport lounges, they’re rarely (if ever) free.
How much do airport lounges cost otherwise?
Let’s have a look at the cost of entry into some of Australia’s and the world’s premier airport lounge schemes. You can use this to compare the cost of a membership against the annual fee certain cards charge, to help work out if it's worth having this feature. Note that in some cases these may be rough costs as not all of these airways make their pricing structure particularly clear.
|Virgin Australia Lounge||AUD $420 for one-year membership + $330 joining fee|
|Qantas Club||AUD $540 for one-year membership + $399 joining fee|
|Priority Pass||USD $299 for 10 visits a year
USD $429 for unlimited visits per year
AUD $50.70 per entry for arrivals lounge (per visit)
AUD $230.80 for first-class lounge (per visit)
USD $105 for Business Class Lounge
USD $210 for First Class Lounge
|American Express Lounges (domestic)||None*|
|American Airlines’ Admirals Club||USD $59 for one-day pass
USD $550 for one-year membership
Prices correct at the time of writing.*The American Express Lounge scheme cost is simply your card’s annual fee. exclusive to Amex cardholders.^ Etihad Airways offers complimentary visits for business and first class passengers.
Is credit card airport lounge access worth having?
Let’s say you have a credit card with an annual fee of $400, which is not cheap by any means. If you’re a frequent traveller, chances are you’ll have the opportunity to use the Qantas Club. This annual fee is already lower than the annual fee of a Qantas Club membership (before any joining fee).
Similarly, with priority pass, an unlimited yearly membership currently costs about $553, which is quite expensive but still lower than the annual fee on some credit cards with an attached priority pass membership. Even if the annual fee is higher than the cost of a membership, it could still cost you less than a couple of hundred dollars a year for potentially unlimited lounge access.
Savings.com.au’s two cents
Airport gates are hardly enjoyable places to be, and it’s easy to feel like you’re Tom Hanks in The Terminal if you spend too much time there. This is especially true if you travel a lot for business. Work might pay for your flights, but there’s still an awful lot of waiting around to do. Access to airport lounges can make travelling much more enjoyable, relaxing and comfortable, and if you can get it through your credit card then all the more power to you.
Source: Business Insider
Airport lounges can be a bit of a status symbol. Who doesn’t want to sit in comfort drinking martini’s next to a suited stockbroker reading the Australian Financial Review? But if you’re not getting any value out of an airport lounge beside the status, is it really worth it?
For someone who travels a lot, this decision might seem like a no-brainer: paying a couple of hundred dollars a year for something that can cost hundreds more for a membership seems like a pretty good deal. On the other hand, someone who travels once a year might want to reconsider such a card, as you won’t even be at the airport for very long anyway.
Ultimately the decision is up to you. Maybe it’s worth treating yourself to a lounge visit every so often, but it might just be cheaper to do so without the credit card.
Jay Wen on Unsplash