Lounges make life prettier.
Everyone eventually tires of sitting around departure gates that look like detention centers, where one guy’s eating smelly tuna fish and another is clipping his toenails. Most of us have limited tolerance for unhappy infants shrieking like banshees, or people who yell at gate agents, “Do you know who I am?”
Airport lounges can be a respite – a much quieter place where you can get some decent food, a glass of champagne, and maybe a spa treatment or shower. Where you can sink into a comfortable pod chair or do some work at a desk.
Lounges vary in quality from exceptional to meh, but even the worst (I’m talking to you, The Club) are still a notch above sitting at the gate.
So, how do you gain entry?
If you hold mid-or-above level elite status on one of the US majors (American, United, Delta) and are flying internationally, you can usually gain entry to their club or to the club of an alliance member. American, United and Delta are part of alliances (American – Oneworld, United – Star Alliance, Delta – SkyTeam) – groups of airlines that have formed “partnerships”.
Say, for example, you’re flying British Airways to London. British Airways is a Oneworld member, so if you hold mid or upper-level elite status on American (or any other member of the alliance), you can typically gain entrance to the British Airways lounge.
Sadly, the same is NOT true if you’re flying on a purely domestic itinerary. Only internationally.
PURCHASING A DAY PASS
If you don’t travel frequently and just have a long layover and need a day pass, you can walk up to the counter and buy a single day entry for $50-60 at most clubs. This is pricey, but if you have 3 or 4 hours to kill and don’t want to spend it sitting next to a drunk guy at Chili’s, it can be worth the investment.
But the better option is to get the LoungeBuddy app. It rates lounges and sells access to many clubs at a discount. But note that American Express bought LoungeBuddy, and their aim may be to kill it at some point, so enjoy it while it lasts. For now, it’s a great option.
For those of us who don’t fly enough on any one airline to garner that coveted high-level elite status, THIS IS THE WAY TO GO.
If you’re interested in hitting these clubs a number of times over the course of a year, DON’T PUCHASE AN ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP from the airline. Get your membership through a credit card.
Let’s use American Airlines as an example. Purchasing an Admirals Club membership directly from the airline runs $550-650/year, depending on whether you hold elite status or not. But if you get the Citibank Aadvantage World Executive credit card, you’ll get membership PLUS bonus miles (currently 50,000 once you satisfy the minimum spend), PLUS priority boarding and a free checked bag on all flights. All for $450. My husband and I have this card (another big advantage is that you can add spouses or children as cardholders for free) and between us probably make 40 lounge visits a year, so the recurring $450 charge is worth it.
The key here is cards like the American Express Platinum, because it offers an unlimited Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass is a company that contracts with independently-operated (generally unaffiliated with any one airline) lounges at most major airports around the world. This membership often gives you access to multiple lounges, and you can typically bring up to 2 guests in with you. If you were to only hold one credit card for airport lounge access, this is the one to get. True, the annual fee for the Amex Platinum is $550. But see this post for the RAFT of benefits that come with that fee.
A very few lower-cost credit cards ($95 and up annual fee) also offer limited Priority Pass memberships (meaning you’re restricted to 10 visits per year, and you’re not allowed to bring in any guests with you) – cards like the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend card. So, this can be a lifesaver if your travel is a bit less extensive and you don’t anticipate the need to bring others in with you.
This is a lounge chain built and operated by American Express for its Platinum and Centurion (which is above even Platinum) cardholders. These are generally the best lounges in US airports – stylish, great food, etc. But with the exception of a lounge in Hong Kong, they’re only found in the U.S. Nonetheless, along with the Priority Pass membership that you get with the Platinum Card, they’re a fabulous addition.
If you travel multiple times a year and internationally more than once, your best bet is a Priority Pass membership (which you can also buy directly through Priority Pass, but the better value is in connection with a credit card).
Example: when my husband and I were traveling with friends on a Brand g trip to South Africa, we had lounge access in Johannesburg, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), and CapeTown. Our friends are United elites, but it was our Priority Pass membership that got us into the lounges in these exotic airports.
So, why sit in semi-squalor when lounge access can be so (relatively) easily had? Soon, your airport experience will change from complaining about crying babies to complaining about the quality of free wines in the lounge.
You know – priorities.