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How to access the best airport lounge (which may not be the one your airline sends you to!)

Let’s be real, airports can be a drag. Whether it’s a long layover, a delayed flight, or just the general hustle and bustle, we could all use a little escape from the chaos.

Enter the world of airport lounges.

If you have status with an airline or fly in business or first class, you’ll likely have access to a lounge at the airport.

Sometimes, though, you’ll have a choice of several lounges – but, unfortunately, your airline won’t tell you that.

When you check in for your flight, the airline will direct you to a specific lounge, which will be one that it operates or has an arrangement with.

But not all lounges are havens of comfort and glamour – in fact, some are barely a step up from the chaos of the terminal.

So if you do have other, nicer options, it pays to know about them. It can really enhance your travel experience.

Airline partnerships and alliances 

One way you can access multiple lounges is where your airline has a partnership or alliance with other carriers that includes lounge access rights for each other’s customers.

For example, Qantas is a member of the oneworld alliance and Qantas passengers in business or first class, and those with gold status or higher, can access other oneworld airline lounges, no matter which airline they are flying with.

This includes lounges operated by Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Qatar Airways, American Airlines and others.

This came in handy when I flew out of Singapore with Cathay Pacific in business class once.

First, I popped into the Cathay lounge, which is where the airline sent me, but found it very uninspiring, with boring decor and food and beverage options.

The uninspiring Cathay Pacific lounge in Singapore

So, I quickly turned around and went to check out two other oneworld airline lounges: the very pleasant British Airways lounge, which was quiet and a great spot for a drink, and then the Qantas lounge, which I liked most and where I ended up dining.

The very pleasant British Airways lounge in Singapore
Qantas lounge Singapore

Another example of an airline partnership that includes reciprocal lounge access benefits is the Qantas and Emirates tie-up.

Passengers travelling with Qantas in business or first class or those with elite status can use an Emirates lounge at many (but not all) airports, and vice versa (note that Emirates isn’t part of oneworld, rather Qantas and Emirates have a separate partnership).

I take advantage of this when flying out of Melbourne, which has a mediocre Qantas international business lounge compared to the much nicer space and superior food and drinks offered by Emirates upstairs – though the Emirates lounge isn’t always open.

Emirates Lounge Melbourne Airport
The gorgeous Emirates lounge in Melbourne

On the other hand, when flying out of Sydney in Emirates first class, I opted to relax in the Qantas First Lounge instead, which is much more stylish and with better food and drinks options. It’s one of the world’s best lounges.

The stunning Qantas First Lounge Sydney (image source: Qantas)

Different airlines and alliances have different rules about lounge access, and in some airports there are exceptions to the normal rules, so you need to do your research ahead of time.

Unfortunately some airlines don’t publish lounge access rules very prominently on their websites, but you can find the information elsewhere using google.

Credit cards and lounge networks 

Some premium travel credit cards offer complimentary lounge access as a perk.

For example, my American Express Platinum Card provides access to over 1,400 airport lounges in more than 140 countries, including the world’s biggest lounge network, Priority Pass.

When flying out of Bangkok with Etihad Airways in business class once, I didn’t like the third-party lounge Etihad guests were directed to, so instead enjoyed the gorgeous Oman Air business and first class lounge nearby, which is a Priority Pass lounge – so access was free with my Amex Platinum Card.

The beautiful Oman Air lounge in Bangkok

Similarly, when flying Singapore Airlines business class from Perth, instead of visiting the cramped and stuffy (with no natural light) Singapore Airlines lounge, it’s much nicer to relax in the nearby independent Aspire Lounge, where I also get free access with my Amex Platinum Card. 

Aspire Lounge Perth

If your card doesn’t come with access to independent lounges, then you may still be able to enjoy them by paying a one-off fee or getting a membership. Costs vary, and whether it’s a good deal really depends on your travel plans and preferences. 

The bottom line is this: since the airport lounge is an important part of the travel experience, research your lounge options ahead of time so you can enjoy the best possible start to the trip. Your airline isn’t going to do this work for you, no matter how much you paid for your ticket.

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  1. If I fly on a Qantas Business flight to Asia w/o any status (a.k.a Qantas Bronze), I should be able to hop between the Qantas lounge for a good coffee and the Emirates lounge for the food right?

  2. My wife and I are flying Qantas Business Syfney to Jakarta while my son and his wife are on the same flight in economy.Can I use the Emirates lounge with my son/wife as guests ???

    • You and your wife should be able to use the Emirates lounge, if it’s open. But I think you’re only allowed to bring in guests if you have Gold status with Qantas or above.

  3. I’m flying from syd to kl via sg on one qf booking. The qantas flight to sg is the following morning after I arrive late into sg at around 11pm. The morning flight while qf ticketed is on jq metal. Can I still access a lounge in sg before my flight (I’m qff plat)? I note only cathay has a lounge open starting at 4am. Also, on a side note, what happens to my bags during this layover?

    • You can access the Qantas lounge (if open) but I’m not sure whether you can enter any of the other oneworld airline lounges. Your bags should be looked after by the airline, but check with them.

  4. flying on Cathay to Japan for Rugby World cup out of Sydney via HK, (QF freq Flyer tkt), which lounge would you suggest in those 3 cities please

    • There will be several oneworld lounge options in each airport. Best thing to do is google some reviews to see which you want to visit 🙂


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