Airport lounges elude the average traveler. Most people just walk past them, or assume that there’s no way to get in without spending exorbitant amounts of money.

While some are certainly exclusive, and only realistic for high rollers, this isn’t necessarily the truth for all airport lounges. In fact, many people are often surprised by the affordability of these oases hidden within plain sight. If you’ve avoided airport lounges because of preconceived assumptions, it’s time to learn the full truth.

Here’s a rundown of the most important things you need to know about airport lounges.

Different Levels of Airport Lounges, and How to Get Access

As with most things in life, not all airport lounges are the same. There are a few different levels of lounges, which vary in accessibility, amenities, cost, and desirability. A lot of people also assume that lounges are all run by the airlines. This isn’t always the case. And there’s actually a growing number of lounges operated through third-party organizations.

Priority Pass is one of the largest of these networks. You essentially purchase an annual membership to gain access to Priority Pass-affiliated lounges. The Standard membership is $99 per year, plus $27 per lounge access. The Standard Plus membership is $249 per year, which gives the member 10 free visits, which then revert to $27 per visit after that.

Airline pilot in the middle of golf swing in front of simulated screen in PGA airport lounge, MSP airport.
An airline captain takes an approach shot while simulated golfing at the PGA lounge in Minneapolis/St.Paul (MSP) International Airport.

There are a lot of lounges included in the Priority Pass network that cater to specific themes and interests, like the PGA Lounge in Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. This lounge gives golf enthusiasts a place to hone their swings during airport downtime, offering over 50 golf courses, three simulated range bays, and custom club fittings.

Certain airports now have Priority Pass network showers and Minute Suites for people who need to rest and freshen up after a long flight. This is one of the best airport lounge membership options because it grants you access to over 1,200 locations around the world.

Credit Cards with Airport Lounge Access

Certain credit cards will also get you into different airport lounges. Cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve and certain American Express cards like The Platinum Card and The Business Platinum card grant people Priority Pass benefits.

Business people and travelers work with drinks in hand at the AmEx Centurion Lounge in San Francisco International Airport.
Travelers line the bar with laptops at the Centurion Lounge in San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Credit cards that offer airport lounge access are typically going to come with an annual fee, which makes sense since this is such a beneficial perk. American Express also offers its own airport lounge network, called The Centurion Lounge. This is a complimentary perk for people who have a Platinum Card. You can also get free airport lounge access for up to two guests when you visit The Centurion Lounge. American Express has additional partnerships with Delta Airlines, so you can usually gain access to those lounges as well when you have a Platinum Card.

You might be expecting waived or reduced airport lounge prices if you’re flying First class or Business class. However, this isn’t included in tickets for domestic flights, other than a few exceptions. For example, you might get free lounge access when you’re flying across the U.S.—like an American Airlines flight from New York City to San Francisco.

International flights are another story. You’ll normally get access to lounges at all stages of your itinerary if you’re flying First class or Business class internationally. It’s important to note that there are often different lounges for people flying First class and business class. Bouncing between the lounges can be a fun way to spend time at the airport if you have a first-class ticket.

Business lounge in Singapore's Changi Airport.
A business lounge in Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN).

Can you pay to use the airport lounges if you don’t have a special credit card, membership, or premium class ticket?

Yes! A day pass usually costs $25-60. But all things considered, that’s not bad if you’re an infrequent traveler who just wants a place of respite in a busy airport.

You can typically get a discounted rate if you purchase your lounge pass ahead of time. Apps like LoungeBuddy are designed specifically for this purpose. Simply enter your airport, day of travel, and how many people will be with you. You’ll then be able to purchase access to lounges for a single visit.  

Alternatively, if your layover is more than a few hours and you want true privacy, booking a day room near the airport might be more your speed.

What Do Airport Lounges Offer?

People who’ve never stepped foot in an airport lounge might have grand ideas about what’s happening inside them. Some lounges really go all-out when it comes to décor, such as the Lounge @ B Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport.

But more standard amenities are what make lounges pillars of comfort for regular travelers. Many will offer free food and alcoholic beverages, which can be a huge incentive when you’re stuck in the airport. Having those things also makes the entry price seem a lot more reasonable. Fast Wi-Fi and more comfortable seating are also big perks of airport lounges.

Crowded airport concourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), in the early morning hours.
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is one of many airports that are busy around the clock.

When Does It Make Sense to Opt for Lounge Access?

For some people, going to the airport lounge is an assumed luxury. But there are situations where going for lounge access makes sense for just about everyone. Here are a few situations where opting for the airport lounge just makes sense:

  • You Need to Do Work: People traveling for business might have a hard time preparing if they’re forced to stay in the main terminal area. Lounges provide a quiet, calm area where you can get work done without so many distractions. Finding a lounge with a shower will even let you freshen up a bit before your big meeting.
  • You Have Time to Kill at the Airport: There are a few situations where people can end up with too much time at the airport. Flight cancellations, or just arriving too early can lead to excess downtime. Going to the lounge can be your best option in this scenario—especially if you’re going to get food and drinks anyway.
  • You Just Want to Get Away from the Noise: Some people don’t do well in crowded places. If you’re one of them, it might just be best to pay up for airport lounge access. Your sanity is worth it.

So many travelers walk past airport lounges without giving them a second thought. While they do represent an additional cost, it can be a worthwhile expense. Consider checking out a lounge next time you’re flying. If nothing else, it’ll be a new experience.

If you have more than an hour or two to kill, consider sprawling out with a day room.

Image Credits:

Feature image: “HANEDA Airport Lounge” by MIKI Yoshihito via (CC BY 2.0)

“Captain Taking a Swing” by Robert Evans courtesy of PGA Lounge@MSP Airport

“AmEx Centurion Lounge”byDion Hinchcliffe via (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Changi Airport Business Lounge”by Marco Verch via (CC BY-2.0)

“3AM, Dubai Airport” by joiseyshowaa via (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Andy Holsteen

Andy Holsteen writes all sorts of things—both for work and pleasure. He loves traveling to new places, and hopes to see Berlin and Santiago in the not-so-distant future.
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