Before I traveled frequently I thought lounges were for people like Donald Trump and Oprah. While I'm sure they probably can be found in there ever so often; lounges are for everyone! Even those of us flying coach! A lounge is many things but above all it is a place that is better for waiting than a terminal. All of us know the feeling of arriving early and sitting aimlessly at a crowded boarding area dreading the time until we finally depart. The idea of a lounge is to create a functional and fun space within an airport. The function part comes in the form of: free working wifi, comfy chairs, desk areas, quiet rooms and private showers. The fun part comes in big screen TV's, unlimited free beverages including alcohol, snacks, often substantial food and many other goodies.
I am a normal young working guy yet I have access to almost every lounge at any airport. In my Ten Travel Tips post I made light of the notion that you can "walk in" and pay for a single lounge usage, which is surprisingly affordable. For many non "frequent" travelers this is probably the easiest and most cost effective solution.
The way I see it; a burger and a beer plus tip at a terminal restaurant is going to run you near $40 dollars and they generally are pretty terrible. Most lounges charge just $50 dollars for walk in access and as I mentioned; give you wifi, a comfy sitting area, unlimited free drinks and often some decent food. The peace and quiet factor is priceless.
For more frequent travelers carrying a credit card that comes with complimentary or discounted lounge access can save you a great deal if you plan to fly at least six segments (3 round trips) per year. There are many cards offered by airlines that give you $29 access versus the usual $50 which have low or no annual fee. I carry the American Express Platinum Card which has a steep fee of $450 per year but allows access to most lounges with a plus one. I do use an airport lounge over ten times a year and travel with my wife so it actually saves us quite a bit of money in the long run and also carries tremendous benefits for travelers.
Lounges are often located right near security or further in the terminal. Each airline has a different name for theirs so you may never see a sign that explicitly says "Lounge". Look out at the airport for names like: Delta Sky Club, United Club Room, Admirals Club, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and many more. Follow the signs and walk in! All you need to say is "Hello, I'd like to purchase a one day pass and or check to see if my credit card grants me access". In most cases they will be very happy to grant you access on the spot and welcome you in. If you live in the United States this should hold true in almost every lounge. Abroad some of the fancier carriers do try to limit access strictly to passengers flying up front but there is never any harm in asking. I can't begin to explain how much nicer it is than waiting in the terminal especially during a long delay or an early arrival to the airport. A good tool to use to see if you can purchase access is "Priority Pass". Any lounge listed here will be available for paid entry. Almost every domestic airline lounge like Delta, American, US Airways or United will be the same.
Curb your enthusiasm. Not every lounge is created equal. A lounge is going to guarantee you some free wine, beer and liquor, some snacks, some wifi and a comfy area but some go above and beyond. Virgin Atlantic's "Clubhouse" has a jacuzzi and free swimming trunks! Air France has free facials and massages! You never know exactly how great it could be but you can guarantee its going to be better than sitting in the terminal no matter which one you choose!
Have you ever been in a lounge? If not are you thinking about it? Stay in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org