The cost of winding down before you take off

When it comes to airport and airline lounges, the benefits are abundant – there’s comfortable seating, unlimited food and drinks, television, access to shower facilities (handy after a long flight), free newspapers and magazines, massages and free Wi-Fi, to name a few things.

It’s important to make a distinction between airline lounges, which are operated by specific carriers, and airport lounges, which are run by independent operators. Airline lounges are only accessible to certain ticket holders of certain airlines or people with certain bank cards.

For instance, Investec cardholders have access to SAA-owned lounges and Bidvest Premier Lounges.

There are certain rules that apply even then, such as you can only have complimentary access for children under the age of 12 (up to four at a time per cardholder) and you can’t invite guests.

But if you don’t have the right ticket or bank card, you can still access airport lounges for a fee.

When it comes to independent lounges, you also have to pay for kids if you take them along, but children under the age of two generally get in for free.

Check beforehand what the cost would be if you plan on taking the whole family.

How can you book a slot in the lounge?

Once solely the preserve of VIP passengers, airport lounges are now accessible to everyone for a fee or for “free” if you have the right bank card or airline ticket.

For example, with Nedbank and Greenbacks platinum cards, which cost R55.40 per month, you get local lounge access with Bidvest, limited to eight visits per year.

“It comes at no cost to our clients. There are no spend requirements.

"The American Express gold charge card comes with the same level of access. For our international clients, we offer the American Express platinum card, which comes with Priority Pass access.

"This allows unlimited lounge access to over 1 000 lounges worldwide.

"Again, there is no spend requirement, and there is no further cost to the client beyond the R3 750 annual service fee for the Platinum Card,” says Dave Bekker, senior business manager at Amex Issuing SA.

If you have a ticket with one of the major carriers, such as SAA or British Airways, find out if you have access to one of their lounges through your ticket.

Often the cost of lounge access is built into the price of a business-class ticket.

Otherwise there are other lounges that are accessible to anyone, regardless of airline ticket or class, such as the six premium lounges at OR Tambo International in Johannesbug.

Your slot can be booked in advance through the airport’s website and entry for some South African lounges starts at R232.60.

If you have the right bank card, you simply have to present it at the entrance of the lounge.

While the access fee to the independent lounges sounds costly, estimate how much you will typically spend on drinks and food at the likes of Mugg & Bean, Spur and buying a newspaper or magazine, and so on.

You may find after you add it all up that the lounges make better financial sense when you throw in other luxuries such as a hot shower and a massage.

But the benefits and perks offered by the banks don’t always stay the same.

The FNB initiative with Comair, which provides access to the Slow Lounge, for instance, has been the victim of its own success.

It came to a point where, on average 50 000 FNB customers were using the Slow Lounge at OR Tambo every month – something had to be done.

As a result, the decision was made to cut the number of allowable visits across the board and to apply limits based on the reward level you were on.

If you like having access to the lounges, review your card and benefits on a regular basis to make sure if the access you are getting to the lounges is still worth the money you pay on all the charges you pay for your bank account.

If not, there’s no harm in shopping around, making sure you buy the right airplane ticket, or downgrading your card and paying for access to the lounges yourself when you need it and can afford it.

Airport loungeCost to accessWho can access it
SAA (Cape Town)N/AOpen to passengers of Star Alliance and SAA or Investec card holders
British Airways (Cape Town)N/ABritish Airways customers (silver card holders, gold card, first class and business class passengers)
The Premier Lounge, operated by Bidvest (international terminal, Cape Town)£24.50 (R422) per adult and £24.50 (R422) per child. Open to all passengers
The Premier Lounge, operated by Bidvest (domestic terminal, Cape Town)£13.50 (R232.55) per adult and £13.50 per childOpen to all passengers
Bidvest Premier Lounge (OR Tambo International, Johannesburg)£13.50 (R232) per adult and £13.50 (R232) per childOpen to all passengers
Bidvest Sky Lounge (OR Tambo International, Johannesburg)£13.50 (R232) per adult and £13.50 (R232) per child.Open to all passengers
Bidvest Premier Lounge (OR Tambo International, Johannesburg)£24 (R422) per adult and £24 (R422) per child Open to all passengers
Mashonzha Lounge (OR Tambo International, Johannesburg)£24 (R422) per adult £14 (240.59) per childOpen to all passengers
Shongololo Lounge (OR Tambo International, Johannesburg)£24 (R422) per adult and £14 (R240.59) per child Open to all passengers

Source: Correct as at August 8 2017

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