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VIP Airport Lounges: How to Get In

airport lounge access at Plaza Premium

Courtesy of Plaza Premium Lounge

Imagine arriving at the airport for a domestic flight, first-class ticket in hand, only to find that you aren’t welcome in the airline’s lounge. It’s a rude shock, especially if you used 15,000 frequent-flyer miles plus a $75 co-pay to upgrade from coach.

A domestic first-class flyer on many airlines may discover he has no more pre-flight perks than the backpacker in row 48 who got a discount economy ticket from a back-alley bucket shop. The only difference is that the backpacker doesn’t expect to be treated well by the airlines. Front-of-the-cabin customers usually hope for better.

That’s exactly what happened to me before a recent flight from Newark to Phoenix. To say I was disappointed does injustice to my blighted hope. I had been looking forward to a nice glass of chilled Sancerre blanc, a complimentary copy of the New York Times, free Wi-Fi, and a little something to nibble on—maybe some Beluga caviar on organic toast points—while I basked in the comfort of a cushy leather armchair. Instead I found myself sipping a Styrofoam cup of weak coffee on a hard bench at the dismal McDonald’s stand in Terminal C. Bummer.

Had I been better prepared, I might have considered one of several alternative ways to get into the executive lounge. I could have bought a membership, or even a day pass. I could have chosen to go to Phnom Penh instead of Phoenix (international business- and first-class passengers almost always get lounge access.) As I later discovered, there are numerous ways to get first-class treatment at the airport even if you’re not a first-class passenger.

In my case, relaxing in the lounge wasn’t crucial. But sometimes access to one of those sought-after sanctuaries is almost a necessity—especially if you have a long transit wait on an international flight, or if you must check out of your hotel at noon but have work to do for the next 10 or 12 hours until your red-eye departs.

So if you don’t otherwise qualify for lounge access, consider one of the many optional ways to elicit the magic words, open sesame.

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