Behind the Scenes: Who’s Paying Whom for Lounge Access

Behind the Scenes: Who's Paying Whom for Lounge AccessWhen you have status with a Oneworld airline – or a Business or First Class ticket – you can enjoy access to any Oneworld airline’s lounge whenever you fly with any Oneworld airline. As a passenger, access to all of these lounges is complimentary. The same is true with other airline alliances.

But whenever you enter an airport lounge, a financial transaction is taking place behind the scenes. Somebody is paying the operator of the lounge for you to be there.

Ever wondered who is paying whom for airport lounge access? This can vary slightly by airline alliance and depending on the internal arrangements of each airline. But, in general, here’s how it works…

Lounge access based on class of travel

If you’re travelling in Business or First Class, you’ll generally have access to the lounge as a benefit of your ticket. (There are a small number of exceptions, such as if you buy a Business Special ticket on Emirates.) In this case, the marketing airline on your ticket will pay the operator of the lounge for your entry. The marketing carrier is the airline that you bought your ticket from, which is usually the operating airline but could be another airline if you’ve bought a codeshare ticket.

Lounge access based on frequent flyer status

If you’re travelling in Economy or Premium Economy on any Oneworld airline, and have the equivalent of Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald status with a Oneworld airline, you are entitled to use the lounge based on your status. In this case, your frequent flyer program will pay the lounge operator, according to trippin_the_rift.

For example, you might have Qantas Gold status and use a Cathay Pacific lounge when flying on an American Airlines-operated flight that is marketed by British Airways (i.e. with a “BA” flight number). If you’re in Economy, Qantas Frequent Flyer will pay the nominal fee to Cathay Pacific for your lounge access. If you were in a premium cabin, British Airways would be footing the bill.

Incidentally, if you were crediting the same flight to Qantas Frequent Flyer, British Airways would be paying Qantas for the points and status credits earned from that flight.

Oneworld Connect members

Oneworld Connect is a new concept which offers “partial” Oneworld membership to airlines. The inaugural Oneworld Connect member, Fiji Airways, joined up last year. With Oneworld Connect, additional benefits are offered only to frequent flyers of airlines which sponsored that airline into the alliance.

In the case of Fiji Airways, this means frequent flyers with Qantas, American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific can use the lounge when flying in Economy. These airlines have arrangements with Fiji Airways to pay for lounge access for their frequent flyers, while the remaining Oneworld airlines do not.

Priority Pass

If you’re using a Priority Pass membership to gain access to an airport lounge, the procedure is much more simple. You (or perhaps your credit card provider) will have paid Priority Pass for membership. In turn, Priority Pass pays the third-party lounge operator for your entry.

The Priority Pass business model is similar to that of an insurance company. If you’ve purchased a membership where you pay per visit, there will be a margin between the price you pay per visit and the cost to Priority Pass. Alternatively, if you’ve purchased a membership that includes unlimited lounge visits, Priority Pass is betting that, on average, the cost to Priority Pass of providing the benefit will be lower than the revenue received over time.


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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]