Lounge day passes: 3 times it may be worth it, 4 times it’s not

Jul 31, 2022

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I arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York earlier this week and needed to get a good bit of work done before going on an airport tour later that afternoon.

Knowing I had about four hours to kill in JFK’s Terminal 8, I checked to see if there were any Amex Centurion Lounges nearby, as I have complimentary access thanks to recently adding The Platinum Card® from American Express to my wallet. Unfortunately for me, JFK’s Amex Centurion Lounge is in Terminal 4.

The closest lounge to me was an American Airlines Admirals Club.

Weighing the cost versus my need to be productive and comfortable over a few hours, I decided it was worth spending $59 on a one-day pass to the club.

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This ended up being a good decision because the lounge was quiet and there were numerous seats available — including places to work, eat, charge my devices and make phone calls.

quiet admirals club jfk
It was a quiet morning inside the lounge in Terminal 8, C Concourse at JFK. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

What I did is something you may not be able to do in the future, depending on what airline you’re flying and what club you’re near. To combat overcrowding at lounges, many have implemented or considered adding policies covering everything from how early you can enter, to who can enter, whether you can use the lounge after arriving on a flight and whether one-day passes are even an option.

However, if you do find yourself near a lounge that sells one-day passes and you are wondering whether it’s worth shelling out a chunk of cash to get single-day access to the lounge and its amenities, there are a few things you should consider.

Related: 8 ways the Amex Centurion Lounge can combat overcrowding, improve the experience

plane view admirals club jfk
This was a pretty good view as I got my work done inside an Admirals Club at JFK. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

3 reasons why a 1-day lounge pass might be worth it

When there are mass flight disruptions

One occasion when you might want to consider a one-day pass to a lounge is when you desperately need to speak to a live customer service agent in the midst of significant flight disruptions, but wait times are long in the main terminal and over the phone.

By paying for a one-day pass, you may be able to get quicker and easier access to lounge-based airline customer service agents. Since there’s a good chance you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in the airport on a day like this, you’ll also have a better place to wait out delays.

crowd at laguardia
A busy day at a gate inside New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Terminal B, amid flight cancellations and delays in June 2022. (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Keep a couple of things in mind, though. First of all, you may not need a live customer service agent at all. It’s always worth trying to go through the airline’s app first to rebook in the midst of disruptions, often without any associated cost.

Secondly, on those days when mass disruptions happen, the lounges are likely to be quite crowded because of the many members waiting out flight disruptions. That means access to the lounge itself, the customer service agents inside and seating may be limited.

When you really need to be productive on a long layover

This would be the category I used to justify my spending $59 on a day pass to the Admirals Club last week. Maybe you’ve got a long layover or work you must get done, and the chaos of the terminal, its sparse outlets and sometimes spotty Wi-Fi service just isn’t going to cut it.

For the price of a day pass, you’ll have good internet access, a quieter and more comfortable place to work, and complimentary food and drink options.

When you have a long layover, but don’t fly all the time

We all hope for those shorter layovers, just long enough to allow us to deplane, grab something to eat and walk to the new gate with a little time to spare. Of course, that’s not always the reality. Sometimes (particularly when booking award flights) you can end up with an itinerary that’s downright strange, leaving you with hours to kill between flights.

Want to wait out your layover in a bit more comfort but don’t fly enough to warrant an annual membership? This could be an occasion where it’s worth splurging on the day pass.

4 reasons why a lounge pass for the day likely isn’t worth it

 You find yourself buying the pass multiple times per year

If you find yourself making this purchase multiple times per year, it might be time to consider whether you’re overspending on one-time passes when you’d really be better off just purchasing an annual membership.

Keep in mind, though, that some airline credit cards give you lounge access for an annual fee that’s considerably less than the annual membership fee you would pay if you were to just sign up for the club outright.

If you purchased one Admirals Club day pass in January of one year and another later that year you will have spent $118 on single-use passes. At that point, you’ve already shelled out a quarter of what you’d have paid for the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® annual fee ($450) which gets you complimentary Admirals Club membership (a deep discount over the standard $650 rate).

This may also be a situation where you might want to consider a credit card like the United Explorer Card, which doesn’t come with a hefty annual fee or a full annual membership to United Clubs but does give you two one-time-use passes for the airline’s clubs and could help cover you for those occasional instances where you really need the lounge access.

A United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

You’re at an airport that already has good working space

Amid terminal upgrades in many parts of the country, we’re seeing a growing list of airports with much better working space outside of lounges. While in the terminal at Tampa International Airport (TPA) earlier this month, for example, I was able to sit in a comfortable, leather chair to work, with my electronic devices plugged in and charging.

Other airports have added at-gate desk setups with charging ports and outlets, along with improved in-terminal Wi-Fi.

Add to that the respite you can sometimes find in airport coffee shops — I sat at a table in a Starbucks at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) and felt like I was at any run-of-the-mill Starbucks — and you may be able to find a convenient place to work at no cost, other than any refreshments you decide to purchase.

You’re traveling with multiple people in your party

Nothing makes the decision to pursue lounge day access quite as expensive as having others in your traveling party. If, for instance, you’re paying $59 times three or four, those day pass costs really start to add up.

On the other hand, if you were to just pay the annual membership fee for the lounge, some clubs will allow you to bring in a guest — sometimes even multiple people — per visit, which can end up being a much more efficient use of money (though be warned that the rules for this are getting tighter at a number of clubs).

It’s crowded in the lounge already

Lounge members are quick to point out that the clubs can get downright crowded even without the added burden of travelers purchasing day passes.

While it’s inconvenient for members when this happens, it also means you may not get the tranquility you think you’re paying for as a walk-in guest.

While a comfortable chair with outlets and a quiet atmosphere may be worth the hefty day fee, a single seat in between a sea of other members that’s not near any charging ports might end up feeling like a waste of money.

admirals club jfk terminal 8 c concourse
(Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Given adjustments some airlines are making to their lounge access policies to cope with overcrowding, it’s possible that you won’t even have the option of buying a day pass for lounge access. But it’s good to keep the single-day pass as an option in the back of your mind for when the right circumstances present. Just remember to weigh whether it’s truly a worthwhile expense.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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