For the first 10 years of global travel, I basically never used an airport lounge. So momentous is the change that I now divide my travel life into 2 phases: B.A. (before airport lounges) and today. This may be a slight exaggeration but honestly, airport lounge access makes a huge difference in the quality of the whole travel experience.
Whether you are a global tourist scouting skyscanner for best deals using wayward routes to earn miles, or an aid worker voyaging to remote villages in Africa, or a corporate warrior jet-setting to far-flung clients, layovers will be a fact of life. In fact, the more exotic the destination or the better the bargain, the more likely that a layover will be involved. In my B.A. life, I’d be lucky to find some cafe and camp out, if I was in the USA or Europe. The worst ever was a 15 hour layover en route to Cuba in 2003, when I basically alternated sleeping in different gates, nibbling at food courts and feeling like a hobo. But when you’re traveling in the Middle East or Africa, lots of secondary airports don’t have good cafe and don’t have free wi-fi. And sometimes they don’t have any welcoming (or hygienic) place you’d want to sleep.
4 years ago on a trip to Italy, I had my first taste of lounge life with my boyfriend (now husband). I was like “Wow! All this free food and peace and quiet is so much better than waiting at the gate.” “Always get lounge access, baby” he said, seriously, as if this were some dire, life-changing advice. I laughed at it then but today, I agree. I used to emerge from long-haul (especially multi-stop) flights, tired, often filthy and totally weary. Now, I’m only sometimes filthy, occasionally slightly tipsy and almost always way more productive in travel.
Instead of feeling like purgatory, layovers now feel more like a personal oasis, with free wi-fi to business centers to unlimited wine and hot buffets to in-house shower and spa facilities.
So what are some good ways to score lounge access?
- Frequent flier programs: If you are already silver or gold, you usually will get lounge access when flying with the carrier in question. And if that’s the case, you probably won’t be reading this post 😉
- Paid daily access: Some airport lounges charge for daily access, which can typically range from $50-200 USD. This may not be the most cost-effective option but a good way to test out the lounge in your home airport, if you don’t have elite status yet
- Lounge membership cards: You can pay for membership that includes national and international airport lounge membership with services such as Priority Pass
- Credit cards: Selecting the right credit card can give you discounted or even free lounge access worldwide. For people in the US, the AmEx Platinum is supposed to be the best for lounge access. I hate to say it but in Africa and Middle East, credit cards tend to be far more generous with lounge access coverage.
For more info, share your questions and we’ll do a follow-up post.