There’s been a lot of buzz around airport lounges lately with the opening of new premium offerings like the Delta Sky Club at Los Angeles International Airport and the United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Frequent flyers love to hype the benefits of spending time in a lounge before takeoff or during a layover ― and they’ve got plenty of tips for getting into these premium spaces for a lower cost.
But for the average traveler, is paying to enter the airport lounge even worth it? Below, experts break down the questions you should ask yourself to determine that.
What are your needs?
“As with most things in travel, airport lounges are a personal decision depending on traveler preferences and priorities,” Casey Brogan, a consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, told HuffPost. “Many who like the VIP experience believe it is well worth it, but others prefer to spend the money on dining at a nice restaurant.”
When you’re completely exhausted from a long journey, the hustle and bustle of the airport is often the last thing you want to deal with. So if you’re looking for a more comfortable, less crowded place to relax and eat during a long layover or delay, then the lounge might be just what you need.
“Airport lounges can also be worth it for business travelers either coming off a red-eye or headed to a meeting so they can shower, freshen up and change,” Brogan added.
If you’re only in the airport for a short layover and have no interest in eating or drinking alcohol, however, then there’s probably not much point in paying for lounge access. Some travelers might also be more inclined to visit the lounge during only one leg of their trip.
“If you must choose, I think lounges are more beneficial for the return home rather than the outward bound,” said Ravi Roth, host of “The Gaycation Travel Show.” “At the end of a trip, most folks are exhausted and ready for a nap.”
How crowded is the lounge?
“While lounges have historically been a haven within the airport, that’s not necessarily the case right now,” said Zach Griff, senior reporter at The Points Guy. “Many lounges are suffering from overcrowding due to surging travel demand.”
During peak travel periods, it might actually make sense to avoid the lounge and seek space at open gates or less-crowded terminals.
“With so many travelers taking to the skies, especially those who have premium credit cards that include lounge access, there are more people using the lounge than ever,” Griff said.
He added that American Express has live capacity indicators for its Centurion Lounges, so you can check to see how crowded these spaces are. Delta is reportedly rolling out a similar feature, starting at LAX and LaGuardia Airport.
How nice is it?
“Not all airport lounges are the same,” said Casey Brogan. “Some have more amenities, such as full shower facilities, better seating, more (and better) food.”
Griff believes Delta’s new Sky Clubs in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and New York City are “setting a high bar” when it comes to the possibilities for airport lounges.
“They have multiple buffets, stylish bars, plenty of seating and bespoke amenities, such as marble-clad shower suites and spacious outdoor decks,” he said.
But not every lounge is like that. Because the amenities and overall quality can vary widely, Griff advises doing your research and reading reviews of the lounges next time you’re passing through an airport to see if they’re worth a visit.
“Ask the host for details and take a peek before booking,” added Stephanie Be, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena. “Some lounges have cabanas or areas where you can lay flat, while others do not. Some offer showers for the international traveler with a longer layover, while others do not. Food and beverage options vary, too.”
How much will access cost you?
If airport lounge access is already included in your credit card (or your travel companion’s card and they can bring guests), then by all means, take advantage of it. But if you’re contemplating paying to enter the lounge, do a personal cost-benefit analysis.
“It all comes down to value,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The Vacationer. “Will you have more money in your pocket skipping the lounges altogether, or either buying a lounge membership or signing up for a credit card with an annual fee that offers free lounge access?”
Consider how much you’d pay for sustenance versus the price to enter the lounge and enjoy the complimentary food and drinks. Think about how much time you have to spend there and if you’ll be able to take full advantage of the amenities. How often do you fly? And what is your budget looking like in general?
“Airport lounges can ... give you a few free snacks and beverages, but if you don’t travel often, the cost of buying some snacks and drinks will ultimately be cheaper than paying for a membership if you don’t use it often,” said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch.
“Plus, many major airports offer free Wi-Fi these days, so that perk isn’t that exclusive anymore, either,” she added. “If you’re stuck on a long layover and want to escape the crowds, just wander to a different gate that doesn’t have a flight taking off soon and you can likely find a quiet corner to unwind.”