Tuesday Travel Top 10: Airline Lounges in the US

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Airline lounges are becoming more and more sophisticated by the day, and are one way the major airlines try to build brand loyalty in an increasingly competitive marketplace, so we thought we’d take a look at the ten best lounges in the United States, and how you can get access to each. The term “best” is subjective. Some folks value the food, others the free WiFi, and still others rate spacious shower suites as their main lounge criteria.

Have some favorite lounges of your own? Tell us about them in the comments below.

The recently opened Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK is very swank with a full-service salon, a spa, a billiard room and a bar-brasserie.

1. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK: Virgin Atlantic recently opened its all-new 10,000-square-foot Clubhouse at JFK in March with special touches like a free 15-minute spa treatment such as a massage for all guests, and longer treatments as well as salon appointments, manicures and pedicures available at the lounge’s Bumble & Bumble salon. The bar and brasserie have a full menu of gourmet goodies, and mid-range liquors, wines and beers, while the various areas include work stations, a restaurant-style setting, relaxation areas, a billiard room and furniture specially designed by Arne Jacobsen. Passengers who are flying that day on Virgin Atlantic and hold an Upper Class ticket, Flying Club Gold status, or are UK Amex Centurion cardholders may enter.

The Oneworld Lounge at LAX.

2. Oneworld Lounge LAX: This lounge is shared by the Oneworld airlines operating out of LAX’s Tom Bradley international terminal including British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. It is actually separated into two sections, a small first-class lounge, and a larger, busier business class lounge with basically all the same amenities including work stations, modular seating areas, a café area and a bar. The food changes throughout the day and includes both cold snacks and a hot buffet. The beverages, both alcoholic and non, are free and guests are also provided complimentary high-speed WiFi access. There are also several showers available, stocked with high-end Molton Brown products for travelers in transit. Not a bad way to prepare for a transpacific flight. To get in, you need to be flying either business or first internationally on a Oneworld carrier, or to have Sapphire or Emerald elite status with Oneworld.

Cathay’s new First and Business Lounge at SFO.

3. Cathay Pacific Lounge at SFO: Located on level 4 of San Francisco’s International Terminal, this Cathay Pacific lounge is the airport’s newest and opened just last December. Some of its snazzy features include white Carrara marble and black Chinese granite fixtures, a Venetian-glass wall installation by Fabbian of Italy, special Cathay Solus Chairs (those round booth-like ones) handcrafted by Poltrona Frau, three shower suites, and of course, a signature Cathay Pacific lounge noodle bar. There are also seven workstations with desktop computers and internet, as well as WiFi throughout. The lounge is normally open only to passengers flying business or first class on Cathay Pacific or Oneworld partners that day, or Oneworld Sapphire or Emerald elite members. Over the summer, if you had a Klout score of 40 or higher, you could even have gained entry, no matter what airline you were  flying or what class of service. Check out this post to read about that.

The aqua back-lit bar at Delta’s Miami SkyClub.

4. Delta SkyClub Miami: Of course lounges in the airline’s other hubs like Atlanta and Salt Lake City might be larger (and have golf putting greens!), but the one in Miami has a distinctive flair thanks to local architects Rodriquez & Quiroga that includes an aqua backlit bar with a full café seating area, mid-century modern-style white leather armchairs in various seating sections, a cloud-like undulating ceiling, a conference room, a shower suite, a quiet zone, and, of course, free WiFi. The snacks and drinks could use some work, though well drinks and house beers and wines are free. To get in, you need to be flying business class, be a Diamond Medallion member, a Delta Reserve or Platinum American Express cardholder, or buy a one-day pass for $50.

The British Airways Terraces Lounge at SeaTac provides a spot of color in sometimes-dreary Seattle.

5. British Airways Terraces Lounge Seattle: Sure there are British Airways Terraces lounges in other gateways like San Francisco and New York, but you’ve got your choice of fine lounges at those airports, so we included this gem of a little lounge at Seattle’s airport which looks  much like the other West Coast lounges with beachy-bright armchairs, a cheery bar area (though alcohol must be ordered from staff) serving free drinks, plenty of little snacks and a small “larder” stocked with things like soup and tea sandwiches, workspaces and internet terminals, a flatscreen TV tuned to the news, and free WiFi for the workaholics. For select flights, you can even order a meal ahead of time to have in the lounge so you have the most time possible to sleep on your flight. The lounge is open to passengers flying business and first class with British Airways, Silver and Gold British Airways Executive Club members and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members.

The decor in the Denver Admirals Club is meant to reflect the Rocky Mountain landscape.

6. American Airlines Admirals Club Denver: One of the newest Admirals Clubs, that is actually a joint venture with British Airways, is this lounge that opened in late 2010 in Denver Airport’s Terminal A. It’s a bit cozy at just over 5,000 square feet and with room for just around 120 passengers, but the setting is meant to reflect Denver’s Rocky Mountain surroundings with chiseled stone walls, wood accents and etched-glass room dividers. There is a Cyber Café with HP work stations, flat-panel televisions, a cell-phone-free quiet zone, a bar area serving food and beverages—premium alcohol and food for pay, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and house wine and beer are free. The lounge is open to business and first class passengers on American Airlines, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members, Amex Platinum cardholders, or passengers who purchase a $50 day pass.

The Koru Lounge has several “zones” including a kids’ area, an entertainment area and a work area.

7. Air New Zealand Koru Lounge LAX: Like Air France/KLM and Air Canada, Air New Zealand flies out of Terminal 2 at LAX and its Koru Lounge is located on the mezzanine level above the terminal’s main floor. The overall color palette here is meant to remind visitors of New Zealand (there’s a huge glass map of the country in the entrance foyer) with greens, browns and blues all over. The lounge is broken up into distinct zones including one for Relaxation (ie quiet), another for Entertainment with televisions, books and a self-serve bar area featuring mid-range wines exclusively from New Zealand, a children’s play room, and six shower suites stocked with Pacifica skincare and bath products. Access is for passengers flying business class on Air New Zealand or Star Alliance partners that day as well as Air New Zealand Airports Gold and Gold Elites, Koru Club members and Star Alliance Gold members. A day pass costs $55.

The Emirates Lounge at JFK is all about restrained elegance.

8. Emirates Lounge New York JFK: Though it seems to be harder to get into this lounge than breaking into Fort Knox, a business or first class ticket on Emirates should do it (and get you chauffeur service from the city to the airport). Once inside, it’s all leather armchairs, marble countertops, and a buffet spread that goes on for days with both Middle Eastern and Western treats, as well as premium beverages, magazines in a dozen languages, free WiFi, and yes, shower suites.

The Lufthansa Lounge at Boston Logan has squared-off armchairs and walls covered with German landscapes.

9. Lufthansa Lounge at Boston Logan: Though the JFK lounge has three separate areas for first class, business class and high-value Senator elites and was upgraded to the tune of $10 million back in 2009, the Lufthansa lounge at Boston Logan, which reopened after a $2.5 million refurbishment in September, shines by comparison with that airport’s other lounges. The décor features squared-off leather club chairs, minimalist oak woodwork, a wall mural with a Lufthansa jet flying over the Alps, and pretty much all the free German beer you can chug during your layover. Access is granted to first and business class flyers and Lufthansa Senators, though you could pay the $35 for a day pass.


10. United Global First Class Lounge at SFO: Though the United Club in the International Terminal here is the airport’s biggest (with capacity for 300 people), and United prides itself on the Terminal 3 lounge, it is the Global First Class lounge at SFO that really stands out with amenities you’d expect such as shower suites, high-end food offerings including sushi, cheese plates and small sandwiches, complimentary premium spirits, semi-private sitting areas and a hushed atmosphere befitting an Old World hotel lobby. Entry is restricted to first class passengers on international United and Star Alliance flights though if you’re a United Club cardholder, you can at least access the main section of the United Club, or you could pay $35 ahead of time online or $50 at the door to get into the business class lounge.

Don’t see your favorite lounge on here? Tell us about your favorite airline lounges and why you like them below.

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