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Airlines Clubs – To Join or Not to Join?

Airline clubs (lounges) provide many benefits to the frequent traveler, and there can be significant cost associated with the benefits. Is it worth it? That’ll be your decision after reading the information below. I personally have been a member of airline clubs over many years, but it was an easy decision when the membership came complimentary with my airline status. Free membership is no longer the case, even though I have a premium status. However, I have found that the airline clubs have been the single most important investment I’ve made in my travel comfort. Airline clubs are probably the biggest reason why I am still sane after so many years of traveling.

What are the benefits of joining an airline club?

  • The lounges provide a comfortable environment away from the crowded gate areas. However, the lounges can get very crowded at peak travel times that seats are at a premium. But still, I’d rather be standing in a lounge than outside with the masses.
  • There are enclosed work stations with electrical outlets to power your laptop and cell phone. I usually work on my outbound flight until my laptop battery gives up, so once I land I head to the lounge, power up, and then send the emails that I wrote while in flight.
  • Wireless internet is available without a fee in most cases. (Do you ever see guys sitting on the floor just outside the clubs? I’m sure it’s because they’re connecting to the free Wi-Fi that’s inside the club.)
  • There are usually snacks available that are sufficient enough for me to survive a coach flight with no food. Some lounges are better than others when it comes to food offerings, but there is always something to munch on. Food from outside the club is not allowed, so eat before you go in if you’re looking for a full meal.
  • There is coffee, soft drinks and liquor available. Some lounges charge for liquor; others are complimentary (a tip to the bartender is graciously appreciated). If liquor is important to you, then find out of the club for your airline has complimentary alcohol or not. If you have just one drink each week you travel, that could easily sway your choice on whether the join the club or not.
  • There are airline agents in each club who can help with rebooking, checking availability for a first-class upgrade, rerouting when there are flight delays … all without the long, long lines that are out in the public areas. On a recent overnight delay, the agent actually called several hotels trying to find me an available room. That service isn’t available outside of the lounge!
  • Clubs usually have most of the following: televisions, newspapers, magazines, copiers, fax machines, luggage and coat areas, conference rooms, quiet (no cell phone) areas. I’ve even seen showers in some clubs, but have personally not had the need to use one yet. However, when coming off of an international or red-eye flight, I can see the desire for a hot shower.
  • Clean bathrooms, clean bathrooms, clean bathrooms! Sometimes I’ll get off my flight and immediately head into the club just to use their bathroom. Remember that I’m focused on travel comfort and sanity, and clean bathrooms help make that so.

What are the costs of joining?

Each airline sets its own annual fees for membership. In the past couple of years, many airlines are now offering daily passes for a fee for the infrequent flyer. I have purchased a daily pass when I’m on an airline that I typically do not fly, and I have a couple of hours or more between flights.

Rather than try to keep up with all of the changing costs and rules, check out your airline’s website to get current information. Look at the club fees for the airline that you use the most, as that will give you access to the most clubs. Generally the cost is between $300 and $400 depending on your frequent flyer status. An initiation fee may be added to the annual membership in the first year. Members can bring a limited number of guests into the club, and this also depends on the airline and the type of membership.

I do not live in a city with a major airline hub, so instead of joining one club and finding myself on another airline, I have the American Express Platinum Card. This might have a higher fee ($450 in 2008), but I have complimentary access to participating American Airlines Admirals Club®, Continental Airlines Presidents Club, Delta Crown Room Club®, and Northwest Airlines WorldClubs® locations in airports around the world. I just have to be flying on same day travel on the corresponding airline that is operating the flight (i.e., I can only use Delta’s Crown Room if my ticket is on Delta on a given day). This Amex Platinum Card has worked out very well for me over the past many years and while I don’t look forward to the month where I get charged the annual fee, I love the amenities that the club rooms give me.

Cost justification:
Assuming the fee is $400 annually with travel in 40 weeks, it can be rationalized by considering:
Breakfast and coffee $5.00 $200.00
One alcoholic beverage $5.00 $200.00
Plus airport internet once in a while ~$10 each time

Add in the free internet, great airline agents, newspapers, snacks, clean bathrooms, and it’s Priceless (and I’m starting to sound like a MasterCard promotion!). But just in case you need to justify this to your spouse or your employer (for the complimentary meals, not the libations!), the dollars speak for themselves. And who wouldn’t want you as sane as possible with all of the crazy travel?

Other notes: If your flights are generally in and out of smaller airports, you may not find your desired airline lounges. However, if you’re on an international flight, there may be reciprocal privileges at your airport (i.e., Delta may allow an Air France business class traveler to use their lounge).

The airline-sponsored clubs are all listed at http://www.frequentflyer.oag.com/airlines_airports/clubs.asp (Update: Link has since been taken down).

Maybe I’ll see you in the club!

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