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I love airports and I love flying. Then I discovered airport lounges. Now I love airports and flying even more.
But even if you’re not a fan of airports or flying, I’ll bet having access to airport lounges will improve your outlook.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with airport lounges let me explain. These are private spaces within an airport that can only be accessed with memberships, elite airline status, or the use of certain travel credit cards. Many of these lounges are operated by the airlines, but others are operated by third parties.
So let me spend a few moments describing the benefits of airport lounges, how you can access them and why your life will never be the same once you do.
Why You Need Airport Lounge Access
First, airport lounges typically offer complimentary food and beverages. Now the quality of the food can vary widely, but quite frankly, the food served in most airport terminals can vary widely as well. And as we know, airport food can be ridiculously expensive. Some lounges offer a selection of snack foods like chips, pretzels and veggies while others prepare a full self-service buffet for each meal of the day. The American Express Centurion Lounge serves a full buffet curated by a local chef that includes a hot main course, a salad bar and dessert.
Most lounges serve complimentary alcoholic beverages. Commonly this is beer and wine, but sometimes hard liquor is included. For non-drinkers lounges offer soft-drinks, water, juices, ice tea and coffee.
Jason and I are big fans of the high-speed WiFi that is always included in a lounge. If you’ve ever struggled to open a single email on the public airport WiFi, then this is a benefit you’ll understand. And you’ll never need to fight for an outlet to charge your devices. All seating areas have been designed to include charging stations.
The options for seating is a great benefit of airport lounges. If you need a table with outlets and plenty of space to spread out to work, that’s offered. If you want to get cozy in a comfy armchair to read, that’s also available.
While not as important to Jason, I appreciate the attractive bathrooms in lounges which are often much cleaner than the public restrooms in the airport.
For the more upscale lounges, onsite spa services may be available, sometimes for a fee and other times complimentary. The Centurion Lounge in Mexico City offers a free 15 minute massage to guests. The Delta Skyclub at JFK has a spa offering a wide array of services for the same price as the popular airport spa, Xpress, but in a quieter setting.
Finally, most lounge memberships permit guests to join you. So if you are traveling with someone that does not have access, you can host them and both benefit from all of these perks.
How To Get Airport Lounge Access
So hopefully I’ve convinced you of the benefits of airport lounges, now how do you get it?
The most direct way to access 1200+ lounges around the world is with a Priority Pass membership which can be purchased online. Priority Pass Lounges include those owned by airlines and third-parties, making their network the largest in the world. The top level Prestige membership is $429 and includes unlimited access. Less expensive membership levels are available but come with restrictions.
Another way to benefit from Priority Pass is to acquire a premium credit card with lounge access like Chase Reserve, AMEX Platinum card, Citi Prestige, and others. The cost of these annual fees is about the same as a Prestige Priority Pass, but will come with several other travel benefits. This is the way Jason and I have obtained our Priority Pass and we highly recommend it.
If like us, airport lounge access is a high priority while traveling, then consider applying for the American Express Platinum card which includes a Prestige Priority Pass Membership and admission to it’s Centurion Lounges. (Centurion Lounge locations include DFW, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, NY La Guardia, Philly, San Francisco, Seattle and Hong Kong.) Last year Jason and I spent four hours in the Hong Kong Centurion Lounge. We ate, drank, worked and relaxed and never spent a dime in the airport.
For people that are very loyal to one airline, then the best way to access lounges may be to earn elite status in their loyalty program. The exact rules for this will vary with each airline so consult the website of the airline that interests you. This does not come with the entry level status in frequent flyer programs. Usually you’ll need to accumulate a large number of miles or points before being rewarded with this benefit. Also important to note that this won’t apply to discount carriers like Southwest. You’ll need to earn elite status on a legacy carrier in the U.S. or a major international airline.
A faster way to access airline owned lounges is to acquire their credit card. For example, Jason and I each have the Delta Platinum AMEX card which admits us to their lounges when flying on Delta for a $29 fee per person. For complimentary access we need to reach their Diamond Medallion status. These cards come with other benefits like a free checked bag, so the annual fee will more than pay for itself.
If you fly a specific airline regularly and want to access their lounges, regardless of your frequent flyer status, consider purchasing annual access. It’s entirely possible that the annual fee is a better deal than paying for airport food, liquor, and hi-speed WiFi. Memberships range from $500-$2,000 depending on the airline and type of lounge.
Finally, for people who travel less often, consider purchasing a one-time pass to the lounge of your choice. This is a great option if you’re stuck with a long layover. Many airlines like American and United allow walk-ins to purchase a one day lounge pass. Prices range from $40-$60. Or, visit the website, LoungeBuddy, and pre-purchase your lounge pass. Prices start at $40 a day.
Airport Lounge Tips And Tricks
So here are some tips and tricks I want to share with you before you start visiting airport lounges.
First, research the lounges available at your home airport or others that you use regularly. If your home airport is a hub for a legacy carrier, then this may guide the decision about which strategy to access lounges is best for you.
It’s important to note that while Priority Pass membership can be awesome, even the Prestige level has limitations. Many lounges have limited capacity and permit certain groups, like those with elite status on airlines, to enter first. I have been turned away from lounges several times (and with some patience I have later gained entry when space opens up). Other lounges have specific hours during which entry is allowed.
If you have extra time on the final day of your travels, consider heading to the airport early to enjoy the lounge benefits. This is especially useful if you have a few hour gap between the check-out time at a hotel and the flight time. Jason uses this time to catch up on calls and emails so they aren’t so overwhelming when we arrive home.
Finally, airline operated lounges can also provide assistance with flight changes in the event you are flying their airline. If something has caused major delays, and you can access the airline’s lounge, you’ll likely get assistance faster than waiting for help at the gate or in the general customer service line--think of it as the VIP line.