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Free or Cheap Airport Lounges

You don't have to fly first or business for airport lounge access

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Sally | Edited by Guy

Updated April 2017

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Holidays are great but airports can be anything but. Rather than put up with the chaos, you could try free or cheap airport lounges – hospitality areas that leave you time to enjoy a coffee or food with your feet up before you jet off.

Now we know lounge access isn't always MoneySaving but if you're going to do it anyway, read on for our top tips to see if you can cut the cost and start your travels in comfort, without paying through the nose for first- or business-class.

Warning: This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please give us feedback, suggest improvements and share your tips in the airport lounge forum thread.

You don't always need to fly business or first to relax in a lounge – and when you're in, standard facilities and some food tend to be free

Lounges at airports are often seen as reserved for those who can afford luxury travel. True, to get into an airline lounge run by the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic etc, you often need a business- or first-class ticket – or to be a serious frequent flyer.

But there are also airport lounges, usually run by companies that own lounges in terminals, such as No1 Lounges and Swissport (which runs Aspire Lounges). These are open to all, regardless of ticket class, and as we explain below you can often buy one-off passes or even get in free.

It's airport lounges that this guide is mostly focused on given airline lounges are usually reserved for business- or first-class passengers.

Whichever type of lounge you're in, food and drink is usually free. You may also be able to shower or watch TV, read a paper and charge your devices in peace and quiet. Sometimes you have to pay for the really high-end stuff such as a haircut or massage.

virgin lounge

Not all lounges have spas and champagne

As a general rule, airline lounges tend to beat airport lounges but it's not a universal rule, especially as quality can vary and be a matter of opinion. We'll start with airport lounges as these may be more accessible.

Airport lounges – relaxing, but usually not as luxurious as those run by airlines

Here, not all offer five-star treatment, but they can still be a good escape from the airport hustle and bustle.

For example, at Gatwick's Aspire Lounge you can pick up a newspaper or magazine while enjoying a drink at no extra cost (including beer and wine) and snacks including pasta, fruit and pastries.

To work out whether it's worth paying for a lounge, check out reviews from TripAdvisor* and sites such as Lounge Buddy or SkyTrax. Let us know your experiences too, by posting on our airport lounge forum thread.

Here are some of your favourites so far:

Used No1 Lounges at Heathrow T3 over Xmas. £20 to enter, good lounge. - Alex via Twitter

The lounge at Malta airport is fantastic. Small but perfectly formed. - CV via Twitter

The Mastercard airport lounge at Prague – it's amazing. - Maureen via Facebook

Airline lounges (from BA, Virgin etc) – home of top-end luxury

BA lounge

Here, you're more likely to find fancy spas, manicures, showers or bubbly – as well as free food and drink, and a place to relax. Yet airlines sometimes have tiers of lounges, usually something like:

  • First- or upper-class lounges: Access to these superior lounges is only usually allowed if you have the relevant ticket, or if you hold elite frequent flyer status.
  • Business-class lounges: For people with a business-class ticket or with high or elite status on that airline's frequent flyer programme. Usually very pleasant but without the gold-plated touch of a first-class lounge.

While there can be differences between these two types of lounge, even within a category facilities can vary. For example, the British Airways business-class lounge at San Francisco Airport has showers but the Dubai one doesn't.

And as a general rule, airline lounges tend to be better at airlines' main hubs as that is where they plough most of their investment in. This is likely to be at their home airport or somewhere they fly a lot. For example, the BA and Virgin lounges at Heathrow are highly rated.

When outside of an airline's main hubs, you may be moved to a lounge run by another airline.

How to find lounges – and what they offer

Nifty website Lounge Buddy lists thousands worldwide, the services they offer and which you can pay to get into.

However, it doesn't list them all but it's as good as we've come across.

Two free airport lounge passes with Amex Gold

Successful applicants can take full advantage of its perks - you don't even need to spend on it to get the passes. The lounges you can access are airport lounges, not high-end airline ones and again facilities can vary, so check reviews beforehand.

Amex Preferred Rewards Gold Card

Two free lounge passes plus a voucher worth £100

Amex Gold*

The Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* charge card is a really good option for frequent flyers. If you're accepted for the card, you'll get membership for the Lounge Club scheme. It gets you two free visits a year at its affiliated lounges (see which lounges you can use) which you can use for yourself or a guest.

Plus spend £2,000 within the first three months, you'll get a bonus 20,000 rewards points on top of the normal 1 point per £1 spent. The bonus is equal to £100 in vouchers, 20,000 Avios points or Virgin Flying Club miles and more.

How do I get into a lounge and how long can I stay?

You can't book a space, you simply rock up and can stay for a maximum of three hours. While this means you can be flexible, the risk is the lounge is full when you get there, though this is rare.

  • Because it's a charge card, you HAVE to pay it off each month, there's no credit facility. If you don't, there's a £12 late fee, and a missed payment on your credit report.
  • It's fee-free in year one, £140/yr after. To avoid paying, diarise to cancel before year two starts.
  • You can only use your Lounge Club membership if you still hold the Amex. Additional guests or visits are £15 each, charged to your Amex.
  • You earn 1 point per £1 on standard spending, 2 points per £1 with airlines or in a foreign currency. Bonus points can take a month to hit your account, though we've seen 'em applied on the day you hit the trigger.
  • When points hit your account, you can convert them into Amazon, M&S, Homebase and more vouchers, though retailers vary. Gift cards sent by email are usually instant.
  • If you convert them to frequent flyer or hotel points transfers can take up to 10 working days.
  • You can also use points to pay off purchases, like cashback. However, you receive slightly less than in vouchers; 1,000 points gives £4.50 cashback vs £5 in vouchers.
  • Always carry a back up as Amex isn't accepted everywhere.
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Stats box
  • Rewards: 1 Membership Rewards point per £1 (plus 20,000 bonus points)
  • Min spend: £2,000 for bonus | Card issuer: Amex
  • Annual fee: No fee in year one, but £140 from year two onwards
  • Min income: N/A
Additional questions

What rewards can I get from this card? We've analysed how much you might get back from different levels of spending...

Annual overall spend £3,000 £5,000 £10,000 £20,000
Points earned, incl bonus 24,500 27,500 35,000 50,000
Converting to vouchers £100* £125* £175 £250
Assumes 50% of spending on air travel & abroad and 50% elsewhere
* = doesn't use the entire points total

How can I further boost points? You get a 10,000 points bonus on the anniversary of taking out the card if you've spent more than £15,000, but remember if you keep the card into a second year, you'll pay the £140 annual fee.

You can also boost your points by getting a supplementary card (for a partner/friend), whose spending will then earn points. The first card is provided free, though any more will cost £45.

Plus, if you have a friend who has the card, get them to recommend you, and both you and they get 2,000 bonus points.

One-off airport lounge passes worldwide from about £20 – it could cost less than food, drinks and airport snacks

If you can get a cheap pass, and the facilities are decent, it could work out cheaper than a meal, drinks and snacks at the airport which could cost about £20-ish anyway.

You can buy passes through general holiday sites such as Lounge Pass*, Holiday Extras* or Lounge Buddy to get into airport lounges worldwide. Or you can book directly with lounge operators such as No 1 Lounges or Executive Lounges by Swissport.

However, do weigh up the cost - lounge access is a luxury but if you are going to do it, make sure you get a good lounge at the best possible price.

No one site is cheapest as it can vary by location, so it's best to try them all in case one is cheaper. Swissport's Aspire Lounges promise to match the price – including any offers, vouchers or discounts – from other booking sites.

If you can't find a lounge you're looking for via these links it's best to check directly with the airport you're visiting.

Typical prices of airport lounge passes

Passes booked in advance start from about £20 but it varies depending on the lounge you book – the better the facilities, the more expensive it is. We've seen some that cost more than £40. It's usually more expensive if you walk in on the day. However, prices don't tend to change by date.

Children are allowed in many lounges, though check first. Under-twos are usually free; charges for older children are at a discounted rate.

The lounges aren't usually up to the same standard as the airline ones, but some come close. The No1 Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 has showers and prosecco included in the entry cost. There's a spa and 'pod' bedrooms but you need to pay extra for them.

UK lounges: What do they cost and what facilities do they have?

How to book your spot in a lounge

When you buy a pass you usually pick the time you want to use the lounge so you know you can definitely get in. You don't have to book far in advance, though they can fill up if you don't.

£20 passes (usually costing up to £36) to well-rated No1 Lounges at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham & Edinburgh

No1 Lounges*

No.1 Lounges

We've blagged £20 per person access to No1 Lounges at Heathrow Terminal 3 (usual price £36), Gatwick North and South (£30), Birmingham (£26) and Edinburgh (£26), when you book via this No1 Lounges* link.

You'll need to buy a £20 voucher by 4pm on Friday 28 April and redeem it by booking and using a lounge by 31 August 2017. You can only book eight at a time. Children under two are free, children aged two to 11 can be added to your booking for £16 each.

How long can I stay?

Once in, you're usually allowed to stay for three hours. Aspire, however, says if your flight is delayed you can stay till it leaves.

Can I pay to get into an airline lounge?

Frequent airport lounge user? Consider annual membership

Unlimited membership to airport lounges (so not the posher airline ones) costs about £230-£260/year.

When paying, you become a member of a scheme which tends to run dozens or hundreds of airport lounges. And when you're a member you can take a guest, though they often pay each time.

With each individual pass costing from £20 per person you'd need to use a lounge more than once a month to break even.

We've rounded up some membership costs below, but do check the airport lounge reviews before signing up and let us know your feedback.

Membership Locations Cost for unlimited access Cost per adult guest and child over two (under-twos are free)
Priority Pass* 1,000+ worldwide £233/yr via our link (£260 usually) £15
Dragon Pass About 800 worldwide £268/yr £16
Executive Lounges by Swissport About 45 mainly across the UK, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands £260/yr for Aspire or Swissport lounges,
£400/yr for AspirePlus
One guest included, others charged at standard rate. Children not allowed in AspirePlus lounges.

You can use frequent flyer points to pay for access or get discounts

air miles

If you collect Avios points as part of the travel-focused loyalty scheme, access to 200 airport lounges worldwide starts from 3,250 Avios, including access to some No 1 Lounges, which tend to be the top-end of the lounges you pay to access.

Based on a £20 pass, that can make 1,000 Avios points worth about £6.

That's not too bad, but the value of Avios points can be boosted to around £20 per 1,000 if you spend them on upgrades or first or business flights. See Boost and Max Avios for tips.

Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club also offers discounts for its members on No1 Lounges. When we looked, the lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 was £36 booked direct and £25 booked via Virgin Atlantic (you need to enter a membership number but you don't need to use any points).

If you collect Flying Club miles, you get 200-400 miles per booking. Full info's on the Virgin Atlantic website.

Use your charm, wit and charisma and ask for access – the worse they can say is no

airport lounge

Anyone familiar with knows we love a good haggle, whether it's on the high street or with your broadband/mobile/breakdown provider. But it's not limited to those areas.

If you're on your honeymoon or celebrating a special anniversary or birthday, dress well, be polite and ask nicely at check-in to see if they'll let you have a couple of airline lounge passes. It's more likely to work if there are only one or two of you rather than a big group.

They may well say no, but why not try? And while you're at it, why not be cheeky and ask if they'll upgrade the flight for you too?

Also have a think about whether you know anyone who works for the airline – you could try to get an upgrade that way.

We'd love to hear if you managed to get into a lounge this way so let us know in the forum.

Log your frequent flyer number on all flights – fly with work and you may hit elite status and get free access

Whenever you book flights, make sure you include your frequent flyer number, if you have one (and the airline accepts it).

Elite flyer status isn't easy to get but some do manage it. To get it, you have to take a significant number of flights annually – sometimes 50.

For each flight, you get tier points which added together can take you up the tiers. Reach certain tiers and you'll be given perks such as airport lounge access. For example, fly 50 times a year to hit silver tier membership with BA's Executive Club, and you get lounge access.

It is often only frequent business travellers who earn elite status though. If that's you, make sure the person responsible for booking your travel has your frequent flyer details.

You can also earn points or miles on partner airlines under the same scheme, which could add to your stash, so check before you fly.

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