Why I love a Good Lounge!
As a ‘budget traveller’ I always thought lounge access was a luxury benefit for an exclusive group. Something to aspire to in the future when I have the funds available for all the nice to have luxury extras. However, my perspective on this has changed significantly in the last few years and now if somewhere has a lounge, my first thought is to find out the most economic way to access it!
Heathrow Plaza Premium Lounge:
What’s so great about lounges?
Lounges can be found in a variety of places – primarily we think of airports, but many hotels and event venues also provide lounge spaces.
Normally what you’re getting is a comfortable seating area, amenities including newspapers, food and snacks, complimentary drinks and things like easy access to WiFi and power outlets. Like hotels and airlines, the quality and facilities in lounges range from the relatively basic, to the luxury and exclusive. Some top lounges have free gifts, full table service, facilities such as luxury showers, etc.
What’s great is that, lounges provide convenience (and sometimes luxury) in places where typically you’re waiting and/or you’ll have specific needs which need meeting. Recently I’ve realised sometimes they actually make a lot of economic sense too – even without free access, when you weigh up what you’d spend on food and drink in the airport cafe or the hotel bar, you’ll often find the lounge actually costs similar for a premium service. For example, £20 might not go that far in the airport bar, but a lounge may include complimentary food and drinks for that price.
Bristol Airport, Aspire Lounge:
How do you access them?
Generally lounges are either accessed via
a) Status/membership/travel class – for example by having elite hotel status or flying business class
b) Free as a credit card benefit or
c) By paying for entry.
Airport lounges can normally by accessed in any of these ways. Hotel and airline lounges are normally more exclusive and require status or a benefit with executive room categories/business class flights. Event lounges can vary, sometimes they can purchased with points, sometimes they’re linked to whether you hold a certain product (e.g. American Express card) or sometimes entry can be purchased.
Tips for Accessing Lounges
1) Try out airport lounges by getting an American Express Gold Card.
Free for a year, Amex Gold comes with a Lounge Club pass loaded with two free visits. On top of the free visits you can then also use the card for further visits at just £20. Lounge Club gives access to 350 airport lounges. Read our Gold Card Review here, and find our bonus points referral link here.
2) Work out whether it’s worth paying to use a lounge.
If you have a long wait at the airport and know that you’ll be buying a food and drinks, check the cost of the lounge (and read the reviews). It might be worth paying one fee to use the lounge instead.
This also applies to membership – if you’re travelling multiple times, it’s worth working out whether airport lounge membership schemes are worthwhile. In some cases a lower tier of membership will be worthwhile to reduce the cost per visit if you don’t have free visits via a credit card. For example, Priority Pass standard plus membership is £189 and includes 10 visits – so that’s £18.90 per visit, compared to a walk up cost which could be £25-ish. That said, this is still inferior to a free year of Amex Gold, with 2 free visits and £20/visit thereafter (total cost for 10 visits would be £160, plus you’d get the other card benefits).
3) Get American Express Platinum for lots of lounge access.
At £450/year American Express Platinum isn’t for everyone. However, along with loads of other benefits (see here), it does get you into a lot of lounges, and if you travel a lot it can make a lot of sense. It has unlimited airport lounge access for you, and a guest, via Priority Pass. On top of that, it gives you mid-tier hotel status with Hilton, Marriott and Radisson. Now, guaranteed lounge access is usually reserved for top tier hotel status (e.g. Hilton Diamond), however sometimes hotels will consider offering this as a perk for mid-tier – I certainly finding having Hilton Gold via Amex Platinum and asking nicely can work on occasion! In addition Amex has some of its own lounges, which Platinum cardmembers can access – including at O2 London, Brighton & Hove AFC (Brighton tickets have now all gone for this season) and it’s own high standard Centurion Lounges at a number of airports (mainly in the US, but soon at Heathrow too).
My Recent Experience/Examples
I recently used airport lounges at either end of a trip to Portugal. They really improved the experience, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the main waiting areas and offering everything we needed while we were there. We used Aspire Lounge, Bristol Airport – which I have to say was pretty busy (we had a short wait for access). However, we accessed for free on Priority Pass, got a free breakfast, nicer seating, free wi-fi, etc. It just made the airport more bearable.
On our return we used CIP Lounge Faro. In contrast it was really quiet, and pretty basic, but it was perfect for our requirements – and having flown from Faro multiple times, it was the first time I actually enjoyed the airport experience there! In addition, they were much more relaxed than Bristol, with a self serve drink area and seemingly no issue with multiple passengers popping extra snacks in their bags!
Faro Airport Lounge:
I have Hilton Gold status via Amex Platinum, and as I mentioned above, in some hotels there’s a chance they’ll throw in lounge access. Recently I had a work trip to London and booked Hilton Paddington for a very good rate. On arrival I was given a room upgrade, and lounge access. Conveniently I arrived at the start of ‘happy hour’, which is typically an early evening period where hotel lounges include free alcoholic drinks. This meant myself and a colleague could have free drinks and food on arrival, saving us from paying for this in the bar area. In addition the lounge has a really interesting view over the station. It was great to watch the hustle and bustle of Paddington Station, with unlimited free drinks and snacks!
American Express also offer complimentary lounge access for specific events and venues. Last year I was offered free tickets for Brighton and Hove AFC, with lounge access, including complimentary food, drinks and balcony seating. This was a fantastic night out, which I covered in detail here.
One final note – I’m rarely disappointed by lounge experiences, as I generally treat them as an add-on complimentary bonus of having my Amex card. If you’re paying to access a lounge, it’s always worth checking the reviews first. These things are all about how the experiences compares to your expectations, and your valuation.
If you’re interested in American Express Gold or Platinum, then see my posts about them here:
Amex Gold Review
Amex Platinum Article
You can earn bonus welcome points with an American Express referral, my American Express referral link, and info, is here.
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My husband and I have been considering booking an airport lounge for our city break next week. I had no idea they could be so affordable. I think once we work out how much we would spend on food and drinks in the airport, booking in an airport lounge will be great value for money. I’m going to check with my credit cards and holiday details to see if I can get it any cheaper. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
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Go for it! It’s often worth paying for, although with the free visits on Amex Gold you can try it out without spending anything.
The Amex gold doesn’t come with a lounge pass for suplementary card holders, and additional visits are £20 now not £15.
Thanks Neil – will check and update