Airport lounges aren’t just for business travellers.
Q | I’m not a business traveller. I’ve got no chance of using the lounge, right?
Wrong, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so. The lounge has become a status symbol – a rare place for an airline to show off some opulence and swagger. Virgin’s Clubhouse at New York’s JFK and London’s Heathrow, BA’s Executive Club and BMI’s Great British Lounge are almost destinations in their own right: they’re akin to boutique hotels, with spas, showers, beds, restaurants and entertainment from TV to magazines to wi-fi. It’s not surprising that airlines want to keep these clubs as exclusive perks for members of their frequent flyer programmes and passengers paying full fare.
Q | So how do I get past the velvet rope?
You can pay for admission into an executive lounge, most operated by Servisair. There are about 50 of these worldwide, and while they’re not nearly as swanky as dedicated airline lounges, most have crucial facilities like air conditioning, comfy seats, free snacks and drinks including alcohol plus wi-fi and free reading matter. Prices from £16-20 (executivelounges.com). Paid-entry lounges like Manchester Airport’s new Escape (manchesterairport.co.uk), Gatwick’s No.1 Traveller (no1traveller.com) plus Birmingham and Heathrow’s 4Deck up the ante in terms of style and facilities. Book ahead for prices similar to Servisair.
Q | Can I pay my way into a dedicated airline lounge?
A few airline lounges will allow you to pay for entry. In the UK this notably includes Virgin (virgin.com/travel). Popular with the many business travellers who’ve had to downgrade to economy, Priority Pass (prioritypass.com) allows members access to hundreds of lounges worldwide. From £70 annually, plus fees of around £15 for each time you use a lounge. Consider this, however: is the fee worth what’s for free? And just how many peanuts, cocktails and/or massages can you cram into the hour before you fly?
Q | Any chance of a freebie?
Not really. You could sign up for a frequent flyer programme at the airport as this sometimes gives instant lounge access. Diners Club charge cards (in themselves not usually given out for free) offer members access to more than 100 airport lounges worldwide. Select American Express cards offer similar perks, but let’s face it: if you’re a Titanium cardholder, you’re not likely to be travelling by economy. The other way to get in for free is to wangle – or pay for – an upgrade.
Q | How do I get a free upgrade?
Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s more likely if you are travelling alone, are ‘special’ (a priest, doctor, barrister or celebrity – by title or appearance) you’re celebrating a significant birthday, wedding anniversary or honeymoon, you have no tricky requirements (like airline meals), or you know someone. Ideally you want several of these conditions, plus an irresistibly charming demeanour. Turning up to check in either early or late could be helpful. You might be upgraded if you’re late, the flight is overbooked and you can’t take the next one. Then the airline lounge is yours for exploring – just don’t miss your flight.
© National Geographic Traveller UK Mar Apr 2011