Here’s What It’s Like Inside Airport Lounges

Did you know that there are VIP lounges in almost every airport? Have you ever wondered what the experience is like inside those lounges? Here’s your chance to find out … and learn more about how to access them for free*!

Let’s make something clear from the start: I’m really not a luxury traveler. I almost always choose to stay in hostels when I travel solo and most importantly, I always use Ultra Low-Cost Carriers (ULCC), with the compromises that that entails, to save money whenever I can. And my most important criterion for just about everything that is travel-related is the price.

In fact, having access to VIP lounges in airports kind of offsets the disadvantages associated with budget-travelling and makes it easier to tolerate Ultra Low-Cost Carriers… particularly by making stopovers and layovers much more interesting.

Longer connections are the key to drastically reducing the price of all your long-distance airplane tickets (we are talking about easily shaving off half the price thanks to these stops either with our deals or the multi-ticket itinerary technique, especially for Europe).

Seriously, since I discovered airport lounges, it’s a luxury I could never do without, since I travel quite a bit (77 flights in 2018). I don’t know how to convey this message clearly enough: it’s really the most awesome thing in the world. Never has travelling been so enjoyable.

Sometimes I even add extra stops to my flights just to visit more lounges. I am not even joking. In fact, I even went to the West Coast in October just to try new ones (true story, blog coming up soon). And before having access to lounges, I used to arrive just 60 minutes before my flights … now I specifically choose flights later in the day and arrive really early to have more time to spend in these lounges.

And it’s surprisingly more accessible than you might think, especially since it can be free*…

The Air China lounge in Beijing (PEK).

But before we give you all these details, what are the VIP lounges? No matter what you call them, VIP lounges or airport lounges, these are great places where you can escape the chaos of airports before your flights, during your stops and even when landing.

And you really could access these yourself, for free*. Why the asterisk? Well, it’s because there is a way for anyone to access the lounges for free, but you have to travel somewhat often for it to be truly free. The other way is completely free but requires an annual income of $60K. Details at the end of the article.

But first, here is what it’s like inside these lounges.

What It’s Like Inside Airport Lounges

First, what you need to know is that each lounge is different and independent. They are part of networks, but depending on the airport where you are, the details will somewhat vary.

But what is universal is: tranquility, comfortable seating, free food, free drinks and premium internet access.

In the vast majority of lounges (I would say 95% or more), there are also full meals (free) and open bar (all free beverages).

Some lounges even have showers … and free massages.

Here are some pictures for you to see the experience from the inside, taken during my 100+ different airport lounge visits since I’ve been an AMEX Platinum cardmember.

Tranquility

So many people complain that the experience at the airport is unpleasant. Not in the lounges. Believe me, I love spending time in airports.

The Avianca lounge in Miami (MIA).

In lounges, there are no crowds, no noise, no stress … they are havens of tranquility where you can really start your journey on the right foot. And relax comfortably.

The Prelidium lounge in Warsaw (WAW).

Comfort

No uncomfortable seats like at the boarding gates, no unpleasant neighbours, no running around to try to find two adjacent seats …

The National Bank lounge in Montréal (YUL).

Beautiful, comfortable and relaxing seating is the most basic amenity of every airport lounge.

The lounge in Brussels-Charleroi (CRL).

Quite different from the experience at crowded airport gates, isn’t it?

The IC Lounge in Antalya (AYT).

The Food

If you travel often, you know that airport restaurants are usually very expensive! For this reason alone, lounges are very interesting, with free unlimited food.

The breakfast buffet in the AMEX lounge in Houston (IAH).

During meal times, most lounges have full hot meals but at the very least they have many snacks.

The Avianca lounge in Miami (MIA).

You can eat well before your flight, literally all you can eat. That way you might stop complaining about the damn meals that are not included on most flights.

For those who don’t read the blog often, it’s just that people who complain that some airlines do not offer “free” meals exasperate me (just a little). As if paying a flight to Europe $400 more just to get a cheap meal (which is probably worth $5) made any sense.

The AMEX lounge in Houston (IAH).

In short, with airport lounges, no need to worry about food, everything is included.

The Beverages

For those who consume alcoholic beverages at the airport to pass the time, they must cost you an arm and a leg when bought at the airport restaurants and bars.

The Desjardins Odyssée Lounge in Montréal (YUL).

In 99% of lounges, all beverages are included, and yes that includes alcohol. Everything that you want. Sometimes it’s self-serve, sometimes there is an employee to serve you. In any case, it’s another perk that many would surely appreciate!

The Premium Internet

If you want to make your visit to the airport a little more productive, or if you just want to have access to an Internet network that is not worthy of a third-world country (and that is free), it’s really convenient to have the ultra-fast Wi-Fi.

The working area in the MasterCard Lounge in Kyiv (KBP).

All lounges have a variety of seating areas, including some that are very suitable for working on your computer (I’ve written a lot of blog posts comfortably in those lounges!) and sometimes even full-office desks and even meeting rooms.

The AMEX lounge in Houston (IAH).

The Feeling of Being Treated Like a VIP

I added this point, because as I said before, personally I do not really travel luxuriously. My only criterion for just about everything is the lowest possible price.

The AMEX lounge in Houston (IAH).

Having access to airport lounges and being able to experience a level of service that almost always exceptional is really another positive point that greatly enhances a trip.

Just like the often very beautiful design & style of these lounges. The only exception is in Sofia, Bulgaria. That was the only one that was not very beautiful aesthetically. But of the dozens I’ve visited, it was the only one!

salon vip aeroport montreal
The ISG International lounge in Istanbul (SAW).

Showers

Unlike all what I’ve just listed above, which are benefits included in all lounges, this one is a bit less frequent.

But for the places where it’s available, it’s really great though. Nothing better than a shower between two long flights to be refreshed for the rest of the trip.

The MasterCard lounge in Kyiv (KBP).

I tested those at Kyiv Airport (KBP) in Ukraine last spring, during one of the many stopovers of our trip to Turkey. And also at the Aeromexico lounge in Mexico City (MEX) and at the American Express lounge in Dallas (DFW) among many others.

It was really nice and relaxing to take a shower during a layover, again, it’s a small detail that makes the trip even better, especially when it’s free!

Massages

This one is quite exceptional and to be honest, it is rather rare. I went to Peru this summer, and during my stopover in Mexico City on the way out, I was able to enjoy the American Express lounge, which offers a free back and neck massage of 15 minutes. Ditto in Dallas and Miami, also in AMEX lounges.

salon vip aeroport montreal
The massage room in the AMEX lounge in Mexico (MEX).

That was really great. My girlfriend was also able to enjoy a free manicure session at this same American Express lounge in Mexico City. Another great VIP experience that enhances the travel experience, completely free.

In Beijing, there were even private rooms to sleep in…

salon vip aeroport montreal
The Air China lounge in Beijing (PEK).

And finally, there are new innovations to complement the access to airport lounges in the form of restaurant credits (you can get US$28 to spend at 47 airport restaurants around the world). There are also Minute Suites, a cool place where you have your own tiny room to have a power nap inside certain airports (just for one hour though).

How to Get Access to Airport Lounges

Now, how can you have access to all these airport lounges? There are three main ways: the first is free for one year (and almost free for two) but you have to have a good credit score and travel a lot, the second is free but you have to have a fairly high annual income and the third is not free but is more accessible. Here are the details.

The First Way to Access Lounges, For Free

Free? Yes, free. You still have to pay the annual fee, but you are then reimbursed with the Welcome Bonus. You pay, but you receive points that give you a travel credit signup bonus and free travel credits that cancel this disbursement. That’s what I mean by free.

It sounds complicated, but it really is not. The American Express Platinum Card gives you free and unlimited access to 1,200+ VIP lounges for you and one fellow traveler. That’s how we get in. The card has an annual fee of $699, which sounds expensive, but be rational and avoid the normal initial reaction associated with this amount, and keep reading.

Think about it. Yes, it costs you $699, but you receive 50,000 AMEX Points or Aeroplan Miles (two free North American flights or almost a free flight to Europe), or a $500 travel credit depending on your choice, as a Welcome Bonus.

So that alone almost covers the fee, and this is a conservative estimate as flights to Europe on a regular carrier are often worth more than $500 in 95% of cases, but we count it as $500 because you can use it as a $500 credit on any flight purchase. It’s the very minimum value that is guaranteed for that bonus, but we even value it at ~$750 !!!

But most importantly, you also receive an additional annual $200 travel credit applicable to hotels or flights. So it’s at least $700 ($500 + $200) of free travel that you get back during the year (or faster if you use it quickly).

And it’s also theoretically almost free even in year two because you made a profit of $250 the first year based on our valuation of those AMEX Points (~$950 in free travel, $699 annual fee = $251 profit), and you still receive another $200 annual credit with a second year of annual fee payment. So this $200 + $251 of the first year gives you $451, leaving you with only $248 in fees.

So no, it’s not completely free like the first year, but let’s say that you will save a bit of money on food and drinks in airports over two years, and then, yes accessing these lounges and living this VIP experience is effectively free.

Seriously, if you have the money to pay $699 and plan to travel a little bit in the next two years, it’s really worth it. Be careful, because the 50,000 Points Welcome Bonus that makes everything profitable for two years is a once-in-a-lifetime Welcome Bonus, so make sure you travel enough to enjoy the lounges and make it worthwhile.

By the way, AMEX no longer has a minimum income requirement, they only look at your credit score so anyone can apply with a good credit history.

Order the card or read more details in the detailed article here.

The Second Free Way to Access the Lounges

There are 3 other credit cards that give you lounge access, however in their cases it only includes a few lounge passes per year, not unlimited access like the AMEX Platinum.

First up, is the BMO Mastercard World Elite, which gives you 4 free lounges per year. This one is completely free the first year (no fee at all). And the Welcome Bonus even gives you $387 worth of free travel by signing up.

So sure, it’s not like the unlimited visits that the Platinum offers, but if you’re travelling less, if you want to try it, or if you just want it to be free, it’s a great option.

In addition, you could still pay for additional visits at a cost of US $27 if you wish. The only problem for many is that the World Elite requires an annual income of $80,000. The card also gives you $200 free travel credit in addition to being free.

Click here to read the details of this card and order it (detailed article coming soon).

The Third Way, Which is Not Free

If you do not travel frequently enough to make it worthwhile, there are a few options that may be interesting.

You can subscribe to the Priority Pass network of lounges. For US$99, you will have an annual membership which gives access to the same 1000+ lounges, but you will have to pay US$27 per visit. Or for US$249, you will have 10 free lounges visits for the year. There are discounts if you go through our link below.

Finally, most lounges sell daily access if you want to try it just once. From what I know, it seems to cost about US$50-60 per visit.

It’s a lot less interesting than the free method of the previous points, but it can be worth it depending on your particular situation. And depending on how you usually spend for food, beverages, and Wi-Fi at the airports … and how much you value the luxury of this for your next trips.

In short, it can still be worth it.

Spoil Yourself

Finally, let’s talk about the fact that, in my opinion, one of the best reasons to use the flight deals you find at Flytrippers (which often save 50% of the regular price of the ticket), is precisely to be able to splurge on other things.

It can have many meanings, depending on your preferences. Either spoil yourself by travelling more often with the money saved, or by paying for more luxurious hotels, by doing more activities on site, or by eating at better restaurants, etc.

In short, I personally think that if you travel a little, having lounge access is really worth it, not only because it is free, but because believe me, it’s really great to have access to these lounges.

And that’s without counting all the other benefits that come with the AMEX Platinum Card, like the $1,000 insurance if your flight is delayed and especially the elite status in hotels, which I cover in the detailed article about the AMEX Platinum Card.

Bottom Line

Airport lounges are the greatest invention in the world of air travel. Especially when you can have it for free. If you plan to travel a lot, strongly consider it, you will certainly not regret it!

If you are interested, read the details of the credit card that makes it all possible for free.

What do you think? Do you have any questions about lounges? Ask us in the comments below!

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10 Rules About Travel Hacking Credit Cards

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about travelling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself, he aims to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveller, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to Travel Hacking... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 45/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. My question is, how do you get access to the lounge? Do you just present yourself at the lounge’s gate and you show your Amex Platinum? Once you’re in the lounge, do you have to show your card each times? (say you order a drink or take food), and I love your enthusiasm for traveling. Thanks!

    1. Hi Joe, with the AMEX Platinum you get the unlimited-access membership level of Priority Pass, the network that has access agreements with over 1,000 lounges in the world. So you’ll get a Priority Pass card, and that’s what you show to get into the lounge (or the digital card on the app). Once inside, everything is complimentary so no need to do anything 🙂

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