Has a lot of people upset.

In and amidst all of the goings-on all over the world, you’d be amazed at how many emails I’ve received suggesting that this should be a post. Accompanied by much forwarding of this moneyweb article: FNB’s incredible shrinking SLOW Lounge rewards.

For The Non-South-African Readers: A Background

My read on this is as follows:

  1. South Africa has four banks that cater to the middle and upper class: First National Bank (FNB), Standard Bank, ABSA and Nedbank. It also has a fifth bank, Investec, that caters almost exclusively to the 1% and the soon-to-be-1%.
  2. Each of the four mass market banks also has a Private Banking arm (FNB’s one is RMB), but I think the general consensus is: if you want good service, and you’re willing to pay for it, then you go to Investec. If they’ll have you.
  3. Investec seems to go after two kinds of clients:
    1. Really rich clients, obviously; and
    2. Young professionals (Chartered Accountants, Doctors, Lawyers, etc) – who aren’t rich yet, but who are a fairly good future bet.
  4. Back when I started my CA traineeship, and became semi-eligible for an Investec account (I was never actually eligible, being an “Eff Tee Aarh” as the Investec Staff informed me, which was their disdainful acronym for a foreign temporary resident), Investec was the bank that gave you airport lounge access with your debit card.
  5. And as you may know, airport lounge access is the sign of real status. When you’re travelling, it’s very important to update your Facebook status with a check-in to the “Bidvest Premier Lounge” or the “SLOW Lounge” or wherever, along with details of where you’re flying to. I know this to be true because I have a newsfeed that is dedicated, in equal parts, to:
    1. Engagement announcements;
    2. Wedding photos;
    3. Gratuitous inspirational quotes; and
    4. Travel check-ins and itineraries.
    5. As an aside – there were actually more parts, but I have generally unsubscribed from anyone issuing instructions to re-share posts “If You Hold Him As Your Lord And Saviour”. Because I’m pretty sure that public piety and guilt-tripping is problematic*.
      *Parable reference: The Pharisee and the Publican. In which the Pharisee was (ironically) doing all the public stuff. 
  6. Anyway. Pretty soon after that, the other banks started to follow suit. In particular, FNB – with their Platinum Cards, which gave you free domestic SLOW lounge access.
  7. The trouble is: this has made the domestic SLOW lounges impossible. FNB was not near as selective with who would qualify for their Platinum accounts. And whatever the SLOW lounge staff might say about kicking out Platinum cardholders when the lounge gets full – they don’t, really. And the whole “exclusive” part of being a more prestigious client (ie. more than just a Platinum cardholder) has rapidly been losing its shine. And I’m sure that the business class passengers have been complaining as well.
  8. So it was only a question of time before those benefits started to fall away.
  9. That question of time has now been answered. And the answer was “From 1 July 2015.”

My Thought

Bank accounts should not be selected based on access to an airport lounge.

If you want lounge access, you can always pay for it.

Here are two alternatives for bank accounts with lounge access:

  1. Get a bundled RMB Private Bank account (which will give you what FNB’s Platinum Card once did, including mostly-unlimited free access to domestic airport lounges); or
  2. Get an FNB Gold Account, and then sign up for a full access Priority Pass for anytime lounge access in almost any airport across the world.

The costs:

  1. Option 1:
    1. The bundled RMB Private Bank account will cost you R399 per month, or R4,788 per year.
  2. Option 2:
    1. The Gold FNB Cheque Card will cost you R100 per month, or R1,200 per year.
    2. The full access Priority Pass card, without the discount, will cost $399 (or about R4,900).
    3. So in total, you’re looking at R6,100 per year. Or R508 per month.
  3. So for an extra R109 per month, Priority Pass will give you access to international lounges as well. Which is less than half the cost of a subsidised single visit to an International Lounge with an RMB Private Bank account.

The Personal Experience

Speaking as a frequent flyer, I’ve had lounge access in three ways:

  1. As an FNB platinum card holder;
  2. As a Priority Pass member; and
  3. When I finally had enough tier points to qualify for lounge access on BA’s Executive Club program.

My experience:

  1. Because it is entirely useless for international/regional flights, I have used my FNB platinum card access maybe once, on a Cape Town trip. And the lounge was full. And I was disgruntled.
  2. Priority Pass was great. I had lounges to choose from and I tried most of them. Also: the whole thing was very clear cut in terms of cost and what I was entitled to.
  3. Having lounge access with BA has been the best (their lounges are excellent). But it does mean that I spend a lot of time working out tier points for my flight bookings. And now, I find that I won’t book flights with any carrier that isn’t part of the One World Alliance, which can be a bit limiting. And I’m pretty sure that I have spent far more in relative terms on maintaining my tier points than I would have with Priority Pass.

As I see it, if you really want the lounge access, the best thing to do is just pay for it separately.

And then pick a bank account that will just be a bank account, and won’t irritate you with rewards and changes to rewards and strange fee structures.

Rolling Alpha posts opinions on finance, economics, and the corporate life in general. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, and on Facebook at