Compared to the rather aged central concourse of Johannesburg’s international terminal, South African Airways’ (SAA) newly renovated lounge is a gleaming beacon. But not in a bad, over-the-top way. Inside, the flagship space exudes a sense of peace with modern lighting, fresh furnishings and a seemingly never-ending footprint.

I’ve visited this lounge twice in 2024, and the service and amenities have been consistently good. It’s not just for South African Airways passengers, either. As SAA is part of Star Alliance, you can also kick back in this lounge when you’re flying on partner airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines.

Lounge location and layout

After completing security and immigration at O.R Tambo International Airport, head left from the duty-free and keep walking down the concourse. Eventually, you’ll find some stairs heading up to a mezzanine (the Emirates lounge should be visible in front). Simply go up a level and turn right to find the entrance to the SAA International Premium Lounge.

Past the reception desks, the Platinum Lounge is to the left. This is only open to SAA’s top-tier Platinum Voyager members – I can only manage a peek through the slats to see a quiet, well-appointed room.

The main Business Class lounge is on the right, so that’s where I’m headed. Past a long hallway, you’ll find the main bar right in front of you and the tempting buffet just behind. There’s casual dining seating around here. But if you’re after somewhere more private, you’ll find plenty more nooks to settle down in on the right.

In particular, the SAA Business Class Lounge has a few noteworthy areas I don’t routinely find in other lounges. Firstly, there are a handful of private ‘suites’ dotted along the side – perfect for groups. Each suite looks like a model loungeroom that you’d find in IKEA and has sheer curtains you can close for privacy.

Work-friendly areas, including ‘focus rooms’, meeting rooms, and work benches, are located even further back. Away from the hustle and bustle of the dining zone, here’s the place to be. Finally, you’ll find the toilets and shower rooms right at the end of the lounge.

Lounge food and beverage

Every SAA lounge I’ve visited has one standout feature – a buffet station that almost seems to be bursting with colours. This one is no exception. The make-your-own salad bar puts any Australian lounge to shame, and it’s joined with cheese platters, baskets of croissants and muffins, sliced fruits and more.

Over at the wall, there’s another selection of four pre-tossed salads and a variety of hot food, such as pasta, two casseroles, and stir-fried veggies. Whilst the hot selection isn’t as extensive as some other flagship airline lounges, there’s certainly enough to keep my stomach happy until the flight.

If wine’s on your mind, look forward to tasting one of the South African varietals on offer, such as:

  • Croydon Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2022
  • Anura Merlot 2019
  • Anura Arpeggio 2019
  • Anura Pinotage Shiraz 2022
  • Marklew Cape Georgian Reserve 2020

With my light dinner, a simple shot of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple seals the deal. It’s my first time trying a sweet, flavoured whisky, and while I’m sure purists may complain, it is very refreshing.

The bar also stocks a wide range of spirits, including South African gins. You’ll also have no issues finding mixers or soft drinks for the kids.

Lounge amenities

I’ve got two tasks on my agenda after flying in from Cape Town earlier – finish off some work and have a shower. On the productivity side, SAA has me covered. Wi-Fi is adequately speedy at around 25 Mbps in downloads and uploads. While I work at a communal table, there are plenty of empty ‘Focus Rooms’ I can opt for if needed.

There’s no queue for a shower tonight. Every shower suite is refreshed between uses and comes with Aigner amenities, just like onboard in SAA Business Class.

Who can access this lounge?

Access to this lounge is open to a wide range of passengers, including:

  • Business Class and higher on South African Airways, partner airlines and Star Alliance members such as Singapore Airlines and Ethiopian (no guests).
  • SAA Voyager Silver and higher on South African Airways (no guest for Silver, +1 guest for Gold, +2 for Platinum and +3 for Lifetime Platinum).
  • Star Alliance Gold members flying on South African Airways and Star Alliance members in any cabin class (+1 guest).
  • Velocity Gold and Platinum members flying on South African Airways in any cabin class (+1 guest).
  • SAA Nedbank Premium Credit Card holders & holders of the Platinum Voyager Credit Card issued by Ecobank when travelling on SAA flights (no guest).
  • Discovery Bank Platinum, Black and Purple cardholders before any flight (+ up to 4 guests).

Our verdict

South African Airways puts its best foot forward with its refreshed take on the Premium Lounge. With dedicated areas for eating, rest and work, there’s a space for you. Fresh lighting and a long panel of windows allow the lounge to enjoy plenty of natural light during the day, along with great views of the apron.

This is definitely the best lounge for Star Alliance passengers departing out of Johannesburg. Of course, it’s the go-to space when you’re flying SAA.

But when you’re flying Singapore Airlines Business Class from here (as I did just a month earlier), the default lounge is the third-party Shongololo Lounge. Not many people seem to know you can relax in the South African Airways Lounge instead. It’s worth the detour.

Also read: South African Airways Airbus A340 Business Class, Perth-Johannesburg →

Photography by Brandon Loo, who travelled as a guest of South African Airways. All opinions remain his own.

South African Airways International Premium Lounge, Johannesburg was last modified: May 28th, 2024 by Brandon Loo