a room with a large window and a couch and tables

I came, I saw, I’ve had enough…

Now fortunately, I’d been to Hong Kong before. But on my most recent trip, it occurred to me around three days in that I’d barely left the hotel. I was jet lagged, tired generally not feeling well and the amount of effort required to put on suitable clothes and take the elevator two floors up was just about all I could muster at the moment. In that sense, a hotel club lounge, especially one as decadent as the scene at the Langham Hong Kong was a godsend at the time. But wtf was I doing in Hong Kong, if I wasn’t going to leave the hotel?

a room with a chandelier and chairsI flew from London to Doha and Doha onto Hong Kong, enjoying no fewer than 14 hours in the air en route. I had landed in one of the world’s most fascinating, cultural melting pots and here I was enjoying french pastry in a high rise. This wasn’t the first time either. Hotel club lounges can be transformative and incredibly enjoyable. So much so, people embark on “mattress runs” just to lock in enough yearly nights to enjoy club lounges as a benefit.

Hotel club lounges can serve amazing utility. For the business traveler, they’re a civilized place to prepare for meetings and enjoy breakfast before facing the world. I get that and I respect that. But although I always claim “business and pleasure” at any immigration checkpoint I generally do not see myself as a business traveler, even when I have meetings. I travel in part to experience new takes on cuisine, coffee, cocktails and cultivate a deeper understanding of place. Club lounges have eaten into too much of my adventures.

a street sign on a poleIt’s hard, I get it. It’s not easy turning down bottomless champagne, free canapés, convenience and often beautiful views too, but it’s just not the point of leaving home. There’s a Marriott, Hilton, IHG or Hyatt almost anywhere you go and even if you “go” boutique, your club lounge experience is curated to be comfortable, not challenging, inspiring or authentically local.

For this reason, I’m done with club lounges. That’s not to say I won’t pop in for a bottle of water before bed, but I see each “free” glass of bubbles or evening nibbles as a lost opportunity to explore. None of my happiest travel moments have taken place in hotels. They’ve come from the joy of finding the new best pastry shop I’ve ever experienced, the best view of the city or just a neighborhood that feels like where I might fit into a destination in an alternate life.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I had a similar ‘a-ha’ moment on a trip to London a few years ago. I was upgraded to a Concierge room and spent entirely too much time there, rather than enjoying the city. Contrast that with a recent trip to Seattle at a hotel without a lounge, where I got up early, walked around the city, explored, found a great local breakfast spot and had a memorable conversation with the owner and some locals.

  2. Well said. I think hotel lounges have their use , and it is definitely not part of a leisure trip. 🙂

  3. I’m with you with the aforementioned hotels, yet I will not give up the Hong Kong Ritz Carlton Club Lounge. There is something to be said about being in the tallest hotel in the world—the champagne just feels a bit more bubbly when sipping above the clouds. Besides there are a few Michelin rated restaurants within the RC if the Club does become routine (which is never does).

  4. If you’re staying in a city hotel, yes, go out and explore. If you’re captive at a resort, no, get all the free food you can.

  5. An interesting take on things. I’ve seen this addressed on occasion before, and it’s definitely a gray area. There are some considerations that are worth bringing up.

    @Pat mentions resorts versus city locations. If you’re stuck out in BFE and there are no reasonably priced food options, this helps a lot. Also, if you’re on a resort, you may want to stay on property more without spending $19 for a club sandwich.

    You mentioned that you were tired and jet lagged. Isn’t that exactly the kind of situation where a club lounge benefits you the most?

    There’s also the cost factor. I’m (comparatively) points rich and cash poor. After a long day of slogging through Hong Kong, having free drinks and a meal at the club lounge and watching the laser show over the harbor sure beats paying $50 a person for similar quality food and drink elsewhere without the view. I can still visit the Temple Street Night Market later.

    Also, you mentioned the trapping yourself aspect, but the flip side of this is to escape. My wife has social anxiety, and at times deals poorly with crowds. We’re staying in Hong Kong over Chinese New Year and have no idea what to expect. The club lounge is in many ways our safety valve, so if dealing with boisterous crowds for extended periods becomes difficult, we have an option other than planting ourselves in our room.

    Lastly, the quality of food and drink at a club lounge can be better than what you would find off property. I find this to be true at the Grand Hyatt in Bali, for example. True, you don’t have the selection of a full restaurant, but the quality of what’s being served is really outstanding.

    I guess a lot of this is YMMV, but saying that you’re swearing off club lounges sounds rather extreme. They absolutely have their place, and I’m certainly glad to have them.

  6. After the end of a long day, its a cost effective way to have a couple of drinks or light meal. The light breakfast is great. We use this often when we visit the grandchildren and spend the night wherever. They get to eat what they normally don’t at home and are behaved. For every authentic place we found to eat, we have had two or three Meh moments at other eateries.

  7. What a sad thought … relaxing and enjoying some solitude is a bad thing? I figured out long ago that I need 24-36 hours to get over my jet lag when flying to Europe. Since I usually fly Virgin Atlantic, I book a couple of nights at the Heathrow Crowne Plaza where I read, indulge in little meals with wine in the lounge and swim in the enormous heated pool. Soon I am ready to roll on my trip with great enthusiasm. I know I’m lucky to be able to control my own time But everyone could do it if they really wanted to.

  8. I really like the hotel lounges. It’s a great way to have a bite and a free drink at the end of a busy day in a new city.

    But I do understand your point!

  9. Unfortunately since Marriott acquired Starwood, the lounges are charging for alcoholic drinks and have cut back on what is being served. I have Celiac and Westin always had gluten free bread/rolls, but now most don’t and while I get a “I’m sorry” from the waitstaff, that’s not helpful. That being said, we like to get the breakfast and then hit the sights instead of having to pay for a breakfast outside the hotel that I can’t eat anyway. (Most restaurants are stingy on GF options and charge extra for GF bread/rolls, there’s usually a $1 – $2 upcharge)

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