Are airport lounges worth the money?

Airport lounges may offer a slice of respite for the weary airline traveler, but they don’t come cheap. 

Annual membership in an airline’s private lounge can set consumers back by $500 to almost $900, depending on the airline and whether one is buying an individual or family pass.

But more frugal travelers have other options, such as buying single-day passes or scoring entry through frequent-flier miles. In exchange, travelers gain access to a quieter space with comfier chairs, food, drinks and employees who can help with issues such as seat assignments.

Whether an airport lounge is worth the cost may boil down to a few factors, such as how long a traveler will be waiting at the airport, the quality of the lounge and how frequently a person travels. Patrons tend to fall into a few categories, such as frequent fliers, first-class passengers or those with high-end credit cards that offer access to airport lounges as a perk, such as Citibank’s Prestige card, which has a $450 annual fee. 

Roman Shteyn, the co-founder and CEO of RewardExpert, said travelers should be aware that not all lounges are created equal. He said one of his best experiences was at the Lufthansa first-class lounge in Frankfurt, which was included on his first-class ticket. 

“They picked me up right from the airplane,” he recalled. “They came into first class, carried my carry-on, put me in a car, drove me to a special lounge. There was premium alcohol, a cigar bar, a five-star chef that works full-time there. The desserts were amazing.”

Other lounges aren’t quite as luxurious, which is why Shteyn said reading lounge reviews before buying a pass is “one of the important things someone should consider.” For instance, the lounge at the Jet Blue terminal at New York’s JFK airport is described by the review site One Mile at a Time as having “a pretty bad drink and snack selection.” The reviewer concluded that it was more relaxing to sit in the terminal.

Beyond reviews, take a look to see if a lounge is crowded. “If it’s crowded,” said Shteyn, “it doesn’t make sense to buy a pass.”

Below are five of the most common ways to gain access to an airport lounge.

Buy a day pass. These often cost about $50 to $80 per person, which can quickly add up for a family. Many lounges also will accept frequent-flier miles as payment for a day pass, which may be more palatable for some travelers. 

Get in through your credit card. Some higher-end credit cards will offer lounge passes as a perk. The Citibank Prestige card provides access to the Priority Pass program, a network of 1,000 airport lounges across the world. 

Get an annual membership from a specific airline. Best for travelers who prefer to fly on one carrier, although it’s rare today for travelers to do that because most people shop around for the best rates and schedules. Delta (DAL) and American (AAL) are among the airlines that operate and sell annual passes to their lounges, which can cost about $500 to $900 per year. 

Pay for a lounge network. These are increasingly popular because they offer flexibility for travelers, such as the network of 1,000 lounges that’s included with Priority Pass’ membership, which costs between $99 to $399 per year. The lowest-cost pass requires members to pay $27 to visit a lounge, while the most expensive level covers the entire lounge entry fee. Before signing up, research which lounges are in the network because not all U.S. airports may be included. 

Buy a business or first-class ticket. Travelers who book one of these fares typically get access to the airline’s lounge. Still, consumers who are ponying up for a first-class ticket are likely buying the premium seating for reasons other than getting into the airport lounge.