When Gary Leff, cofounder of the frequent flier community Milepoint.com, departs from the Lufthansa First-Class Terminal in Frankfurt, his rental car is valet parked, and a personal assistant arrives to take his passport and process immigration, while he is escorted through a short and very discreet security line.
The major stresses of flying now allayed, Leff can savor his waiting time before the flight. He can enter a cigar bar with a selection of 80 whiskies, lie on a comfy leather sofa in his own napping room, or take a bath in an oversized tub.
“When it’s time to board, you’re escorted downstairs to the waiting driver, who takes you across the tarmac directly to your plane in your choice of a Porsche or Mercedes,” says Leff.
At the Thai Airways First- Class Lounge in Bangkok, a golf cart is waiting to whisk you away to rooms full of Thai food or to a prearranged appointment in a spa bungalow for an hourlong Thai massage.
“These are some of the top specialists in Asia, used to providing spa treatments for Thai generals and royalty,” says Leff.
Airport lounges have come a long way since American Airlines unveiled the prototype in 1939 at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Clientele expect far more than a clean seat, dose of peace, and a dish of peanuts.
“Making the arrival, departure, or transfer as comfortable and seamless as possible is always on our mind,” says Nicola Lange, Lufthansa’s director of first-class services and lounges. “We’re here to help you avoid hassles and save time,” she adds.
Leff flies more than 200,000 miles a year and thus spends a good deal of time in airport lounges. He notes that all of them should have these basic services as a minimum: free Wi-Fi, ample comfortable seating, easy-to-access power sources, substantial snacks, and assistance with ticketing. Add showers, drink service at your seat, boarding announcements, and hot food items, and that lounge is a notch above the rest. To be world-class, it must have sit-down restaurant service, a spa, escort to the plane, and private security screening.
Quality food and preflight pampering at lounges are at the top of the lists of most frequent fliers. At the stylish Virgin Atlantic Logan and JFK clubhouses, grab a seat on one of the leather sofas and ask for the signature cocktail, the Virgin Redhead (gin, lemon juice, raspberries, framboise and cassis liqueurs, topped off with champagne). Then get ready for cuisine inspired by the locale.
“The Boston Clubhouse incorporates some of its rich New England roots into the menu with items such as New England clam chowder and lobster rolls. At JFK, we offer quintessential tastes of New York, such as the steak and Brooklyn ale pie,” says Simon Bradley, vice president of marketing at Virgin Atlantic, North America.
Thankfully, lounge accessibility has never been easier. Customers traveling in first or business class gain entry with their tickets. If you’re loyal to a single airline, it might be wise to obtain an annual membership. American Airlines Admirals Club and Delta Sky Clubs offer yearly and 30-day memberships. Or use your frequent flier miles to attain a certain status. For example, if you make gold status on United, you’re invited to most Star Alliance lounges.
Many frequent fliers also own a third-party card, ideal for folks who fly different airlines. Priority Pass (www.PriorityPass.com), with close to 2 million members, is the world’s leading independent airport lounge program with access to over 600 lounges. Priority Pass offers a slew of membership options, from $99 a year plus $27 per visit, to $399 a year with unlimited visits. If you have an American Express Platinum Card, you already have access to Priority Pass as one of your benefits.
If visiting an airport lounge is a rarity or occasional splurge, consider buying prepaid day passes to over 150 lounges at the website Lounge Pass (www.loungepass.com) for as little as $28 per lounge. Also, check airline websites for pre-arrival deals, since you can save money if you purchase a day pass in advance.
The latest entry is independent lounges not affiliated with an airline. Simply pay the $20 entrance fee at Airspace Lounge at Baltimore/Washington International Airport and you’ll enter a relaxed space complete with power ports, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks like hot breakfast in the morning and sandwiches for lunch. The concept has become so successful that the owners recently unveiled a new Airport Lounge at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
The reLAX Lounge, between Terminals 3 and 4 at Los Angeles International Airport, charges $15 for one hour, $30 for two to three hours, for their cozy space, WiFi, drinks, and sandwiches. At the Aeroexpress terminal of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, you can sleep for $15 an hour in a bed at SleepBox.