If you need to be away from the hustle and bustle of the airport transit area whilst waiting for your flight, then consider going to a lounge. A lounge is a section of the airport that the airport company, an airline or third-party company allocates for selected passengers to wait for their flight in slightly more comfortable conditions.
The exact features vary between lounge operators. In most cases, it will include complimentary refreshments, international newspapers, computer terminals, free WiFi, and television. There may be also desk space and even conference rooms for those who need to get some work done. For passengers travelling long-haul, some lounges may offer access to showers. Some carriers have partitioned their lounges in such a way that there is an exclusive section for those flying in first class and their frequent flyers who hold the highest membership tier. Such sections have even more features such as full meals, complimentary massages, and even a bedroom that resembles a hotel room but again, these depend on the carrier.
Although lounge access is normally offered for departing passengers, some carriers may be able to offer such to arriving passengers on selected sectors (e.g. those on flights from New York to London).
Is it worth it?
Lounges run the gamut between offering the bare minimum of amenities and everything except water costing extra to lush temples of relaxation and getting done some work before a business flight with all imaginable luxuries available. There are often reviews by other travelers, which of course run into the same problems of subjectivity and paid positive reviews as do those for hotels and airlines in general. As well, domestic and transborder terminal lounges tend to be relatively inferior to international terminal lounges, given differences in their clientele.
If you are flying first or business class and your ticket includes lounge access anyway, checking out the lounge can't hurt, but whether you should arrive at your initial departure airport early just to be able to spend more time in the lounge depends on your preferences as much as the quality of the lounge. Bear in mind that baggage drop-off often doesn't open until a few hours before departure (though some airlines offer to drop off your bag the evening before for a fee or as an added bonus for higher tiers of their frequent flier program or higher class tickets) and many lounges are past security. If you have a long connection, there is often the question whether you should go to a lounge (maybe even a pay-per-use one) or explore the city. If immigration prevents you from leaving the airport anyway and you have a layover of several hours, a lounge - even one on the expensive side - can "pay for itself" if there's included free WiFi, food, drinks and so on which can get expensive if purchased otherwise at the airport.
Some amenities that are particularly attractive may not be available within certain timeframes. For example, some airport lounges may only offer liquor after 12pm due to liquor laws, or have a made-to-order noodle bar only open during a certain period of the day. In smaller airports, there may not even be hot food available except during certain periods of the day. It's a good idea to clarify what amenities are available at the time of entry before making a decision to purchase entry, if you are a pay-per-use visitor, either at entry or by phone/email.
Lounges generally have time limits associated with entry or sell passes with the expectations that they be used for only 2-3 hours. However, enforcement of these terms are arbitrary and inconsistent. For example, a lounge that is nearly empty or has negligent staff may not care if you stay in the lounge for half a day, or even sleep overnight, on a 2-hour Loungebuddy pass. Other lounges may ask you to purchase another pass, or check-in again if using a lounge access scheme so they may bill the scheme again for the duration that you are in the lounge. In unusual cases, you may be asked to leave the lounge, and in extreme cases, you may be referred to airport security or police for being disruptive and overstaying your welcome. Enforcement varies from lounge to lounge, airport to airport and country to country. There is oftentimes flexibility associated with lounge access, but take care not to overstay your welcome!
Ways to access
To keep the lounge as comfortable as possible for its guests, lounge operators restrict access to selected passengers only. In particular, one's ability to access the lounge depends on one's class of travel, frequent flyer membership tier, or membership in an independent lounge access scheme.
Travel class-based admission
For international flights, if you booked in at least business class, it is highly likely that lounge access is already included in the fare you paid. However, some carriers may exclude business class passengers on deeply discounted fare buckets (e.g. Emirates) and/or those who are travelling on business class as a result of an operational upgrade (i.e. those who originally purchased a ticket for a lower travel class but for operational reasons were upgraded to business class at the last minute).
If you are flying first or business class on a carrier that is part of an airline alliance, then you are generally free to use the equivalent lounge of any member of that same alliance as long as they operate in the same terminal as your departing flight and they are open shortly before departure. For instance, if you have a British Airways business class ticket departing from London Heathrow Terminal 3, then you may also use any One World airline's lounge located therein (e.g. Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Qantas). You may visit as many of them on the same day but you will obviously need to allow a lot of time at the airport to binge-visit and enjoy them, keeping in mind that carriers have maximum check-in times.
For domestic flights within the U.S., however, having a first class ticket itself no longer entitles a passenger to lounge access automatically. Exceptions include selected transcontinental flights which offer cabin service akin to what is seen on a long-haul international flight (e.g. flights between New York and Los Angeles).
Frequent flyer tier-based admission
Star Alliance Gold, One World Sapphire and higher, and SkyTeam Elite Plus members (except those travelling domestic within the U.S.) get lounge access as one of their perks. Individual carriers may permit lounge access at the 2nd or 3rd tier level of their programme but for those who offer lounge access at the former, that privilege may not necessarily extend to flights with partner carriers.
Passengers travelling domestically within the U.S. are no longer entitled automatic lounge access based on their Frequent Flyer tier. However, being on the higher tiers may provide discounts on annual membership fees for access those airlines’ lounges (see next section).
Moreover, passengers seeking lounge access based on their membership tier need to be flying with a participating carrier on the same day they are seeking access to the their lounge. For instance, if one only has Star Alliance Gold membership but holds a ticket for a flight to Cathay Pacific (a One World alliance member), then one will not be able to access the Star Alliance lounges for that day. You might be permitted to bring a "guest" but this (and the conditions of said guest admission) will vary from carrier to carrier and from lounge to lounge.
Paid and third-party-based admission
If passengers neither have a first/business class ticket nor a frequent flyer with elite tier membership, access to independent lounges may be available on a pay-per-use basis (often the admission price starts at US$40). Some lounges allow individuals to purchase access directly at the lounge, while others will offer access through LoungeBuddy (note: only accepts American Express cards) or pay-per-use tiers of a lounge access scheme (Mastercard LoungeKey or Priority Pass).
Alternatively, one can subscribe to a lounge access scheme, and depending on the scheme taken out, either pay a discounted per-use rate, be allocated an annual allowance for access, or have unlimited lounge access for the duration of the subscription period. Priority Pass is one of the most widely known schemes for getting lounge access and offers fairly good coverage, including a presence at nearly every major continental air transit hub. Mastercard Loungekey offers comparable coverage relative to Priority Pass, and does not require the purchase of a subscription, but rather the cardholdership of a Mastercard World Elite-tier card. However at some third party lounges, it is cheaper to buy access directly rather than through Priority Pass or LoungeKey. Inquire ahead by phone or email to check whether this is the case.
In many cases, membership in Priority Pass and similar programmes is frequently complimentary to premium credit card holders (this depends on whether your credit card issuer has chosen to partner with such companies). For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve (in the US) and several American Express cards (worldwide) include a membership in Priority Pass, either offering a fee-based visit price, a set number of passes, or an unlimited number of entries (with limitations on guest entry or restaurant credits). Worldwide, virtually all Mastercard World Elite-tier cards are eligible for the pay-per-use ($27 USD/visiting guest) LoungeKey (or Mastercard Airport Experiences) program, and many World Elite cards come with a complimentary number of passes.
Some private banking or investment clients may receive a lounge access scheme membership through their banking or investment relationships. One example of this would be having $100k CAD invested with WealthSimple Black.
US carriers do offer access to their U.S. lounges on an annual membership basis (costing U.S.$500-600). Passengers need to hold a same-day ticket with the airline whose lounge they hold membership with. In some cases, U.S. carriers partner with credit card companies to offer co-branded credit cards which include complimentary lounge scheme membership to selected card holders (although the credit card itself may charge high annual fees and is subject to credit checks and approval).
Emirates offers pay-per-use admission to its lounges at Dubai International Airport starting at US$136.50 for non-Skywards members who travel in an economy class or business class special fare ticket. It is possible to access Star Alliance lounges such as Lufthansa and Air Canada through the Air Canada Maple Leaf Club, but worldwide access starts at a hefty $665 CAD (comparable to most premium credit cards, like the American Express Platinum) and is limited to departures on a Star Alliance flight. This option is worth considering if you primarily transit through airports such as Halifax International Airport, that have a heavy Star Alliance presence, but do not have an equivalent third-party lounge operator such as Plaza Premium or Skyteam.
At airports without accessible third-party lounges, some Priority Pass memberships entitle Pass holders to a restaurant credit of approximately $27-100 USD. For some, this is would be considered a superior value.
Airlines usually operate their own lounges in their hubs and other airports where they mount multiple flights a day to. However at other stations where they fly less frequently to, they will partner with other airlines or third-party lounge operators to accept their passengers.
|Airline||Name of Lounge||Separate section for First Class or Higher tiers||Minimum frequent flyer tier for complimentary admission||Paid access|
|Air France||Air France Lounge||YES - La Premiere Lounge||Flying Blue Gold
SkyTeam Elite Plus
|YES (€25-50 from Europe; US$35-50 in North America)|
|American Airlines||Admirals Club||YES||AA Advantage Platinum (for intercontinental and selected trans-continental flights only)
|YES (Admirals Club membership required)|
|British Airways||Galleries||YES - Galleries First/Concorde Room||BA Executive Club Silver
|Cathay Pacific||Cathay Pacific Lounge (generic)
|YES||Marco Polo Silver
|Delta Airlines||Sky Club||n/a||SkyMiles Gold Medallion (for international flights only)
SkyTeam Elite Plus
|YES (SkyClub membership required)|
|Lufthansa||Lufthansa lounge||YES - Senator Lounge||Frequent Traveller
Star Alliance Gold
|Qantas||Qantas Club||YES||Gold Qantas
|Qatar Airways||various||YES - Al Safwa||Privilege Club Silver
|SAS||SAS Lounge||YES - SAS Gold||EuroBonus Gold
Star Alliance Gold
|YES ($32 if online, $46 at reception)|
|Singapore Airlines||Silver Kris Lounge||YES||Kris Flyer Gold
Star Alliance Gold
|Thai Airways International||Royal Silk Lounge
Royal Orchid Lounge
|YES - Royal First Lounge||Royal Orchid Plus Gold
Star Alliance Gold
|United Airlines||United Club||Star Alliance Gold (for international flights only)||YES ($59 per visit for non-members; up to $650 annual membership fee for members)|