(BLOOMBERG) - Airport lounges are no longer just a place to while away your time in transit. The best airport lounges have become a five-star escape from the masses: spacious, stylish sanctuaries with their own restaurants and à la carte dining, a well-stocked bar plus creature comforts ranging from a day spa to private rooms.
Wind down and relax with a hand-picked list of seven havens for business travelers journeying to and through Asia.
The Pier First Class Lounge, Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific)
Cathay Pacific's flagship lounge is best described as being "like an apartment owned by a friend, if that friend was far richer than you and had much better taste than you." However, it's not your mythical friend's exquisite taste which makes The Pier First Class Lounge such a stunner.
Credit for that goes to London-based design doyen Ilse Crawford, who developed Cathay's luxurious new-look lounges along residential rather than commercial lines. The Pier oozes understated elegance, thanks in part to Crawford's choice of warm, tactile and timeless materials such as onyx, limestone and bronze.
After gliding down the escalator from the cavernous airport terminal to this cozy haven of a lounge, most travelers peel left to visit the dining room or try their luck requesting a foot massage (bad news, there's almost always an hours-long waiting list). On long layovers, the private day suites provide a relaxing contemplative space while the sizable shower suites with Aesop amenities leave you feeling not only refreshed but recharged.
The large bar is another standout, as is the curated music playlist which seamlessly shifts its vibe to suit the time of day.(We should make mention of the nearby The Pier Business Class lounge, which has a similarly elegant design, great showers plus a Noodle Bar and tended bar of its own - we'd rate this as among the world's best business class lounges.)
Who gets in: First-class passengers on Cathay Pacific and other Oneworld member airlines flying out of Hong Kong (such as British Airways), along with top-tier frequent flyers across the Oneworld alliance (such as Oneworld Emerald, Marco Polo Diamond and Diamond Plus, British Airways Executive Club Gold, and Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum and Platinum One).
Centurion Dining Room, Hong Kong (American Express)
What is arguably Hong Kong's most exclusive restaurant isn't found behind imposing doors at Admiralty or bathed in the bright lights of Kowloon. It's tucked away on the upper level of Hong Kong airport, inside the American Express Centurion Lounge.
The restaurant is the AMEX Centurion Dining Room, and the menu is crafted by Lau Yiu Fai, Executive Chef of the InterContinental Hong Kong's two-Michelin-starred Yan Toh Heen restaurant. A highlight of the all-day menu include Oscietra caviar served atop a mix of Dungeness crab meat and crème fraîche, but served on locally-inspired seaweed crackers rather than blinis.
Well-heeled travellers can also sup on pan-fried sea bass and Hokkaido scallop, with a ratatouille emulsion and a basil lobster sauce; and beef short rib pot-au-feu, adorned by vegetables and shaved truffles atop a small bed of noodles. Add a glass of G.H. Mumm Grand Cordon Champagne and your flight is off to a wonderful start before you even leave the ground.
Who gets in: Passengers whose names are laser-etched onto the invitation-only titanium American Express Centurion card.
Royal Orchid Spa, Bangkok (Thai Airways)
This isn't a lounge per se, but it's an adjunct to the Royal First Class lounge at Thai's home hub with offers indulgently hour-long free massages. This is perhaps the major drawcard for first class flyers, as Thai's first class lounge itself can't hold a scented candle to the best of its competitors.
The serenely quiet treatment rooms are decked out like that of any upscale Thai spa with warm woods and a seperate shower area.Travellers can relax before or between flights with a full body massage incorporating acupressure techniques to relax the muscles, relieve stress and stimulate blood circulation. Additional herbal steam and sauna treatment "ease the aches out of your travel-weary body", the airline promises. After your session, soothing tea is served in a sitting room while tranquil music plays in the background.
Who gets in: First-class passengers on Thai Airways (however, business class and Royal Orchid Plus Platinum status frequent flyers qualify for a free neck and shoulder or foot massage).
The Private Room, Singapore (Singapore Airlines)
"The Private Room". Even the name has a certain patina of exclusivity. And Singapore Airlines chose that name well, as the only way you'll get into The Private Room is to have a boarding pass for Singapore Airlines' first class suites.
The emphasis is on not only privacy but calm serenity, a world away from the clatter of the nearby business lounge which is almost always bursting at the seams. That said, The Private Room isn't a lush oasis of luxury: it's a little old-world and perhaps even worn around the edges, which is why Singapore Airlines is embarking on a $50 million upgrade of The Private Room and its other flagship Changi Terminal 3 lounges across the next two years.
The dining room is certain to remain a centerpiece of The Private Room's appeal. With its parquetry floor, wide plushly-padded leather lounge chairs and wall panelling, discrete lighting and dusky tones the dining room channels the spirit of an English club.The Private Lounge's dining room menus are changed seasonally, although several favorites of the frequent first class flyers remain as a culinary north star, including wok-friend lobster, chirashizushi and, of course, satay. Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime and Charles Heidsieck Champagne headline the drinks menu.
Who gets in: The Private Room is exclusively for first class passengers on Singapore Airlines.
Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, Tokyo Narita
Japan is a food-lover's paradise, and the nation's dueling flag-carriers ANA and JAL (Japan Airlines) both take pride in the meals they serve in flight and on the ground. Japan Airlines has, for the time being, wrested that crown with the dining room of its newly-renovated first-class lounge at Tokyo's Narita Airport.
Two sushi chefs serve freshly-prepared sushi and sashimi, with the menu changing weekly so that regular travellers don't tire of the same fare.
There's also a ramen counter, a champagne bar where the choice between Taittinger and Laurent-Perrier could involve a glass of each, and, as you'd expect, a premium sake selection. Other creature comforts available at the JAL's flagship first class lounge include a shoe-shine service.
Who gets in: First-class passengers on Japan Airlines and other Oneworld member airlines flying out of Tokyo/Narita, along with top-tier frequent flyers across the Oneworld alliance (such as Oneworld Emerald, JAL Diamond and Premier, and Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Diamond and Diamond Plus).
Qantas Lounge, Hong Kong
This unassuming Asian outpost of iconic Aussie airline Qantas eclipses most business class lounges when it comes to pre-flight bites. Instead of bland "international" or predictable Western food, travelers have a last chance to enjoy authentic Hong Kong meals.No wonder there's often a queue at the BBQ Pork Bar for some Cantonese-style char siu, or a frisson of foodie excitement when the yum cha trolley tray trundles around with dim sum and custard egg tarts.
Complement this with a cocktail or two from the bar and you'll soon appreciate why the Qantas lounge is a hit with business class passengers and frequent flyers alike.
Who gets in: Business-class passengers on Qantas and other Oneworld member airlines jetting out of Hong Kong, along with frequent flyers holding Oneworld Emerald and Oneworld Sapphire status (equivalent to Qantas Platinum and Gold, British Airways Gold and Silver, and Cathay Diamond and Gold).
Qatar Airways Premium Lounge, Bangkok
Persian Gulf powerhouse Qatar Airways has barely a half-dozen lounges in its network, but they're all classy affairs.The Premium Lounge at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport opened earlier this year, with this business class lounge winning instant popularity for its à la carte dining room - a sight more common in first class lounges.
The Bangkok lounge is a compact version of Qatar's highly-regarded Premium Lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 4, so travellers can expect the same quality of furnishings plus a dress code which keeps things respectable among the hoi polloi (even if you consider shorts suitable for Bangkok weather).
Who gets in: business class and first class passengers on Qatar Airways and other Oneworld member airlines flying out of Bangkok (a long roster which includes British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Malaysia Airlines).