The Madness of Lounge Access RulesIt’s often said that you need a degree in lounge access to be fully across the many intricacies of airline lounge entry requirements. Lounge access rules can be extremely confusing, with so many different rules and exceptions. It’s one of the reasons that AFF’s Lounge Access Help Desk thread is still going strong after 5 years!

In general, you’ll have access to your airline’s lounge before your flight if you have Gold (or higher) status, or are flying Business Class. If your airline is a member of an alliance, such as Oneworld, you’ll also have access to lounges operated by other airlines in the alliance. In many cases, you’ll also be able to bring guests and children with you into the lounge.

But there are many exceptions to these rules. For example, most US-based airlines don’t allow their frequent flyers or First Class passengers into the lounge on domestic trips. (This bizarrely also includes flights from the USA to some destinations in Mexico and Canada.) Then there’s Qatar Airways, which has a “Business Class” lounge that’s not actually intended for Business class passengers.

In a recent AFF post, trippin_the_rift eloquently sums up the complications of airline lounge access rules. This member posts five scenarios that could stump even the most frequent Qantas and Oneworld flyers. Here are the first two:

1. You are travelling with your 5-year-old child and your partner (3 pax total) on a QF domestic flight. You’re all in economy and the child is the only person with status – holding QF Gold. Can you all enter the lounge?

2. You’re departing SYD on Cathay Pacific as a QF Plat. Your friend is departing at the same time on Fiji Airways (FJ#) and holds no status. Can you guest them into the F lounge?

Who’s getting paid when you use an airline lounge?

Every time you enter an airport lounge, a transaction takes place behind the scenes. In general, your airline will be paying a fee to the lounge operator for you to use the lounge. But this can also become tricky.

Who’s paying the lounge operator will depend on the basis for which you’re gaining lounge entry. If you’re flying in Business or First, the operating airline is probably paying for your access. But if you’re flying in Economy and gaining entry based on your frequent flyer status, the bill will be sent to your frequent flyer program.

As an example, say you’re flying in British Airways Economy, booked on an American Airlines “AA” flight number, and access the Cathay Pacific Lounge using your Qantas status. In this example, Qantas would pay Cathay Pacific for lounge entry. (If you’re then earning Qantas points and status credits for the same flight, American Airlines would pay Qantas for that.)

Many of the complexities surrounding airport lounge access rules arise because of airlines trying to limit how much they need to pay. For example, Velocity Gold and Platinum members flying with Virgin Atlantic from Hong Kong are only permitted to enter the Plaza Premium First Lounge up to four hours before departure. (This is somewhat problematic as passengers connecting from Virgin Australia flights have a ~7 hour layover.) This is probably the case because (a) Virgin didn’t want to pay for longer than four hours of access, or (b) the third-party lounge operator doesn’t allow stays of more than four hours and Virgin lacks the bargaining power to remove this clause from its contract.

Lounge attendants don’t always get it right

With so many different rules and exceptions to be across, lounge attendants don’t get it right 100% of the time. Sometimes this works in your favour, but it’s also possible that you’ll occasionally be denied lounge entry when you should be entitled to it. If there is a possibility of doubt about your lounge access entitlements, it may be worth carrying your physical airline membership card and a printout of the lounge access rules when you travel.

But there is still room for human error. The award for the best comment of this thread (so far) would have to go to Captain Halliday:

Here’s one more:

8. You are entitled to lounge access and meet all the published rules. You have screenshots and print outs of the rules. The lounge host got up on the wrong side of the bed and doesn’t like your new hairstyle. Can you enter the lounge?

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Do you know the lounge access rules? (Quiz!)

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]