Have you ever visited an airport lounge? Once thought of as the reserve of frequent flyers, business travellers and those who can afford luxury travel, the airline lounge business has changed a lot in the past five years.
Though individual airline lounges are expanding and thriving as a way for airlines to compete against each other for a slice of the lucrative market for business and first class travel, the rest of us are also now getting a look-in thanks to the advent of independent one-time access lounges.
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So how do they compare? How do you get the best price? And are they worth the money?
Here’s the complete guide to airport lounges to help you decide whether it’s time for some affordable luxury on your next journey.
Why visit an airport lounge?
There are three reasons to visit an airport lounge; work, rest and play.
The last one is perhaps the best reason to pay for access to an airport lounge. If you’re going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but you’re flying economy, getting access to an airport lounge is a great way to start your trip in style (it’s also a lot cheaper than flying business class).
However, most people in airport lounges are on work trips, so tapping away on laptops, or relaxing between flights. If you know you’re going to have a long layover in an airport and you have a lot of work to do, paying a visit to an airport lounge can make a lot of sense.
It’s also worth considering if your flight is delayed for three hours, though you will have to act fast once the length of the delay is known.
Once you’re inside you can eat, drink, take a shower, recharge your gadgets, use the free WiFi, and have a sleep.
However, there is a catch; you can only stay for three hours. In reality, no one checks.
The first option: an airline lounge
If you’ve ever flown business or first class, or you’re an active member of an airline’s loyalty scheme – such as British Airways’ Executive Club (opens in new tab) or Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club (opens in new tab) – you’ve probably used airline lounges before.
What you find inside them can vary enormously, from free food, drink and somewhere to sit to showers, gourmet food and even beds for those with long connections between flights.
However, these lounges are generally reserved for business or first-class passengers. If that’s not you, don’t count on getting in, though some airlines have started selling one-time passes to passengers.
The second option: an independent airport lounge
Private lounges owned by airlines are there to placate and persuade elite and premium passengers to choose that airline.
However, the rest of us are a much larger market, and as airports get busier, there’s a demand for a way to get out of long queues and other airport annoyances.
Cue the spread of independent lounges opening at airports around the world that offer one-time access.
They’re really easy to use; go online and book a single entry pass from about £25 that gives you access to one of these lounges, generally for three hours.
How to book into an airport lounge
Although you can visit the individual websites of independent airport lounges (such as Plaza Premium (opens in new tab) Group, Aspire Lounges (opens in new tab) and No1 Lounges (opens in new tab)), it’s much easier to go through the LoungeBuddy (opens in new tab) website and app, a online marketplace a little like Airbnb or Booking.com.
You can find a lounge, pay the fee in advance, and get an e-ticket, all on your phone.
Another way to get in is to join a lounge access membership programs such as Priority Pass (opens in new tab) (which charges an annual fee for access to 1,200 lounges worldwide) and Lounge Club (opens in new tab) (350 airport lounges).
Fees depend on how many times per year you want to access an airport lounge, though membership of some can be a perk with credit cards (such as the Amex Gold (opens in new tab)), which gives you two passes per year). These schemes are mostly used by frequent flyers that fly on a variety of airlines, so can’t make use of airline loyalty schemes
Are airport lounges worth the money?
Airport lounges are not the same, and it should come as no surprise that airline lounges are almost always plusher than independent airport lounges. So are the later worth the money?
Research by Netflights.com in 2018 suggests that British travellers spend around £60 on drinks, food and shopping while waiting for flights. That does seem like a very high figure, but anyone who’s bought dinner in an airport restaurant will know that it doesn’t take long to spend a lot of money.
However, its research into the price of airport lounges reveals that it can be worth the money since one-time access to an all-you-can-eat/drink lounge can cost less than £30.
The 10 best value airport lounges
The Netflights.com research (opens in new tab) into 149 lounges around the world also revealed that the best value airport lounge is the Al Ghazal Lounge by Plaza Premium (opens in new tab) in Terminal 2 of Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE.
It’s just £21.45 per visit, and there are plenty more great value airport lounges in the world.
They’re rated here not only by price, but also by their facilities and general good value-ness:
- Al Ghazal Lounge by Plaza Premium Lounge Terminal 2, Abu Dhabi International Airport: £21.45
- Strata Lounge International Terminal, Auckland Airport: £28.15
- Lounge @ BTerminal 3, Dubai International Airport: £28.86
- 1903 Lounge Terminal 3, Manchester Airport: £40.00
- Plaza Premium Lounge (Arrivals) Terminal 2, Rio de Janeiro Galeao International Airport: £24.42
- BGS Premier Lounge Terminal 2, Beijing Capital International Airport: £21.46
- Loyalty Lounge Terminal 2, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport: £22.20
- Plaza Premium Lounge (Lounge B) Terminal 3, Indira Gandhi International Airport: £19.98
- Clubrooms North Terminal, London Gatwick Airport: £50.00
- SkyTeam Lounge Terminal 4, London Heathrow Airport: £40.00
- Neptuno Lounge (AENA VIP Lounge) Terminal 4, Madrid Barajas Airport: £26.40
- Pacific Club Terminal 3, Ninoy Aquino International Airport: £18.50
- SkyTeam Lounge Terminal 1 (International), Sydney Airport: £39.22
- Bidvest Premier Lounge International Terminal A, Tambo International Airport: £24.76
- The Club at LAS, Terminal 3, McCarran International Airport: £28.86
- Marhaba Lounge Terminal 2, Melbourne Airport: £35.85
- Premier Lounge International Terminal, Ngurah Rai International Airport: £17.76
- Star Alliance Business Class Lounge Terminal 1, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport: £30.34
- dnata Lounge Terminal 3, Singapore Changi Airport: £28.12
- Plaza Premium Lounge Terminal 1, Toronto Pearson International Airport: £25.90
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