We’ve all seen them. The entrances are as unobtrusive as possible while still letting members know where they are. The names are regal, invoking red carpets, crowns, and other images of pomp and circumstance. From time to time, the doors slide open so people can walk in or out. But for most of us, that view from the outside is all that we see of the members-only airport lounge.

Tens of thousands of people belong to one or more airport lounge network in the United States alone, and the numbers increase dramatically outside America’s borders. For those who diligently pay their annual members (which may be as high as 400 or more), access to an airport lounge is well worth the price.

Then again, there are millions of people who don’t belong to an airport lounge. They sit in the terminal, patiently waiting for their flights, and don’t seem any worse for the Thailand elite visa experience. But have they weighed the options and decided the lounge membership wasn’t worth the price–or did they just not have enough information to even consider joining?

Like most questions, the answer depends on the person. Let’s start with some information on what an airport lounge (or “club”) is and what services it offers.

Each of the seven “legacy” airlines in the that is, the ones that remain from the days of regulation, which are American, United, Delta, U.S. Airways, Northwest, Continental, and Alaska Air–has its own lounges. Major overseas airlines also have their own lounges, and there are several networks of affiliate lounges that belong to airports rather than specific airlines. None of the domestic low-cost carriers, such as JetBlue or Southwest, operates a lounge network.

To get into an airport lounge, you need to meet one of several criteria that make you eligible:

  • Members are always welcome.
  • Airlines that belong to the same alliance (Star Alliance, oneworld, SkyTeam) or have specific partner agreements may allow members of their partners’ lounges to use theirs as well.
  • International passengers traveling in Business or First Class (but not domestic First Class passengers) are typically given complimentary lounge access.
  • Some airlines grant complimentary access to top-level elite members of their frequent flyer programs.
  • American Express Platinum cardholders are given complimentary access to some airlines’ lounges when traveling with those airlines.
  • You may be able to purchase a day pass upon request.

Inside a lounge, you’ll find a quiet business atmosphere with comfortable chairs, tables, and desk space for laptops. Whenever possible, lounges are built with interesting views. There’s usually wireless Internet access; some clubs make it complimentary, while others charge a nominal fee. The same is true for bar service, though a bar is almost always present. You’ll typically find at least one television, magazines and newspapers. Snacks, coffee, and non-alcoholic drinks are always complimentary.


Airport lounges also offer their members access to private ticketing agents who can process requests for upgrades and seat assignments, make changes to reservations, and handle other services. In keeping with the standard model of giving the best service to the most important customers, airlines tend to put senior-level staff into their lounges, which can be a real benefit if a flight is cancelled or you need to make complex last-minute changes.

Great–but as we mentioned earlier, outright membership in an airport lounge system may cost as much as $400 or more per year. So, is it worth it?

Maybe. If you travel often, and particularly if you travel overseas or have a lot of layovers, belonging to an airport lounge can provide a very welcome place to collect your thoughts and recharge between flights. Something as simple as a friendly greeting, followed by a cup of coffee and a danish, may change the whole tone of a trip.

Frequent flyers who do most of their flying with a particular airline tend to have the most incentive to join their favorite airline’s lounge (club). Elite members often get discounts on membership; some airlines let their elite members pay for their memberships with miles rather than dollars. If you fly often but don’t use a particular airline, you may be better off with one of the airport-based networks–depending on which airports you use and whether participating lounges are available.


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