Lounges: How You Can Get Inside

The lines aren’t just growing at the gates. They’re also getting longer inside airport lounges, longtime havens from the masses clogging the terminals at peak times.

Whether they’re taking advantage of a perk of a high-end airline ticket, a credit card or a membership program, more fliers are gravitating to the lounges — and their free food, drink and Wi-Fi.

As lounges’ popularity has grown, regular users claim they aren’t the respites they used to be, often with longer waits to get in and changes to beloved luxuries. One example: replacing seating at the bar with a rope line for walk-up service.

“The whole vibe in these clubs has changed to get passengers through, give them drinks, swipe their credit cards and sell them premium products,” said Eric Goldmann of Atlanta, who works in health care sales and flies frequently. He cited top-shelf alcohol, usually not included among the free offerings, as an example.

Airline lounges originally became popular as perks for elite or frequent fliers, and legacy carriers including American, Delta and United still reward high-status fliers with access.

But the options have increased as third-party operations have joined the fray. Methods of entry have expanded, too: fly a lot, book a first or business class seat on some flights, sign up for a premium credit card, or pay for access.

Some credit cards include lounge access as a perk. The American Express Platinum Card, which costs $695 a year (and includes $400 of total hotel and airline fee credits), grants entry to its 15 Centurion Lounges in the United States, London and Hong Kong and more than 1,400 affiliated lounges worldwide.

Other premium credit cards have followed with their own lounges. Holders of the Venture X card from Capital One ($395 annual fee with $300 in travel credits) and up to two guests have access to the Capital One Lounge in Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

This month, JPMorgan Chase debuted its first Chase Sapphire Lounge by the Club in Boston for holders of its Chase Sapphire Reserve card ($550 a year with benefits, including $300 in credits on travel purchases).

You can also gain access through a club consortium. Standard membership in Priority Pass, a network of 1,300 airport lounges, starts at $99 a year, with each visit costing $35 at that level. Other tiers include some or unlimited free visits. (Many premium credit cards include membership in Priority Pass.)

Plaza Premium Group, which operates lounges, hotels and restaurants in more than 70 airports worldwide, sells its PPL Pass Americas for $80. The pass entitles holders to two visits within 12 months to any of more than two dozen lounges in North, Central and South America, including locations in Dallas, Newark and Orlando, Fla.

Membership in the high-end travel club Fly Lyfe starts at $28 a month and offers access to more than 600 lounges globally at $35 a visit. The price goes up to about $50 a month for complimentary lounge access.

Among membership-free clubs, Escape Lounges charge $40 if a visit is booked online 24 hours in advance, $45 if not, at 15 clubs around the country. (Escape Lounges are free to American Express Platinum cardholders.) The Club charges $50 admission at its more than 20 lounges in U.S. airports and in London. And the website LoungeBuddy identifies pay-per-visit lounges around the world.

You can also buy your way into some airline lounges. American, for example, offers one-time passes for $59 or 5,900 AAdvantage miles.

So, once you’re in, who can accompany you? Rules vary. American allows immediate family (including children under 18) or up to two guests free. Delta and United have similar policies, but include children under 21.

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