Is airport lounge access a need or a want? It’s a question that calls for some serious pondering.
Most people would say that in a modern, well-organised airport like Changi, lounge access is a want more than a need. With an abundance of distractions like a movie theatre, butterfly garden, and that magical big fountain thing, why would you want to be cooped up in a waiting room anyway?
However, step away from home turf and things get a bit more dicey. Yes, there are other well-run airports elsewhere in the world — Amsterdam Schiphol and Seoul Incheon come to mind. But, for every good airport, there are many more miserable ones you can’t wait to check out of.
That’s where airport lounge access becomes almost essential. I’ve transited through chaotic airports with overpriced food, glacier-paced Internet, filthy toilets and not an empty seat in sight, and trust me — in those situations, you do need an airport lounge.
What can you expect from an airport lounge?
An airport lounge is basically a private area within the terminal for departing and transit passengers to relax or catch up on work before a flight. Some airports also offer arrival lounges for incoming passengers to freshen up before heading to work.
Traditionally, airlines would run their own lounges, accessible only to their passengers and passengers of their partners. However, the last 10 years have seen an explosion of ‘contract lounges’ run by third parties unaffiliated with any particular airline. Access is available to members of the public, or through lounge membership programs like Priority Pass or DragonPass. That development has opened up access to Economy Class passengers who would otherwise never have had access to a lounge.
So what can you typically expect from such a facility?
Food and beverage
All lounges will almost certainly offer some selection of F&B. The quality will be extremely variable — some will offer an impressive spread that could rival a hotel’s buffet. Others may offer nothing more than bottled water and cold sandwiches. While you shouldn’t expect a gourmet extravaganza, it certainly beats paying inflated airport concession prices.
Public Wi-Fi in airports can be hit and miss. Some airports invest in ultra-high speed facilities, others cram everyone onto a slow and barely usable network.
At least you know that in a lounge, your Wi-Fi connection is shared by fewer people. This doesn’t guarantee faster speeds, but it could be the difference between sending out that all-important presentation before a flight and bottlenecking your colleagues for hours.
You really don’t want to know how dirty that airplane seat you sat on for the past 12 hours is. A shower can be the perfect way of re-energising yourself after a red-eye flight. Many lounges will have showers, although their usage may sometimes entail an upcharge. Be sure to check with the reception if they’re included in the price of admission.
Jetlag bites, but some lounges have an isolated rest area for you to catch a brief power nap. Sometimes these can take the form of private bedrooms or pods, in which case there will almost certainly be a fee. In other lounges, it may just be a series of recliner seats in a darkened area, in which case access should be complimentary.
It’s a relatively rare feature, but you may find some lounges with spa facilities attached. Most treatments will require separate payment, but I have seen lounges which offer 15-minute complimentary sessions to all guests (no surprises that slots were fully booked for hours!)
Should you pay for access?
There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be situations where the average traveller may need lounge access.
The question, then, is: should you pay for it?
Well, if you don’t have to, then it’s a no. There are several cards out there, which offer complimentary lounge access, and many of them come with annual fee waivers too. If you do your research ahead of time, you should be able to access the lounge without paying a cent.
|Card||Annual Fee||Free lounge visits per year*|
|DBS Altitude Visa||S$192.60 (first year free)||2|
|Citi PremierMiles Visa||S$192.60 (first year free)||2|
|UOB JCB Card||S$64.20 (first year free)||2|
|ICBC Global Travel Mastercard||S$150 (3 years free)||6|
*There are cards which give unlimited lounge access, but these require incomes of S$120-150,000 per year, and have non-waivable annual fees of ~S$500
Once your free visits are exhausted, you will still be able to purchase additional lounge access at a rate of US$32 per entry. I find that a bit harder to justify, so before you shell out, do ask the reception if you can do a quick tour to see what’s on offer.
There are lounges worth paying more than US$32 for, and there are others you couldn’t pay me to go into.
Remember that you can also enjoy discounted lounge access rates through the GrabRewards program. Platinum members get up to 50% off for lounge access at selected airports across South East Asia. In Singapore, for instance, they can access the Plaza Premium Lounge for just $28, versus the regular walk-up price of $58.
Airport lounge access can be a lifesaver at times, but you shouldn’t pay for it out of pocket unless you absolutely have to. If you get the right cards, this won’t be an issue. Happy lounging!
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