The foolproof way to gain entry to an airport lounge is to buy a first- or business-class ticket. But traveling coach doesn’t mean you can’t have the same access. Lounge passes allow you to reap the benefits—typically free Wi-Fi and newspapers, beverages and snacks, fax machines and local calls—without forking over $2,500. The problem: deciding which plan offers the best value. Here, the pros and cons of the latest options.
The Annual Pass
Why Get It
If you’re loyal to a single carrier and often fly routes that require waits in airports where your airline has a club, purchasing an annual pass is a good idea. All major airlines have membership programs, and alliances such as SkyTeam and Oneworld give preferred members free access to most lounges.
Never purchase a plan without investigating first. Many airlines have cut back services because of rising costs. Delta, for example, recently closed nine of its 47 outposts, including those at major hubs like Boston and London Gatwick. American Airlines flies to 250 cities but only operates its clubs in 38 airports.
Between $250 and $400.
The Day Pass
Why Get It
If you’re motivated by price rather than loyalty when booking flights and don’t plan on using a lounge more than five times a year, day passes are a better alternative.
Travelers who prefer to plan in advance should consider a prepaid day-pass service. Lounge Pass, for example, gives you the option of buying the passes before your departure. The company partners with more than 100 airports, including Heathrow and LaGuardia.
From $45 at lounge entrances; from $29 at LoungePass.com.
Why Get It
Membership programs offered by a third party don’t require airline loyalty or restrict you to certain airports and countries. Priority Pass is the largest, with 1.7 million members, and provides entry to more than 500 lounges.
Make sure you check club locations in advance. Priority Pass includes partnerships with all domestic airlines, but to varying degrees. Members en route through New York’s JFK have a choice of five outposts, but only two of the four lounges at Terminal 4.
From $99 for an annual membership at prioritypass.com.
Frequent-flier and credit-card discounts
The higher your elite status is with airlines, the better deals they’ll give you on passes. Delta and Continental offer a discount to Platinum Elite fliers of $100 a year on membership costs. Credit cards can also get you lounge entry. The American Express (T+L’s parent company) Platinum card includes admission to Continental, Delta, and Northwest lounges. Amex Centurion and Citi Chairman cardholders all receive free Priority Pass memberships.