(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Mitch Lipka
July 10 When you fly several times a month, as
Gabriella Ribeiro Truman does, finding a comfortable place to
wait for a flight and grab a snack can make traveling a lot more
She used to have free access to co-owned American Airlines
and US Airways lounges through her American Express
card, but with that program over, she now pays $500 a
year to be a member of American Airlines' Admirals Club, which
gets her access to private airport lounges around the world
through the oneworld alliance. "It was worth it for me to pay
for it," says Truman, 39, a New Jersey-based travel marketing
Travelers have a wide range of options when it comes to the
airport clubs, whose lounges can offer some peace from often
chaotic, warehouse-like airport terminals. Snacks and drinks
are available for the taking, seating tends to be more
comfortable and there's free Wi-Fi and lots of power outlets.
But whether it is worth it for the cost depends on how you
are getting access and whether you are paying extra for it.
Airport lounges are run by either airlines or a handful of
private operators. While some are restricted to top-tier flyers,
most allow travelers a variety of ways to get in.
* Membership through airlines or airline alliances: For
instance, if you achieve gold status in the Star Alliance,
(which includes United Airlines, Air Canada
and Lufthansa ) you are permitted access to more than
1,000 lounges worldwide as long as you fly on a member airline.
Otherwise, you will pay about $300 to $700 a year, plus
initiation fees (air miles can be used).
* A day pass: Prices are typically about $50, but
advance-purchase deals for some can cut that in half.
* Route-specific: Some travelers are given entry to an
airline's lounges along the route they are flying if they fly
internationally on a first-class or business-class airline
ticket or on certain transcontinental flights.
* Membership through cards: Fewer credit cards offer the
perk now. Among those that still do: the American Express
Platinum Card, through which you receive a complimentary
membership to Delta's Sky Club network when flying on
that airline, and you can apply for a free membership in the
independent Priority Pass lounge network (worth $399) as part of
the card's $450 annual fee. Also, Citi Executive/AAdvantage
card holders get a membership worth $500 in American's
Admirals Club included as part of their $450 annual fee.
WHAT YOU GET
At the estimated 2,000 lounges worldwide at more than 500
airports, services and amenities vary. One way to keep track is
with a free app like LoungeBuddy, available for iPhone and
Android, with data on nearly 1,800 lounges. Users can input
their travel information and get ratings, lists of amenities and
photos for the lounges they can access.
For food, U.S. clubs will typically offer basic snacks like
carrots, pretzels and apples, with a bit more in the mornings
like pastries and yogurt, according to Tyler Dikman, founder of
LoungeBuddy, who says he has personally visited 600 to 800
lounges. Beer and wine will be free, but travelers usually have
to pay extra for top-shelf liquor domestically. Nearly half of
lounges will have showers, he adds.
In smaller airports, marketing executive Ribeiro Truman says
she finds that many lounges resemble hotel bars - not much more
than a separate seating area with some snacks.
But in larger airports, expect to find more, especially
At Cathay Pacific Airlines' The Bridge Lounge in
Hong Kong, for example, there is an enormous, elegantly
decorated space divided into two wings, and spacious shower
suites. Food includes fresh-baked bread, pizza, soups and
sandwiches on one side and a range of high-end hot and cold food
for self-service on the other.
Access to that lounge is available to Emerald- and
Sapphire-level members of the oneworld alliance, which includes
Private shower rooms, in particular, win wide praise from
those who have used them.
"It's something you'll find in a nice hotel," Dikman says,
who has enjoyed plush towels and fancy toiletries.
For the infrequent traveler or someone stuck waiting a long
time for a connection, buying a day pass to a lounge could be a
big benefit, particularly if you have work to do. Road warriors
report that paying about $500 a year is money well spent to
regroup when it is inconvenient to check into a hotel.
Sonita Lontoh, a Silicon Valley technology executive who
flies regularly to Asia and Australia, prizes her lounge access.
She says after being on a plane for 15 hours, having a place to
decompress and take a shower is a real benefit.
On the other hand, Becky Pokora, 28, the Richmond,
Virginia-based writer of The Girl and Globe blog (thegirlandglobe.com),
says her credit card just discontinued free access to lounges
and her 15 round trips a year do not warrant paying extra.
"The value proposition was different when there were lounges
in nearly every U.S. airport participating in their program, but
now I doubt I'll be renewing the card when next year's annual
fee comes due," she says.
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here;
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Jonathan Oais)