Airport lounges and their swanky perks (think showers and free-flowing bubbly) used to be the preserve of the first-class or business-class passenger. But these days, at their pay-to-enter equivalents, anyone can enjoy some pre-flight comfort away from the crowds. Just be aware that the quality varies dramatically.
Manchester’s 1903 lounge – and its premium gins and locally sourced food – was a hit with our inspectors and could actually save you money. Tot up the cost of fast-track security, a three-course meal and drinks in the terminal, along with wi-fi access after your 60 free minutes (all included with lounge access), and you’re looking at almost £50 – compared with 1903’s pre-book rate of £35.
You can also compare reviews on Lounge Buddy and travel blog Head For Points.
If you show up without a reservation, not only do you risk the lounge being full, you’ll also have to pay top dollar for entry.
Heathrow’s No1 lounge at Terminal 3 charges £40 on the door, compared with a pre-book price of £32 (even if you reserve it en route to the airport). However, you can often save more by comparing prices on booking sites such as Holiday Extras, Lounge Buddy and Lounge Pass.
When we checked, Holidays Extras was selling entry to Heathrow’s Premium Plaza for £5 cheaper than if you booked direct.
Special membership schemes can get you unlimited or discounted entry to airport lounges worldwide.
If you’re a frequent flyer, a year’s unlimited entry costs up to £339 with Priority Pass (with 1,200 participating lounges). However, unless you leap on one of its 25%-off sales, you’ll need to use it more than once a month just to break even.
Executive Lounges by Swissport offers a similar deal for Aspire lounges. At £260 a year, it recommends at least 15 visits to get your money’s worth.
A lower-tier membership is more realistic for most people. Dragonpass caps entry at £16 for you and a guest, and throws in one to eight free visits – based on how much you pay (£68-£128 a year).
Some packaged bank accounts will throw in airport lounge entry.
Barclays Travel Plus Pack, for example, costs £15.50 a month and gives you six free visits a year from a choice of 800 lounges, as long as you register by phone or online banking.
For those with a healthy bank balance, the NatWest Reward Black account comes with free Priority Pass membership. More achievable is the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold – offering two free passes for participating lounges, with additional visits charged at £15. Rob Burgess, at Head For Points, believes this is a good deal as long as you cancel within the first year (it’s £140 a year thereafter), and always pay off your balance in full.
It’s worth checking cashback sites, such as Quidco and TopCashback, for current promotions.
We found that Quidco was promising an 11% cash reward on any No1 lounge, if you booked via its site. So plump for Gatwick’s exclusive Clubrooms (which include fast-track security and complimentary champagne) and Quidco will put £4.95 back into your bank or PayPal account – slashing the price of entry to £40.
Some lounges also offer their own incentives, such as No1’s ‘refer a friend’ discount – meaning that if your partner booked separately, and entered your name at the checkout, they would save a further £7.50.
You can use Avios points to buy entry to 400 affiliated lounges (including No1 and Aspire) with prices starting at 3,250 points.
Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club also gives members a discounted rate on No1 Lounges. When we looked, entry to Gatwick’s My Lounge was £12 via Virgin Atlantic – an £8 saving. You only need to enter a membership number, meaning you can keep your points intact.
Aspire also has its own loyalty app, Aspire Rewards, where frequent lounge-goers collect points to earn a free visit or a £5 gift voucher.