7 ways to score airport lounge access
March 13, 2012 ·
When you’re waiting out a long airport layover, nothing seems more enticing than the airport lounge. With amenities such as free Wi-Fi, drinks, snacks and glossy magazines that you’ve never seen before (and may never see again), the lounges feel like the answer to most of your air travel annoyances; at the very least, they can give you sanctuary from concourse noise and hubbub.
Entrance to most lounges comes gratis with a first- or business-class ticket. But for those stuck in the back of the plane, there are ways to gain access to these comfy inner sanctums without shelling out thousands of dollars for an upgrade. And when you’re the one sinking into the cushy armchair instead of clamoring for a seat at the gate, you’ll be glad to have a respite from the usual air travel annoyances.
Following are a few ways that savvy travelers can score lounge access, even if their tickets read coach.
1. Buy a day pass
Several airlines now sell day passes to their lounges, allowing you to relax in comfort without any long-term commitment. At Alaska, you can buy a one-day pass for the airline’s Board Room lounges for $45. American, United, Delta and US Airways have similar programs for their clubs, with most day passes costing $50 (since the merger, Continental passengers should look to United for their lounge needs).
By planning ahead, you can save a few dollars. On United’s Web site, you can save $11 if you buy a pass in advance. US Airways reduces its lounge price to $29 if you buy the pass when you book your ticket.
Keep in mind that most of these airline passes are limited to U.S. domestic lounges. If you’re traveling internationally, you might want to check out LoungePass.com, which sells day passes to 150 lounges worldwide, including several at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. While passes start at $22, some of the lounges do restrict the amount of time you can spend there or only offer them to passengers flying within that country. Check before you buy.
Best for: Casual travelers.
2. Buy a lounge membership
It used to be that all business travelers worth their salt carried a lounge membership card with their preferred airline, often bought on the company dime. Those perks are mostly gone now, with road warriors finding more flexible ways to get access (see elite status and credit cards below).
If you fly one airline exclusively, however, an airline membership is still something to consider. Many airline club memberships will also give you access into alliance clubs, such as the Star Alliance or Oneworld, which will help if you’re traveling internationally.
If you go this route, expect to pay $250 to $400 for an annual membership. Before you buy, you’ll also want to check to make sure that the destinations you visit the most actually have lounges; as a rule, you only find clubs in the world’s busier airports.
Best for: Frequent travelers who know they’ll be relying on one airline or alliance.
3. Try a third-party vendor
If you have a hard time booking flights on only one airline, a lounge membership through a third party might make more sense. PriorityPass.com offers access to 600 lounges worldwide for an annual fee.
What’s nice about Priority Pass is that you can choose from several membership levels. For $399, you get free unlimited access to all of the clubs in the network. If you don’t travel that often, you can pay $249 for 10 free visits, with additional visits costing $27. Or you can simply buy a $99 membership and then pay $27 each time you go.
Another nice thing about the Priority Pass is that it includes many of the airlines’ own lounges. At Boston Logan, for example, you can use your Priority Pass in the United Clubs at Terminal A and C, the US Airways Club in Terminal B, and the Air France Lounge in Terminal E. The Pass doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get into all of the airlines’ lounges, however, so you’ll have to check (Priority Pass does have a smartphone app which makes it a little easier to find your lounge when you’re on the go).
Best for: Frequent air travelers who take different airlines.