Winter travel may be a good excuse to splurge a bit on an upscale airport lounge. But do your homework first.
The recent snowstorm that put the smackdown on European Christmas travel left thousands of air passengers stranded and suffering in airports across the continent and the United Kingdom.
But I promise you, not all those folks were suffering equally.
The ones safely ensconced inside upper-class airport lounges, the ones reserved for First or Business Class passengers — with their lush, comfy chairs, free drinks and snacks, and free wi-fi that really works — were almost surely a lot better off.
But you don’t have to pay for that wildly overpriced bed-seat at the front of the airplane to gain access to those lounges. You can buy your way into that lounge, even though your ticket says you’re sitting in Sardine Class…uhh, I mean Coach.
Most times, you won’t be in the airport long enough to justify the added cost of a lounge pass. In effect, it becomes a vanity purchase, one of those things you do not because you need to, but just because you can.
But after watching what travelers have been going through in London, Paris, Frankfurt and elsewhere, it might not be a bad idea to have access to an upscale airport lounge, if only as a back-up. Their seating is more comfortable. They have free food and drink. Many even come with showers.
It’s not as good as a comfy bed in a nice hotel or a real meal at a good restaurant, but it may be the next best thing. I mean, if you’re going to be stuck at the airport, you might as well as be stuck in relative comfort, right?
Moreover, in the interest of keeping their best-paying passengers happy, airlines often put their more experienced and sharpest desk staff in the lounges. They might be able to rearrange your flights in ways that a regular desk clerk can’t, or won’t.
That alone might make the lounge worth the cost of admission during a weather delay.
Just as with flying itself, you have several options and choices when it comes to getting into an airport lounge. You need to carefully consider each to determine which one exactly meets your needs and fits your budget.
There are basically four ways to gain access to airport lounges — the lounges themselves, the airlines, credit card companies, third-party vendors. We’ll take them one at a time.
Some airports feature upscale lounges that will let you pay to stay for a day. Some of these are under the auspices or a particular airline, while others belong to the airport itself.
Indeed, there a move afoot in newer airports around the world to provide lounges for a wider range of passengers, so if you’re going anyplace where you might be stuck for awhile, it’s worth it to inquire.
Several airlines sell one-time access or annual passes to their lounges, especially if you’re enrolled in their frequent-flier program. Ask. Also ask if your purchase counts toward your miles. If it does, that’s a little extra benefit to you.
At American Airlines, for instance, a day pass to their Admirals Club lounge is $50 per person. By comparison, the annual pass starts at $500 for individuals or $825 a year for couples. And just as use can use your frequent-flier miles to buy flights, you also can use your miles for yearly Club passes.
NOTE: The more miles and flights you have with AA in a given year, the cheaper the annual pass. This is typical of most airlines.
Some airlines charge a bit less for their annual passes, some more. Shop around.
Unless you fly often during the year, the day pass is probably your better bet. There too, rates vary among airlines, although not great deal.
If your flight is a code-share that’s actually putting you on a different airline than the one through which you booked your flight, you could find yourself in that other airline’s lounge, as well. This is one of those times when that alliance to which your airline belongs becomes important.
If your airline doesn’t have a lounge at the airport where you need one, ask if they will help you buy a pass from one of their code-share partners that does.
CAVEAT: Make sure your airline, or its code-share partner, have a lounge in your destination airport. Lounges are not universal. What’s more, some airlines have closed lounges to cut costs.
Some higher-level credit cards have extra benefits that include the option of buying an airport lounge pass. This can work to your benefit because the credit card company may offer lounge access through more than one airline at a given airport, including some that may not be a part of your airline’s alliance. Contact your credit card company and see if they offer this option.
The third option is third-party passes via private vendors. These sell passes to airport lounges of many airlines, across the United States or around the world. Like the airlines, they may sell either annual or day passes, or both.
One outfit that specializes in day passes is the British-based LoungePass. Their day passes at airport lounges around the world may be anywhere from $5 to $20 cheaper than the airlines, so touching base with them wouldn’t hurt.
The largest such third-party vendor is Priority Pass, which claims to have access on sale to 600 airport lounges worldwide. They offer three different annual passes, all three of which are cheaper than nearly any annual airline pass. The catch: in addition to the annual fee, you may have to pay an admittance each time you actually use an airport lounge.
Again, do your homework.
Airport lounges might not be something you need or want to indulge in on every trip, but in the face of extreme delays — for whatever reason — it’s a good card to have in your back pocket. Those airport floors aren’t all that inviting.
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