As a backpacker, I had always wondered what lay beyond the velvet ropes and pearly smiles of the airport lounge front desk. Sadly, I never flew anything other than the cheapest of economy and considered lounge access an unnecessary luxury. However, now as a 30-something, I’ve embraced my inner-grandma and will now happily part ways with some extra coin for just a slither of extra luxury. Although sadly that still doesn’t quite extend to flying business as, well, I need to inherit my ageing future husband’s fortune still before that can really be considered.

In the meantime, I inadvertently became a member of Lounge Club this year – one of the better-known airport lounge programmes which essentially allows its members access to a host of privately owned airport lounges all around the world. What’s more – I didn’t even really mean to join – I got the membership free with my American Express credit card and now what started out as a cool freebie has evolved into a serious twist in my classical airport routine.

So far, I’ve really enjoyed the experience, not to mention the smug feeling of sashaying over to the calm of the lounge and firmly away from the hubbub of departures. I can’t promise you a wonderland behind every lounge door, but there is still often good value to be found none the less.

What facilities can you expect in an airport lounge?

Complimentary Food:

You can usually look this up ahead of time to double-check, but most will offer a selection of hot and cold buffet food. Largely the food is determined by the time of day – breakfast being the least exciting in my opinion. Guests can usually expect to find at least two or three choices of hot dishes and desserts alongside snack items like chips, cookies, fruit. These are super handy to steal for the plane. You can take as much as you want (technically!)

Drinks:

Every airport lounge will offer complimentary soft drinks which are usually self-serve along with the food. Tea, coffee, sparkling drinks and even beer sometimes can be found in the buffet section. Most will also include a complimentary bar, but often this is separate from the food and requires you ordering from a bartender (but not always.) Make sure you check to see which alcoholic drinks are included but generally you should be able to have a choice of beers, at a few options of wine (although Champagne is often extra – but some serve Cava or Prosecco included) along with your standard spirt and mixers. Naturally, in lounges where the bar is staffed you are served at the discretion of the servers, so maybe don’t throw ’em back too quickly. Or be smart and order two at a time as if you’re with a friend and then sit where they can’t see you – my personal fave.

Seating:

Most lounges will have a few different areas – some have the dining section separate from the bar section, but you’re welcome to grab your drink from the bar and take it back to the main seating area. They also usually have a selection of table styles – dining tables close to the buffet food, individual armchairs with drinks tables and often an “office” type area for those wanting to get some work done.

Private Bathrooms:

Inside all lounges, you will generally find the lounges own private bathrooms which are naturally a step up from your standard airport bathrooms and much nicer for getting changed, cleaning your teeth etc. Some will also have shower facilities, but this is often a paid extra. Some even have spas – but again, commonly a paid extra.

Technology:

Free wifi comes as standard, although usually on a different network from regular airport wifi so you might need to obtain the password. There should also be a whole host more plug sockets found in the lounge than in the regular departures, which is very helpful if you need to get some charge in ready for a long day of travel. Some lounges also have TVs and phone booths.

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What’s the difference between an Airline Lounge and an Airpot Lounge?

The main difference is that one is airline-owned and run and the other is owned by the airport. While airlines are known for having the most premium lounges, the quality of the lounges can vary. Airlines such as Emirates, for example, are known for having fabulous lounges. Still, the only way to access this is with a business or first-class ticket. Private airport lounges, on the other hand, are available to everyone, no matter what airline or class. Generally speaking, most airport lounges will accept payment on the door for guests – although this is usually the worst value. Book online ahead of time via LoungeBuddy, or similar to get a better rate if just using on a one-off occasion. I recently flew business with British Airways and was impressed by the lounge at Gatwick South as the food and drink options were great – but it was very full – the downside of busy lounges.

Downsides of Airport Lounges

Lack of space:

Sadly they aren’t always as magical as you might hope. Depending on the time of day and business of the airport it can often be quite busy. Mornings seem to be the worst for this – but often one minute it seems dead and the next it’s filling up, so you really never know. I’ve never not found a place to sit – but then I am usually alone or with one other person. Might be an issue for larger groups

Poor food selection:

Not all buffets are created equal, and not all staff are as quick to refill food options, although it is perfectly acceptable to notify a member of staff that food options are low to get them refreshed. They should do it periodically anyway, but if it is busy, it can go down quickly.

Expensive if not staying 2 hours+:

If you’re someone who likes to arrive at the airport late, then lounge access is probably not worth the hassle. It’s usually a little out of the way and depending on where your gate is, it can be downright inconvenient even! If you’re someone who arrives late, you likely aren’t someone who would be buying food or drink anyways, so save your pennies and get straight to the gate.

Many won’t host large groups:

This seems like a rule set up for stag and hen parties – as we all know, they are often a rowdy bunch. Most will allow groups of 6 or over if they are pre-approved beforehand. Basically, for the sake of everyone they want to know you won’t be guzzling all the free Champers, squealing and wearing any form of penis attire!

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Positives of Airport Lounges

A slice of Zen:

If you’re lucky, you may just stumble into an empty lounge with heaps of food and no question at the bar. This is the magic of the lounge in full play. There are also generally less screaming children as I believe children need to pay for entry too. Hence, it is probably less attractive to facilities with young kids who can’t enjoy the wonders of complimentary bubbles yet!

It can actually save you money:

If you’re someone who usually arrives with plenty of time to spare and usually eats a meal and maybe has a few drinks at the airport bar (like me) then there really are savings to be made. I’m sure I don’t have to iterate the fact that airports are one of the worst places for value for money. And while it might not sound like you’re having much – a gourmet sandwich and three wines can be considerably more expensive than the standard entry fee for the lounge. And don’t forget food and drink is complimentary in the lounge so you can fill up on as much as you’d like.

Good for getting some work done:

If you’re travelling on business, or maybe just need to blast out a few last-minute emails before the holiday kicks in, airport lounges can be a perfect storm: lots of power outlets, office area, superior wifi and even potentially a quiet space.

Get a higher quality of air experience without the massive price point:

So, your RyanAir flight cost £15, and your lounge access cost £20 that’s still a total bargain when compared to the cost of flying business to access the airline lounges. Arrive early and enjoy your three whole hours to get your money’s worth.

Good for killing time:

If you know you will need to arrive early to the airport, or maybe are connecting with a significant amount of wait time, lounge access can be the perfect way to while away those hours – perhaps even catch a quick snooze in a quiet area, or Netflix it up on the free wifi. Or maybe sample some of the unique services such as showers or nap pods (location depending.)

What Program to Choose?

As a Brit, I’m sure there may well be a whole host of American programs that I’m perhaps unaware of – but I’ll mention the ones I’m aware of that are available both in the UK and hunreds of countries around the world.

These three have pretty much the same set up scheme. You can either buy standard membership which comes with maybe one free visit and then unlimited visits at a set cost (usually between £20-30/$26 – 40 per visit for you and per guest) or higher tier memberships which include several visits or unlimited access even which is perfect for those travelling frequently.

These can be good for loyal customers who fly often using the same airline. The fees are quite high though – think $500+ for a yearly pass or $60 for single entry. Probably best suited to passengers flying for business or at least similar routes often so they can take advantage of the facilities as they often cover a limited number of lounges worldwide.

  • A pay per use services such as LoungeBuddy or direct from the lounge

Lounge Buddy allows customers to get a reduced rate on lounges as a one-day pass option. Usually, by booking this kind of service in advance you can save some money. This is also true of booking in advance directly via the lounge’s website. But you can also opt to pay on the day at the door, albeit a slightly more expensive rate.

  • Business-only lounge passes

The only company I know currently offering this is Regus which offer a pretty decent rate – however it’s really not like your general lounge pass as it solely for getting work done in a professional environment with fast wifi, quiet workspace and snack, supposedly. So, perhaps this won’yt suite all travellers, but it comes in at an extremely reasonable price from around £50/$60 a month for unlimited world-wide access – so if you travel a lot for business it may be just the ticket!

 

The Verdict…

If you travel less than 6 times a year, I’d say it’s probably better value simply to book the lounge ahead of time on a single-use basis. For more than that opting for a more premium membership will provide more value – and for those travelling multiple times a month, an unlimited membership such as Priority Pass Premium will give the best value if you plan to use the lounge most times you travel.

My advice to anyone would be to look up the lounges available to you at your local airport and maybe try a one use pass to see what’s on offer.

Passes are often included on specific credit card deals so be sure to check to see if you could pick one up for free for merely signing up.

Personally, I have a Lounge Club card which I got free with my Amex Gold card which allows me two free visits a year and then £20 (or equivalent) per visit after that for both me and any guests I want to bring.

It’s also worth noting that if you travel as a couple, it may work out more economical for just one person to have an airport lounge pass and to simply bring the other as a guest at a reduced rate every time – et voila!