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Fancy upgrading your next flight experience but not quite ready to plump for Business or First Class? You can be boujee on a budget by paying for access to an airport lounge. Not sure where to start? No worries, here’s airport lounge access explained, from what exactly it is to what perks you’ll get to enjoy, and if it’s even worth it (spoiler alert: we think it is).

What is an airport lounge?

An airport lounge is basically a fancy space within an airport, sometimes run by airlines and sometimes by external companies, that offer various amenities and services to travellers – typically for a fee or as part of a membership programme.

Depending on what class you’re flying – usually Business or First – they can be free to access too. And if you’re savvy enough (or have high-flying friends), you can still gain access to the super fancy lounges that you can’t even buy your way into with a day pass. Take Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse airport lounges – generally speaking, the only way to access these is with a First or Business class ticket clutched in your hand. However, if you’ve got a mate who happens to be taking the same Virgin Atlantic flight as you and with the right class ticket, they can make you their plus one – even if you’re riding in plain ol’ Economy. If you don’t have the fancy mate, you can still gain access by reaching Gold tier with their Flying Club loyalty programme.

Even if you don’t have the golden ticket for the mega premium lounges, there’s plenty of other lounges that you can buy access to, and you can pay more or less depending on what sort of facilities you’re after. In short: airport lounges are way nicer to hang out in whilst you wait for your flight than the bog-standard departure area with its plastic seats and never-ending fast food queues.

How does airport lounge access work?

How you access an airport lounge depends on the type of lounge you’re after.

Premium airport lounges: If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in First or Business Class, then you’ll probably have free access to the airport lounges that are affiliated with your airline or those belonging to airlines that share the same alliance. That’s just one the many perks of flying in the fancier classes!

Loyalty programmes: Premium airport lounges are often private, meaning you’ll most likely only be able to gain access by having the right boarding pass. But there are exceptions to this. Fly long enough with an airline and you might just rack up enough points to reach the tier that’ll give airport lounge access privileges. The level of your access will vary based on the tier you’ve managed to reach (e.g., Gold, Platinum, etc.).

Lounge Memberships: There are standalone lounge membership programs like Priority Pass, LoungeKey, and others. These memberships allow access to a network of lounges worldwide, regardless of the airline or class of ticket. Memberships may have different levels offering varying benefits.

Pay-per-visit: Some lounges allow you to pay for access on a per-visit basis. An easy option if you don’t fly enough to have elite status or memberships but just want to able to indulge in some lounge amenities before your flight or during your layover (trust us, airport lounges can be a godsend on layovers!)

Is it worth paying for lounge access?

This will always depend on a few factors:

How long do you plan on being at the airport before departure? How long will your layover be, if you have one? If you’re a worrier who always gets to the airport way too early (you can never get to the airport too early, if you ask us) or your layover is more than 2 and half hours – we say go for it. The amount of money you’ll spend if you hit the airport restaurants (and the queues you’ll have to wait in first) will usually get cancelled out straight away by the cost of a pay-per-visit pass – especially for airport lounges as opposed to airline lounges. Airport lounges usually have less good stuff than those run by airlines, but they’re also cheaper to use.

If you don’t need (or want) to get to the airport a good while before your flight, or your layover is less than 2 hours, then you probably wouldn’t get all that much out of airport lounge access to make it worthwhile, especially if you’re having to cough up extra for the privilege. Got free access through your cabin class? Just do it for the fun of it – you’re there for a good time, not a long time.

Whether or not an airport lounge is worthwhile also depends on what you want to get out of it. We’ll go into more detail about what airport lounge access can get you below, but the main gist is if you plan to plump for an airport lounge, then you’ll ideally want to make the most of the facilities whilst you’re there.

What does airport lounge access get you?

The good stuff depends on which lounge you’re staying at (and coughing up the extra money for) but as a general rule of thumb you can expect the following at any decent airport lounge:

Seating that’s actually comfortable: Lounges usually have comfortable seating options such as sofas, armchairs, and sometimes private pods or suites where you can relax or work in sweet, sweet peace.

Unlimited food and bevs: Most lounges will offer free food and beverages, as well as snacks, hot and cold drinks, and sometimes even full meals. In Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses you’ll find great big jars of classic sweets – think strawberry laces and rhubarb and custards. In the massive Qatar Airways lounge at Doha Airport (voted the world’s best airport in 2024 by Skytrax, btw!), our Head of Marketing Mandy thought it was very swish that they had several full size restaurants inside where you could enjoy proper sit-down dining. In your more average airport lounges, alcohol may also be free, but you might have to cough up for the extra fancy stuff.

Work facilities, if you must: If you need ’em, many lounges will have workstations with internet access and power outlets, as well as printing facilities. Fancier ones will have private rooms for you to use.

Entertainment better than staring at the departures board: Some lounges have TVs, newspapers, magazines, and even gaming consoles to keep you entertained while you wait.

Shower Facilities: Premium lounges often have shower facilities available if you want to freshen up during long layovers. Cheaper airport lounges may have them too, but you’ll probably have to pay extra to use them.

Does airport lounge access include drinks?

Yep, airport lounge access typically includes free drinks, and as many as you want. These drinks can vary depending on the lounge and the time of day, but they often include non-alcoholic stuff like water, soft drinks, fruit juices, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, as well alcoholic options like beer, red and white wine, and various spirits.

In the fancier airport lounges and pretty much all those run by airlines, all drinks will be free (and free-flowing), but in the more down-to-earth ones, you may have to pay extra for the premium, top-shelf stuff.

How much time can you spend in an airport lounge?

The amount of time you can spend in an airport lounge will typically depend on several factors, like your eligibility for access, the specific lounge’s policies, and any additional fees or conditions that may apply. But here’s some general guidelines for how long you can expect to be able to while away the hours.

Access via cabin class: If your airport lounge access is thanks to your First or Business Class ticket, you can usually enter the lounge a few hours before your flight departure. The exact time will vary from lounge to lounge, but it’s typically around 3-4 hours before your scheduled departure time.

Access via frequent flyer status: If you happen to be a high ranking member of an airline frequent flyer programme, then your access will be similar to that above –  typically starting a few hours before departure. If you’re a frequent flyer but haven’t reached the upper echelons just yet, the amount of time you can spend in the lounge might vary to suit.

Access via memberships: If you’ve opted to pay for annual membership to a lounge programme, your access duration may vary based on your membership level. Some memberships offer unlimited access, while others may limit the number of hours per visit or per year.

Access via pay-per-visit: If you’re paying for airport lounge access on a per-visit basis, your access duration is usually limited to a certain number of hours per visit. This can range from 2-4 hours, depending on the lounge and the specific terms of your access. For example, you can use Etihad Airways‘ Business Class lounge at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed International Airport for either 4 or 8 hours, depending on how much you’re willing to pay.

This way for cheap flights

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