The Truth About Lounge Access

An airport lounge sounds like an oasis, a sanctuary from the insanity of the crowds where you can relax, catch up on email, and enjoy a drink or a snack. Some are even better: Most of the business and first-class lounges operated by international airlines have elaborate, restaurant-style dining. The American Express Centurion lounges offer open bars, full buffets with dishes created by local chefs, and spas in some locations.

All of this is great, provided you live in a city where your home airport is populated by lounges, or if you travel regularly and the hubs of your favorite airline have lounges you can use. Otherwise, the value of a lounge membership can be negligible.

Here’s a look at the major lounge networks, along with credit cards that give members the most useful access:

Priority Pass

Founded in 1992, this is the granddaddy of lounge networks. It currently includes over 1,200 airport locations in more than 500 cities, but beware: only 85 of those locations are in the U.S. and even that total probably includes airport restaurants where you can use your membership. Take a hard look at how useful the network may be before signing up.

Priority Pass has different membership levels. The Standard version is $99 annually; each visit costs $32 for members and guests. Standard Plus ($299) gives the member ten free visits, but guests are still charged $32. The Prestige level ($429) allows the member unlimited visits during the year, but again charges for guests. There is a fourth level, Priority Pass Select, which comes as a benefit with certain credit cards. Select generally gives the member free access and levies a fee for guests.

Some Priority Pass lounges are upscale, while others charge for drinks and provide nothing but cheese and crackers in the way of sustenance. Most of them reserve the right to turn away members during peak hours if the lounge is overcrowded. Make sure you study the list—and do the math—before you commit yourself.

Credit Cards: The following cards include a Priority Pass membership: Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee); Citi Prestige ($495); CNB Crystal Visa Infinite ($400); American Express Platinum ($550 personal, $595 business); American Express Hilton Aspire ($450); American Express Bonvoy Brilliant ($450). The American Express Ascend ($95) and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve ($400) also offer a limited version.

When it makes sense: When you don’t fly often and live near an airport with a Priority Pass lounge.

Airline Clubs

The major U.S. airlines have their own proprietary lounge networks. If you travel frequently and concentrate your flying with a single airline, this may be a good option for you.

  • American Admirals Club ($450 annually, $50 initiation fee, up to $100 discount with elite status): more than 50 Admirals Clubs and 60 partner lounges.
  • Delta Sky Club ($545 or 54,500 miles for individual membership plus $29 per guest; $845 or 84,500 miles for Executive Membership with two free guests): more than 50 locations.
  • United Club ($650 or 85,000 miles); more than 45 locations plus Copa Club lounges and participating Star Alliance airport clubs.
  • Alaska Airlines Board Room (starting August 30, prices range from $300-450 depending on airline status); more than 95 lounges including Alaska, American Qantas and others. Admirals Club member also have access to Alaska lounges.

When it makes sense: When you’re a frequent flyer with loyalty to one airline.

American Express Centurion Lounges

The Centurion Lounges are the crown jewel in the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which also includes access to Delta and Lufthansa lounges (when ticketed and traveling the same day), Priority Pass, and lounges in the Escape, Airspace and Plaza Premium networks. While they vary in size and format, Centurion lounges feature an open bar with craft cocktails designed by star mixologists, and a buffet with dishes create by a famous local chef; some locations have showers and spas.

Currently, Centurion Lounges are located in Dallas (DFW), Hong Kong (HKG), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Philadelphia (PHL), Miami (MIA), Seattle (SEA) and San Francisco (SFO). Lounges are under construction or planned for Denver (DEN) New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), London Heathrow (LHR), Charlotte (CLT) and Phoenix (PHX).

The quality and popularity of these lounges has created overcrowding issues, and American Express has instituted some restrictions. Members are now allowed in within three hours of their departing flights (arriving passengers are not admitted, unless they have onward connections). Two guests are complimentary, and members must purchase a day pass ($50) for each additional guest.

Credit Cards: Anyone with a Platinum ($550-$595 annual fee) or Centurion Card ($2,500 each year plus an initiation fee of $5,000).

When it makes sense: Only if you have one of these cards already and use the other benefits they offer.

Is membership in an airport lounge network a good option for you? Probably not, unless you meet the conditions outlined above. If you’re a frequent traveler, on the other hand, you likely already have a credit card that gives you lounge access—if not, that benefit doesn’t warrant an investment of $450 or more. Remember that Priority Pass is only useful if you do a lot of international flying. Many lounges will allow you to purchase a day pass, which gives you all the temporary rewards without the financial commitment of membership.

 

[Image: Shutterstock]

Source: frugal travel guy

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