Coronavirus Employees' Help
1 August 2021
Going away is great – airports can be anything but. Rather than endure the chaos, you could try free or cheap airport lounges. While these aren't always MoneySaving, if you're going to book one anyway, read our top tips to see if you can cut the cost.
The rules on holidaying are changing radically. Domestic trips are now allowed across much of the UK, while some overseas holidays have also resumed, with destinations categorised in a new ‘traffic light’ system.
Bookings with flexibility are key
If you decide to book a trip, remember things can change quickly, and you may not be covered by travel insurance for coronavirus-related claims. You should look for bookings which offer flexibility if you're unable to travel due to future restrictions.
See our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide for full help and information on overseas travel restrictions.
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.
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.
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. Share 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
While not the norm, not all lounges are worth the money. For example, according to former MSE Sally, the Wingtips Lounge at New York's JFK is nothing to shout home about. Though if you've a free pass, it's not too bad.
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:
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.
Nifty website Lounge Buddy lists thousands worldwide, the services they offer and which you can pay to get into. It doesn't list them all but it's the most thorough we've come across.
MSE Anthony S visited the No1 Lounge at Gatwick and was impressed – he ate, drank and got to chill out watching Netflix using the free Wi-Fi. While he didn't have all the usual video equipment with him, he snuck a few candid shots on his iPhone to give you an idea what it's like – see the short video below.
Successful applicants can take full advantage of the Amex Gold's 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.
- 1 pt = 1 mile
Two free lounge passes per year and points on spending to convert into airmiles with 13 different airline schemes – though a hefty annual fee kicks in from year two.
You'll have 23,000pts if you spend £3,000 in the first three months, which you can convert to 23,000 airmiles at various schemes, including Avios, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Etihad.
There's also the choice to convert to £184 in Nectar points, a £100 voucher or 23,000 hotel points (eg, Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy). Full rewards point info
A hefty £140/yr fee kicks in from year two, so diarise to cancel before then if you want to avoid it.
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 £20ish 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. Always look out for special codes and discounts too.
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 says if you find one of its lounges cheaper on another booking site – including any offers, vouchers or discounts – it'll match the price.)
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.
Passes booked in advance typically start from about £20 but in general, 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; older children are charged 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 most alcoholic drinks included in the entry cost. There's a spa and 'pod' bedrooms but you need to pay extra for them.
We've detailed a sample of what facilities you can expect at the following lounges, and what the basic entry price is. All include charging points, Wi-Fi and seating.
|Belfast||The Causeway Lounge||Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, beer and spirits, televisions, magazines and newspapers, Wi-Fi and power sockets.||£28 per adult, £15 child 2+||-|
|Birmingham||Aspire Lounge||Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging facilities.||£25 per adult, £18 child 2+||Prosecco and champagne|
|Gatwick North||My Lounge||PlayStations and iMacs, football table, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including wine and beer, Wi-Fi and charging points.||£24 per adult, £12 child 2+||'Premium' security, prosecco and champagne|
|Gatwick South||No1 Lounge||Magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, fully-tended bar serving drinks including wine, sparkling wine, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points.||£32 per adult, £18 child 2+||'Premium' security, champagne, extra made-to-order dishes|
|Glasgow||Upperdeck Lounge||Televisions, magazines and newspapers, snacks, drinks including beer, wine and spirits (max four alcoholic drinks per person), Wi-Fi.||£23 per adult, £17 child 3+||Priority security lane pass, prosecco and champagne|
|Heathrow T2||Plaza Premium||Showers, magazines and newspapers, tapas bar plus buffet food, tended bar serving drinks including beer, wine and spirits, Wi-Fi||From £42 per adult, £29 child 2+||On-airport car parking, fast-track security, spa treatments incl massage, prosecco and champagne|
|Heathrow T3||No1 Lounge||Showers, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, tended bar serving drinks including beer, wine, sparkling wine and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points.||£34 per adult, £18 child 2+||Spa and beauty treatments, single, twin and triple bedrooms, champagne|
|Heathrow T4||SkyTeam Lounge||Showers, beauty treatments, magazines and newspapers, massage chairs, day beds, PlayStations, hot and cold snack foods, drinks including bottled beer, wine, sparkling wine and spirits, Wi-Fi||£30 per adult, £30 child 2+||-|
|Heathrow T5||Aspire Lounge||Television, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including beer, wine and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points||£35 per adult, £35 child 2+||Showers, prosecco and champagne|
|Manchester T1 and T2||Escape Lounge||Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, sparkling wine, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points||From £24 per adult, £20 child 2+||Champagne|
|Manchester T3||1903||Fast-track security pass, televisions, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including wine, champagne, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points||£30 per person (adults only)||-|
|Stansted||Escape Lounge||Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, sparkling wine, beer and spirits, magazines and newspapers, televisions, Wi-Fi and charging points.||£30 per adult, £20 child 2+||Champagne|
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.
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.
The answer is often "no", eg, BA and Virgin say you can't.
However, you may occasionally have luck – do a search on lounge specialist Lounge Buddy to see which ones you can book before you get to the airport, though it's always dependent on whether they've space at the time you go.
You won't always be able to book; some are 'walk-up' only (so you pay at the lounge desk when you're there) – for example, the Delta lounge at JFK. Lufthansa, TAP Portugal and United Airlines also allow you to pay for access at some of their lounges, as long as they're not full.
If you can, though, they don't come cheap. We've seen lounges at $60 (approx £46 at current rates) in the US, for instance.
Unlimited membership to airport lounges (so not the posher airline ones) costs about £260-£300/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.
|Priority Pass*||1,300+ worldwide||£305/yr via our link (£339 usually)||£20|
|Dragon Pass||1,000+ worldwide||£268/yr||£19.50|
|Executive Lounges by Swissport||45+ mainly across the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Dubai and Jamaica||£260/yr for Aspire and Swissport lounges, £400/yr for AspirePlus, Aspire and Swissport||One guest included, others charged at standard rate. Children not allowed in AspirePlus lounges.|
Packaged bank accounts usually have a monthly fee, but they come with a host of perks which can make them very good value for money. Typically they include travel insurance, mobile insurance and breakdown cover, but some throw in other benefits such as airport lounge access too.
The accounts below don't make it into our Packaged Bank Account top picks, and they're not worth getting for the airport lounge access alone. But if you have one of these accounts, or are planning to get one anyway, the lounge access is a good extra perk.
Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club is free to join, and offers discounts for its members on No1 Lounges. There are three types of lounge to choose from:
This can offer a decent saving. For example, when we looked, the No1 Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 was £34 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.
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.
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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