a room with a couch and chairs

Review: Plaza Premium First Lounge, Hong Kong Airport (HKG)

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One of the awesome things about flying Qatar Airways business class out of Hong Kong is that you get access to the Plaza Premium First lounge at Hong Kong Airport. Qatar Airways also offers Plaza Premium First lounge access to those flying out of Kuala Lumpur. It’s a decidedly premium investment in their product, given that the upgrade cost (from regular Plaza Premium lounge access) is otherwise HK$250 per person. Unfortunately it seems like Qatar Airways is trying to be as stingy as they can with this benefit, as the check-in agent said “you’re going to use the Cathay lounges, right?” and I had to specifically ask for lounge passes for this lounge.

If you have no access to a Plaza Premium lounge whatsoever and would like to purchase access to the Plaza Premium First lounge, you can pay a cost of HK$880 for 3 hours of access, HK$980 for 5 hours of access, HK$1,080 for 8 hours of access and HK$1,180 for 10 hours of access. So the pricing for access to this lounge is indeed quite steep, which makes sense, given this is branded as a “first class” lounge.

The lounge is located one level below security (follow the signs to gate 1, and you’ll see the lounge on your way there).

people in a building with signs and people walking
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Exterior

The airlines that provide this lounge to business class passengers are Air Astana, Finnair, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Lufthansa and Swiss only provide access to their first class passengers, whereas for Air France, EVA, ANA I’m not quite sure (they’re listed on the Hong Kong Airport website as having access to this lounge, but the airlines themselves don’t advertise access to this lounge).

The lounge is open 24 hours a day, though certain facilities are only available between 8 AM and 11:30 PM:

  • Primo, the restaurant, and a-la-carte dining
  • Massage services
  • AeroBar, and all bar beverages

Out of the airlines that invite passengers to the Plaza Premium First lounge, I believe Qatar Airways has by far the latest flight out of Hong Kong, at 1:20 AM. We were on the 1:20 AM flight, but we needed to get to the airport early to get our Europe SIM cards, so were able to experience all of the lounge’s facilities.

The lounge is situated where the old Plaza Premium lounge used to be – almost annoyingly so. I heard many people being turned away from the First lounge because they thought it was the “normal” Plaza Premium lounge – they were offered an upgrade cost (of HK$250), were surprised that they needed to pay to access the lounge with their credit card/business class ticket, and were gestured by the front desk to head over next door. I’m not sure what’s so difficult, actually – there’s huge FIRST signage by the door, how much clearer could they have made it?

While we were checked in, we were asked if we’d like to book massages. The earliest massage was at 10:45 PM (we were admitted into the lounge at 10:10 PM), and the massage treatment lasted a total of 10 minutes, so we didn’t think it was worth the time.

Anyway, right after we were admitted into the lounge I saw a seating area directly to my left.

a room with tables and chairs
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Outside Seating Area

Further in was the main “lounge” area, which was a small and intimate area with cosy chairs. Most people seemed to choose to relax here prior to their flight. The seats looked comfortable, and it wasn’t terribly crowded.

a room with a couch and chairs a group of people sitting in chairs a group of people sitting in a room with chairs a group of chairs and a table
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Seating Area

Further in was another seating area, which featured a large U-shaped bench, some extra armchairs, as well as some loungers.

a room with couches and tables a room with a booth and tables a room with a booth and chairs a room with chairs and tables
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Inside Seating Area

The seating areas are nice. Personally I thought that the ceilings were quite low, and there was definitely a lack of natural light, due to the lack of tarmac views. Despite that, the seating areas were well appointed, and I loved the variety of seating, which Plaza Premium lounges aren’t exactly known for. The lounge is also quite small – it’s essentially a big room separated into a few separate parts, though those parts are well-signaged and easy to get to.

The key differentiator between the Plaza Premium First lounge and other Plaza Premium lounges is the amenities they offer. One of the key amenities offered at this lounge is a-la-carte dining. Everyone with access to the lounge can order a complimentary item off of the a-la-carte menu, whereas each subsequent dish costs HK$158 (there’s a footnote below that says this fee doesn’t apply to airline-invited guests, though I missed that, and wouldn’t have been able to stomach two main courses at a time anyway).

A-la-carte dining was offered at Primo, the lounge’s sit-down restaurant. Primo was tucked into one of the rear corners of the lounge.

a group of people sitting at tables in a restaurant a restaurant with tables and chairs
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Primo A-La-Carte Dining

The a-la-carte menu featured exclusively of main courses. These aren’t your average lounge small plate – they’re full-blown main courses, complete with their own garnishes.

a menu on a table
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Primo A-La-Carte Dining Menu

I opted for a slow-cooked lamb rack. The lamb rack was well done unfortunately, though it was bursting with flavour. I also quite like the sauce with it, though the mash was a little bit on the gluey end. Meanwhile, my sister enjoyed her lobster capellini (though she probably didn’t press the shutter hard enough while taking a photo for me, since I can’t find it).

a plate of food on a place mat
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Dining – Slow Cooked Lamb Chop

It’s nice that the Plaza Premium First lounge offers a-la-carte dining to their guests, though I would’ve appreciated to have a couple of desserts on the menu, instead of exclusively main courses. In addition to that, I thought the execution was more of a 7/10 than a 10/10 – the lacking touches of finesse ranged from the gloopy mashed potatoes, to the slightly monochromatic presentation of my sister’s lobster cappellini, to the fact that my lamb wasn’t cooked to order. All things considered, this a-la-carte dining offer is still above average for an airline lounge. Service at the restaurant was alright – they stood around until we flagged them over and didn’t talk to us apart from when they took our order, though they went through the motions fine.

In addition to the a-la-carte menu is a smaller food spread. It’s quite small, though features hot options akin to what you’d find at a typical business class airline lounge or a non-aspirational chain hotel buffet. Unfortunately I’m not sure where my picture of the food spread went either.

Nearer to the entrance was the AeroBar, which specialises in whiskey, though serves all kinds of alcohol. I thought it was very nicely designed (names of various whiskey brands surrounded the bar in block letters).

a bar with bottles of alcohol a counter with food and drinks on it a group of bottles of alcohol and glasses on a table a bar with many bottles of alcohol
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar

The AeroBar features a signature cocktail list. My dad tried a Shogun Thyme, which he said was pretty good, if a little bit on the sweet side.

a menu on a table
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Specialty Cocktails Menu

There’s also a full bar menu, consisting of a complimentary section, and a paid section with more premium selections. The complimentary section read as follows:

a hand holding a menu a hand holding a menua hand holding a menu
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Complimentary Menu

The paid section read as follows:

a menu of alcohol with numbers and text a menu of alcohol a menu with numbers and a price a menu of alcohol in a book a menu with a number of drinks
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Premium Menu

In addition to this, the bar offered a whiskey flight that cost HK$130, which read as follows:

a menu of a distillery
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Whiskey Flight

I was impressed by the complimentary selection, though I’m not sure why they bother charging for more premium whiskeys. I doubt paid alcohol in a lounge is very popular, considering that there are free selections too (the main selling point of getting alcohol in a lounge is that it’s included in your lounge access). However, I was happy that there were a few specialty mocktail selections too.

I’m a fan of the Old Fashioned cocktail, so decided to go for that. It was pretty well-made. A friend recommended me to try the Arberlour 12 years whiskey, so I had a glass of that straight up after that. While I’m confused about the premium selection pricing as aforementioned, I found the lounge’s specialty in whiskey quite cool, and definitely something to look forward to if I had access to this lounge again.

a glass of amber liquid with ice and a straw on a table
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Old Fashioned

Admittedly it was 11 PM, and this was also the Friday night before another weekend of protests in Hong Kong. However, the bartenders were definitely uncharismatic, and didn’t really seem to want to be there (for those of you who accuse me of criticising someone in emotional turmoil, I also live here, so had also been trying to keep a “business as usual” attitude whenever I was at my internship that same week – as much as the state of Hong Kong is heart-wrenching, that’s the reality we all need to face).

While I’m on the subject of service, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a lounge where everything is taken care for you. Unlike Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, a-la-carte dining can only be served at Primo, and in fact all food is banned from carpeted areas; and while you can bring drinks anywhere around the lounge, your drink won’t be brought to you from the bar, so you’ll have to get it yourself. There are also no cafeteria-style buzzers at this lounge (like you’d get at Cathay Pacific’s lounge Noodle Bars),

The lounge also features barista coffee, though we were in this lounge at 11 PM ahead of a 1 AM redeye flight, so skipped it this round. I’ve heard that the coffee here is good, though not amazing.

a coffee machine on a counter
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong AeroBar Coffee

In addition to the mocktails provided at the bar, there are also drinks stands and coffee machines provided throughout the lounge. I’d advise you to get barista coffee unless you were in a rush, though.

a machine and beverage cooler in a room
Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong Drinks Selections

At 11:15 PM I went to meet some friends at the Qantas Lounge, and ended up having a couple more drinks with them there (they were on Cathay’s A350 to Gatwick, and were delayed until 3 AM). Since the Qantas Lounge closed at 11:45 PM, we headed over together to The Pier, which was open for longer, and was also right next to gate 65 where our flight to Doha would be departing. I’ve reviewed both of the above lounges extensively in the past, so won’t do so again.

I didn’t visit the shower rooms this time around, though they’re available, further towards the corner past Primo. I’ve heard that the shower rooms are well-appointed, feature Elemis toiletries, and the towels are fluffy.

Bottom Line: Plaza Premium First Lounge Hong Kong

It was a treat to have access to the Plaza Premium First lounge on a Qatar Airways business class ticket. The lounge was comfortable despite the lack of natural light; most importantly, though, Plaza Premium definitely invested in making this lounge stand out, and it certainly felt like they were trying to compete with a first class experience. Despite the overcooked lamb and gloopy mashed potatoes, I thought it was a treat to have a “real” main course in the lounge, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the bar experience and their specialty in whiskeys.

That being said, there’s definitely a gap between this lounge and true, industry-leading first class lounges. This starts from the incomplete menu (the lack of appetisers, desserts, etc.), the inexistent service, and the smallest touches – you need to bring your drink from the bar to your seat instead of having the drink be brought to you, you can’t dine outside the restaurant area, etc.. In other words, this is well above average for a business class lounge, particularly for a contract lounge; though I wouldn’t say this lounge holds a candle to some of the world’s best first class lounges.

I was still quite impressed by the services on offer, though. If you’ve never been to the lounge before and have an airline invitation, I’d say this is a lounge worth going early for; though the next time I find myself with complimentary access to this lounge, I’m not sure if I’d make it to the lounge as early anymore.

Should You Pay To Access This Lounge?

The Plaza Premium First lounge offers paid upgrades for people who would otherwise have access to Plaza Premium lounges. They can pay a fee of HK$250 to access this lounge in place of a standard Plaza Premium lounge for three hours. If your layover is over three hours, I’d say the payment is well worth it (given how crappy Hong Kong Airport’s “normal” Plaza Premium lounges are); however, the value diminishes if your layover is shorter, and I don’t think the cash premium is justified if you just have half an hour to kill. I think the minimum amount of time needed to justify the HK$250 upgrade is if you find yourself with at least one hour to spare before boarding, since you’ll have just enough time for a quick shower, an a-la-carte meal, and a drink at the AeroBar.

Of course, this is considering you’re paying your way into the lounge when all the facilities are open – outside of the 8 AM to 11:30 PM opening times, I don’t think it’s worth it to pay your way into the lounge.

Unfortunately I can’t think of a reason to justify paying for access into this lounge outright – the outright prices of HK$880-HK$1,180 are all very steep prices, to the point where I’d rather find a good meal at the terminal.

Read more from this trip:

Have you been to the Plaza Premium First lounge at Hong Kong Airport before? How was your experience?

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