Most frequent travelers would be familiar with Plaza Premium lounges. With more than 160 locations in 40 airports around the world, they’re a common contract lounge for airlines and lounge membership programs like Priority Pass and DragonPass.
The quality of Plaza Premium lounges varies by location, but they’re a solid offering for the large part. Some of the newly-built or renovated lounges look stylish even, combining tasteful decors with work-focused amenities. I’ve visited quite a few and although I’ve never been blown away, I think they’re a cut above the usual contract lounge options.
It seems that Plaza Premium is looking to up its game with the launch of Plaza Premium First. These lounges are designed to cater for elite and high value passengers, with dine-on-demand menus, spa services, and luxury amenities like Elemis, Lavazaa, TWG and so on.
There are currently two Plaza Premium First lounges in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. I was in Hong Kong for the launch of Mileslife, and had some time to kill before flying back home. The miles and points bloggers I met in Hong Kong raved about the Plaza Premium First lounge, so I decided to give it a try.
The Plaza Premium First lounge is near Gate 1 in HKG’s Terminal 1 East Hall, next to the existing Plaza Premium lounge. It operates 24 hours a day. Access, as you can imagine, doesn’t come cheap:
In contrast, the regular Plaza Premium lounge charges the following amounts:
- 2 hours – HK$580 / S$102
- 5 hours – HK$780 / S$137
- 10 hours – HK$900/ S$158
(if you accessed the lounge via Priority Pass you’d only pay about US$27 for 3 hours, assuming you’d finished all your free visits)
The Plaza Premium First lounge officially opened on 25 July, and for the (unspecified length) opening period, a 3 hour package is available for HKD 700 (S$123). That’s 20% off the regular price, but still a lot of money.
Put it another way- if you had a very long layover in Hong Kong, you could get a day-use room at the airport hotel for HKD 1,200 with a one hour body massage thrown in.
Fortunately, for a limited (also unspecified) period, Priority Pass cardholders can pay a HKD 200 (S$35) top-up fee to access the Plaza Premium First lounge. You can also pay 1,500 Arrture points for access. I went with the Priority Pass option, using the unlimited visits I had thanks to my Citi Prestige.
If you hold a Priority Pass and want to try out the Plaza Premium First lounge, you’ll need to head over to the Plaza Premium lounge first (ah, wordplay) to swipe your card. I had a peek inside while waiting in line and saw that the lounge was absolutely packed, with some people having to stand around waiting for a place to sit. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
The Plaza Premium First lounge, in contrast, was a picture of tranquility. Once you have your lounge access ticket, head back to the First lounge to pay the HKD 200 top-up amount via cash or credit card (they use DCC here, so be careful).
One of the service standards for Plaza Premium First lounges is that a staff member gives you a tour when you first arrive. It’s a nice touch, although honestly speaking the lounge itself is very small and there’s not a whole lot to see. You could walk from one end to another in less than 30 seconds.
The first thing you’ll see when you enter the lounge is the bar, or the AeroBar as Plaza Premium prefers to call it. There is an impressive selection of alcohol available, all included in the cost of admission of course (except whiskey flights, see below).
The lounge’s welcome drinks are based on TWG teas- today’s was something called Pink Rose, a mix of TWG Bain de Roses, grapefruit juice, yuzu soda and basil.
Champagne is available (a passable GH Mumm), along with red and white wines from Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Austria and France. You can even request a whisky flight, but these are chargeable.
Past the bar, the lounge opens up into a seating area with space for perhaps 30-40 people. I really like the interior design of the lounge. It was warm and relaxing, and felt like the kind of place you wouldn’t mind spending an extended layover.
Behind the main seating area is a sealed-off room for working and resting. I saw three chairs for napping, plus what I think is the lounge’s meeting room (called Infinity).
There’s a spa in the lounge as well. Guests normally receive a complimentary 10 minute spa treatment, but the staff member giving me the tour apologized that all the spa slots were taken until 7.30pm (I arrived around 5.30pm for a 7.55pm departure), so a treatment wouldn’t be possible today.
The first order of business was to take a shower. I was told there would be a 20 minute wait and given an electronic pager. Their estimation turned out to be pretty accurate, and 20 minutes later I returned to the front desk to get my shower assignment (it’s really, really a small thing, but given that there couldn’t have been more than 15 people in the lounge it would have been a nice touch if the staff went to find you instead of you having to return to the main desk).
Shower rooms have en-suite toilets, and came equipped with basic amenities like toothbrush kits and shower caps. No Japanese style toilet here, however.
Keeping in line with the lounge’s premium philosophy, the amenities at the sink and in the shower were from Elemis. You might remember Elemis from its association with British Airways, although these products can also be found at upscale hotels.
Call me strange, but I thought the best thing about the shower was the bath towel. Unlike other lounges where they give you a tissue paper thin piece of cotton, this one was thick and fluffy, not unlike those I’ve had at St Regis or W Hotels.
The worst part about the shower? Probably this hair of indeterminate origin, awaiting when I lifted the seat. I mean, if you’re going to charge up to S$200 for entry…
After my shower I made a beeline for the Primo, the lounge’s dine-on-demand restaurant. restaurant. It’s located to the rear of the lounge.
I was escorted to my seat and given a menu, while the staff asked if I’d care for a glass of champagne (only one right answer to that). Everything on the menu looked good, but do note that you’re limited to one choice and one choice only– this isn’t like the dine on demand setups in other lounges like The Private Room where you can order away to your heart’s content.
I asked the staff what the procedure was if I really wanted to try one more item- was there a flat fee to pay or an ala carte price list? They seemed genuinely befuddled by the question, as if they never met a man with a big appetite. After checking among themselves, the consensus was that there was no way to add on more items, even for a fee.
After I placed my order I explored the buffet and drinks selection. It was nice to know the lounge didn’t skimp on the bottled water either, going for high-end brands like Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino.
There’s also a salad bar for people who really find no joy in life.
And a fridge full of cheese, cured meats and, for some reason, XO sauce.
There’s a small self-serve buffet with soups, breads and a huge leg of ham, which the staff were more than happy to help you with.
I mentioned you’re limited to one item from the menu. That’s a shame, because the food was amazing. I had the Maine Lobster and Capellini, which was served with lobster broth. The dish was absolutely delicious, plated beautifully and the lobster meat was sweet and fresh. This was without a doubt one of the best dishes I ever ate in a lounge, and I’m including the Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal, Qatar Doha First Class Lounge and Singapore Airlines Private Room in that category.
I hope we’ll get more photos of the other food options as more and more people visit the lounge, suffice to say at the pass I saw the a slow-cooked Angus Beef being plated up and the presentation looked superb too. The only other publicity photo I could find was of the Beyond Meat burger. Fun fact- the lounge has partnered with Green Monday to be the first airport lounge in Asia to serve the plant-based Beyond Meat burger.
If there’s one criticism I’d levy, the portion wasn’t large enough for this hungry man. Fortunately, you can also request other items from the buffet, such as this “Mexican wrap” which came filled with tandoori chicken. That’s globalization for you.
This won’t win any awards for plating, but again it tasted really good. Bonus points for having guacamole in the lounge.
I also ordered the fishball noodles, and when the dish was brought to me I thought they’d goofed up by bringing fish congee instead. Then I realised that the soup was so creamy that it looked like the consistency of congee- definitely not the watery broth you get in other places.
Needless to say this was delicious too. I’m no expert on fishballs, but these didn’t taste like the cheap kind you get in your average hawker centre fishball soup. There was more body to them (yes, I’m getting pretentious here).
Remember the bar I mentioned at the start of this review? On the reverse side is the dessert bar, which has many bad for you but oh so nice to look at items.
I did wonder why Plaza Premium chose to split out the dessert and main course sections of the lounge. With the great job they’d done at Primo surely it wouldn’t be that hard to add on a dessert section to the menu? I’m guessing it has to do with crowd control because Primo seats maybe 40 people at most- they don’t want people lingering after a meal so they’d rather shift them elsewhere in the lounge and free up more space for diners. That’s my theory at least.
There were donuts, macaroons, eclairs, tarts, puddings, creme brule. To be perfectly honest I’d have been happy with some premium ice cream, but that wasn’t on offer.
A final note on the service: I thought the lounge staff were impeccable. They might not have Singapore Airlines levels of need anticipation, but every interaction was pleasant and efficient.
I mentioned that the lounge couldn’t have had more than 15 guests inside, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the service and experience change over the next few months as more people become aware of this offering and more airlines start using it. If it was already so hard to get a massage treatment with so few customers, how’s that going to change when the lounge gets more popular? Will the kitchen be able to get individually cooked and plated dishes out quickly when Primo is at full capacity? And how will waiting times for important amenities like showers be affected with increased loads?
I’m sure management has thought these things through and will adjust staffing accordingly, but it’ll be interesting to revisit in a year and see what’s changed.
All in all, I enjoyed my visit to the Plaza Premium First lounge, and would seriously consider visiting again if the upcharge remains at HKD$200. After all, S$35 for a high quality main course, all the champagne, wine and libations you care for, a shower, a massage (when available) and a genuinely enjoyable place to work and relax seems to be a fair deal.
There are those who worry that this will be the start of a negative trend where lounges begin charging co-pays for access, or divert resources away from the “free” offer to make people feel obliged to pay an upcharge. I can see where they’re coming from, especially if the cramped experience I witnessed at the regular Plaza Premium lounge in Hong Kong was anything to go by. That said, I think there’ll be a self-correcting mechanism in that if the regular offering deteriorates too much, airline customer complaints will lead airlines to push back against contract lounge operators.
Final point: if you’re visiting the lounge, make sure you get your “PPF Hearwarmer”. I think it’s this thing in the photo below, an insulated tumbler. I was supposed to get one with admission but no one ever gave me anything and after the third glass of champagne I kind of forgot.