Is it worth it to purchase lounge access?

Photo courtesy of Alison Christine

 

As mentioned in the discussion of my failed attempt at extending my airline lounge access, I had purchased lounge access for a year, and had enjoyed the experience. But I balked at renewing my membership. It just seemed like a lot of money. And yet, I still contemplate joining up again.

So if you’ve ever wanted to get access to an airline lounge, read on to see my experience to see if it’s worth it for you.

What is an airline lounge?

An airline lounge is a reserved club inside the airport gate area that members can access. The amenities in this space can vary widely, but at least in the US, they are usually simple and functional:

  • Free WiFi
  • Comfy chairs and couches
  • Power outlets everywhere
  • Quiet area
  • Free drinks (sometimes alcoholic) and snacks
  • Dedicated customer service representatives
  • Meeting rooms
  • Business services (printing/faxing)

Some of the international lounges are much nicer and have crazy amenties, from full meals to showers to massages.

In my experience the lounge resembles a hotel lobby and bar, complete with TV showing CNN unwatched in a corner. Which may not sound all that appealing (who wants to hang out in a hotel lobby?) but when you consider the the alternative is a crowded and loud terminal, the calculation changes. It is a way to be “apart” from the rest of the airport.

Getting lounge access

There are two main ways to purchase lounge access:

  • Buy a (year) membership
  • Buy a day pass

Lounge access is pricey, around $300-$400 per year, depending on the product. And the day passes generally cost $40-$50, so that adds up quickly.

There are other ways to get in, from the expensive (certain super-pricey tickets get you in for free) to the sneaky (asking someone entering if you can be their “guest”). And I’m not going to talk about ways like this.

What I learned from having lounge access

So here are my experiences with lounges, the caveat here is that my experience is primarily with domestic lounges, the kind without showers (alas).

My favorite aspects of having access to a lounge:

  • Breakfast: When you get to the airport at 6:30AM, it’s nice to be able to skip breakfast at home and just wait until you get to the lounge. A light breakfast of fruit, cereal, tea, and the like is more than enough to get me through.
  • Free drinks: Water, juice, soda, and sometimes even beer is free. Can’t beat that.
  • Free WiFi: I can’t believe that even as of this year, there are some airports that make you pay for WiFi. Lounges take the uncertainty away, so that you can always get online when you want.
  • Dedicated staff: When problems occur (delays/canceled flights) you don’t want to stand in a Disneyland-grade queue to talk to someone. There are dedicated staff in the lounge who can help you when you need it. These folks are always more helpful and friendly than the standard customer service folks, And there are fewer people in the lounge than out of the lounge, so you’re going to get quicker service.
  • The ability to breathe: Make no mistake, walking into a lounge, even a small one, is a very pleasant experience. The cacophony of the terminal and your recent indiginities in the TSA line melt away, and you are left with the feeling that you finally exhale.

Here are the (admittedly small) bummers about lounges:

  • Not a restaurant: While a light snack is fine at some points in the day, sometimes I want a real meal. And carrots and crackers do not count. The best I’ve gotten is soup, which is appreciated, but not really enough.
  • You have to leave: I confess that a lounge can be so comfortable and relaxing to be in that sometimes I despair at having to actually leave and catch my flight. Although it’s never happened yet, I could easily foresee a situation where I actually miss my flight because of me being in the lounge.

How much will you be flying?

The calculus of purchasing lounge access ultimately comes down to how much use you’ll get out of it. If you fly once or twice during the year, it’s probably not worth it.

My breakeven point for lounge access is: If you fly more than four roundtrips in a year, you may wish to consider lounge access. If you fly more than eight times in a year, lounge access starts to make a lot of sense.

Alternately, if you’ve got an aspirational trip coming up (you’re taking your dream trip to New Zealand, for example) you may wish to add to the experience by adding lounge access (at least day passes). I can speak from personal experience that showering in a private bathroom right before or right after an international red-eye flight is a singularly pleasurable experience. And if you’re already spending a lot of money on a trip, this may be something that you can fit in as well.

When disaster strikes

Another reason to consider lounge access, if only for a day, is when problems happen. If there is a problem at an airport with flights being canceled all over the place, the first thing I would suggest is to duck into a lounge, paying for a day pass if necessary. That money might be the difference between getting where you’re going and not.

For example, I once had a itinerary breakdown involving flying through Chicago (I should know better), and I’m convinced that if it wasn’t for the folks in the lounge, it would have taken me an extra day to get where I was going.

Not right now but maybe later

I don’t have lounge access right now and I’m fine with that. I do miss the quiet luxury of having access, and I will probably buy it again at some point when I have more travel planned. But at the moment, I think I can put that $300-$400 to better use. Maybe. Ask me again after I’ve had another harrowing airport experience.

But enough about me: Do you think lounge access is worth it?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on June 30, 2014