Fewer non-stop flights mean more and longer layovers in airports. Thus the airline rooms for ‘special’ passengers have a greater significance for today’s travelers. Yes, all of them offer less crowding and very comfy chairs – some lounges even offer showers and conference rooms – but it’s the other perks that make it valuable to most fliers.
First, you will have access to airline agents that can help you rebook a flight, get seat assignments and help you with connecting flights. In my opinion, this one benefit alone is worth the cost of lounge membership, as they take away most of the stress of canceled flights and long delays.
Next, you are likely to find power outlets. With more travelers using laptops, cellphones, iPods and other wireless devices that need to be recharged, it is wonderful to be able to restore power, especially if you are between flights.
Another benefit offered by most airline lounges (sometimes called club rooms) is free wireless internet. Not only can you power up your laptop and keep it fully charged, but you also can get email, tweet, and surf the internet for free.
An intangible benefit of a lounge is providing a common meeting place. On a few occasions, my husband and I meet up at the airport for a continuing flight together. Coming from different directions, we meet at the lounge for some quality time together before we head to our hotel.
And sometimes our flights work the other way. Our originating flights are together but we will part at an interim airport. Again, nice to have that quiet relaxed time together before we go our separate ways.
Also, it is great to be able to get a snack or even a drink. Some of these lounges offer a complimentary open bar, giving you an opportunity to drink for ‘free’ compared to $5 or more while on an aircraft. Some lounges now charge for alcohol, so ask if you are not sure.
The reason I say ‘free’ is because there certainly is a cost. Each airline has their own cost structure. Some offer discounts for those who have earned Elite status and may let you pay the annual fee with air miles. Here are some examples:
Delta’s annual fee for their Sky Club (sometimes still called Crown Room) is $450 (or 70,000 SkyMiles) with discounts that increase depending on level of Elite status. In addition, there is a one-time ‘initiation fee’ of $50. You can add a spouse for another $200 a year or 30,000 SkyMiles.
Delta also offers 3-year memberships with a discount incentive as well as a one-month membership for $90. For those who travel infrequently, they offer a one-day pass for $50. You can not use SkyMiles to pay for either the one-month or one-day passes.
United calls their lounge the Red Carpet Club. Annual membership fee is $525 with a one-day pass charge of $39 online, $50 at the door.
Continental has their Presidents Club. Their fees are very similar to Delta except that they offer a lifetime membership option with a discount for those age 62 or older. A one-day pass is $45.
American Airlines has their Admirals Club. Their annual fee is $450 with an additional $50 charge for first-timers. Like the others, they offer discounts for their Elite flyers and the fees can be paid with accumulated miles. Their one-day rate is $50.
If you fly Delta, Continental or American Airlines frequently, a wise investment is the American Express Platinum Card. This charge card offers you membership in all of these lounges as a benefit of their $450 annual fee. This one annual fee works out to be a much better deal than enrolling in separate lounges if these are your common airlines. I have been a Platinum Card holder for years and it is SOOO worth it!
If you fly on different airlines, all is not lost. Consider joining Priority Pass to have access to 600 lounges worldwide, more than 70 in the US. You need at least four visits to justify the minimum cost but at least you have another option.
Note that the benefits of each lounge varies. Some may offer free drinks, others free wi-fi. Some have conference or meeting rooms, others don’t. And the quality of food definitely varies among lounges.
Besides the cost, travelers also need to consider the hours of operation. While some lounges open as early as 5 am, others might not open until maybe 8-9 am. In certain cases, this might be too late to meet your travel plans.
And it goes the other way. Most lounges close around 9-10 pm but some are open until 1 am. Again, this works for most travelers but flight delays – especially in the winter – might mean by the time you arrive at the airport, the lounge is already closed. It is rare but I have been around when a lounge stays open for longer hours to accommodate the delayed traffic.
Yet another downside is that airline lounges are not in all airports. It is very possible you may have a 3-hour layover in an airport but your airline does not have a lounge there. My suggestion: Take this into account when you plan trips. There may be another route via a different city that will have a lounge.
Even if the airport does have a lounge, you may find it is located in a different terminal. That could mean a trek of 15-30 minutes or more before you find it. If the walk is too long, it might not be worth it because of the long walk back to your original terminal for another flight.
Again, advance planning helps. Here’s LAX as an example: The US Air lounge is located in Terminal 1, Delta is in Terminals 2 & 3, American Airlines is in Terminals 4 & 5, and United is in Terminals 6 & 7.
How do I know where the lounges are located? Well, I could say I memorized all the airports in North America but that’s a stretch. Actually, airport terminal maps are available online. You can find airport maps free for many US cities right here. However, the lounge locations are not specified.
I use an iPhone app called Airport Maps. Since I travel frequently through many airports, it is a breeze to find this information as soon as I land, including the locations of lounges. Priority Pass is another great iPhone app which just shows the lounges.
If you have continuing flights with the same airline, generally finding a lounge is not a problem. In today’s flight world, however, many flights use ‘code sharing’ with other airlines that may be located in another terminal. Check your flights carefully for code sharing before booking them.
However, it is possible you may qualify to use the code share or alliance airline lounge in certain circumstances. Yes, these situations may be limited – sometimes just a perk for first class, elite status, or international flyers – but definitely look into it.
Needless to say, flying only a few times a year is difficult to justify the annual cost of an airline lounge. But if this happens to be one of those years where you fly more frequently or want to look into the one-day or thirty-day options, it is definitely worth considering the cost of membership given the many rewards.