First class perks in economy for $80
LUXURIOUS airport lounges have always been the domain of elite travellers with special airline loyalties and expensive first and business class tickets.
They're the exclusive few who have enjoyed the comfortable rest areas, fancy food and drinks and showers and pamper rooms, to the envy of the rabble in the main terminal.
But now, all the perks of the opulent airport lounge is available to everyone.
The House, a first-class lounge currently operating in Sydney and Melbourne airports, has opened its doors to all international passengers - no matter the airline they're travelling with or their class of ticket - for just $80.
The one-off fee will get you access to the lounge and all its perks for three hours before your flight, with the option of paying extra to stay longer. Travellers can book online in advance from the No1 Lounges website, but there's also the option of wandering in on the day and paying $80 on the door to get in, if there's room.
The House is operated by British company No1 Lounges, which already offers a range of lounges at Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports in London as well as airports in Edinburgh and Birmingham, and is part of a small but growing worldwide trend of offering lounge services independent of airlines.
"This has become an increasingly sought-after thing," No1 Lounge founder Phil Cameron told news.com.au.
"It's not a big thing in Australia yet, but actually it wasn't a big thing when we started doing it in the UK.
"There's a huge magnetism with these things, because once people have done it, they kind of go, why for all these years have I been putting myself through the aggro of getting to the airport, rushing, and being part of someone else's process?"
Occupying the former Etihad business and first class lounges, The House lounges in Sydney and Melbourne have a variety of seating areas for passengers to relax in before their flights, from a white-linen dining area to comfy couches near huge windows offering sweeping views of the runways.
There are showers, televisions, magazines and newspapers, and plenty of charging ports to use.
The food options include an a la carte menu and a self-service buffet of hot and cold dishes, while the bar serves everything from barista-made coffees and teas to premium beers, wines, spirits and cocktails.
When news.com.au visited the Sydney lounge, the a la carte menu included porcini gnocchi, braised brisket burgers and warm goats cheese crostini. On the buffet, there were three fresh salads and three hot dishes, including tagine and couscous, plus a selection of desserts, juices and soft drinks.
"It's about dining the way you want to dine. There are lot of fresh healthy options and also comfort food, and you can help yourself or be served, or a bit of everything," Mr Cameron said.
While there are flight screens so people can keep an eye on when they have to go to their gate, there are no announcements in The House lounges, which Mr Cameron said was key to creating a calming environment.
"When people travel they are tense, and the journey matters to them. They want things that are of a great quality, and they want it now," he said.
"Quite often I go into a lounge and want to plug the phone in, be left in peace, keep myself hydrated and get on the Wi-Fi. I might be hungry, so knowing I can order something delicious that arrives really quickly or I can go and pick, is a really nice choice.
"A lot of people come in here just want simple things, and some of that is getting away from the 'bong-bong' of the announcements, feeling the pressure, and having people rushing past you.
"Our aim is for our guests to come here and feel OK, that they're living the dream, and while they're watching the screen for their flight they leave thinking, you know what, I've had a really nice time."
The House lounge in Sydney, which is about to get an even more luxurious revamp, is in the airport's international terminal 1 and currently seats 120 people, while the lounge in Melbourne's terminal 2 seats 140 people.