The Lowdown On Airport Lounges

Prime golf travel season – especially if you're heading to the U.K., like I am – is in full swing.

That can mean long layovers, hand-wringing about weather delays, massive airport security lines, worries about the safety of your golf clubs and a host of other concerns. Where can a traveling golfer get some peace?

You may already know this, but...airport lounges are awesome.

At their best, they're islands of luxury and blissful tranquility far removed from the noise, confusion and constant struggle of dealing with massive crowds of fellow travelers, screaming children and germs. A quiet space for working or relaxing, good food, drinks, a comfortable place to sit, access to uncontested electrical outlets and fast, free Wi-Fi are the major lures of airport lounges.

Once you've experienced this sanity-restoring element of air travel, you'll be hard-pressed to return to the main terminal ever again.

But it isn't all champagne and good cheer.

Indeed, the tricky part of the whole "airport lounge thing” tends to be mastering the art/science of figuring out how best to gain entry in the first place, and whether the time and investment is ultimately worth it.

Here's what you need to know, straight from Golf Vacation Insider's globe-trotting staff:

Now, if you're a frequent flier, you probably know how to play the airport lounge game.

So the real question is...

How do you get airport lounge access if you don't have "elite status" on one of the airlines?

Here are four ways:

1. Carry the right credit card.

You can read about which cards give you access to which lounges here (see point #4), but we think the best bet may be the American Express Platinum Card:

  • Not the cheapest option ($450/year), but gives access to more than 700 domestic and international airport lounges.
  • Lounge access is just one of the many benefits to Platinum membership.
  • AmEx operates six Centurion Lounges, all built in the last couple years – at DFW, Las Vegas, LaGuardia, Miami, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • Platinum (and Centurion/Black) cardholders get in for free; holders of any other AmEx can gain access for $50.
  • Platinum cardholders receive complimentary access to Airspace Lounge, which has locations in New York-JFK, Cleveland, Baltimore and San Diego.
  • Also entitled to buy day passes to any Delta Sky Club location for $29 for themselves and up to two travel companions.
  • Platinum members are automatically enrolled in Priority Pass Select (more on that below).

Another card you may already have is a Diners Club card. If so, you already have access to more than 500 airport lounges around the world.

2. Buy a Day Pass
Yes, many airline lounges allow you to walk in and buy a no-committment "day pass." These cost anywhere from $45-$75, but you can often score a 20%-25% discount if you buy your pass in advance and/or when you book your ticket.

Keep in mind, too, there are several "independent" lounges out there (i.e. not affiliated with an airline) such as Airspace at JFK and The Club at ATL, DFW, PHX, LAS, SEA, CVG.

There's also a company called LoungePass, which sells day passes to about 150 lounges worldwide.

3. Buy an Airline Club/Lounge Membership
Similar idea to the day pass, but you're buying an annual membership. To me, this really only makes sense if you fly one airline all or most of the time. Memberships usually cost between $250-$450.

4. Buy a Lounge Network Membership
Priority Pass has been around for a number of years and while it's less useful than it used to be (Delta, US Airways and United used to participate but have pulled out) it can still be useful for those who travel a few times a year.

  • The base price for membership is $99 per year, which entitles the cardholder to pay for access to any of more than 700 participating lounges for $27 per visit.
  • Other plans at $249 and $399 per year provide 10 free visits plus $27 per visit afterward and unlimited free visits, respectively, with guest passes always costing $27.
  • Given the fact that airport lounge passes often cost $50 or more, Priority Pass is a great deal as long as you can determine that you're going to be able to use its member lounges often.

Lounge Club is another option. It's managed by Priority Pass, and although smaller -- about 350 lounges through its program - it includes participating lounges in most major American cities. Membership is $99 per year with individual visits costing $27 each. Rather than something you buy independently, though, Lounge Club membership is often a perk added to some credit cards, and usually includes two free lounge visits.

What are the best airport lounges out there? Are there any that are not worth my time?

Across the board, airlines have stepped up their game in recent years, renovating existing lounges and introducing new ones at a good clip.

  • AmEx's Centurion Lounges receive rave reviews from cardholders and independent travel writers alike. Amenities include food and drink created by world-renowned chefs and cocktail mixologists, spa services, semi-private workspaces and shower suites
  • Virgin America's LAX "Loft" and Virgin Atlantic's JFK "Clubhouse" both feature the visual flair that Virgin is known for, and the JFK location even has a pool table for visitors. A friend of the site had this to say about the chic Virgin clubhouse, where he spent a few hours last week:
“Pluses were excellent service (wait staff all over you when your drinks were dry or you finished food); good wifi connections; spacious sitting areas; defined dining and lounging areas; pool table if that's your thing; wide choice of menu items; clean bathrooms, including shower facility. Food quality was all over the map. We had good arancini and mediocre microwave chicken wings. Rest of food ranged from 'decent' to 'edible,' with a few of TV dinner quality. All in all, though, a pleasant way to wait for a plane, or through a delay.”

  • Independent (i.e. not tied to any specific airline or alliance) lounges are on the rise. New York's JFK Airport has the Wingtips Lounge for travelers using Terminal 4; entry costs $50 for four hours. The aforementioned Airspace's four lounges are also part of this growing space.

Is airport lounge access worth the potential cost?

In short – heck yes. Prices for mediocre food and drink in airports are absurd as it is, to the point where seeking out a decent lunch or dinner and a good beer, glass of wine or cocktail will bring you pretty close to the $50 that ends up being the average cost of a day pass to one of the airline lounges. And if you can't avoid a long layover or prefer a few hours' recovery in between flights, it's an investment that is well worth making.

Do you consider yourself an airport lounge aficionado? Share your insights and read your peers' thoughts below!

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
Default User Avatar
Commented on

For those who have Star Alliance gold status, regardless of carrier, you have free access to Star Alliance lounges in many cities. Those outside the U.S. tend to be much nicer than domestic lounges.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

The United Airlines credit card is free for the first year and includes two UAL lounge passes. After a year, I believe it's $95 per year, and 2 more passes for renewing.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

Cathy Pacific business class lounge in Hong Kong is the best- love the black showers, the made-to-order noodle bar, many amenities! Asian clubs are by far the best. However, world-wide they are getting much more crowded; it feels more like survival of the fittest rather than the luxury of the past.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

Recently flew Air Canada to London. A well kept "secret" is that Air Canada is a downright bargain. I live in Michigan and Delta pretty much owns the Detroit market-it's one of their hubs-so they controll pricing. Air Canada's fare round trip was 60% of Delta's AND the bonus was that during our layover, Toronto Airport had an Am Ex lounge where the food and ambience was quite good and free of charge to Platinum/Centurian card holders. I highly recommend Air Canada as their economy seats have more leg room t and for a nominal fee @$75 you can upgrade to a bulkhead or exit row seat. The food on board is also better than Delta's. Seriously, anyone traveling abroad in the Midwest should strongly consider Air Canada.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

No contest regarding lounges in the US vs the international ones, especially those in Asia. Much better.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

I guess if you have $ to spend an extra $50 per flight, it is worth it? But as Adam states, the only value is a space away from everyone that is more quiet. You do not get any real food. So chips, peanuts, cookies, and some water is all you get. You do get a decent wifi too.

For me there are other ways to get all of this. Typically there is a pretty decent restaurant you can sit down at. Sometimes they have wifi included at the restaurant. Other options is to by 1 day pass from the many services at that particular airport. So $15 for wifi, and a good sandwich and a couple beers is going to run you about $25, for a total of $40

So unless you need wifi and a quiet place for a conference call, then not a great option.

Default User Avatar
Commented on

Sadly, most "business class" lounges for all US airlines are not worth the trouble. Food consists of little more than a packet of peanuts or carrot sticks. About the only benefit you get is some (hopefully) workable WiFi and getting away from the press of humanity.

Non-US airlines (and overseas airports) tend to have much better lounges. They really put the US airlines to shame.

Commented on

I live in Europe, but these tips (except for the specific US lounge points) are pretty universal.

I fly 90% of the time with the local Austrian airline. When I don't make the needed miles in a year, I buy the lounge access for €500 by extending my "frequent traveler" status. Easily worth the money.

One thing you didn't mention that I get with airline status in addition to lounge access is priority check-in. You only have to take a few flights a year for priority check-in to save you hours of standing in line. So instead of standing in line for check-in, you are having a glass of prosecco in the lounge!

More from the author
3 Min Read
August 15, 2017
We recently spent a couple days at the historic Omni Bedford Springs in central Pennsylvania. Here's what we thought of this grande-dame resort.
2 Min Read
August 3, 2017
How does Ship Sticks compare to other services claiming to help you ship your golf clubs to your vacation destination? Here's the breakdown.
1 Min Read
July 25, 2017
Bandon Dunes is world-famous as one of golf's great destinations. But it's arguably the "little things" that take the experience to the highest level.
1 Min Read
July 10, 2017
We just came back from Bandon Dunes, but not without a pre-trip horror story of sorts. Share yours with us and we can commiserate.
1 Min Read
April 3, 2017
Want to know the real cost of shipping golf clubs vs. traveling with them? Check out this side-by-side comparison so you can make the right choice.
1 Min Read
February 14, 2017
Happy Valentines Day! Check out these 20 wonderful golf resorts for all you romantics out there.
2 Min Read
April 28, 2022
Famous, historic and exclusive clubs are all offering rounds to help with turf research in 2022.
6 Min Read
May 9, 2022
Here's how to play - and stay - where the pros play.
9 Min Read
May 12, 2022
Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, can help golfers get in better shape - physically, mentally and emotionally - on and off the course.
1 Min Read
April 21, 2022
This new heavyweight just might be the king of all golf books.
Load More
Now Reading
The Lowdown On Airport Lounges