If you fly the friendly skies often, you already know just how stressful airports can be. Listening to loud voices on the intercom while milling through hoards of people can make waiting for your flight an unpleasant experience. You may not even have internet access at your gate unless you pay for it, which means you could be missing out on work or other productive tasks you could be doing, all while in a relative state of discomfort.
Now, consider how different your experience could be if you had access to an airport lounge. In place of the plastic chairs around your gate, you may find comfy couches, desks appropriate for working, and reading corners where you can curl up with a good book. Free internet service and power outlets are plentiful, and many airport lounges have a decent selection of snacks. Some of the better lounges even offer partial or full meals and free alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor. (See also: How to Get the Most Out of Airport Lounge Access)
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. Here are some steps to help you determine whether airport lounge access is worth paying for, plus how you may be able to get it for free.
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. Imagine you’re considering a Priority Pass membership, which will grant you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. This network offers three main membership tiers: a $99 Standard membership that allows you to enter Priority Pass lounges for $27 a visit, a $249 Standard Plus membership with 10 free visits and $27 visits thereafter, and a $399 all-access Prestige membership with unlimited visits and $27 visits for guests. There’s also a highly popular Priority Pass Select membership, which you can only qualify for through a U.S. financial institution. More on that in a minute.
If you fly several times per month and feel like you could hang out in an airport lounge 30-40 times per year, breaking it down into a per-visit cost can help. If you paid $399 for a Prestige membership and visited an airport 40 times per year, that breaks down to $10 per visit.
The $99 Standard membership may seem like a better deal upfront, but don’t forget that you have to pay $27 per visit on top of the annual membership fee. Same goes for the Standard Plus membership. For $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.
Your calculation should also take into account how much you plan to eat and drink and how long your layovers tend to be. Paying $27 per visit for an airport lounge can be a bad deal if you don’t drink, but it can be a great bargain if you drink a ton and 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.
Figure out which airlines you fly with most, and if it matters
While Priority Pass is 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.
Let’s say your airport has a fancy Delta Sky Club in the terminal you normally fly out of. You could buy your way into Delta Sky Clubs at a rate of $495 or 47,000 Delta miles for a one-year Individual Membership. Guests aren’t free with this membership, however, which is why some travelers opt for Delta’s Executive Membership for $745 per year so they can bring two guests along. American Airlines Admirals Clubs also offer annual memberships, with the price for individuals starting at $550, or 85,000 AAdvantage miles. Discounts are also offered to frequent flyers with elite status.
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 (i.e. how much you eat and drink).
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 canceled, 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.
Decide if you’re willing to splurge for convenience or relaxation
Paying $400 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.
It’s also possible your employer would be willing to cover lounge access for you if you truly need it for work. They could balk at the request, sure, but you’ll never know unless you ask.
Score airport lounge access for free
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.
Priority Pass Select is the most common airport lounge pass you can get with a credit card. This type of membership gives you access to unlimited Priority Pass lounge visits and traditionally lets you bring up to two guests.
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.
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.