Airport Lounge Basics

Have you ever visited an airport lounge?  The first time I was did, I was sold. I knew I wanted to find a way to be able to experience the lounge again.

Note: United Airlines just announced a major change in their points program beginning in January 2020. I don’t know how this will affect the credit card and lounge access, if at all.

Visiting the Lounge

You have probably heard of airport lounges, but if you’ve never visited one, you may not know much about them.

Access to an airport lounge can be provided by an airline, a credit card, or an independent organization. Lounges passes are often given to frequent flyers, business or first class flyers, or  flyers who have purchased or been awarded a lounge membership.

Breakfast in the Lounge at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris

Once you are inside the lounge, benefits include free food, free drinks, free wifi, comfortable seating, and nice restrooms. Some lounges offer showers  – and I know of one that even has a swimming pool.

I’ve found lounges especially welcome when I am flying internationally and arrive at the airport the recommended three hours before my flight. Since the international airport that I fly from is an hour and a half from my home (in good traffic), I often like to get something to eat before I board the plane.

First Visit to an Airport Lounge

The first time I visited an airport lounge was in 2015. My husband and I were flying to Europe on what would become his last trip out of the country. We didn’t know much about using lounges and ended up almost missing our flight.

Several months before our trip, I had applied for a United Airlines Mileage Plus credit card. For a $99 yearly fee, there are several nice benefits, including two certificates for lounge access that can be used at any time. At the time I applied for the card, the yearly fee was waived the first year, so the passes that year were free. (Terms may be different now, but lounge passes are still included).

Flying on United Airlines

The main reason I applied for the credit card was to get bonus points that my husband and I could put toward our flights. We were excited to try the extra perk of lounge access.

We found the United Airlines lounge and entered by presenting our certificates and showing the boarding passes for our flight. We felt like we were part of the “elite,” watching well dressed business people enjoying the lounge with us.

I naively expected to hear announcements about flights that would be boarding. I also thought that elite flyers did not have to get to the gate early. At one point, I asked at the desk how long before our flight we should go to the gate. When the attendant told me that 45 minutes was enough time, I started to get a little concerned – we only had 30 minutes before our flight.

I went back to my husband to try to rush him to the gate. He wanted to use the restroom first. We boarded at the same time as another couple  – the flight attendants closed the plane door right behind us.  I quickly learned my lesson. I continue to enjoy airport lounges, but I pay attention to boarding times.

My Second Visit

The next time I visited a lounge, I was traveling to Japan with three of my daughters and a son-in-law. My daughter had a credit card that offered access and she was able to bring the rest of us in as guests.

Relaxing in the Lounge before our Trip to Japan

My daughter had a Citi Prestige credit card. Eventually, I also applied for the Prestige Card. Now, we both have Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards instead of the Citibank ones. The two cards are similar, have comparable perks and benefits, and have rather high yearly fees. You can read more about credit cards here. (Since I wrote that post I have changed from the Chase Sapphire Preferred to the Chase Sapphire Reserve).

Priority Pass

The Citi Prestige card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card both come with Priority Pass lounge membership. Priority Pass is a network of independent airport lounges. Some lounges many be associated with a particular airline in addition to being part of Priority Pass. When no lounge is available in an airport, Priority Pass tries to make arrangements with airport restaurants to provide food for its members.

Priority Pass memberships range from $99 per year – which gives a discounted price for lounge access – to $429  – which gives the member unlimited free visits. With the Priority Pass memberships, guests accompanying the member pay a discounted fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve with Priority Pass Lounge Access

The Prestige and Reserve cards go further, offering unlimited visits for the member and two accompanying guests. When I was in Atlanta for a business conference last weekend, I found out that two of the other attendees were flying out on my same flight. I was able to invite them to the lounge to take advantage of what it had to offer.

The Prestige and Reserve cards both have yearly fees, $495 and $450 respectively, but they also offer travel credits to offset part of the fees. If you are interested in obtaining a Priority Pass lounge membership, the best way to do do is to get one of these cards.

With my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I get a $300 travel credit each year, so the actual cost is $150. The Priority Pass membership and other benefits are easily worth the cost for me. If you travel less than I do, the card is still worth a look. With just one international trip per year, the card can be a good use of your travel dollars.

Although I don’t have an American Express credit card, they have a similar program. They have their own lounges, however, so the network is different than Priority Pass (used by the other two major card companies).

My Lounge Experiences

As with most things, some lounges are better than others. I didn’t find the lounge in Atlanta amazing. My biggest complaint was that it was crowded.  My daughter and her husband happened to travel through the same airport the next day and found the same situation.

Enjoying the Pool at the Punta Cana Airport Lounge
Look at All the Room!

Although I haven’t visited many different lounges, one of my favorites was the American Airlines lounge in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport. The food was delicious, the lounge was spacious, and when we were there, there was plenty of room.

On their recent trip, my daughter and her husband also visited the lounge in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Until they sent pictures, I had never seen, or even heard of, a lounge with a swimming pool. Amazing!

Lounge Food and Drink
Soup and Salad Bar at the Lounge

Each lounge I’ve visited has served different food. In Paris, we had quiches, bacon and eggs, a variety of pastries, fruit and more.

Sandwiches at the Lounge in Atlanta

In Atlanta, there were wrap sandwiches, soup, and salads. In another lounge, there was a taco bar.

The lounges offered coffee, tea, soda, and alcoholic beverages. Some of the beverages are self-serve, although the alcohol is usually served at a bar counter.

Restaurant Visits

As mentioned above, the Priority Pass also includes food and drink credit at restaurants in airports where there is no lounge. The restaurants usually have a dollar limit, but I’ve always found it sufficient.

A friend and I visited a restaurant in the New Orleans airport earlier this year. When my daughter and I went on our short Bahama cruise in April, we were able to get breakfast using our Priority Pass memberships. We had taken a very early flight, so it was nice to visit the restaurant when we landed at the Miami airport.

Waiting in the Lounge
Waiting at the Gate

Relaxing in the lounge before a flight is much more pleasant than waiting at the gate – the chairs are more comfortable and the room is usually much quieter.

With the current recommendations of arriving at the airport two hours early for a domestic flight and three hours early for an international flight, visiting the lounge is great!

 

 

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