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Best South African Banks for Airport Lounge Access

We like to to travel but we definitely don’t like sitting at the departure gate on uncomfortable chairs with screaming children playing hide-and-seek.  Although some travellers love the hustle and bustle of airports, chances are that if you’re a frequent traveller the one thing you’d love before your flight departs is an hour or two of peace and quiet.

Access to airport lounges used to be a privilege only a few – with a business-class ticket in hand, of course – enjoyed.  Certain banks and financial institutions provide access to the lounges for free and some require you to jump a number of hurdles (or in bank parlance, ‘qualifying criteria’) before you can gain access.

Here are the best banks and accounts for airport lounge access – and the worst.

FNB and RMB

RMB and FNB Private Clients

RMB and FNB are both connected to the awful eBucks program which means you have to earn rewards in order to gain access to the lounges. Even as a RMB Private Bank client you don’t get free access to the airport lounges. The real annoying part of their rewards system is that you never know what level you are on. The airport lounges are not connected to the bank so when you swipe your card at the lounge they can’t tell you if you have earned enough rewards points to gain free access. They just swipe your card and you go in. It’s when you get home when you get the shock, because they then charge you for the access. You thought it was free. Nope. Neither FNB or RMB offer a credit card that offers free local or international lounge access.

Verdict: Terrible (change your bank)

Standard Bank

World Citizen Credit Card

The top Standard Bank credit card is called the World Citizen Credit Card.  You need to spend R15,000 per quarter to get complimentary access to over 500 airport lounges within SA and abroad, through their chosen partner, LoungeKey

Verdict: Bad

Diners Club

With Diners you need to spend R15,000 per quarter to get free access and the same rules/benefits as the Standard Bank World Citizen Credit Card.

Verdict: Bad

ABSA

Platinum Cheque Account

The ABSA Platinum cheque account offers an optional DragonPass membership, offering five free airport lounge visits per 12-month cycle at R59 per month.

Verdict: Terrible

ABSA Private Clients

6 visits (Only 6? Really?) per year to more than 800 airport lounges in over 300 cities across 100 countries affiliated to the DragonPass program.

Verdict: Bad

Nedbank

Platinum Card

Nedbank’s Platinum Card provides free access to the Bidvest Premier airport lounges for domestic flights only.

Verdict: Nothing to write home about

American Express Gold Charge Card

8 visits per year to the Bidvest Premier airport lounges for domestic flights only.

Verdict: Very average for Amex

American Express Platinum Charge Card

Amex Platinum Charge Card provides free access to over 900 local and international airport lounges in over 100 countries, with Priority Pass.

Verdict: Good (Because there are no other benefits to the Amex Platinum Card that’s comparable to a Private Banking offering.)

Investec

Investec Credit Card

Every Investec card holder has complimentary, unlimited access to SAA-owned Lounges and Bidvest Premier Lounges.

Verdict: Very Good

Investec Enigma Card

The Investec Enigma Card (SA’s own Black AMEX card) offers unlimited and free access to over 900 local and international airport lounges in over 100 countries, with Priority Pass.

Verdict: Excellent

Conclusion

Investec is the only bank that provides a really good airport lounge benefit to it’s card holders. Investec also offers a wide range of other benefits to card holders, which makes it a better choice than American Express. The great disappointment is RMB who have lost serious ground to Investec due to their complicated and terrible eBucks rewards program.

Private banking is definitely not what it used to be. There is very little special about it.

Marthinus Strydom

Marthinus is a venture capitalist and private equity investor.

12 Comments

  1. The Nedbank Platinum card will now only allow you access into the Bidvest lounges – domestic flights, if you spend R4000.00 or more a month.

  2. Hi Martihinus, ABSA private clients have limilless access to domestic Bidvest lounges. I use it all the time.

  3. RMB and FNB offer access to international lounges in partnership with PriorityPass. The card is free but the amount of access is linked to your profile.

    In addition, if you open a Global Forex Account (via online banking), there is no minimum fee or minimum balance and this will afford you 10 free visits for you and your partner a year. This is linked to LoungeKey.
    In my opinion the lounge option is better than PriorityPass. However, having 2 options puts them ahead of other institutions… Well unless you have a Black Investec Card and probably travel business or first class anyway

  4. I’m a private client FNB account holder and am.happy with domestic lounge access. My frustration is not knowing which lounges to use for international travel in the different countries. You can not be going into all lounges looking for the right one. CNN should have a list or app which we can download so we know where to go at different international airports.

  5. If you have an absa gold card does it give you access to the Bidvest Lounge. If not what card do you need to obtain access.

    Also if my husband has a titanium standard bank card what lounges does he get access to? Can I as his wife use his card without him to gain access.

  6. American Express Platinum card and Investec cards according to your write up are the best cards for airport lounge access. I have made enquiries with both the companies and the criteria
    is not affordable for the average person. They only target the ultra rich. At American Express you must earn in excess of seven hundred and fifty thousand rand per annum and Investec ,your earnings need to be over one million rand per annum.

  7. I had an FNB platinum business account and when I received my new card it was gold. On enquiring I was told even if you’re a sole proprietor you have to earn over R5 million per annum in order to qualify. Such false advertising! Moving to Nedbank who know how to look after their existing clients. FNB is too busy looking for new clients and forget about you once you’re a client.

  8. You are incorrect Marthinus. I am an RMB client and enjoy limitless, free access to the best airport lounge (SLOW) in South Africa. You gave Investec 5 stars for access to the Bidvest lounges in SA (despite their revamp, the Bidvest food remains inedible)!

    I can bring a guest and kids.

    You say the eBucks programme is awful. I think it is the best in the country, which is why I moved from Standard Bank and their abomination branded “uCount”.

    Quite frankly, it should be the other way around – RMB gets 5 stars in my view..

    • This might have been true, I am also with FNB Private Banking, but the eBucks is no longer great, the benefits are half of what they use to be. When it comes to Lounge Access, great that FNB offers this, but no Slow Lounge in Cape Town International Airport, nor can you access the Bidfest with FNB Private Banking, so I am also NOT impressed

  9. I bank with FNB, and my Slow Lounge access is not linked to E-Bucks, linked to the Credit Card profile, and you can take guests in……
    info not correct re that part….
    further , the slow is very nice, friendly and nice

    • Your information is incorrect.

      From FNB

      “If you have BOTH a Platinum Cheque Account and Platinum Credit Card and are on reward level 1 or above, you will
      receive 2 FREE visits including guests for the month which can only be used to access the SLOW Domestic Lounges.
      No guests are allowed during peak periods.
      If you ONLY have a Platinum Cheque account OR Platinum Credit Card and your accounts are active and in good
      standing*then a fee of R250 per person will be charged. No guests will be allowed during peak times.”

      Please see their official document:
      https://www.fnb.co.za/downloads/PremierBanking_faqs.pdf

      • Hi Marthinus, the link you provided does not work.
        I am an FNB account holder and use the SLOW lounges often. Access to the SLOW lounge is an E-Bucks benefit. Like James, I love the SLOW lounge & the E-Bucks program.
        In the FNB App, under the E-Bucks section is a link to the lounge benefit that tells you how many visit you qualify for, and how many you have used.
        Don’t forget that this is a product that is aimed at the wealthy in order to attract them to the bank. So the wealthier you are, the greater the benefit. That’s just how all banks work.
        I can’t comment on what other banks offer or what other lounges are like because I haven’t experienced them. But this is my experience with FNB & the SLOW lounge. If you are only a gold account holder – you might not have any free access at all. As a private account holder you do have a limited number of free visits. The more products you have & the more you transact the hight level you reach on the E-Bucks program and the more free visits you get. Of course you also get other benefits to from E-Bucks, not just SLOW lounge access.
        Good article Marthinus. This is a difficult topic to be completely objective on unless you have banked with every single bank and experienced every single lounge. Going on the literature available from each bank alone in an extremely limited view because they are never very clear. So I think the scores are very subjective to your experiences and point of view. Perhaps more comments from people about their experiences will make this article more informative.

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