Airport lounges are a welcome haven for business travellers and top-tier frequent flyers, and there's been plenty of good news for lounge lizards over the past month.
The star of the show is Qantas' all-new Brisbane business lounge, which in High Flyers opinion takes the trophy as Australia's best domestic airport lounge. It follows a fresh design concept which Qantas debuted at its Perth business lounge in mid-2015.
Rather than the corporate identikit approach of the Sydney and Melbourne business class lounges, each new-look lounge will draw inspiration from its home city and state so as to have its own unique character.
Light and social
Long-time Qantas design partner Woods Bagot tapped local materials and a colour palette inspired by Moreton Bay at twilight, with plants and natural light reflecting the bright outdoor Queensland lifestyle. The lounge's L-shaped floorplan, while retaining a contemporary open flow, is subtly zoned to suit different types of travellers: from solo flyers wanting to work or relax, to couples and larger groups who'll congregate around tables or bars as social spaces.
Qantas is also shaking up the safe but sometime boring turf of lounge dining. While the Perth business lounge serves up pizzas, Brisbane offers freshly-made Mexican dishes including soft corn tacos, roast sweetcorn and quesadillas. (There's also a buffet selection of hot and cold food if Mexican's simply not your thing.)
Qantas chose not to extend the pizzas of the Perth business lounge to Brisbane because it didn't want to be known as "the airline with the pizza lounges."
High Flyer believes that the Melbourne domestic business lounge is next in line to receive a make-over, which will mean another lounge dining concept. We reckon a European tapas influence could do nicely, especially given how short most of the flights from Melbourne are.
Also in Melbourne, Air New Zealand expects to cut the ribbon on its all-new lounge at Melbourne Airport's international terminal by May, which will cheer the mood of travellers who've been putting up with the temporary lounge since late last year.
The lounge will complete the airline's trans-Tasman lounge network, which has seen swish business class lounges open in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland, and will share the same modern design as its siblings. "We are currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on our new Melbourne lounge" an AirNZ spokesperson says, "and we look forward to announcing an opening date soon."
The Kiwi carrier will also open its first-ever airport lounge in Perth towards the end of this year.
Bigger and brighter
Cathay Pacific is also considering a bigger and brighter future for its lounge at Melbourne's international terminal and, even more promising, the airline's local boss is open to an all-new Cathay Pacific lounge for Sydney.
"I believe there is a lot of value in having our own lounge, which is uniquely Cathay," says Nelson Chin, Cathay Pacific's Regional General Manager for South West Pacific. "But at the end of the day, as with all things there needs to be the business case there," Chin tells High Flyer.
Hopefully both Melbourne and Sydney could be done in the superb style of Cathay's latest lounges in Hong Kong and London, where UK designer Else Crawford has created warm inviting spaces with a calm residential feel.
Meanwhile, Qantas partner and Gulf powerhouse Emirates has opened its business class and first class lounges to economy passengers – provided they're willing to pay for the privilege. Travellers seeking a haven at busy Dubai airport can pony up US$100 to enter the business class lounge – which now includes a Moët & Chandon champagne bar – or US$200 for the first class lounge with its a la carte restaurants and sleeping rooms.
Gold and Platinum members of Emirates' Skywards frequent flyer program can also pay US$100 to bring non-status guests into most of Emirates' business class lounges around the world. All of which raises an interesting question: what is a visit to a good airport lounge actually worth?
Plenty of people buying Qantas lounge passes on eBay and Gumtree seem to rate a lounge visit at $30 to $50. I'd say that's overpriced for popping into a domestic Qantas Club, but it can be good value for the Qantas international lounges at Singapore and Hong Kong.
But perhaps more to the point, what makes a lounge worthwhile? What are the essentials which the best lounges deliver in spades to the busy business traveller – or are there some absolute basics, some fundamentals for the frequent flyer, which many lounge designers completely overlook?
Let us know your lounge habits in the comments section.
Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.