What Millennial Travelers Know About the Airport Lounge Experience

June Casagrande
By June Casagrande 
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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In the boomers’ heyday, money was for stuff. That was the stereotype, anyway: German cars and Swiss watches and bumper stickers proclaiming, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”

Millennials do life differently: Conspicuous consumption is out; premium experiences are in.

Who needs a Rolex when you can mingle with elephants in Thailand or snorkel the lagoon in Bora Bora? Who cares what kind of car you drive to sample the artistry of every top chef in town? For millennials, money is for living well instead of acquiring possessions: It’s for foodie restaurants and fine coffees and adventure travel to every corner of the globe.

So it’s no surprise which group is more likely to indulge in the comfort and luxury of an airport lounge. 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 33% of millennial airline passengers (ages 23-38) used a private airport lounge in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, only 13% of boomer airline passengers (ages 55-73) did.

In fact, more than half of boomer airline passengers, 51%, say they’d never visited a private airport lounge, compared to just 36% of millennial airline passengers.

These stats should raise a question in the minds of everyone who hasn’t experienced an airport lounge: What can those well-living millennial travelers teach us about whether airport lounges are worth the splurge?

Here’s what this demographic knows about those airport lounges and why you might want to give them a try.

Several ways you can get in

If you think those swanky lounges are just for travelers holding a first-class ticket, you may be surprised to learn that you can probably get in, too — you just have to pay. Many airlines (including American Airlines and United, for example) sell day passes to their lounges. At around $59 per person, they’re not cheap, especially when you’re traveling with companions who also have to pay.

While the educational experience alone might justify the cost (you’ll learn what you’ve been missing), don’t assume you can show up at any time. In most cases, you’ll also need to show a boarding pass for travel on the airline that day.

But same-day passes aren’t the only way in. Some passengers find that an annual subscription makes more sense, especially when airlines like United let you pay for it with miles. For a year’s worth of access to the comfort of a United Club lounge, you can pay $650 or 85,000 United MileagePlus miles. Higher-status elite members of United’s frequent flyer program get discounts.

One of the most popular ways to get access to an airport lounge is holding a credit card with lounge access benefits. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® credit card comes with complimentary membership in the Priority Pass network of airport lounges. Perks of The Platinum Card® from American Express include entry to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. The United℠ Explorer Card comes with two free United Club passes every year, and United Club℠ Infinite Card lets you access United and Star Alliance lounges every time you fly these airlines. The annual fee is $525, so this could be a good choice for anyone tempted by the $650 annual United Club membership. Terms apply.

Free Wi-Fi is a big draw

Once you know that millennials make up a large segment of lounge visitors, it won’t surprise to hear those lounges’ biggest appeal: In the NerdWallet survey, 42% of travelers using airport lounges cited free Wi-Fi as the biggest draw.

Of course, lots of airports offer Wi-Fi connections for all visitors, but smart travelers know that lounges specializing in luxury experiences are likely to have fast, reliable connections for free.

Free food and drinks

Do you like to stop for a bite before your flight? Are you dissatisfied with the offerings (and prices) at your local airport? If so, airport lounge access could be a good value for you.

Offerings vary from lounge to lounge, but at minimum you can expect to find free coffee, tea, beer and wine, plus some snacks like continental breakfast, cheese and other bites. Many lounges go further with free meals made with fresh, local ingredients.

A quiet retreat

As lots of travelers (not just millennials) know, the best reason to enter an airport lounge can have more to do with what’s outside it: the hustle and bustle at the departure gate is one of the worst parts of travel.

Lounges can be crowded, too, but the best ones offer a quiet escape from the worst of the airport chaos, plus little luxuries that vary from location to location. In fact, 36% of travelers who’ve visited airport lounges cited peace and quiet as the main draw. Some lounges have space to lie down; some have showers. Some even have spa services for a fee. How’s that for living well in the new millennium?

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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 (of which 599 are millennials ages 23-38, and 498 are boomers ages 55-73). 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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