Are Pay As You Go Lounges Worth It?

As more people realise you can pay a fee to access airport lounges I look to see if it's worth it.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Airport lounges are secluded private rooms, normally hidden away from the main throng of an airport terminal. They provide a moment of calm to catch on some work emails, or relax with a drink and snacks. Lounges can be broken down into two types. Firstly you have the airline lounge. These are operated by the airlines themselves and are very much reserved for their passengers flying in First or Business class, or hold the top tier of their relevant frequent flyer loyalty schemes. Some of these lounges are the most sophisticated way you can travel. In days gone by, the most famous and exclusive was British Airways Concord Lounge at Heathrow, and yes you guessed it, you had to be flying on the famous supersonic jet Concord to gain entry. Whilst those days may have gone forever, the airline lounges are still fairly exclusive. The other type of lounge is the independent lounge. These are run independently of the airline and airport, with some names in the UK being No.1 Lounges, and Aspire. You still can't wander into these as you like, but for a fee, or a membership card such as Priority Club will get you access regardless of your airline or class of ticket.

What's In A Lounge

Inside an airport lounge, you can typically expect to find a selection of food, (largely cold snacks) and drinks, both alcoholic and soft. You can also find free WiFi, newspapers and magazines, and some also offer spa and shower facilities. Most will also offer some services to print and fax, and others might have meeting rooms.

What's the Price?

Depending on the individual lounge, you can just turn up and pay on the door from around £25-£40. If you go online and pre-book, you will normally get a small discount, No. 1 Lounges, will also throw in a pass for the priority security lane. You can also gain access through membership schemes. One of the largest is Priority Pass, and has a global network of over 1,000 lounges. You can pay £69 for an annual pass, with an additional £15 per visit fee, up to £259 for unlimited free visits. You can also get Priority Pass as a benefit with some credit cards, for example the American Express Platinum card, although this card as an annual fee of £450.

The Experience

This is where I will be honest. Based on my own personal experiences of visiting airport lounges all over the world, the independent lounges vary massively in their quality. Some offer cold snacks only, some have limited alcoholic drinks, and others just look very tired and in dire need of refurbishment. Others can be very good, the Sala VIP lounge in Madrid, for instance, is very large, has self-pour spirits and wine, and a good selection of snacks including pizza which flies off the plate as soon as it's bought out! But one of the biggest problems I have is capacity. I have the Priority Pass membership, so whilst I can book ahead for free, I slightly begrudge having to pay a booking fee to reserve my spot. As the general awareness of these lounges has grown, and more people prepared to stump up the fee, it's harder and harder to get in. There have been a good number of occasions in the last year where I was turned away.

So Are They Worth It?

This is a tight call. Of course, on the one hand, it is nice to get away from the main terminal, but the atmosphere isn't always as calm as you might want. I recall being at Heathrow once, at around 8:30am with someone complaining that the lounge had run out of champagne. And for the fee, you would have to try and get through quite a bit of food and drink to cover your costs. If you get access as a benefit, then that's good, but personally, I would think twice about turning up and paying at the door.

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