How Much Is Airline Lounge Access Really Worth?

by on May 15, 2012 · 33 comments

in American, American Express, Lounges

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Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here

Update: Beginning March 22, 2014, American Express Card Members will no longer have access to American Airlines Admiral Club and US Airways Club airport lounges through Airport Club Access / Airport Lounge Program. This means that Card Members will no longer be able to gain complimentary access to the American Airlines airport lounges (known as Admirals Club lounges) or the US Airways Club airport lounges as a benefit of their Platinum Card Membership.

A big reason why I pay $450 a year for my American Express Platinum card is that it offers me access to American, Delta and US Airways lounges (plus a host of others through the Priority Pass Select partnership). American and Delta are my primary carriers, so to purchase both memberships separately, I’d be looking at $650 – which includes steep discounts for having elite status with both airlines – something I wouldn’t normally do.

American Airlines just announced a 2-day sale on Admirals Club lounge passes at a discounted rate of $30 per daily pass (regularly $50), which got me thinking - how much is lounge access actually worth? I generally don’t think too much about it, because I write off my Platinum card yearly fee as just the cost of being a frequent traveler (plus I get tons of other benefits like $200 in yearly airline rebates and free Global Entry that totally make the card worthwhile). However, if I didn’t have lounge access, how much would I pay to gain entrance?

There are four main reasons why I like lounge access, so let me try and place a value on each:
1) A comfortable place to sit and do work/relax in a generally chaotic airport environment ($10)
2) Knowledgeable agents who can help you avoid long re-ticketing lines, especially during irregular operations (like bad weather and mechanical cancellations) ($0 usually, but in the 1/10 instance I use them I’d happily pay $50, so that averages to $5)
3) Free snacks and beverages – $8 (I may enjoy a nice adult beverage from time to time)
4) Free WiFi – I have my own Verizon Mifi, which is always faster than lounge WiFi. But if that were broken or I was international I’d value it at $10.

So for me, I’d honestly say that I’d pay at most around $25 for lounge access if I had more than 90 minutes to kill before/between flights. Any less than that, I’d rather just get a coffee and use my Verizon Mifi device and brave it in the terminal. Frankly, as much as airlines try to market lounges as exclusive retreats, most  are overcrowded and dumpy with painstakingly slow WiFi. That being said, for some reason I still enjoy lounges because they add a level of comfort and reliability to an otherwise unpredictable and exhausting world of frequent travel.

So what say you, TPG readers? What is the most you’d pay for a single visit to a lounge during a 2 hour layover? I know there are many variables, like the airport (and whether its busy or has free wifi in the terminal), but try to think big picture. What is the most you’d shell out for 2 hours of lounge access?

What Is The Most You Would Pay For a Single 2 Hour Lounge Visit?

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Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Julien

    Showers! I travel mostly international and the ability to take a shower between a red eye and a connecting flight is almost priceless… :)

  • Cynthia Drescher

    TOTALLY depends if we’re talking domestic or international travel, and an American carrier or other. If we’re talking a Cathay, Singapore, Lufthansa-branded lounge (for example) and they have nice showers, food, and plenty space, then I’d gladly go to $100 for a visit. Delta SkyClubs, Admirals lounges (and yes, I’ve been in the nice one at JFK) and the like…maybe $15? The exception being the SkyTeam lounge at Heathrow, which is NICEY NICE.

  • Rob

    With the notable exception of LGA, SkyClub has always been a decent experience for me. It’s harder to find Admiral Clubs where I fly. But my faves are US Airways Clubs, the clubs in PHX and CLT are super quiet and with T-Mobile Hotspot access, it’s never been slow, sucks there aren’t that many…

  • CG23

    I once was turned away from a Delta Lounge (in Washington’s Reagan) bc they said I had Priority Pass SELECT and not Priority Pass. Have you ever heard of this before?

  • kimpossibble

    I mostly go for the free booze, so depends what time of day it is. In the morning, nothing, in the evening, $20 or so.

  • the hustle blog

    It’s always my wife and me flying so that fee is x2. I don’t think I would even pay for lounge access on a 2 hour layover. For something longer, maybe.

  • Cory

    I have been in a lounge in Chicago, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The only time I actually felt it was worthwhile was when I got to BKK for a midnight flight after a day of sightseeing in the 100 degree heat and had been sweating through my clothes. The shower was really, really amazing then. At no other point in my trip did I feel having lounge access was worth paying for.

  • Marcos Carreño

    I just used a one day pass during a quick BOS-ORD-SFO same day mileage run. Since status only gets you into AA lounges on international flights, it was well worth the $50. In addition I forgot a bag on the incoming flight and the lounge agents were the best.

  • Doug

    I say that club access is worth about $25 – which is what I pay for Delta with the Am Ex Business Sky Miles card (50% off of $50 day pass).

    My rule of thumb is, if my layover is two hours or longer, I pay for club access. Having a quiet place to simply relax and have a drink is worth it.

    Delta’s lounges leave much to the imagination (real food would be nice), but are still a refuge compared to waiting at the gate.

  • Alan C

    And don’t forget the full-door bathroom stalls! Not to be gross, but having a private, clean, relatively quiet place to mail a package between a red eye and a connecting flight is . . . priceless!

  • Chris S.

    Something that I’ve run into with the SkyGuide Executive Club’s “free lounge access” is that it might be costing me valuable bump opportunities. It’s hard for me to decide whether I’d rather relax in the lounge for an hour before my flight and drink much free booze, or whether I’d rather “rough it” at the gate in hopes of scoring a VDB. I can’t help but feel like missing VDB opportunities should be factored into the cost of lounge access.

  • PAC

    Does anybody know if you can use the one day passes at LHR T3? It looks like you can but I wonder if anybody has had any luck…..

  • PAC

    Whoops….I meant to the Admiral club ones…

  • Peach Front

    I don’t know how to vote in this survey. Seems a bit airline dependent. I didn’t think AA’s product was worth paying for, at least not in MIA. The club access came as a benefit of my business class ticket, but if I had paid extra for it, I would have felt cheated Way too many people, way too many families with babies, problems with kids being allowed in the clubs, problems with nanny-ware on the computer and this I could not even visit my own (PG-rated) website since it was wrongly put in AA’s computer as a “gaming” site. The bar service was overall bad too. Slow, mostly incompetent, and one bartender even tried to upsell me without asking first. So I had a very distasteful impression overall because MIA is very prominent to AA, and the nice breakfast at VVI could wipe out all memory of the multiple problems at the MIA clubs.

    If I’m paying for a club, it should be an adult atmosphere, and children under the drinking age should be banned. Babies should never be admitted. It is a bar! There is drinking involved. The laws in Florida must be fairly unique that AA can get away with allowing people to take their underage kids into these places, but in my humble opinion, it needs to stop. A lounge should not be a playground or a place where baby diapers are changed.

    Northwest World Clubs were good. There was actually an atmosphere of quiet., so I was willing to buy passes — indeed, theirs is the only club where I’ve paid to enter. I remember actually falling asleep in a few of their lounges. This is not possible now with Delta. I don’t know if I would pay to enter SkyClub until they fix what’s broken with their product, which is primarily that the clubs get too crowded and busy, and there are clubs where you can’t fix your own drinks but the bartender has gone off somewhere, so you are not getting any service. The showers for international flights are great, but I get that anyway as a Delta Gold. They are expanding the clubs, which is helpful, because if Delta want to give club access to everybody who waves a credit card, I can’t see any value buying a pass. I haven’t been in a quiet, calm, peaceful club in years. Even the once terrific club at DTW has become chaotic, with long lines for the showers.

    So right now I see no value in buying a pass because the promised peace and quiet just ain’t happening. Delta seems better than AA, but maybe only because my experience at MIA was so remarkable for how awful it was. I had no idea that they would allow children in the clubs! Still reeling and that trip was a year ago.

  • Daddycool

    So you want children banned because they serve alcohol? How about we ban children and babies from restaurants too. They serve alcohol at restaurants. Preposterous!!
    Unless you are an alcoholic, alcohol is not the main reason people go to airlines lounges.

    I agree quiet areas should be provided and rules enforced. However, I have seen more adults misbehave at lounges than children.

  • Gordon Walters

    The lounge should be an oasis in times of crisis or extended stopover. I’d never arrive any earlier than required and certainly not just to sit around anywhere, even one with an open bar and ambient snacks. The only lounges I’ve truly cherished have been arrival ones offering a shower and breakfast after a serious longhaul. They are a con to encourage us to pay higher fares to accrue higher status.

  • Msp2msy

    Tough one! I voted $15 but im pretty frugal. On the other hand I completely agree with situation dependent comments. Premium lounges, lounges with showers on a long trip, or in the middle of a mileage run are priceless. But if I had to pick a price point and commit for an entire year, $15 would be it.

  • compubit

    Just recently had a return flight on UA from Hawaii through LAX (45 min layover) to IAH (4.5 hour layover) to BWI. Had two options: United Club for $50 (haven’t received my 2 club passes for MileagePlus Visa card yet…) to take a shower and a short nap and lock the bags in a locker or rent a car for about $40 (you can get some cheap weekend rentals at IAH – just don’t try on a Tuesday or Wednesday ;-) ) and head to a nearby 24-Hour Fitness (I’m a member) to shower, then grab some lunch. Chose the United club, as I got 0 sleep on the overnight from Hawaii to LA (in First) and about 1 hour LA to Houston (in Coach – takeoff till meal service started and was awakened by my neighbor :-( ). Chose the United Club, as I wouldn’t have to deal with going through security again, plus I got about a 2 hour nap in the 4th floor lounge. Still trying to decide whether to join, as I’m almost completely United in flying… Now if Amex were still onboard with United, it’d be a no-brainer…

  • Nomadic Matt

    I’ve paid the $50 USD before but I only do that if I’m boarding a long international flight and I need to get some last minute work done.

  • The Deal Mommy

    I guess I have a slightly different perspective on lounge access since I travel with (gasp!) kids in the lounges. For four people to have a decent snack in an airport can easily run $30, add in the comfy chairs and the kid’s room and or/play area in many (notably Delta’s MCO and DCA) and I’d have to value it pretty highly. I don’t know if I’d actually shell out the cash, but I happily play my Plat Amex fee every year to get it. My 8 year old has gotten jaded though. He told us that the Delta lounge in Memphis was “the worst he’s ever seen” and he couldn’t believe it was not as nice as the others. Dude, you’re 8!

    On another note, can you get into an AA lounge on an AMEX plat without an AA ticket? Are there any lounges in the international terminal at IAD that accept Priority Pass select?

  • Gordonparker1

    Since the Delta Amex Card gets you in for $25 (vs $50 for average Joe), I figure 3 beers and I am ahead of the game (since the airport bar charges almost $10 for a beer). Plue you get a slightly more relaxed atmosphere and the free wi-fi for those of us that dont have an aircard.

  • Brian(J)

    I don’t get the constant reference to Global Entry as a perk for the AMEX Plat. Done correctly the cost of the combo Global Entry/Nexus card (GE for airports and Nexus for driving into Canada) is $50 every five years. The GE alone is $100 every five years. AMEX Plat is $2,250 for 5 years so for me the net cost would be $2,200 for 5 yeras of AMEX Plat and that would take more travel than I do, because much of my travel has short or no layovers or is already in F or J (award travel) so I am already in the lounge. On top of that I have (just OK) lounge access through the Ink Bold.

  • Matt C

    It depends where I’m going and the type of trip. I often use the lounge as my pregame, which is then continued on the plane :D.

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  • Dan Suslavich

    Here in Boston Spirit uses the US Air terminal (they just switched to them from American),,, the benefit to me now is that I can go into the US Air lounges with my Amex Plat no matter what airline I’m flying.

    Today,,, on arrival, not to be gross either,, but I beelined it to the US Air lounge,,, because even the TP is nicer than the terminals. It’s sad to say,,, but it really is priceless!

  • Richard McGrail

    I would have to say that in general, the airlines (and credit card companies) have been making it easier and easier for everyone to receive the perks that had always been reserved for loyal frequent flyers. At some point, (I think we are just about there) these “perks” will no longer be valuable. Just this past month, we have seen credit cards being offered that give you status, free first bag, early boarding, etc. There is nothing special about these things if everyone is getting them. So why would anyone pay, or try to earn these things?

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  • Kinskijr

    when you fly in Asia Bangkok airways, you have a free lounge access with food and drinks.. why everything in the US can’t be offered with more quality for the consumer.. Also when I fly internationally I never choose an US carrier, because international carriers offer better service and better airplanes.. a380

  • Logan

    I would love to see children and (especially) babies banned from restaurants. Not because I care that alcohol is being served there, but because I hate children.

  • delionita

    That’s my question too! Did you ever find out if you can get on a lounge that you don’t have a ticket for?

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