As air travel resumes and in some instances surpasses the levels seen before the pandemic, airports are experiencing high levels of congestion. A recent survey conducted for The Independent shows that more and more passengers share the sentiment of Jean-Paul Sartre, who famously said “hell is other people,” and are opting to pay for access to airport lounges before their flight.
What is the attraction of paying £30 or £40 – potentially exceeding the price of your flight – for this experience? These are the main inquiries and responses.
What sets pay-per-use lounges apart from the departure lounge?
The “Departure lounge” is a common term used to describe the spacious waiting area near the boarding gate for your flight. Airport lounges, on the other hand, are more exclusive spaces that often offer complimentary food and drinks, ample space for relaxation, and a designated work area. Some lounges also offer a great view of the airfield.
For numerous travelers, a lounge serves as a peaceful escape from the busy crowd, providing a sense of tranquility in contrast to the hustle and bustle outside.
According to a survey on X (previously known as Twitter), 27% of the more than 13,000 participants reported paying for access to a lounge during their most recent trip through a UK airport. Another 24% stated that they received complimentary entry to lounges.
How do complimentary lounges operate?
Some airport lounges are nicer than others, and the most luxurious ones are typically operated by airlines for their high-priority customers known as CIPs. The very first one was established in 1939 by American Airlines at what is currently known as New York’s La Guardia airport. In the early 1980s, British Airways launched its first Executive Club at London Heathrow, initially catering to Concorde passengers.
One way to gain access to them is by purchasing a business or first-class ticket. Another option is to achieve a high frequent-flyer status by spending a significant amount of money with the airline over time. This recognition is typically granted within the Oneworld, Skyteam, and Star alliances.
It is not feasible in certain areas to purchase entry into an airline lounge, but in the US I have paid around $60 (£50) to American Airlines and United for access to their lounges during extended layovers.
How will this affect me if I am flying with a low-cost airline?
Except for The Gateway at Gatwick, managed by No 1 Lounges for easyJet, budget airlines typically do not offer pay-per-use lounges (although they may offer access for purchase as additional services). Passengers with inexpensive tickets on traditional airlines like British Airways are also unlikely to be eligible unless they have earned elite status, such as through frequent business travel on BA or its Oneworld partners.
One possible solution is to purchase access to a lounge. The most affordable option I have come across in the UK is £18.99 per person, for two people traveling together, at easyJet’s The Gateway in Gatwick North Terminal. This rate is for one hour, while two hours costs £22.99 and three hours costs £27.99 per person.
Gatwick, the largest airport for budget airlines, offers five lounges for visitors at the North Terminal and four at the South Terminal. Additionally, there are exclusive lounges for British Airways and Emirates passengers.
The usual cost for access to the 1903 Lounge at Manchester airport is £30 or £40 for a duration of two to three hours. However, the price is slightly higher at £50 if you wish to enter more than 2 hours and 30 minutes before your flight. The lounge boasts a focus on providing attention to detail, sophistication, and exclusivity. Guests can indulge in premium food and beverage options while relaxing in a meticulously curated space that aims to transform their perspective of the world. Champagne and a supposedly exceptional view of the airfield are also available.
The cost of the premium Clubrooms at Gatwick North is £45. This price includes fast-track security (usually £7) and “Hosted table service, a wider selection of complimentary food options, and cocktails.” Children under 12 are not allowed and there is a dress code that prohibits tracksuits and replica sports kits. The Clubrooms are only open from 6am to 2:30pm, which coincides with the peak departure time for flights at the Sussex airport.
Is it possible for me to remain in the lounge since my flight has been delayed?
This will vary depending on the lounge’s policy or level of activity. No 1 Lounges provides “guaranteed delay cover” and encourages guests to stay relaxed in the lounge until their departure time.
What are people who are traveling saying?
Kathy Lewis, a fan, mentioned to me that she and others prioritize comfort, peace, and minimal noise when attending events. She also commended the quality of the restrooms and the unlimited availability of food and drinks, as well as the presence of WiFi. She believes that the cost is reasonable, especially when compared to the prices in the departure lounge.
Hannah Rostill shared: “I took my grandson on a trip to Crete from Bristol in July during the first week of school break. Knowing how hectic it can be, I decided to book a lounge. It was definitely worth it to have a reserved table instead of searching for a seat. The extra cost was well worth it.”
Ian Naylor expressed his opinion that UK lounges are inferior to those found in other countries, citing the presence of children and individuals indulging in excessive alcohol and low-quality food within a limited timeframe.
Shaun Sayers discussed the idea that these locations may no longer be peaceful havens, Simon. When I last visited one, it resembled a family-friendly pub with complimentary and endless soup.
Can you purchase memberships for airport lounges?
I have a yearly fee of £650 for my American Express Platinum credit card. One of the main perks is extensive global travel insurance, and it also provides free access to over 1,400 airport lounges in 140+ countries through the Priority Pass program.
In general, this method is successful. However, as the lounges become more popular, there are occasions when I am unable to access them: at Toronto and Atlanta, the wait time was so extensive that I would have missed my flight.
When purchasing directly from Priority Pass, there are three membership options available.
Rephrased: The membership requires a £69 initial payment, which grants entry for the member and one guest. Additional admission for each person costs £24.
For a price of £229, the Standard Plus package includes 10 lounge visits. Any extra member or guest visits will cost £24 each.
- Prestige: £419 for any number of visits; guests cost an additional £24 per visit.
What other options are available if you do not wish to invest in lounge access?
I enjoy Wetherspoons, whether I am at the airside location with a great view of the airfield at Stansted, or at the landside location near the departure lanes at Gatwick South. For £3.25, I can have unlimited refills of tea or coffee.
Chris Dunn states that he enjoys being in the bustling atmosphere of the main airport, specifically Dublin airport. He mentions that he could happily sit with a pint of Guinness at the gate. However, this does not hold true for gates assigned to Ryanair, based on his personal experience.
Airport hotels offer an additional option with their day rooms. The DayUse website offers a package at the Delta by Marriott, conveniently located near Edinburgh airport, for £61 for two people. This includes access to the hotel’s pool.
In certain airports, such as Madeira, the outdoor terrace offers a breathtaking view that would be a shame to miss by staying indoors.
Can you provide information on arrival lounges?
These are primarily intended for CIPs traveling on long-haul flights. Another option is to book a day room at a hotel in the airport, such as Ibis Styles at Birmingham airport which costs £55 for two people.
What has been your most and least enjoyable lounge experience?
I am not a strong supporter of lounges that do not serve alcohol, and the one at Antalya airport in southern Turkey was especially unenjoyable. When I visited Berlin’s new airport, I was informed that my card could not be used at the designated lounge, but I could obtain a beer and sandwich (both of which were actually quite good) from the airport cafe using a QR code.
Best: Until British Airways wisely kicked me out of Silver membership of the Executive Club because I wasn’t spending enough on flights, I really enjoyed BA’s Heathrow Terminal 5 lounges: an excellent selection of food and drink and good working areas. But the very best was Japan Airlines at Haneda airport in Tokyo, a blissfully calm space with great showers and unlimited sushi.
Instead of just trusting my opinion, let’s listen to what the experts have to say. Rhys Jones, from headforpoints.com, shares his advice when the cost of a ticket is not a concern. He states, “In the United Kingdom, we have a large number of lounges available, especially at Heathrow Terminal 3.”
“My personal favourite is Cathay Pacific’s First Class Lounge which has spectacular views across the airport and features an intimate dining room serving Asian and Western favourites.
“If you’re looking for top-quality coffee, I suggest visiting the Qantas lounge. For the best business-class lounge experience in the UK, check out Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse.”
“My all-time favourite lounge in the world has to be Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong. This beautiful facility ticks all the boxes, from fantastic a la carte dining to beautiful showers, relaxing spa treatments and stunning design.”
Head for Points has an extensive selection of evaluations for lounges in the UK.