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Airport Lounges for the Rest of Us

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Airport waiting areas are classic hostile environments—crowded, noisy, inhospitable, and uncomfortable, right? Yes, they are, for most travelers, but not for all.

A few select flyers find their way into a comfortable private lounge equipped with easy chairs, work desks, TV, usually WiFi, attendants to help with arrangements, and—in most—bars stocked with complimentary beverages and snacks. Some lounges at international hubs even include showers. The big U.S. airlines operate membership lounges at their main airports, as do many big foreign lines. What’s not to like? The price: Membership in a big line’s program costs around $500 a year, maybe a reasonable price for a road warrior, but pretty rich if you travel only two or three times a year. Fortunately, however, you have a few alternatives, and a new program promises the lowest cost yet for club benefits. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

Airspace Lounge proposes airport lounge facilities with entrance fees starting at $17.50 a day. If the lounge starts getting crowded, the price increases as much as necessary to maintain a relaxed atmosphere. One fee provides access for the full day, with in-and-out ability, but only for one lounge. Airspace will announce monthly and yearly membership prices “shortly.” The first pilot lounge will open in May, airside on concourse D of Baltimore’s BWI airport, with other locations to follow. Most new locations will also be airside of security, so airports with separate terminals will require a separate lounge in each.

If you can’t wait for Airspace Lounge, Priority Pass is the closest current alternative. Membership provides entry into more than 600 airport lounges in 300 cities throughout the world. In the United States, most participating locations—37 airports in 34 cities—are big airlines’ regular lounges; outside the U.S., most are independent lounges. Membership options include $99 a year plus $27 per visit; $249 a year, including 10 free visits, $27 per visit thereafter; or $399 a year with unlimited visits. Priority pass membership is also included with the Citi Thank You Prestige Card ($500 per year).

If you don’t want to pay for a full year in a big airline’s program, some lines offer shorter-term options:

  • Short-term memberships are available for Delta’s Sky Club, at $90 for 30 days, and US Airways Club, at $120 for 90 days.
  • One-day memberships are available for $30 to $55 in Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, depending on your fare base and destination; $50 in American’s Admirals Club, Continental’s Presidents Club, or Sky Club; and $35 (online) or $50 at United’s Red Carpet Club.
  • Continental sells books of 10-day passes for $450, not a good deal compared with annual membership for one person, but useful when shared.

A few premium credit cards include lounge club access, at a total annual cost less than the cost of regular membership: Chase’s Continental Airlines Presidential Plus card ($395 per year) gives holders full membership in Presidents Club; United Mileage Plus Club Visa ($375 per year) card includes membership in Red Carpet Club; and AmEx Platinum Card ($450 per year) provides access to Admirals Club, Sky Club, US Airways Club, and also to Presidents Club, but only until September.

Of course, if you’re traveling on a first- or business-class ticket, you often have access to premium lounges. Top-tier frequent flyers also enjoy lounges at many airports.

Much of the time, lounge access is an unnecessary luxury. But in a long delay or cancelation, access to a lounge makes a huge difference. They’re probably your best bet if you need a meeting place and message center. Lounges are also great for seniors or anyone else who may need a little more assistance than the average traveler. They’re fine for older kids, but most have a minimum age of 12 or so.

All in all, Airspace Lounge looks like a good idea. Let’s hope it works.

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