More – and cheaper – ways to gain airport lounge access

My At the Airport column for this month is a round-up of more – and cheaper – ways to access airport lounges.

Many travelers have lost or given up their airline club memberships along with their expense accounts, their frequent-flier status and, in many cases, their jobs. And some airline lounges have closed due to airline consolidation and belt-tightening. But airports are still crowded and many travelers still seek quiet spots to plug in and work, make phone calls, catch a nap or just think.

Most airline club rooms will sell day passes to non-members for a fee of between $30 and $50. Some credit cards offer access at a select set of airline club rooms as part of the annual fee. And the Priority Pass program levies both a membership and per-visit fee for access to a menu of about 600 airport club rooms around the world.

Increasingly, though, independent operators and, in some cases, airports themselves are expanding the pay-per-use spaces where passengers can gain access to snacks, business amenities and comfortable seating.

The newest among these is the Airspace Lounge located post-security in Concourse D at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. The lounge offers hip decor, comfortable seating, work areas and complimentary wireless Internet access, snacks, small meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Airspace Lounge CEO Anthony Tangorra plans to open similar lounges in other airports before the end of the year and says the $17.50 per-day fee at the BWI lounge was set after studying the average airport “spend.”

“We found that most passengers expect to spend about $20 at the airport. So lounge access is a compelling alternative for someone who wanted to go to the food court,” said Tangorra. He’s also noticed that because American Express Platinum and Centurion members get complimentary access to the Airspace Lounge, many cardholders stop at the lounge on their way out of the airport. “They grab a free sandwich to go and a coffee and are on their way,” he said.


Amenities at the reLAX Lounge, located on the pre-security, departure level of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, include upholstered chairs, workstations, business services and complimentary Wi-Fi, soft drinks, sandwiches and snacks. Admission is $15 for one hour and $30 for three hours. With the $50 day pass, a complimentary glass of wine or beer is included.

Plaza Premium, which has lounges in Vancouver, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore and more than a dozen other international airports, throws in buffet meals, drinks, business services and, in some locations, showers. Prices vary by location, but in Toronto the fee is about $35 for three hours.

Complimentary amenities at The Lounge in New York JFK’s Terminal 4 ($40 for four hours; $10 each additional hour) include showers, Internet access, drinks, snacks and light meals. At The Club in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a 24-hour day pass is $35 and provides travelers with complimentary alcoholic drinks, business facilities, a separate kids’ room, shower facilities and a smoking lounge. Unlike many airline clubs, visitors are welcome to bring in food purchased outside the lounge.

The independent lounges at some of the nation’s smaller airports are some of the best deals.

Entrance to the Executive Club at Alabama’s Mobile Regional Airport is $10 per day and includes work areas and complimentary snacks, beverages and local phone calls. For $24.95, passengers can buy access to The Club at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and at Altitude: A Traveler’s Club at Kentucky’s Louisville International Airport, a day pass is just $5 and includes complimentary soft drinks and snacks, high-speed Internet access, free long-distance and domestic phone calls, and a lovely view of the runway.


Airport lounges for smokers and hotel guests

If you smoke (or don’t mind hanging around people who do), look for the specially-ventilated cigar lounges linked to the boutiques opened by Bahamas-based Graycliff Cigars at the Nassau International and Nashville International airports (Gates B9 and C10). Lounge access is $4 in Nashville and $10 in Nassau, where the fee includes a complimentary glass of wine or other beverage.

And in some cities, a hotel reservation will get you airport lounge access.

In February 2011, three Hilton Maldives resorts (Beach House Maldives: A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Hilton Maldives/Iru Fushi Resort & Spa and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island) opened a shared luxury lounge for guests arriving at Male International Airport. While they wait for the seaplane ride to a resort, guests receive complimentary shoulder massages, hot and cold food, Wi-Fi and access to posh indoor and outdoor seating. Guests departing the resorts in the evening can also use the lounge, but on the way home, the fee is $80 per person.

Not to be outdone, the W Maldives also offers a seaplane lounge that includes Internet access, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.

In March 2010, the W Retreat & Spa -Vieques Island opened a welcome lounge at the tiny, un-air-conditioned Vieques Airport, off the coast of Puerto Rico. Hotel guests are greeted with chilled towels, cocktails and light snacks. “While they’re relaxing, we check them into their rooms, tag and load their luggage into a Jeep, and then whisk them to the retreat, which is five minutes away,” says the hotel’s Nikolai Ursin. Use of the air-conditioned lounge includes free Wi-Fi and is complimentary for hotel guests at both arrival and departure.

And while waiting for their complimentary airport transfers, guests who have booked suites at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island have access to a private airport lounge that includes complimentary wireless Internet access, beverages and snacks.


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