Are Airport Lounges Worth It?
by Daniel | Last Updated February 5th, 2020
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If you've ever had a particularly long layover or even a short, uncomfortable wait in an airport, you've definitely thought about taking advantage of an airport lounge.
Despite the joys of taking a trip, waiting in an airport is never the highlight of anyone's vacation. Depending on the time of day or what airport you're in, waiting at the gate can mean large crowds, uncomfortable seats, and a shortage of places to charge your phone.
The good news is, you do have options while waiting for your flight. Depending on the type of ticket you have, the airline you're flying with, or the amount of money you're willing to spend, and the status of your flight, you can gain lounge access in almost every airport in the world.
Here's how lounges work and whether they are right for you.
Gaining Access to a Lounge
Unfortunately, you can't simply walk into the lounge of your choice. You do need to pay for lounge access, and there are several ways that this can happen. There are numerous options available, even if you're traveling on a budget.
Credit Card Offers
One of the easiest ways to gain lounge access to airport lounges is through your credit card. Access comes with annual fees for this convenience, however, so this option is not without its faults.
For example, having an American Express Platinum Card will give you access to hundreds of airport lounges across the world. This includes lounges through Priority Pass, Airspace, and access to American Express Global Lounges. The catch, however, is the yearly fee of $550.
However, remember to read the fine print of the credit card agreement to make sure it will be a worthwhile deal for your needs. If you're only planning one short trip a year, for example, then the annual fee might not be worth it.
Airline Credit Cards
Airline specific credit cards also offer lounge perks. It's common for airline credit cards to offer two free, one-time passes when you sign up for the card.
These usually have smaller fees, but you can still count on paying around $95 per year as a membership fee.
Different than an airline credit card, airline memberships are best used for those travelers that only fly with one airline exclusively.
These memberships will cost you anywhere from $350 to $650 upfront, with an annual membership that's usually around $50 or $100.
Since this option would only allow you access to certain lounges, make sure that the destinations you visit most actually have airport lounges that apply to your membership.
Upgrade Your Ticket
Most airport lounges offer free admission to anyone that can show a first or business class ticket at the door.
This might be the easiest way to gain access to the lounge associated with your airline of choice since you don't need to worry about keeping track of extra passes or expenses.
You do, however, need to be comfortable with paying for an upgraded ticket. This might make more sense for you if you're on a long flight with a layover.
Being comfortable during your flight with access to the amenities of a lounge is a good deal if it's in your budget.
Third-Party Vendor Passes
One of the most common third-party vendors that travelers use is Priority Pass, which offers access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide in exchange for an annual fee.
The best part about utilizing Priority Pass is that you can cater the membership to your specific needs. If you find yourself traveling often, the $429 per year option will get you free, unlimited access to all of the lounges in the network.
The cheapest option, at $99, allows entrance to any in-network lounge with a $32 fee at the door each time.
Pay for a Public Airport Lounge
Lastly, the cheapest option is to pay for access to a public lounge. Unlike the other options, these lounges aren't affiliated with any airline, ticket price, or credit card.
These airport lounges are accessed via paid pass. The price will vary between airports, but you can count on it being significantly cheaper than bothering with signing up for a certain lounge membership or paying credit card dues.
For example, you can access the Airspace Lounge at the Cleveland airport, starting at $20 per day. At The Club, located in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you can enjoy shower facilities, free Wi-Fi, and free snacks for $40.
Some even have pay by the hour features if you'd like just to utilize the shower facilities or take a quick nap.
If you choose this option, it's highly recommended that you book ahead of time. As with the other lounges, public lounges can only accommodate so many travelers at once.
What Are the Benefits of Visiting an Airport Lounge?
Essentially, airport lounges provide comforts that aren't afforded in the airport terminal itself. Depending on what lounge you visit and how much you're willing to pay, you could even get a full spa experience during a long layover.
At the very least, count on an airport lounge to provide you with somewhere comfortable to sit (or even "resting" areas where you can try to get some sleep), free Wi-Fi, and some free food.
Depending on the airport and the lounge itself, you could be given a hot meal, but it's not always a guarantee.
These basic amenities are likely to be in smaller, domestic airports, or the cheapest options in larger ones.
It's certainly something to think about, but also keep in mind that with the rising popularity of airport lounges, you might end up in a place that's as crowded as your gate.
The Ability to Recharge
One key feature of airport lounges, although not a guaranteed one, is the ability to freshen yourself up with a shower, or even a nap.
This is one of the most important features of an airport lounge; you can't put a price on being able to freshen up after a 15-hour long flight.
These amenities are most common in international airports since that's when travelers tend to have the longest layovers.
These will likely be available in lounges that require a credit card membership or an airline membership to enter.
At the very least, if you are able to get a day pass, it will most likely be more expensive than a lounge with basic services.
The VIP Treatment
If you're feeling in the mood for a true luxury experience, that's also an option in the VIP lounge.
The Concorde Room, run by British Airways out of London's Heathrow Airport, includes perks like private dining booths, meals cooked by renowned chefs, private cabanas, and shower facilities.
Of course, all of this comes at a cost: you need to be flying British Airways with a first-class ticket, or be a Gold Member of the British Airways Executive Club.
There are rules to go along with these benefits, and not every lounge has the same restrictions.
Depending on which option you choose, the lounge could be very crowded. Basic lounges are the most affordable, and therefore many people take advantage of these areas.
If you're worried about overcrowding or sticking to a schedule, it's important to book ahead of time.
Especially with lounges that have showers, you could be waiting for an extended period of time to use the facilities.
Booking in advance guarantees your access and helps you manage your time.
Most airport lounges have time limits, although it's most common with lounges that offer day passes to ensure that more passengers can access the lounge.
It's good to keep this in mind when you're looking for a lounge.
For example, The Club at Logan airport in Boston offers refreshments, snacks, and shower facilities, but only allows passengers to stay for a maximum of three hours.
All in all, airport lounges can certainly be a worthwhile choice while traveling. Especially for business travelers or those traveling long distances or with lengthy layovers, these lounges can provide the necessary respite that you need to stay sane on your trip.
Depending on your budget and what your needs are, there are a large number of choices to choose from, so there's no doubt you will be able to find what works best for you.
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My name is Daniel and I am a full-time world traveler and constantly on the move.