Let’s face it: Airports, particularly American airports, are not fun places to hang out. There are rude people, little comfort and exorbitant prices. But having access to a lounge can make the time fly by.
There are two types of airport lounges. First, you have those run by the airlines themselves. Usually, you have to be flying that particular airline to use the lounge that day. And second, you have independent lounges. These are ones that sell memberships independently or through credit cards. Today’s post concentrates on those run by the airlines.
The most common lounges that you will find at airports are ones operated by an airline. They tend to be a bit on the sterile side, but they more than get the job done. They offer comfortable seating, food & beverages and, most importantly, the airline’s best customer service agents (usually; La Guardia, I’m looking at you…). When something goes wrong, these are the folks you want fixing it. And even if nothing goes wrong, they’ll save you a fortune in airport meals.
There are several ways to gain access to an airline lounge. Here are a few of the most common:
- Buy A Membership: You can always buy a membership to the clubs, which generally give you unlimited access.* At some airlines, you can also buy a day pass. The problem with this method, though, is that it isn’t cheap. For instance, here’s the American Airlines Admirals Club price list:
You can also pay for membership with miles, although the conversion rate usually isn’t favorable. Think in the neighborhood of a penny per mile.
Fortunately, there are other ways of getting in. They include:
- Have the right credit card. Most of the major airlines offer a premium credit card that gets you access to their lounges when you are flying. Some will even allow you to bring in guests. The cards have high annual fees (~$450), but they usually come with a host of other benefits. Regardless, plastic is generally a more cost effective method of entry than buying a membership.
- Have the right elite status. Among American carriers, Delta is the only way to go. With Delta, their top tiers of elite status, Platinum and Diamond, get you “choice benefits,” which are extra perks that you can individualize. One of those options is lounge access. But there’s another way that your status can help you out. If you have a high enough status with a foreign carrier, you usually have access to their partner lounges. Those include their American brethren. For example, if you have a high level of status with a Star Alliance carrier, you’ll generally be able to use United lounges, since United is a member of the alliance. Note that it doesn’t work the other way: Because US carriers sell access, foreign airlines usually won’t let members use their lounges, which they reserve for frequent flyers.
- Buy the right international ticket. If you are flying on a business or first class ticket, you will usually have access to your airline’s lounge (or their partner’s). Note that this benefit applies almost exclusively to international flights.
Infrequent flyers may not get a lot of value out of lounges, but for the road warriors, they can be invaluable. If something goes wrong, or even if nothing goes wrong, they are a nice place to relax before your flight.
*You may have to be flying the airline that day.
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