How Much Is Airline Lounge Access Really Worth?

May 15, 2012

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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?

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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