How to Decide If a Lounge Splurge Is Right for You

Oct 9, 2019

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Here's a stat that's a little shocking for those of us immersed in the world of points and miles every day: A recent NerdWallet survey, conducted online by The Harris Poll, of over 1,800 U.S. adults who have ever flown on an airplane shows that 43% of airline passengers have never set foot in a private airport lounge.

That’s right — more than 2 in 5 airline passengers have never escaped into one of these comfortable retreats to indulge in free drinks, free bites and more elbow room just steps from the chaos of the departure gate.

This isn’t to say that lounges are for everyone, of course. Access comes at a price that’s not worth it for many frugal travelers. But everyone should at least make an informed decision about whether lounges are worth the money — or whether purchasing access in one form or another could even pay for itself in benefits.

Here’s how to decide if it’s time to experience an airport lounge for yourself.

Do the math

A day pass to an airport lounge can cost around $60 per person. For a couple making a round-trip flight, that would be another $240 added onto the cost of your trip. You’re wise to think twice about that number.

But depending on how much you want to eat and drink before your flight, day passes could pay for themselves if the lounge offers free refreshments or meals. If you were going to spend $60 per person on beers and bites anyway, you might find it preferable to imbibe in a more luxury lounge setting, where you can relax with your iPad, stretch your legs and help yourself to the dining selections rather than wait anxiously to see whether the server brings your check before your boarding group is called.

Consider comfort

Here’s another survey stat we found surprising. Baby boomers (ages 55-73) are especially lounge-averse; 51% of travelers in this demographic said they’d never set foot in an airport lounge before. Perhaps it’s time. After all, with joints beginning to creak and years as an empty nester eroding your patience with standing-room-only crowds at the boarding gate, an airport lounge escape could be a luxury you’ve earned at this stage in life.

Inside, you’ll generally find comfortable seating, space to yourself and a range of other perks that vary from lounge to lounge. In some, you’ll find comforts like spa services including massages and facials. In others, you’ll find treats like a Napa Valley wine-tasting area or an entertainment zone with games and a pool table.

Assess your productivity

In business, time is money. So a relatively calm space to work that comes complete with Wi-Fi, printers and fax machines can be worth the price. You’ll find business centers equipped with these amenities and more at many airport lounges.

And if you’re flying to a business meeting, a shower (available at some lounges) could be just what you need to reclaim your competitive edge on an otherwise energy-draining layover.

Compare credit cards with lounge access

Some credit cards offer lounge access as a perk — but it can be a pricey perk. For example, the The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with access to more than 1,200 lounges, but the annual fee is $695. (It helps that this card offers up to $200 a year back in statement credits for eligible airline charges.) Terms apply.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which includes membership in the Priority Pass network, has a $550 annual fee, which can also be partially offset by the card’s $300 travel credit. Other perks of premium cards like these can be like money in the bank — especially the opportunity to earn points redeemable for travel.

Fees aside, a card like this could be a cost-effective way to enjoy airport lounges when you travel if the lounge experience is worth it to you. But be sure to check the list of lounges in the Priority Pass or American Express network to ensure they’re in the terminals you’ll actually use.

If you fly United a lot, consider the United℠ Explorer Card, which gets you two free passes to the United Club every year on your cardmember anniversary that you can use when flying United. This card carries a $0 intro for the first year, then $95 annual fee, which gives you an effective per-pass cost of $47.50 — and just might be the excuse you need to sample the indulgences at an airport lounge.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

METHODOLOGY This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Sept. 3 to Sept. 5, 2019, among 2,013 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,835 have ever flown on a plane. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Mauricio Guitron at [email protected]

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