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Credit cards offer more perks than ever these days, including lounge access and airline elite-style benefits. However, there are still certain travel experiences even the most premium cards just can’t get you. While carrying The Platinum Card from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve come with incentives like reimbursement for Global Entry application fees and Priority Pass lounge access, they won’t give you access to every lounge — your elite status with a particular airline may also gain you entry, but that’s not always the case. In fact, there are some that you can only get into the old-fashioned way: By paying top dollar. Here are seven of the most exclusive airport lounges in the world, presented below in alphabetical order, and what it takes to get in.
Location: Paris (CDG) Terminal 2E
While TPG has had the thrill of flying Air France’s La Première first class — twice! — for most of us, it remains a travel fantasy. That’s because tickets can cost well over $10,000 or 400,000 Flying Blue miles round-trip from the US to Paris — not only that, you must have elite status with Air France/KLM to even book an award in the first place. That said, Flying Blue is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so if you do manage to rack up that cash or those miles and fly La Première out of the airline’s CDG hub, you will have access to Air France’s La Première Lounge.
The experience begins upon arrival at the airport. Guests are greeted at a special entry area just for La Première passengers, at which point, they can sit back and relax as their bags are whisked away and they’re personally escorted through a priority security screening point.
The lounge is a sophisticated hideaway decorated in a bright red-and-white palette with several seating areas and a particularly sultry bar. There are HDTVs throughout showing the news and sports, semi-private work desks and a small library with art books and periodicals as well as loaner tablets for passengers to borrow. The lounge restaurant features menus created by French superstar chef Alain Ducasse — dishes might include lobster Caesar salad and Normandy-style veal escalopes.
The lounge has a sleeping area with mod-chic loungers surrounded by white reed-like installations, trippy circular WCs, sparkling shower suites and a Biologique Recherche spa. Though first-class passengers are entitled to a complimentary 30-minute massage or facial, they can also opt for other treatments, like the signature two-hour massage-facial combo that includes a lifting and firming treatment with the company’s Remodeling Face machine. When it’s time to board, guests are chauffeured directly to the plane in one of Air France’s dedicated cars.
Access: While you can get into the lounge by flying Air France La Première, the carrier also began offering a paid entry option to some business-class travelers a few years ago. To be eligible, you must have a ticket for travel in the business cabin of a long-haul Air France or Delta flight with no La Première cabin available. It costs 150 euros (~$177) or 20,000 Flying Blue miles for arrival services, or 300 euros (~$354) or 40,000 miles for departure or connecting services.
Location: London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5
British Airways’ lounge network can be a tad byzantine for the casual flyer. There are Arrivals lounges, Galleries lounges, Terraces lounges, Executive Club lounges and First lounges. Then there’s BA’s top-tier lounge, the Concorde Room, which only exists at the airline’s hub in Heathrow and in New York (JFK), though there are also smaller Concorde “Bars” at the Dubai airport and at Singapore Changi.
The one at LHR is the airline’s flagship, and for good reason. Inspired by boutique luxury hotels, it offers a quiet space apart from the rest of BA’s massive lounge complex. The décor is perhaps best described as Marie Antoinette meets Philippe Starck — think rich jewel tones, gas fireplaces, oversize furniture and cut-crystal chandeliers. There’s a dining room with private booths for full-service pre-flight meals. Dishes might include smoked salmon and free-range scrambled eggs for breakfast or lemon sole stuffed with shrimp mousse for lunch — you know, just like the Dowager Countess might expect. There are private cabanas with wall-mounted televisions and en-suite bathrooms with showers as well as daybeds for taking a snooze. The lounge has a terrace with airport views through enormous windows for all the #AvGeeks out there. Like other BA first-class flyers, Concorde Room guests are also entitled to a free 15-minute Elemis Spa treatment like the Firm Up and Fly facial or the Dream Flight back massage.
Access: To get in, you must be flying British Airways first class and you can bring one guest. BA Executive Club Gold members who also earn 5,000 Tier Points are given a Concorde Room Card, which grants them access for themselves and one guest to Concorde Room lounges when flying any class of travel with British Airways or other Oneworld carriers.
Location: Abu Dhabi (AUH) Terminal 3
TPG flew Etihad’s Residence aboard the A380 from New York to Abu Dhabi back in 2015 and luxuriated in the airline’s dedicated lounge at JFK before departure. For now, though, let’s concentrate on the Residence Lounge in the airline’s Abu Dhabi hub.
The airline’s Residence Lounge is located within the new first-class lounge at the AUH. In fact, there are two Residence lounges so passengers flying in the Residence don’t have to share anything — they’re located one floor up from the main lounge via a private elevator and entrance. Once inside, guests have their own airport pied-à-terre complete with Poltrona Frau leather sofas and armchairs set around a wall-mounted flat screen. The dining table is set for four, and a mini-bar of sorts with fruit, coffee and tea sits to the side. Not that guests go hungry with full meal service from the main lounge kitchen courtesy of the executive chef, who is likely to come introduce himself and talk over the options before creating a bespoke menu for each person.
The lounge has its own private prayer room and a bathroom with en-suite shower clad in marble and wood and stocked with bathrobes and Acqua di Parma products. Oh, and did I mention that guests get their own private butler? He’ll be happy to arrange a complimentary shave and haircut at the lounge’s salon, or a spa treatment either in the main lounge’s Six Senses Spa or in the Residence Lounge itself. When departure time rolls around, guests are taken to their flight via golf cart and handed over to yet another butler who will oversee the in-flight experience. Bon voyage!
Access: In order to enter the Lounge, you have to be departing in the Residence. Even if you arrive in the Residence and depart in another class of service — i.e. you’re just connecting in Abu Dhabi — then, no luck.
Location: Frankfurt (FRA), Germany
I know, I know, you can actually get into this lounge with Lufthansa’s top-tier status, but it still bears inclusion here because the German carrier’s showpiece First Class Terminal is a stunner and is still quite exclusive. Plus, it’s one of TPG’s favorites, and the rest of the team tries to pass through there as often as possible for special delights like impromptu whiskey tastings.
This lounge is actually a terminal unto itself, is separate from the main airport and is mainly for departing flyers. The First Class Terminal has its own check-in and security screening, so when passengers arrive, they simply hand over their passports and boarding passes, go through security and get ready to enjoy.
There are several seating areas, many with views over the tarmac. The dining room has a buffet, à la carte menus, an expansive bar with top-shelf spirits, an enormous collection of bottled waters and a cigar lounge on hand. There are also two nap rooms, two shower suites and a bathtub suite, where guests tend to pocket Lufthansa’s famous rubber duckies.
When a flight is ready to board, one of the lounge attendants comes to find each passenger and hustles them into a waiting Porsche or Mercedes to drive them directly to the plane. Ser guht!
Access: The First Class Terminal is open to passengers departing in first class on a Lufthansa or SWISS flight, or to HON Circle elite members. To qualify for HON Circle, you must earn 600,000 HON Circle miles in two consecutive calendar years.
Location: Singapore Changi (SIN) Terminal 3
Singapore Airlines is universally recognized as one of the world’s premier carriers thanks to phenomenal service in the air and on the ground. But did you know the airline actually has a private room just for its first-class flyers?
The Private Room — yes, that’s what it’s called — is part of the airline’s collection of KrisFlyer lounges in Terminal 3. To get there, guests must pass through the business- and first-class lounges. Much of the space is simply a smaller, quieter first-class living room-style lounge with various seating areas and plenty of TVs and charging outlets.
There are private seating areas with single chairs screened off from the rest of the lounge, and even a family room with a diaper-changing station. A full-service restaurant with a small buffet and à la carte selections like poached lobster and duck leg confit is also available. The lounge’s shower suites are stocked with Ferragamo Tuscan Soul and Miller Harris amenities.
Access: To get in, you must be flying in the carrier’s first class or in Singapore Suites.
Location: Zurich (ZRH) Terminal E
Taking a cue from its Germanic sister airline, SWISS has phenomenal first-class facilities at its Zurich hub. The carrier’s First Lounge has a nearly 4,000-square-foot terrace for plane-watching as well as work suites with capacity for up to six people, a conference room, an à la carte restaurant — as well as a casual American Diner — and a wine humidor with over 1,000 bottles.
There are two so-called “hotel rooms” with double beds and en-suite bathrooms where folks with long layovers can rest. They’re available upon request, so if you want to use one, ask when you arrive at the lounge.
SWISS actually plans to open a new first-class lounge at Zurich Airport’s Check-in 1 by the end of 2017, which will have its own security checkpoint with a fast-track experience and offer limousine service as well. There will be another restaurant, a full bar with more than 100 grappas, an interesting choice on the airline’s part to help distinguish it from other lounges.
Access: Like Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, this lounge is open to folks departing in first class on a SWISS or Lufthansa flight, as well as Miles & More HON Circle elite members.
Location: Los Angeles (LAX) Tom Bradley International Terminal
Getting to the two VIP rooms in the Star Alliance lounge in TBIT at LAX is a bit like pulling off the layers of a nesting doll. First, you’ve got to get to the business-class lounge. Next, you get an access code to the first-class section through a locked door. Finally, if you’ve been designated a VIP by the airline you’re flying — or hey, maybe you’re just a celebrity passing through — you might get to stake out one of the two private VIP rooms available to special guests here. TPG himself got a look at them last year when he stopped through for a visit. The rooms aren’t especially grand, rather they’re like mid-century modern living rooms with a few different places to sit around the entertainment system — if you want to eat, drink or shower, you’ve got to brave the hoi polloi out in the rest of the first-class section. Still, having a bit of private space to yourself before a long-haul flight can make all the difference.
Access: Though there’s no clear policy for who gets to access the VIP rooms, to at least enter the first-class section of the lounge of which it is a part, you’ll have to be flying in first class on a Star Alliance carrier departing that day. If you want to bring a guest, they’ll have to be on your same flight.
Have you been to any of these exclusive lounges? Tell us about your experience, below.
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