Do I get lounge access if I’m connecting in a lower class of service?

Feb 4, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional lounge information. It was originally published on Dec. 18, 2018.

“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

A good premium travel experience starts long before you take off and continues until you leave the airport, with friendly ground staff and relaxing lounges. But even if you’re traveling in business or first class, you might end up with a leg of your itinerary in a lower class of service. TPG reader Joseph wants to know how that will affect his lounge access …

I’m flying into DFW in international business class and connecting to a regional jet seven hours later. Will I be able to access the Admirals Club lounge?

TPG READER JOSEPH

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What Joseph is describing is a relatively common occurrence. For example, if you’re flying international first class across the Pacific and connecting to another destination in Asia, odds are your connection will be in business class (at best) as most airlines don’t offer first class on such short flights. Or maybe you’re flying during a peak travel period and found a long-haul award in business class, but could only find an economy award for your connection.

In almost every case, airlines will defer to the class you traveled in on your long-haul/international/trans-oceanic flight segment to determine your lounge access. However there are a number of airlines that don’t, and you should check the specific lounge access requirements before you travel. For example, United grants customers traveling in its Polaris business class access to Polaris lounges at every stop along their journey, but passengers flying in international first class with a Star Alliance partner only get Polaris lounge access at their departure airport.

Another exception to be wary of is when your ticket includes airlines that aren’t in the same alliance, such as Etihad and American Airlines. An Etihad first-class award ticket from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to New York-JFK, connecting on to Washington, D.C. (DCA) on American Airlines wouldn’t get access to the AA Flagship Lounge in JFK, as access is extended to Oneworld premium cabin passengers, and Etihad is not a member of the alliance.

Speaking of Etihad, the Abu Dhabi based carrier is a notable exception to this rule which I found out the hard way this week. I flew from Seoul (ICN) to Abu Dhabi (AUH) in Etihad’s First Class Apartments, and had an onward connection to the Seychelles (SEZ) in economy. My connecting flight was operated by an Airbus A320 that had a business-class cabin, but there were only economy awards available at the time of booking.

Realted: The ultimate guide to Etihad’s A380 First Class Apartment

I arrived in Abu Dhabi fully expecting to enjoy a complimentary massage in the first-class lounge, only to be told I wasn’t eligible to access it with my ticket. Turns out Etihad requires you to be connecting in the highest available class of service (in this case business class) to access a lounge on your connection. The frustrating part was that I couldn’t even access the Etihad business-class lounge: after arriving on a 10-hour first-class flight on the carrier’s flagship A380 aircraft, there wasn’t a single Etihad lounge I was eligible to access. Lesson learned.

On the other hand, many airlines will extend lounge access to premium-cabin passengers connecting in a lower class of service. When I flew Cathay Pacific first class two summers ago, I was traveling from Los Angeles (LAX) to Bangkok (BKK) with a connection in Hong Kong (HKG). My connection was in business class on a shiny new A350, but I was still granted access to Cathay’s first class lounge in Hong Kong, no questions asked. Just make sure to hang on to your original boarding pass, as that’s your golden ticket to the lounge. The same thing happened when I flew JAL first class a few months ago. The full itinerary was Shanghai to Tokyo to New York to D.C., with the last leg being in AA economy. When I landed at JFK after a 14-hour flight I made a beeline to the AA Flagship Lounge, and after presenting both my JAL boarding pass and my connecting AA boarding pass, I was welcomed in for a much-needed shower.

Bottom line

No worries, Joseph, you’ll be able to access the Admirals Club on your layover. AA is working hard to upgrade the premium experience for its Dallas passengers though, having recently opened a Flagship lounge there. If you have the Platinum Card® from American Express, you might have a better experience checking out the new and improved Centurion Lounge at DFW.

Related: The best credit cards for airport lounge access

Not every airline is this generous with its lounge access policies, so make sure you check the specific admissions criteria before you travel.

Thanks for the question, Joseph, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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