You don’t you need a membership, elite status, a first-class ticket or one of those fancy premium credit cards to gain entry. A number of lounges sell single-use day passes that are just the ticket for travelers with time to kill or in need of a quiet respite.
Once spartan spaces where harried frequent fliers could get a cup of coffee, make a phone call and read the newspaper, airport lounges have changed dramatically in the past decade, and are now nicely designed, comfortable spaces offering better food and worthwhile amenities.
“Airlines used to focus on the corporate traveler. Now across the industry, we’re seeing them invest in lounges to create a total experience for both the business and leisure traveler,” says Brett Catlin, managing director of alliances and product at Alaska Airlines, which is spending $40 million to build and renovate lounges across the United States. In addition to the U.S. airline-branded lounges, there are some operated independently, such as the Club Airport Lounge and Escape Lounge.
Want to enter the inner sanctum? Expect to pay $40 to $60 per person, typically at the door, for those operated by major U.S. carriers. (Sadly, as of Nov. 15, Delta Air Lines discontinued the sale of single-visit passes to Delta Sky Clubs, and with the exception of Air Canada, Etihad Airways and Emirates, few international carriers sell day passes.)
You’ll be asked to show a government-issued ID, as well as a boarding pass for same-day travel on the airline or a partner airline. Remember that these spaces are capacity-controlled. If one is too crowded with card-carrying members and other passengers entitled to club use, you may be denied entry.
Once inside, travelers often receive access to complimentary eats, ample workspace with high-speed Internet, comfy spots to kick back and chill, oodles of power outlets, private restrooms (where no one looks askance if you brush your teeth or change your clothes) and, in some lounges, a fully staffed travel desk.
That travel desk may be the most important, at least to me. Airlines only assign their best-of-the-best gate agents to their lounges. So, if you miss a connection or your flight is canceled, instead of standing in some long line at a crowded customer service desk, you have an experienced airline pro acting as a concierge who knows all the tricks to get you rebooked.
If you know in advance that you’ll have a long layover during your travels, you may want to check out programs such as LoungeBuddy or Lounge Pass, in addition to the airline you are flying. These websites offer access to hundreds of lounges globally. Amenities and pricing vary by lounge — for example, some passes are only good for a few hours, or at limited times — and you may need to book at least 24 hours in advance, so read the fine print and plan accordingly.
Here are some lounge options (as of Dec. 1):
●Locations: Seven, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Los Angeles International, Portland International and Seattle-Tacoma International.
●Amenities: Food and snacks, beverages (including wine and beer), TVs, high-speed WiFi, online access to newspapers, concierge service stations to help with last-minute upgrades.
●On the menu: Steel-cut oatmeal, scones, bagels, a salad bar with artisanal breads, soups, veggies, hummus. Custom-crafted cocktails. Additional menu with fresh-made entrees such as a Korean rice bowl or chicken pesto panini for $8 to $10.
●Little extras: Starbucks coffee prepared by professional baristas in some locations (JFK now, Seattle soon). Wide selection of local microbrews — 12 on tap at the Seattle location.
●If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and Alaska Airlines will refund the cost of the day pass.
●Day pass: $59 (not available in Charlotte International, Pittsburgh International, Boston’s Logan International and Dallas-Fort Worth International because of construction that has limited seating).
●Amenities: Lounge-style seating, high-speed WiFi, personal travel assistance, snacks and beverages, shower suites and business centers.
●On the menu: Breakfast might include hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal and cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels. The afternoon finds hearty soups, fresh salads, vegetables, hummus and cheese. Some clubs offer full meals for sale as well as premium cocktails.
●Little extras: Fresh-brewed La Colombe coffee. Day-pass holders can bring up to three children under 18 with them.
●Locations: More than 45 in 31 airports worldwide.
●Amenities: Beverages and light snacks, bar service, high-speed WiFi, agent assistance with reservations, seat assignments and electronic ticketing.
●On the menu: Pastries, bagels, salad bar, soups, fresh vegetables with dip. Larger lounges offer full breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets.
●Little extras: Free use of color printers. Private “phone booths” with speakerphones at some locations.
●If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and United will waive your initiation fee (a $50 value).
●Locations: Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
●Amenities: Food and snacks, beverages (including wine and beer), high-speed WiFi, USB charging stations.
●On the menu: Limited buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pastries by La Tour Cafe. Craft beer from Maui Brewing Co.
●Little extras: Wines selected by a master sommelier.
●Locations: In the United States at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson; Boston; Baltimore-Washington International Marshall; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International; Dallas-Fort Worth; Las Vegas’s McCarran International; Orlando International; Phoenix Sky Harbor International; Pittsburgh; Seattle; and San Jose International airports. In Britain at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
●Amenities: Snacks, bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, (including beer, wine and liquor), free WiFi, charging ports, TV and workstations with desktop PCs. Some locations offer shower facilities.
●Little extras: Unlike other airline lounges, the Club allows guests to get food from an airport restaurant and bring it in with you.
●Locations: Minneapolis-St. Paul International; Oakland International; Connecticut’s Bradley International; Reno-Tahoe International; Greenville-Spartanburg International (S.C.); and Ontario (Calif.) International airports.
●Day pass: $40 if you pre-purchase, $45 for walk-ups.
●Amenities: Plenty of seating, quiet library area, full bar, business space, high-speed WiFi.
●On the menu: Food and beverage menu with complimentary lighter fare including cereals and pastries at breakfast, and sandwiches, salads and soups the rest of the day. You can also order heartier dishes from an extensive menu for an additional cost.
●Little extras: Free use of iPads.