Airport lounges although hyped by airlines remain mysterious to a majority of travelers. Whether you are traveling for business or leisure, lounge access enhances your overall airport experience. With amenities like Wi-Fi, showering facilities, business centers, premium food & beverages, lounge access is definitely a plus while traveling. There are several ways to access airport lounges; it could be FREE, complimentary, paid or force majeure. Understanding the options will equip you to optimize your access.
Free access and how it works
Frequent flyers with GOLD or PLATINUM status get the privilege of free access to airport lounges irrespective of their class of travel. One important criterion is that you fly the same or partner airline and it has a lounge partnership in the airport.
I am a GOLD tier member of Sheba Miles program (Ethiopian airlines), a part of Star Alliance. This entitles me to free access to the lounge whenever I fly any of the Star Alliance partners. They include Ethiopian, Thai, Lufthansa, Air India, etc. All I need to do is show my membership card or the boarding pass at the lounge for entry. You must ensure that the boarding pass includes your FFP number and tier status.
Being a PLATINUM member of Flying Blue, I also enjoyed access to SkyTeam-accredited lounges including their 5-star lounges. Flying Blue is a frequent flyer program of Air France, which is part of SkyTeam.
Now, let’s talk about complimentary lounge access…
I usually get complimentary business class lounge access each time I fly business/first class, irrespective of the airline. Complimentary lounges offered to business/first class passengers are far superior to the free lounges offered by the alliance partner. This is usually when you are flying out of a major airport.
I have enjoyed complimentary access to the luxurious Maharaja Lounge whenever I have flown out of Mumbai/Delhi on business/first class. A truly 5-star experience with showers, spa, private cabins, beds, etc. But I have never got the same lounge while accessing it for free as part of my FFP tier status.
Maharaja Lounge at terminal T2 in Mumbai.
You can also get free lounge access while flying Economy through various bank promotions using debit/credit cards. Some banks have exclusive credit/debit cards focused on airport lounge access programs. However, there is a cap on the frequency of access per quarter/year.
The best card by far, in my opinion, is American Express Platinum. It covers a wide variety of lounges at maximum airports across the globe. A significant drawback with debit/credit cards is that they have tie-ups only with major airports. If you are visiting tier-2 airports it is very unlikely that you get access to the complimentary lounge.
Premium hotel/professional membership cards can gain you complimentary access to a limited number of lounges, especially if you hold the top tier.
However, it is a good idea to invest in some of the airport lounge access club memberships as they offer discounted rates. Some well-known memberships are Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Lounge Club and Lounge Key. You pay anywhere from $20 – $30 per lounge access. You can also include companions with these cards even if they are not members. Many banks offer Priority Pass or Dragon Pass free of charge with their premium debit or credit cards.
While there are many benefits, there are some drawbacks of these cards as well. Usually, there is a restriction of 3 hours for lounge access. They also charge extra for using the shower. You have to compromise on limited food menu and there will be no complimentary alcoholic beverages. Lounge quality and service will be marginally inferior. Moreover, all the lounges do not accept these cards. Expect a long queue at the lounge check in counter.
The best lounge access card is Priority Pass Select.
They do not offer these cards to everyone off the shelf. I once got this card as a complimentary offering with my Bank of America travel credit card thanks to my high spend. I had almost unlimited complimentary access to airport lounges across the globe with the SELECT card.
Also read about – Benefits of Airport Lounges
There is one more interesting way to access a free lounge…any guesses?
Redeem your airline miles for lounge access! Many airlines offer this option and I have used this option several times.
Let’s say I am flying a particular airline less frequently and I am not going to accumulate sufficient miles to buy a free ticket. In such cases, I use the miles to access a free lounge.
Last but not the least…force majeure
Airlines offer free lounge access in the event of unforeseen circumstances beyond someone’s control. They include delayed flight by extended hours or missed flight connections. Emergency situations due to bad weather, pandemic, natural calamities, emergency landing also warrant free lounge access.
Image credit: Google