Since I had to be in Auckland for work and having been there on multiple occasions this year, I decided to spend the weekend in Melbourne instead. Getting from the city to the airport is relatively easy and there are affordable options out there if you are looking to save money. Alternatively, hopping on an Uber should cost you around AUD 55 which is reasonable since it takes you from door-to-door. Now I have already checked out the fairly-unimpressive Qantas International Business Lounge as well as what is perhaps my favourite Emirates Lounge here in Melbourne Airport (MEL) on a few occasions. As such, I decided to give the newly-opened Plaza Premium Lounge a go.
Right next to the American Express Lounge in Melbourne Airport (which you can access alongside two other guests for free with The Platinum Card) is the Plaza Premium Lounge. This lounge is the newest airport lounge in MEL and it was only opened to public on 27 March 2018. If you hold an OCBC VOYAGE Card, you may also access this lounge for free (+1 guest) whenever you hold any valid boarding pass. Now before I talk about the Plaza Premium Lounge, I have to say that I really liked the American Express Lounge when I visited it about a week ago - it is not comparable to a great airline lounge but the space is beautiful and there is space to get work done (especially when you are traveling in a group).
I did not expect to like the Plaza Premium Lounge here in Melbourne Airport but honestly, as much as I hate to say this, I actually prefer it over the American Express Lounge. My recent experiences with Plaza Premium Lounges have been great - the one in Siem Reap is aesthetically-pleasing, the one in Taipei has pretty delicious food and the No. 77 China Eastern Plaza Premium Lounge (which I have not reviewed) was great as far as airport lounges go in China. In comparison to the American Express Lounge next door, the Plaza Premium Lounge is a lot bigger - it is opened from 6:00AM to 11:00PM daily and there are specific areas that have been created for traveling guests.
Once I took a walk around the lounge, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. There are a number of high-backed chairs located towards the left side of the lounge and they actually enjoy some natural daylight (which is great!). These individual seats are private and there is a small table on the side which allows you to work on your laptop easily. What I really do appreciate about the Plaza Premium Lounge over the American Express Lounge is the existence of USB charging ports - each one of these semi-private booths come with two charging ports and that is something that all airport lounges should have. There are also two power outlets here per seat but you will require some kind of adapter if you do not have a Type I Plug that most parts of Australia use.
While these chairs are great for getting work done (since they are very private and people cannot actually look at your screen), I did find the tables to be quite small. For example, I typically work on my 15" MacBook Pro and once it is placed on the table, I found it difficult to fit anything else on the table - even a drink or a cup would be tempting the devil. Also, since I always travel with two carry-on bags, I found it difficult to fit everything onto one chair. I ended up using two chairs - one for work and one to store my bags as well as my food - while I was there but the lounge was probably at 5% occupancy when I visited.
There is a quiet area in the lounge that is not at all occupied when I was there - it is located in some corner of the lounge with no natural daylight. It is also relatively poor-lit but I guess this is great if you like darker areas.
There is a pretty decently selection of hot and cold food here at the Plaza Premium Lounge but what really impressed me was the hot food station. Dishes like Pasta, Pad Thai and Vietnamese Pho are offered during my visit and even though it did not really satisfy me taste-wise, I thought that it was a nice touch. If you hold The Platinum Card which comes with unlimited Priority Pass access, I highly recommend going to Urban Provedore (or any of the other participating restaurants) upstairs instead for proper food - you get up to AUD 72 of dining credit if you are traveling with a friend.
One thing that I really like about the Plaza Premium Lounge is the layout of the entire space - there is a designated spot for drinks, for working, for children and for eating. There is a relatively large dining area here in the middle of the lounge and even though I did not take any real photos of the area (since there were a number of guests there), it is quite a pretty area and it reminded me slightly of the Cathay Pacific Lounge in Haneda Airport.
A wide selection of beverages are on offer at the lounge - juices, cordial, sodas and even alcoholic beverages. I am not sure whether alcoholic drinks are included in the access but I really wanted a coffee while I was there so I went for the cold brew coffee instead. Now this is probably the first time ever that I have spotted a cold brew coffee on offer at an airport lounge.
If you are just dropping by for a drink, the bar area is probably your best bet - the high chairs in front of the bar make it easy to get a refill and to catch up on the news. As I have mentioned earlier, I am unsure whether alcoholic beverages are included but a number of Plaza Premium Lounges that i have visited over the years have offered a number of free drinks per visit so I am guessing that the same rule operates here - please let me know if that is incorrect and I will update it accordingly!
Prior to visiting, I did not think that the Plaza Premium Lounge would be better than the American Express Lounge in Melbourne Airport but now that I have, I personally think that it is more superior. Sure, the American Express Lounge looks a lot more premium and it is definitely cozier as well but the Plaza Premium Lounge is more functional. Food is made to order here, cold brew coffee is offered and the existence of USB charging ports just make all the difference when you are an international traveller who do not wish to fiddle around with power adapters just to simply charge your phone. Now this lounge should be offering shower facilities in the near future (or at least that's what the staff says) and when that happens, it will become a strong contender in the MEL airport lounge space.