Dubai: As travel surges once again, many passengers might be thinking about making use of airport lounges. If you had access to an airport lounge, you may find comfy couches, desks appropriate for working, and corners designated for some silent reading.
While lounges are open to those holding loyalty status or membership, many offer paid access as well. But is paying for airport lounge access a good deal? It can be, but only if you travel often enough and know you can take advantage.
“Perhaps the most important metric in deciding whether to pay for an airport lounge access is the time you'll spend there,” said Richa Dev, a Dubai-based independent travel consultant.
“Those with a long layover or reaching the terminal early (3 to 4 hours pre-departure) may justify spending anywhere from $20 (Dh70) to $50 (Dh180) for lounge access at most key airports worldwide. On layovers longer than 5 hours, it's best to find a comfortable place to rest and pay for the lounge access.”
Calculate estimated airport spend
A second consideration, travel experts widely recommend, is to make a quick calculation of how much you plan on spending at the airport.
“Food outlets at airports tend to be quite pricey due to higher rental costs, making a meal and drinks an expensive affair. If you do plan on grabbing a bite, see if you're nearby lounge includes food and whether the costs make sense,” added Dev.
“Next, look at the price. If you're able to gain access to an airline business or first class lounge at a discounted price, as some carriers offer economy passengers, it might be the way to go. However, paying $50 (Dh180) to $60 (Dh220) for a one-time pass at domestic lounges may not make sense.”
Here are three steps to help you determine whether airport lounge access is worth paying for, plus how you may be able to get it for free.
Step #1: Run the math based on how often you travel
The value of airport lounge access depends heavily on how much you'll be able to use it, which is why it's important to gauge how much it costs and how much you actually travel. Here’s an illustration based on how much it costs on average for a membership.
Let’s say you're considering a membership, which will grant you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. Most networks offers three main membership tiers. Here’s what it would then cost you, as per statistics that indicate an estimate of lounge costs at key airports worldwide.
If you do plan on grabbing a bite, see if you're nearby lounge includes food and whether the costs make sense
A standard membership (tier-1) costs about $99 (Dh350), allowing you to enter VIP lounges for $27 (Dh100) per visit. A $249 (Dh900) upgraded membership (tier-2) has 10 free visits with $27 visits thereafter, and a $399 (Dh1,500) all-access membership (tier-3) provides unlimited visits with $27 visits for guests.
“If you fly several times per month and feel like you could hang out in an airport lounge 30 to 40 times per year, breaking it down into a per-visit cost can help,” said Dev. So if you paid $399 for an all-access membership and visited an airport 40 times per year, which breaks down to $10 (Dh40) per visit.
The $99 (Dh350) standard membership (tier-1) may seem like a better deal upfront, but don't forget that you have to pay $27 (Dh100) per visit on top of the annual membership fee. Same goes for the upgraded membership (tier-2).
“The per-visit costs [in the above case, $27], you could sit down at a restaurant and have a decent meal each time you're at the airport instead. You won't get the free power outlets and Wi-Fi, though, and lounges can be more peaceful than busy airport restaurants,” added Dev.
“Your calculation should take into account how much you plan to eat and drink and how long your layovers tend to be. Paying the per-visit cost [$27] for an airport lounge isn’t deal if you don't use the services offered, but it can be a bargain if you have layovers that last several hours or over mealtimes.”
Regardless, running the math to see how often you travel can help you decide whether the average price per visit makes sense for what you get in return, which normally includes peace and quiet, food, drinks, and a place to work and recharge your devices.
Step #2: Figure out which airlines you fly with most, and if it matters
The above case study is just one such illustration. While such memberships may be the most popular lounge network available, it's not the only one.
“If you always fly with a specific airline or your airport is a major hub of one you're familiar with, you can also check out airline-specific airport lounges that you know you can frequent often and get some value from,” said Sophie Cortez, a regional manager at a UAE-based European tour operator.
“Is the juice worth the squeeze when it comes to paying for these airline-specific lounges? It really depends on how often you can take advantage and the type of value you get in return.”
Another advantage of being in an airline lounge is having access to airline staff, who can answer questions about your flight and keep you updated of delays.
“If your flight gets cancelled, you've got a lot better chance of being rebooked quickly by using the staff in the lounge rather than competing with the hordes at the gate for the two or three airline staff there,” Cortez added.
If you always fly with a specific airline or your airport is a major hub of one you're familiar with, you can also check out airline-specific airport lounges that you know you can frequent often and get some value from
Step #3: Decide if you're willing to splurge for convenience or relaxation
“Paying $400 (Dh1,500) or more for a year of airport lounge access may sound absurd, but the value is often there for frequent flyers who need quiet and internet access for work. If your job has you flying all the time and you are tired of losing valuable work time at your airport gate, airport lounge access can even be a valuable investment.”
Finally, one way to get airport lounge covered without worrying about cost is by signing up for a travel credit card that offers airport lounge access as a cardholder perk. While different cards offer different levels of access, signing up can absolutely be worth it if you use the access and other card perks often enough.
Before you pursue this strategy, you should make sure the airport lounge access offered by a card you're interested in is unlimited and doesn't come with a surcharge. Some travel cards say you get access via their programs, but what you really get is a very basic membership where you still have to pay per visit.
“Also keep in mind that several top tier airline credit cards offer access to their independent airport lounges for free along with bonus offers and other perks. If you fly with a certain airline often enough, these cards could be worth signing up for,” added Cortez.
“By scoring airport lounge access for free, you won't have to worry about what you paid or whether or not you're getting enough value in return. You can just show up, take advantage of the freebies, and relish in the fact you're in an airport oasis instead of languishing at the gate with everyone else.”