Travel Tuesday: How Much is Airline Lounge Access Really Worth?
Since applying for the American Express Platinum card in late 2019, I’ve mentioned airport lounge life on this site with some frequency. Furthermore, if I’m being honest, the lounge access said Platinum card provided was a big factor in why my wife and I were interested in getting the card. Unfortunately, quantifying what this type of perk is actually worth is quite a tall task — especially since everyone’s travel routines and routes are different. Nevertheless, let’s dive a bit further into this topic to see if I can offer some guidance.
Airport Lounges: What Are They and Who Are They For?
Access to airport lounges
While it seems likely that travelers of any real frequency would have noticed various lounges while walking through airports, it’s also quite possible that many haven’t. After all, if you’re not looking for them — or if you’re rushing to get to you’re gate — it’s pretty easy to walk right past these somewhat discreet (at times) entrances. Furthermore, even if you do notice them, you might assume that they’re only for the top 1% of flyers.
That presumption may have been true once upon a time but it’s not exactly the case today. So, who does get into these lounges? Well, it depends. In some cases, it may be reserved for those booked in premium cabins (think business and international first class) or frequent fliers with high enough status with a certain carrier. Alternatively, some lounges still offer for-fee memberships. And then there’s the method I’ll be focusing on for this post: credit cards.
These days, there are a growing number of credit cards that offer what’s known as Priority Pass. With this card, you’ll have access to a network of lounges across the country and around the world. On top of this, certain cards offer access to additional lounges. In the case of American Express, Platinum and Centurion cardholders can visit Amex’s own aptly-named Centurion Lounges and are also welcome to visit Delta SkyClubs if they’re flying Delta (similarly, the Amex co-branded Delta Reserve card includes SkyClub access as Centurion Lounge access if flying Delta).
Meanwhile, Capital One recently opened the first of its own line of lounges, while Chase is also working on debuting Sapphire lounges — although these will apparently be included on Priority Pass as well. Several carriers also have lounges in airports where they have a large presence, with some of these locations being accessible to those with some of the airline’s top-tier credit card offerings.
What do lounges offer?
Again, the answer here depends on the location. However, in most cases, you can expect a relatively comfortable and quiet place to relax or work — at least when compared to the main terminal and gate areas. Typically, you can also look forward to some higher-quality WiFi, some food selections, and perhaps even some premium alcohol. Meanwhile, some lounges have additional amenities such as nap pods, showers, massage treatments, and more. I feel compelled to also single out Minute Suites, which isn’t so much a lounge as it is a private room you can rent out on an hourly basis (I was able to use my Priority Pass for one free hour and one discounted hour on an overnight layover in Atlanta).
Where are airport lounges located?
Generally speaking, airport lounges are most common at high-traffic airports — and especially if that city is a hub for a certain airline. Take, for example, the fact that Delta has at least one SkyClub at each concourse of Hartsfield-Jackson, for a total of nine. Of course, this doesn’t help you much if you aren’t flying Delta, so there are a few others available as well, including a Centurion Lounge.
Something else to note about airport lounges is that most are past security, but there are a few that are “landside.” In the case of “airside” ones, there is always the chance that a lounge you have access to is located either very far away from your gate or is literally inaccessible because the terminals aren’t connected. Therefore, before you get too excited about getting to hang out in a lounge, make sure to do a little extra research about the location and where you’re flight will depart from in order to ensure you’ll actually be able to visit.
The Cost of Airline Lounges: Are They Worth It?
Before I get into all this talk about credit cards, I should mention that there are lounge options that allow you to pay a one-time fee for access. Obviously, in these cases, it’s a bit easier to determine whether the price is worth it — but it’s completely up to you.
Credit card annual fees
When I decided to get the American Express Platinum card — in part because of the lounge access it offered — the annual fee was a steep $550 a year. Since then, it’s actually increased to $695. Given the fact that we’d typically take trips that would possibly include lounge visits maybe half-a-dozen times a year, I can tell you confidently that this would not be worth $695. Luckily, for that fee, the Platinum card offers a lot more, including various credits that offset what we pay significantly. The same is true for many other cards with lounge access, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Capital One Venture X, and more.
Can lounges save you money?
Living luxuriously is nice and all, but is there really any fiscal benefit to lounge life? Arguably, yes. For example, during the times that we’ve visited Delta SkyClubs or Amex Centurion Lounges, they’ve had a number of food and beverage options available to us. Whether it’s a free cup of coffee that keeps us away from the airport Starbucks or a full lunch we’d otherwise have to go find elsewhere, this amenity really has saved us money in those instances. No, we haven’t eaten $695 in “free” food — but, as I explained, that full fee isn’t going toward lounge access.
How else can lounges potentially save you money? Well, if it’s between paying for late checkout at your hotel or heading to the airport early and hanging out at a lounge, the latter would definitely save you money (assuming access is already included for you). I’ll admit this is a little bit of a stretch, but not by much.
The comfort factor
Here’s a scenario for you: Imagine you’ve just come off a 14-hour flight and are now faced with a 10-hour layover before catching another flight to your home airport. Now, how much would you pay to take a nice hot shower after that long-haul flight during your massive layover? While it’s hard to put a number on I’m guessing it sounds pretty darn tempting, doesn’t it? This exact thing happened to me — and, let me tell you, the shower access was absolutely worth whatever you could argue I paid for it.
Ultimately, this type of experience is where the real value in airport lounges comes in. The ability to sit at a table and get some work done instead of having to balance your laptop on your, well, lap or sit in the dark in an oversized chair for a few minutes before packing into a metal tube is something that’s not exactly easy to put a number on but I’d say does have value.
So, how much is airport lounge access really worth? As expected, I’m going to cop out on a real answer and say that it really depends on a few factors. For one, the value you get out of it will depend on how much you fly, where you fly to/from/through, and how much time you’re able to spend at lounges when you visit them.
Additionally, in the case of credit cards, you’ll need to determine whether you’d get benefit out of the other aspects of the card, which will inform how much you’re really paying for lounge access in the first place. All I can say for sure is that we have no regrets about getting our Amex Platinum card and savor the ability to spend time at airport lounges when we travel. Between the “free” food and convenient comforts, it really does take some of the stress out of traveling. In other words, to me, it’s money well spent.