Airlines are once again ramping up their battle for business travellers in 2014, and there will be greater focus than ever before on the “ground war” being played out in airport lounges locally and around the world where frequent flyers can relax before their flight and during stopovers on longer trips.
Here's a rundown of the new lounges slated for 2014.
Virgin: expansion in Melbourne, Perth
Virgin Australia will complete the much-needed expansion of its Melbourne lounge by the end of February, adding a stand-alone wine bar to complement the drinks service at the existing buffet and bar area.
The lounge's new wing, which opened at the end of December, already contains an espresso bar and introduced a valet parking service in line with Virgin's Sydney and Brisbane lounges.
Perth is next on Virgin Australia's list, with a new flagship lounge set to open as part of the Perth Airport redevelopment.
However, Virgin's airport lounges in Darwin and Hobart – previously tagged to open this year – have now been pushed to 2015.
Qantas: new lounges for Hong Kong, LA
Qantas's lounge focus for 2014 is more on the international market, although local travellers will notice some changes in food and service now that hotel company Accor has taken over management of all domestic Qantas lounges.
There's also no word on whether this year will see the debut of a Qantas Business Lounge at Perth. Perhaps that would make little economic sense, seeing as how most visitors to the upscale lounge would be the same resource workers who already populate the airport's Qantas Club.
Hong Kong and Los Angeles, however, will both get a serve of lounge love from the Flying Kangaroo this year.
A new Qantas Hong Kong Lounge will open in March. It's based on the same concept as the Qantas Singapore Lounge: an open 'integrated' lounge for all business class and first class passengers (along with Qantas Gold and Platinum-grade frequent flyers and their Oneworld card-holding equivalents).
This means there'll no longer be a separate dedicated Qantas lounge for first class passengers, although Cathay Pacific's excellent The Wing First Class lounge is barely 10 minutes' walk away.
However, as with the Qantas Singapore Lounge, expect some form of 'service differentiation' for travellers booked into first class along with Platinum One and Chairman's Lounge members.
In Singapore this includes a valet service with shirt pressing and a shoe shine, although what's on offer for the Hong Kong lounge is yet to being finalised.
And as with its Singapore sibling, it's the wining and dining in the Hong Kong lounge that will see the biggest upgrade.
The menu will be drawn from Neil Perry's Rockpool and Spice Temple restaurants, with regionally inspired Asian flavours and ingredients.
Yum cha trolleys serving dumplings will weave throughout the lounge, while a Spice Temple BBQ Bar with views across the airport will serve signature cocktails, wines, spirits and a full barista service.
April should see the staged opening of the new Qantas Los Angeles Business Lounge in the recently renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, to be followed by a new Qantas First Lounge in the second half of the year.
The new business lounge will be more than twice the size of the current lounge and go head to head with the impressive Star Alliance LAX lounge operated by Air New Zealand.
The standout feature will be a circular internal fireplace around which travellers can relax and socialise.
The menu will be inspired by a mix of local West Coast US and Asian flavours, with a view from the dining area into the kitchen.
There'll also be a wine bar offering signature cocktails and bar snacks, plus seating surrounding a central glass atrium.
Singapore Airlines: polishing SilverKris lounges
Having unveilled a new look for its SilverKris lounge network in Sydney Airport late last year, Singapore Airlines will carry out similar upgrades to its lounges at Singapore, Hong Kong and London this year as the first stage in a $90 million makeover.
The concept is 'home away from home', with the SilverKris lounge divided into a number of distinct personal spaces “designed and modelled after elements of a home” such as living rooms and kitchens.
SkyTeam: new Sydney lounge
Back in Australia, Sydney will get a new lounge for all international airlines belonging to the SkyTeam alliance.
The lounge will be built and operated by SkyTeam itself and open to business and first class travellers, and eligible frequent flyers, on China Southern, China Eastern, Taiwan's China Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines, along with new member Garuda Indonesia from March.
This will be the world's third SkyTeam-branded lounge, following the flagship lounge at London's Heathrow Terminal 4 and a second lounge at Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport.
"The Sydney Lounge will have exactly the same look and feel as our London and Istanbul lounges,” says Bert Goren, who is responsible for the design of the SkyTeam lounges.
Those two lounges have an unabashedly uber-modern design where lighting, curved walls and flowing open spaces underscore a decidedly European look and feel.
“The SkyTeam lounges are my major projects and I treat them as if they were my own living room,” he told High Flyer.
The SkyTeam Sydney lounge will feature a wine bar and buffet with a variety of cuisines, a reading and relaxation zone and a dedicated business area, although free wi-fi and plentiful power sockets will be scattered throughout the lounge.
Etihad: first Australian lounges
Finally, Etihad Airways will open its first Australian lounges at the international terminals of both Sydney and Melbourne airports this year.
That comes ahead of the debut of Airbus A380 services from both cities as the Gulf carrier and Virgin Australia partner strengthens its presence in the local market.
Etihad's Sydney lounge is scheduled for the first half of the year, with Melbourne to open before the end of 2014.
The lounges will be open to Etihad's first class and business class passengers, while eligible Virgin Australia travellers and frequent flyers booked on codeshare Etihad flights will also find the welcome mat rolled out.
The lounges will be modelled on Etihad's other international lounges such as at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, which in turn borrows inspiration from Etihad's flagship business and first class lounges in Abu Dhabi.
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business tripler.