About 10 years ago the consulting firm I was working for offered to pay for airline lounge membership for managers and above. It didn’t take me long to get used to the perk and I’ve been a dedicated member since.
Getting lounge privileges can come under a couple different ways – purchasing a credit card with lounge benefits or purchasing lounge benefits from the airline or some third party. There’s probably other ways, but those are the common ones. The credit card fees can range between $200-400 so are definitely the better way to go, except sometimes it can limit to only domestic clubs – definitely worth checking into. Purchasing can range slightly higher up to $500, but from the airline gives you direct access to all their clubs around the world. For me, I purchase the United Club pass direct from United and get access to Star Alliance lounges around the world.
So what is it like? It’s a place just on the other side of the wall from the main airport where you can enjoy the free wine, the free food, the quiet, the charging outlets, the free wifi, and the clean bathrooms. Is it worth it, for me, yes. There’s been more than a few times where it’s come in handy. Take the time I flew from Johannesburg to Cairo landing late in the evening but my flight from Cairo to Frankfurt wasn’t until the next morning, yes, it was the Cairo lounge that I nestled into for a free night sleep.
Or even better that time when I flew from Barcelona to New York and we got to the airport super early and were crazy tired. The lounge had a sleeping room where we curled up in our private pods and knocked out until our flight. Or how about all those times where I didn’t get a chance to eat before the flight and the lounge provided the meal I needed. Or how many times I didn’t want to pay for a bottle of water for the flight, so filled my bottle up in the lounge for free. Or the number of times I had a delay and was able to hole up in the lounge watching Netflix on my iPad and drinking wine.
I get that the lounge access isn’t for everyone, though it sure does make travel easier if you travel often. If I wasn’t constantly on the road it may not make sense – they do sell $50/time vouchers which is the way to go if you only travel a handful of times per year. The break even on a $400 pass is 8 times of using the lounge…so worth considering before you buy.
The international lounges are certainly the best. My favorite feature has got to be the shower. When you get off the long haul from New York to Tokyo and you have another 5 hours to Bangkok, a nice glass of wine, selection of food, and warm shower is perfect. The lounges provide towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap and anything you need for the shower. It’s a great secret not many people are familiar with but so worth it.
Are there going to be some lounges that don’t feel that great – absolutely. Most likely they are in the United States or abroad with discount carriers. If you’re traveling on a full cost carrier (like a British Airways, Lufthansa, ANA, etc.) they will take care of you. Thai Airways Royal Silk lounges are quite nice and when you fly first class in their three cabin planes, they treat you like royalty. It’s a bit over the top, but quite nice way to fly. The secret to finding the good lounge is to look for the ones that are combined business class / first class lounge. The pure business class lounges are nice, but the first class lounges, well, those are definitely worth a visit.
In short, it’s really a personal decision based on how often you fly, how much $400 means to you, and how often you actually have time in an airport. If you’re a barely make your flight type of person, it may not be worth it even if you’re a regular traveler. Just some food for thought.