Should You Pay for Access to This New Airport Lounge?

by  Christine Wei | Apr 29, 2014
Airport lounge
Airport lounge / jacoblund/iStock

Finally, there's a semi-private corner of the airport that's actually accessible to the casual traveler. Earlier this month, The Club Airport Lounges opened the doors to its newest "independent shared-use lounge" at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. We know you've heard the sales pitch before: a place to relax, complimentary drinks and snacks, business centers, and so on. But where other lounges (at least in the U.S.) have always required some sort of membership or affiliation, we love that The Club works on a completely open, pay-as-you-go model. For $35, any traveler – regardless or what airline they're flying, their status, or which credit card they use – are able to settle into a less-crowded, less-hectic haven and recharge as needed.

So is shelling out $35 worth it? Last fall, we pointed out how lounge experiences really only make sense if you have the time to enjoy it. Presuming you do have a few hours at the airport, here's a look at The Club's amenities, plus a price comparison with other types of lounges.

Sample Airport Prices, Outside a Lounge:
Internet: $8
Wine & Beer: $8
Soda: $2
Magazine: $5
Snacks: $4
Fruit: $2
Shower: $15

These amenities are worth roughly $44, total. And that doesn't take into consideration the value of having a more comfortable, less crowded lounge space itself to relax in. Even if you forgo the shower – we can usually do without – as long as you plan to help yourself to some drinks, snacks, and Wifi, The Club lounge still might be a worthwhile splurge.

Other Lounges:
For comparison, airline-specific lounges like Delta Sky Club or American Airlines Admirals Club charge $50 for day passes to lounges with comparable amenities. Unless you know you'll have 13 or more layovers in the coming year, the annual passes, which range from $350 to $500 for individuals, plus a $50-$100 in initiation fee, end up being the worse deal. If you always travel with your partner, membership for both of you usually goes for $500-$775. There are a few exceptions, like Alaska Airlines, whose $350 individual Board Room memberships cover your spouse and children under 21, or two guests – but you'd still have to use the lounge a few times to make it worth the fee. (See below for more detailed fees for select airlines.)

Last fall, we also mentioned independent lounges like the Priority Pass as an alternative to airline programs. Priority Pass is actually The Club's sister company, but because it requires an annual membership, it's usually not worth it for occasional travelers. Its Standard membership has an annual fee of $99 and charges $27 per visit.

The American Express' Centurion Lounge probably offers the strongest value for one-time use. While day passes also go for $50 (unless you're a Platinum or Centurion cardholders), the facilities and services are a step up from the usual. Of course, this only applies if you have one of AmEx’s cards, and the question is whether you’ll take advantage of the perks. If you don’t need a gourmet buffet, specialty cocktails, or massages during your layover, non-exclusive lounges will still serve you just fine.

Lounge Fees for Select Airlines

Airline Day Pass Annual: Individual Annual with Spouse Initiation Extra Guests
American $50 $450 $775 $50 $50
Delta $50 $450 $695 (plus two guests free) -- $29
United $50 $500* $750 $50 $50
Alaska $50 $350* $500 $100 $20

*Permits spouse and children under 21, or two guests each

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