Airports are amazing places. Thousands of people pass through every day going to all corners of the planet. Some airports even function like small cities if you consider the number of restaurants, shops, and other services they provide. But like any city, the crowds can feel overwhelming. Airport lounges provide you with an escape.
Know What to Expect Before You Enter
Once seen as a haven for privileged few, many lounges are now accessible to those willing to pay a daily use fee. Others receive complimentary access due to their elite status with a carrier or for holding a certain credit card. Fees can range from $20-50 per person and typically include WiFi Internet, alcoholic beverages, more comfortable seating, light snacks, and reading material. If you’re at the airport and unsure where to go, Loungebuddy is a free app for iOS and Android that includes locations, amenity lists, pictures, and reviews.
Lounges operated by foreign carriers tend to be the best but may be reserved for first class or business class passengers. Some include sit-down meal service or individual rooms to catch a nap during long connections. They provide yet another reason to learn to how use frequent flier miles wisely. Plan your next international first class award to include visits to Singapore Airlines’ Private Room, The Wing by Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, or an entire First Class Terminal operated by Lufthansa in Frankfurt.
Domestic carriers are also rushing to renovate their own lounges as corporate profits improve. You’re more likely to find shower facilities, larger snack menus, and more plentiful electrical outlets. These airlines don’t include automatic access to their first class passengers (Alaska Airlines is an exception). But certain elite members of frequent flier programs can request access to domestic lounges if traveling on an international itinerary.
Choose Between a Specific Airline Lounge or a Diverse Network
American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines all work with credit card issuers to provide cards that include membership in their airport lounges. With annual fees of $400-450 per year, they are typically less expensive than a lounge membership alone and may come with other benefits like complimentary upgrades on award tickets, fee waivers for checked bags, or the opportunity to earn more miles on everyday purchases.
Do you travel on lots of different airlines? Carriers locate their own lounges close to their departure gates, but you do not need to fly on that airline to use their lounge as long as you are willing to buy a membership or day pass. Also be aware that you can visit a lounge in a terminal other than your departure gate. No special permission is required from the TSA to clear security twice.
If you want to avoid feeling locked in, the Platinum Card by American Express provides access to a more eclectic mix of lounges. American Express is expanding its own network of Centurion Lounges with premium food offerings and specialty cocktails, which are free with the Platinum Card or $50 for other Amex cardholders. You can also show your Platinum Card at Airspace lounges to receive entry and a food and beverage credit, or request a free Priority Pass Select card to access a variety of other lounges throughout the world.
Priority Pass is a separate company that also sells various memberships to those who don’t have or want an American Express card. At the lowest level, they provide discounted access to many lounges on a per-use basis. For those willing to splurge, $399 buys unlimited free visits to their entire partner network, including lounges operated by United Airlines that aren’t available with Priority Pass Select.
The Value Provided by Airport Lounges Isn’t Always Obvious
There are certainly some people who won’t find value in an airport lounge. For the same $50, you might be able to get better food and drink in a nearby restaurant. More airports are providing free Internet service to all passengers (though it isn’t always as good as in a lounge). And during periods with heavy delays the lounge can be just as busy — or even worse — than the rest of the airport.
But one central feature of lounges operated by airlines is that they often have a customer service desk where you can receive assistance rebooking flights and resolving other reservation issues. Buying a day pass or purchasing a membership is often preferable to a two-hour wait to be rebooked at the gate. Getting help sooner also means you will have the best pick of substitute itineraries. Worst-case scenario? You can wait out the delay with a cold drink and comfortable seat.
Note: This piece was written for and adapted by U.S. News and first appeared in the Travel Features section of usnews.com. Read the original article.