Airline Lounges – Are They Worth It?

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23/03/08 – Airline Lounges – Are They Worth It?

Anyone who has traveled through a large airport or an airline’s “hub” airport has seen the private airline clubs that get tucked away because the thick oak doors or the subtle smoked glass doors. The simple plaque at the entrance “Members Only,” just builds the curiosity.

In all honesty, most airline lounges for US Domestic airlines are not worth the hefty price tag for the vast majority of flyers. Airline lounges used to be a quiet haven with comfortable chairs, a fully stocked complementary bar (although I don’t drink I know why people liked this), a snack and just a refuge from the stresses of traveling. Many of the lounges now are outdated, the bar is a cash bar (soft drinks are free!) and the snacks consist of apples of yogurt (Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines lounges generally have bagels with butter and cream cheese in the morning which has always made them a favourite of mine!). When you check into most lounges you should expect to pay for the Internet. If you are hungry and bring your own food some lounges will ask you to leave the food behind or eat it then return to the lounge.

A perk of some lounges is a shower, although in the U.S. these showers are few and far between, especially for domestic and trans-boarder (US/Canada) travel. I have often landed in Atlanta (ATL) and sprinted to the Delta Airlines Crown Room Club all the way out in Concourse E, the international departure concourse, to grab a shower after a red-eye in from California and a connecting flight to somewhere else to shoot something else.

For international travel the lounges outside of the United States can be fantastic and well worth the memberships. What you must keep in mind is that membership and access to many of these lounges is only available to those in the airline’s top-tier of frequent flyer program and those flying in business class or first class. This type of lounge access tends to offer a more serene environment and a better place to kick back and sleep.

While no US airline offers access to it’s lounges based on frequent flyer status for US domestic flights (most do for their top-tier flyers on international flights) many international airlines offer this to it’s frequent flyers when flying domestically and abroad. As a BMI Diamond Club “Gold” (top tier) frequent flyer I can access any Star Alliance lounge as a “Star Gold” frequent flyer. When I was a US Airways Dividend Miles Platinum frequent flyer I could not access the US Airways lounge when on domestic flights, much less any other Star Alliance lounge. So now no matter what Star Alliance airline I flying ( United Airlines, US Airways, Air Canada in North America) I just bring my boarding pass to the lounge with my BMI card and I can enter. No membership fee of more than $400, just a smile and a polite “Thank you and welcome” before I can go sit down.

So are the lounges worth it? If you fly less than 75 segments a year, or under 75,000 miles per year and you live in the United States? No, in my opinion it is not worth it. Do I use the lounges? Yes, only because I have access due to my status with BMI for Star Alliance and Air France for SkyTeam. Would I pay for it? Never did before, can’t say I would before.

Save your money, get a decent sandwich and find a quiet corner in the airport. 8-out-of-10 times you’ll be an equal experience to most US a lounges.

Happy Flying!

–Click Image To Enlarge It–

Relaxing at the US Airways Club at PHL


  1. Fish- I would have to agree with you. I am a 1K traveler with United. If I am not traveling internationally and my tkt is economy I still can’t get in the domestic lounges. You would think with all the travel I give them as a 1K status flyer would get access to the lounge.

    But the whole thing changes once you go international. One of my favorite lounges is Narita, Tokyo. There, I get all the beer, soft drinks and snacks I can eat. They also have a really nice and very clean shower as well as free WiFi. This is a lounge I just might pay for.

  2. I’m United 1K, currently working up the Cathay Pacific/One World status tiers due to relocation to AsiaPac. In my experience, Internet access at all Star Alliance lounges I’ve used in North America, Asia, and Europe has been free.

    Note that you don’t have to spend money to get domestic United Red Carpet Lounge privileges – you can spend miles. It cost me 30,000 miles, was well worth it, IMHO. Other programs have similar options to expend miles in exchange for lounge access.

  3. Rolland

    Yes, you can spend miles for lounge access, however miles = money, when you can use your miles for flights or seat upgrades.

    Delta Airlines used to offer free Crown Room Club access to it’s Platinum frequent flyers, at that time I was a heavy Delta frequent flyer and I took advantage of the Delta CRC, primarily at SFO and the the CRC on Concourse E at ATL (it has a shower). When they eliminated this benefit (around the same time they stopped flying to my local airport) I chose not to spend money or miles to get my access back, even with the discounted rate they were offering.

    As for Star Alliance lounges with wi-fi, the internet tends to be free outside of the United States. The US Airways Club lounges use t-mobile hot-spots and the United Airlines Red Carpet Clubs I frequent most (JFK, IAD, SFO, ORD) are also all paid hot-spots with t-mobile.

    To gain your CX status have you considered a Status Challenge? You can Status Challenge American Airlines/One World up to Platinum (One World Sapphire) by making the request then flying 10,000 miles under a specified period of time. Essentially one Trans-Pac flight in Y would qualify you for the AA-Plat status under this Status Challenge.

    Happy Flying!

  4. Matt:

    During a long delay at SFO a while back I was joking with the gate agent that I should be comp’d access to the lounge during the delay since I was UA 1P & US Plat. We both laughed, then she picked up the phone and made a quick call. We then joked about how with my luck they’d swap out the aircraft I was waiting for to a “Ted” plane (Ted is United’s all economy seat aircraft) and I’d lose my upgrade……….then she hands me a blank boarding pass, on it was simply this “This is the guy I called you about, Thx” and told me to go to the lounge. I went, I handed it to the lady and the counter and I was let into the lounge!

    Total fluke, but as a UA 1P I was granted access to the RCC for two hours :0)

    I will agree with you about the Star Alliance lounge at NRT. I’ll be at this lounge in a few weeks. I also love the Singapore Lounge at LHR and HKG. American’s lounge in NRT is also fantastic, as is JAL’s I absolutely love Korean Airline’s lounge in Incheon, the whole lounge is great, it is hard to top anywhere. The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class lounge at LHR is an experience in it’s self, that lounge alone is worth the trip (and lucky for me BMI Gold members flying on Virgin are allowed access!).

    There are some lounges that are fantastic, none of them in North America, but they do exist. Would I pay for these lounges? On a day pass, sure, not for a yearly membership as I reside in the U.S. and do the majority of my flying in North America.

    Happy Flying


  5. Steven, along the lines of your BMI suggestion, I would point out Air Canada’s Aeroplan as an option for quickly gaining Star Gold status for those of us who don’t fly quite so much but like the lounge access. I think Air Canada is unique compared to most in granting gold status at 35K vs. the usual 50K. As with the BMI suggestion, you’ll be able to access US domestic Star Alliance lounges and Air Canada Maple Leaf lounges if you’re ever up here.

  6. It’s not quite the same thing, but, if you’re in the US military, are a military dependent or are retired from the military, you can use USO facilities at some major airports, including SFO, LAX, Atlanta, etc. I’m not sure just what the eligibility requirements are, but, go to the USO web site and check out locations and services. I am retired from the US Air Force and have used the facilities at several airports over the years.

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