What makes lounge access worthwhile?

Food offerings in the SJC Airspace Lounge

Food offerings in the SJC Airspace Lounge

Frequent flyer forums abound with gossip about airport lounges. From the promise of massages at the Royal Thai spa lounge, to tales of disappointment at the tea selection, they are a hot topic among the jet set. Entry into airline lounges is typically gained via airline frequent flyer status and credit card based access, which our friends over at Creditwalk.ca have thoroughly analyzed. For the less frequent traveler, there is the option of paying for a one-time pass (or using a gifted guest pass). Here are the scenarios where I think that approach might be worthwhile, based on when I have found lounge access to be most worthwhile.

1. When you need a no-distractions environment in which to work

With many airports offering free wi-fi, the business centre aspect of airport lounges have lost some of their appeal. It isn’t the ability to connect, but rather, to disconnect from all distractions, that make a lounge worthwhile for the times you have a long enough layover and a fast approaching deadline. For the $27 it once cost me to enter the United Club (whose snack selection is fairly dismal), I was able to zone in and get about three hours worth of work done. Of course, day passes can range from $25 through to $75, so it depends on your circumstances. If you’re tighter for productive time than for money, this may be a worthwhile option for you.

2. In lieu of a hotel

I once had an eight-hour layover in Beijing Airport on my way to Malaysia. At the time, I was lucky enough to use my frequent flyer status to get into the Air China lounge, but I would have gladly paid for entry to this haven. After a long overnight flight, I was able to take a four-hour nap in a sleeping pod, enjoy breakfast, shower, get some reading done, eat lunch, charge my phone, and keep my luggage safe when roaming the airport. This was especially useful in a place where I would have needed a visa in order to go into town.

3. When they are serving a proper meal

On our recent trip to Hawaii, Mr. Pointster and I were debating which of our layovers to use our one-time American Airlines Admirals Club access. I mistakenly thought it would be more useful in San Diego than our departure point of Toronto, since our San Diego layover was longer than the one hour we had left before our flight. What I forgot to take into account was the fact that we hadn’t yet eaten dinner and were about to board a six hour flight with only food for purchase. We ended up spending about $40 on our meals and a frustrating public wi-fi connection. I now admit that we should have used our one-time pass then, but I still don’t think it would have been worth outright paying for, since different lounges offer differing degrees of meals and snacks. I’ve been disappointed with the ‘carrot-sticks and cheese-and-cracker’ offerings of the United Club, been satisfied with the Maple Leaf’s soup, salad, and sometimes pasta bar, and have been absolutely delighted with a full Turkey dinner at the Plaza Premium Amex Lounge in Toronto on Christmas Eve.