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With lounge memberships being expensive, it is important to carefully choose the option with most value and benefit.

You can choose from several different ways of accessing lounges when you need to.

 
 
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How to Access Airline Lounges for Less

Choosing the Best Membership Option for You
 

Airport lounges can be found in most places where planes fly - even, as pictured here, in Cuba.

This is part 2 of a series on airport lounges - please also visit

1.  Four Alternatives to Costly Annual Airport Lounge Memberships
2.  Choosing the Best Airline Lounge Membership Option for You

 

 

If you've decided that an airport lounge membership is justifiable, which is your best option?

Should you get an annual membership, or should you just buy day passes on an ad hoc basis as and when you need them?

How best to ensure that the airports you spend the most time in will have convenient lounges for you to access?

Choosing the Best Program for You

There is no universal answer to which is the best program.  This is a subjective evaluation that very much depends on your travel patterns, and whether you'll even have significant time at airports to spend in lounges at all.

Probably you have cities you most commonly fly in and out of, and probably you also have preferred airlines you most regularly fly.  The first part of the selection process is to see what types of lounges and access plans are available at the airports you fly in and out of the most, and which of your preferred airlines have lounges at the cities you fly to/from with them.

You probably don't want to buy more than one annual club membership.

In other words, don't be tricked into simply comparing the differing numbers of lounges offered by the differing airline programs.  There's little value to you if a lounge program offers 100 different lounges, but they are all in places you'll never visit.  You need to prepare a list of places you fly and airlines you use to get to and from these places, and look at the specific availability, airport by airport, of the different programs.

If you travel mainly with a companion, buying an airline managed annual membership will more quickly be cost justified, because of the ability to have your guest join you in lounges as a free guest.

If you travel mainly by yourself, and anticipate fewer than ten days when you might actually benefit from lounge access, then a day pass program, purchased as and when needed, might be best for you.

If you split your travel among several different airlines, then belonging to a single airline's annual program is less likely to be universally applicable, unless that one airline has reciprocal access benefits with the other airlines you also fly.

If you travel a great deal, but don't have super-elite status with one of the three alliances, and don't always fly business/first class internationally, then the Priority Pass programs may be of good value.

If you already have an American Express Platinum card, you might not need to join any lounge program at all.

Integrating Your Lounge Choice with your Frequent Flier Program

This might go without saying, but just in case, you would normally choose to have your lounge membership with the same airline (or, at least, alliance) as you have your main frequent flier membership with.

Most airlines offer slightly discounted lounge membership fees to their elite and super-elite level frequent fliers (this is counter-intuitive because the more frequent the flier, the greater their use of lounges!).

Super-elite members can also access most participating lounges of other member airlines in whichever airline alliance their main airline belongs to, for all international flights, in all classes of service, without needing to belong to a lounge program at all.

Do You Need a Spouse/Partner Membership Too

Most programs offer a discounted membership rate for a second person - either your spouse or, in some cases, a nominated 'domestic partner'.

The reason that the second membership is discounted (usually costing about $200-$250) is because they figure that much of the time, this second person will be flying with you and so would be able to enter the lounge for free anyway (as your guest).  It is only when they are traveling by themselves that their own membership and access rights would kick in.

So you need to also bear this in mind, and conduct your own analysis of how often your significant other will be traveling alone, and, in such cases, are they better advised to buy day passes or to have their own annual membership?

Maybe your significant other has a different preferred carrier and flies for their own work purposes to different cities.  In such a case, there might be no benefit at all in their having a membership in your program.

Airport Lounge Hours

Here's an interesting issue to keep in mind.  Airport lounges are not open 24/7.  Usually they are open more or less in line with the portion of each day that the airline in question operates flights, but there can be exceptions for occasional very early or very late flights, as well as for delayed flights.

And if you're flying on a different airline but hoping to use an airline partner's lounge, then the partner lounge hours may not be in synch with the flight times of the airline you are using.

There's nothing more frustrating than arriving at a lounge to find it closed.  So, when evaluating your lounge usage, keep an eye on their opening hours too.

Individual Lounge Quality Variations

Some lounges are wonderful places - spacious, full of amenities and services, and never full of people.  Others are dismayingly dark and dank tiny rooms that are always overcrowded with no available seating, and with no business/computer work areas and little in the way of food or drink.

You probably should inspect the key lounges you'll be planning on using - and at the times of days you're planning on being there - before spending $400+ on a lounge membership (most of the programs don't offer refunds once you've bought a one year membership either).

If you're relying on them having reasonable food, to save yourself the cost of buying a meal on a flight or at the terminal, see what their food choices are.  If you're planning on working for an hour there, make sure there are work areas (and power points) and see if they are all in use or if there is one or more free.  If you think you can get your annual fee in the form of free drinks, make sure there's an open and well stocked bar.  And so on.

Keep Current on Lounge Locations, Hours, Features and Policies

Airlines will sometimes open new lounges, move the location of existing lounges, and even close down lounges.

They might add new features (eg free Wi-Fi is now becoming de rigueur at most lounges) and they might discontinue other features (perhaps the nature of food, service times, and alcoholic beverage policies).

Your own flying might also change from year to year.  So, even though there is typically a $50 joining fee, it might be a good idea to each year do a quick review to confirm that your preferred lounge program remains the one best suited for you and your travel patterns.

Airline Lounge Program Basics

The following two tables list key features of the major North American airlines and their lounge programs.

All information is in summary rather than complete form, so for the most accurate (and up-to-date) details, you should click the links which will take you direct to the part of each individual airline's website that deals with their lounge program.
 

Airline

Init Fee

Annual

Daily

Comments

Air Canada

20 Maple Leaf Lounges; can access 50 lounges total in North America and Europe

 

C$425, or $C639 with access to 235 lounges worldwide

15% discount for Air Canada Prestige members

25,000 Aeroplan miles for 6 month membership

Yes - $30 - $45 depending on fare type domestically, $45 - $55 internationally, must be purchased in advance
Can only be used at one lounge

Can use priority checkin lines

AirTran

 

No lounge program

Alaska

6 Board Rooms and 51 affiliate lounges (mainly DL Sky Clubs)

$100

$350 reducing to $295 depending on level of Mileage Plan membership.

$40 can be used at multiple location, can buy at club or in advance

Can access lounges when not traveling

$250 spouse membership

American

27 Admirals Clubs in US, 13 international, and 30 Qantas clubs

$50

$450 reducing to $300 depending on level of Aadvantage membership.

Or 40,000 - 70,000 miles.

$50 can be used at multiple locations, can buy in advance (for a specific named person) or at club

Also has a few Flagship arrival lounges.

$275 spouse membership

Continental

21 Presidents Clubs in US, 2 intl, plus affiliated lounges

$50

$425 reducing to $325 depending on level of OnePass status

$45; can be used at multiple locations, can buy books of ten at rates down as low as $32.50 per pass, can buy at club or in advance

Also have lots of arrivals lounges with showers in intl locations

$175 - $225 spouse m'ship

Delta

About 46 Sky Clubs in US, 4 intl, plus affiliated lounges

$50

$450 dropping to $300 depending on level of Skymiles status

Or 40,000 - 70,000 miles.

$50; reducing to $42 if bought in lots of 100, can buy in advance or at club

$200 'partner' membership.

Also has a 30 day membership for $90 (cheaper than 2 day passes)

JetBlue

 

No lounge program

Southwest

 

No lounge program

United

19 Red Carpet lounges in the US, 8 intl and other affiliates (Continental and Star Alliance)

$50

$425 reducing to $325 depending on level of Mileage plus status

Or 40,000 - 70,000 miles

$50 at club, or $39 if prepurchased online

Can not be used at multiple locations

$175 - $225 spouse m'ship

US Airways

13 Club lounges in the US, also access to UA, CO and Star lounges

$50

$450 reducing to $325 depending on level of Dividend Miles status

$40 - can buy online or at club, can be used at multiple locations

$225 spouse m'ship

Also has a 90 day membership for $120 which allows up to 2 guests per visit

Virgin America

Access to three Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses

n/a

n/a

$35/visit - can buy in advance or when checking or at club

Must be on premium ticket, sometimes okay if just Elevate member

Airline

Init Fee

Annual

Daily

Comments

 

Airline

Guests

Wi-Fi

Food/Drink

Other

Air Canada

C$15/25 to have guests arriving before/after 11am

Yes

Yes, free

free access for Executive First and Executive Class ticketholders, Elite and Super Elite frequent fliers, Red Carpet Club members, US Airways Club, Star Gold members

AirTran

 

no lounge program

Alaska

2 guests or unlimited family members

Yes

Yes, free (limit of 3 alcoholic beverages per day)

Have 3 yr memberships

First class pax booked in F or A can also access lounges

Can access DL Skyclub lounges if on DL or AS flights

American

2 guests

sometimes

Softdrinks and coffee, other beverages and food for purchase

free access for trans-continental and international first and business class passengers, oneWorld Emerald and Sapphire members

Continental

2 guests or unlimited family members

Yes

Yes, free

Have lifetime membership rates

Intl business class pax can also use lounges.

Delta

2 guests or unlimited family members

Yes

Snacks and softdrinks

 

JetBlue

 

No lounge program

Southwest

 

No lounge program

United

guests traveling with member

Yes

Snacks and softdrinks

Also have international lounges for intl first and business class pax

US Airways

2 guests or unlimited family members

Yes

Yes, free

 

Virgin America

no guests free

Yes

Yes, free

Have showers

Airline

Guests

Wi-Fi

Food/Drink

Other

 

Alliance Policies and Issues

Most of the major carriers are nowadays affiliated with one of the three main airline alliances, and generally their fellow alliance members offer lounge reciprocity rights, albeit sometimes with some obscure exceptions and requirements.

The ability to access a partner airline's lounge is not always as beneficial as it may seem.  If the partner airline's lounge is in a different terminal, or even at the far end of the same terminal, the extra time and hassle it takes to detour all the way to their lounge, and then all the way back to your departure gate, might eat into all your free time and detract from the convenience/pleasure of the concept.

Star - Star Alliance Gold level frequent fliers can use Star Alliance lounges regardless of their class of service (ie even if flying coach class).

International first and business class Star customers can access Star member lounges.  Domestic Star customers may or may not be able to access Star lounges, depending on airline policies.

Star has 980 lounges worldwide.

Oneworld - Emerald and Sapphire level frequent fliers can use Oneworld lounges when flying on a Oneworld carrier, and can bring one guest with them.

International first and business class Oneworld customers can access Oneworld lounges.  Arrival lounges are not included.

Oneworld has 550 lounges worldwide

Skyteam - International First and Business Class passengers, as well as SkyTeam Elite Plus members traveling in Economy Class, enjoy complimentary access to more than 415 worldwide member lounges on the day of travel when flying on or connecting to or from an international flight operated by a SkyTeam carrier.

Elite Plus members can bring a guest with them.

Skyteam has 415 lounges worldwide.

Summary

Airline and airport lounges can offer you greater comfort while waiting for your flights.  They can possibly make you more productive, they can possibly feed you, and can even possibly entertain you.

In addition to buying traditional annual memberships, that typically cost you about $400 a year and give you access to one particular airline's lounges (and usually augmented by varying levels of access to other airline lounges too depending on airline alliance tie-ins) you can also access most lounges on a per visit 'day pass' method.  Priority Pass is a third party vendor of lounge admission packages that have some interesting and sometimes better value ways of getting into the lounges, and American Express gives free lounge admission (primarily to AA, CO and DL lounges) as one of the benefits of having their Platinum card.

Depending on your travel patterns will depend on which approach is best for you.

Read more in the first part of this article

This is part 2 of a series on airport lounges - please also visit

1.  Four Alternatives to Costly Annual Airport Lounge Memberships
2.  Choosing the Best Airline Lounge Membership Option for You

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 23 Apr 2010, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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