Travelling abroad can be exhausting – so wouldn’t it be nice to get the VIP treatment and relax in a private space away from the crowds? From comfy seats to cocktails, Moneywise finds out what’s on offer at airport lounges and whether it’s worth investing
Airport lounges are no longer exclusive hideaways for high-flying executives and passengers travelling first- class – anyone can get some pre-flight peace for a few quid. Alongside the buffet, booze and free wi-fi, some airport lounges offer some swanky extras. The SkyTeam lounge at Heathrow Terminal 4, for example, has a Clarins Wellness area and PlayStation room, while Sleep ’n Fly in Dubai International has igloo-style sleep pods.
But when considering whether to book an airport lounge, it’s important to understand the difference between airline and airport lounges.
Airline lounges tend to offer the most exclusive facilities, with massages, sleeping areas and showers typically available alongside rest areas with unlimited food and drink. But most airline lounges are restricted to first- and business-class passengers, and frequent flyers.
Airport lounges, on the other hand, are much more accessible. Brands such as Plaza Premium, No1 Lounges, and Swissport run facilities in airports all over the world, and these are open to everyone – at a price. In general, you get what you pay for; prices range from about £20 to more than £45 a visit.
If you just fly a couple of times a year, you can buy a lounge pass for the airport or airports you’re travelling through on a one-off basis. But the big question is: is it worth it?
Tom Bourlet, travel blogger at Spaghettitraveller.com, reckons it is.
“The cost is normally around the £25 mark, which might sound steep, but as airport costs all start to add up, it seems to be worth it by the end,” he says.
“You get a private wi-fi connection, which is a lot faster than the basic free one everyone uses in the airport. You get a large range of food, both hot and cold, while there are unlimited drinks – not a bad perk if you are a few hours early. Depending on the airport, you can normally get much more comfy seating, plenty of space and your own private booth.”
Customers on lengthy layovers will arguably benefit from lounge access more than people who simply arrive early for their flight. You can normally pay for lounge entry on the door but, with lounges often capping the number of people admitted at any one time, it’s best to book ahead. This can save you money, too. For example, the No1 Lounge in Gatwick’s North Terminal costs £32 per adult and £18 per child if booked online, but £40 and £20 respectively if you just turn up.
You can save even more money if you buy a pass via a cashback site such as Quidco.com or TopCashback.co.uk. At the time of writing, Quidco pays 11% cashback on No1 Lounge passes, bringing the cost at Gatwick down to £28.48, while TopCashback pays 11.55%. Other offers on Quidco include 10% cashback on Lounge Pass sales and 8% cashback on Executive Lounges.
Sites such as LoungePass.com and LoungeBuddy.co.uk are a great way to compare the different lounges at any airport you will be flying to, from or through.
Manchester airport’s Aspire lounge (above)
“We provide customer reviews, photos, and other information to help travellers decide whether the lounge is right for them, whether they’re looking for a place to grab a bite, get some work done, relax, or all of the above,” says Brent Griffith, co-founder of LoungeBuddy.
“When you book lounge access with us, we save you a spot in the lounge so that you won’t be turned away. There are also certain lounges that you can purchase access to through LoungeBuddy that are not available to the general public elsewhere, such as the Lounge@B in Dubai and Lufthansa Business Lounges.”
Deals for frequent flyers
Regular travellers should investigate annual membership. There are two main options here – an annual pass for a particular lounge brand or schemes offering access to multiple lounge brands.
Aspire Lounge annual membership costs £259.99 (via Executivelounges.com) for unlimited access to any participating Aspire or Swissport lounges in the UK, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands. A big advantage of Aspire Lounge membership is that you can bring a guest each time for free.
However, Priority Pass membership (via Prioritypass.com) will be a better option for many people. It offers access to more than 1,200 lounges in more than 500 cities across 130 countries. The lounges are run by various brands, including Plaza Premium and No1 Lounges.
Standard membership costs £69 a year but you have to pay £15 per lounge visit. Standard Plus is better value – for £159 a year you get 10 free visits. If that’s not enough, Prestige membership costs £259 and offers unlimited lounge visits. Members can take a guest each time for £15. However, simply having a pass doesn't guarantee entry – if the lounge is busy, for example, you can still be refused access.
Jon White, director of marketing at Priority Pass’s parent company, Collinson, says that with individual lounge access costing up to £45 each time, frequent travellers can save money with annual membership.
“For example, our Priority Pass Standard Plus membership includes 10 free visits for a one-off cost of £159, which means you only need to make a couple of return trips each year to make it worthwhile,” he says, “With memberships, travellers are not only saving on lounge access – the selection of complimentary snacks and tipples available should be weighed up versus the cost of other food and beverage options in airports and transport hubs.”
There are a couple of ways to get Priority Pass membership for free – but you’ll need to be pretty well off. Membership is included with the £28 a month NatWest Reward Black current account, but this requires a sole income of at least £100,000, a NatWest mortgage of £500,000, or £100,000 saved or invested with NatWest. American Express’s Platinum card includes Priority Pass membership alongside worldwide travel insurance and hotel benefits – but it comes with a hefty £450 annual fee.
DragonPass (via En.dragonpass.com.cn) combines lounge access with discounts on airport dining, limousines, and meet-and-greet services. It covers about 970 lounges and has three membership options with its top-tier deal costing US$399 (£278) and offering unlimited lounge visits.
Before you book lounge access, check it’s a lounge at the same terminal you’re departing from -– unless it is accessible landside (before security). Some of the larger airports with multiple terminals have several lounges in each terminal.
If you fancy a visit to the best airport lounge in the world, you’ll need to go all the way to Jamaica. Club Kingston, at Jamaica’s Kingston Norman Manley International Airport, was the overall winner of Priority Pass’s Lounge of the Year Awards 2017. The lounge features Jamaican artwork and décor, local food and drink, signature cocktails, a conference facility and dedicated work stations.
EMMA LUNN is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for Moneywise, the Independent and The Telegraph