Free or cheap airport lounge access

Airport lounges without the first class price tag

Going away is great – airports can be anything but. Rather than endure the chaos of departures, you could try getting free or cheap access to 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.

You don't need to fly business or first class to access airport lounges

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 or Virgin Atlantic, you often need a business or first-class ticket – or 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 lounge passes – or even get in for free.

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

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

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

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

Is it worth paying for an airport lounge?

If you can get a cheap lounge pass, and the facilities are decent, it could work out cheaper than a meal, drinks and snacks at the airport which could cost £20 (or more) anyway.

To work out whether it's worth paying for a lounge at the airport you're flying from, check out reviews from TripAdvisor* and sites such as Lounge Buddy or SkyTrax (you can 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, there are some lounges that aren't worth the money. For example, according to Ex-MSE Sally, the Wingtips Lounge at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport is nothing to shout about (though if you've got a free lounge pass, it's not too bad).

Airline lounges – home of top-end luxury

Here, you're more likely to get the full VIP treatment with 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 full VIP experience offered in 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.

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 to a lot. For example, the Virgin and British Airways lounges at Heathrow Airport are particularly highly rated.

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

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How to get into airport lounges for cheap (or free...)

Airport 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.

If you've decided to treat yourself to the airport lounge experience, these are our top tips for getting access to the best ones, as cheaply as possible...

  1. Get one-off airport lounge passes from about £20

    If you can get a cheap lounge pass, and the facilities are decent, it could work out cheaper than a meal, drinks and snacks at the airport, which could cost £20 (or more) 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 lounges directly with operators such as No1 Lounges* or Executive Lounges by Swissport.

    Always look out for special codes and airport lounge discounts too. For example, you can nab 10% off when you sign up to the No1 Lounges newsletter, and you can find a list of current Aspire Lounges promotions on its website, including its senior discount.

    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 the airport 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

    Lounge 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.

    As a general rule it's usually more expensive if you walk in on the day, but prices don't tend to change by date.

    Children are allowed in many airport lounges, though check first. Under-twos are usually free; older children are sometimes charged a discounted rate.

    The lounges aren't usually up to the same standard as the airline ones, but some come close. For example, the No1 Lounge at Heathrow Airport terminal three has most alcoholic drinks included in the entry cost. There are 'pod' bedrooms too, but you need to pay extra for them.

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

      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.

      UK airport lounges

      Belfast The Causeway Lounge Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, beer and spirits, televisions, magazines and newspapers, Wi-Fi and power sockets. £30 per adult, £15 child 2+ -
      Birmingham Aspire Lounge Hot and cold buffet food, drinks including wine, beer and spirits, digital magazines and newspapers, Wi-Fi and charging facilities. £36.99 per adult, £21.49 child 2+ Prosecco and champagne
      Gatwick North My Lounge PlayStations and iMacs, football table, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including wine, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points. £30 per adult, £20 child 2+ 'Premium' security, prosecco and champagne
      Gatwick South No1 Lounge Television, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, fully-tended bar serving drinks including wine, sparkling wine, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points. £36 per adult, £20 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. £29 per adult, £20 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. £48 per adult, £33.60 child 2+ On-airport car parking, fast-track security, spa treatments including 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. £38 per adult, £20 child 2+ Spa and beauty treatments, single, twin and triple bedrooms, champagne
      Heathrow T5 Aspire Lounge Television, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including beer, wine and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points. £40 per adult, £40 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. £32 per adult, £20 child 2+ Champagne
      Manchester T3 1903 Lounge Fast-track security pass, televisions, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including wine, champagne, beer and spirits, Wi-Fi and charging points. £45 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. £32 per adult, £25 child 2+ Champagne

      (1) There may be other lounges to choose from, but we've only picked one from each terminal or airport. (2) If you book in advance, you may be able to use frequent flyer points.

      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.

      How long can I stay?

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

      • Can I pay to get into an airline lounge?

        The answer is often "no".

        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 a lounge before you get to the airport. Some are 'walk-up' only (so you pay at the lounge desk when you're there) – for example, the Delta lounge at John F. Kennedy Airport. 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, they don't come cheap. We've seen airline lounges at $60 (approximately £49 at current rates) in the US, for instance.

  2. Get free lounge passes with Amex Gold credit card

    Some credit cards – like Amex Gold – come with lounge access. 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.

    The number of passes you can get with this credit card change from time to time, so go to our full Reward credit cards guide and read an overview of the Amex Gold and other credit cards.

  3. Frequent airport lounge user? Consider annual membership

    Unlimited membership to airport lounges (so not the posher airline ones) costs about £260 to £300 a 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'll often need to pay each time.

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

    We've rounded up some membership costs below, but do check the lounge reviews before signing up to ensure you're getting value for money and let us know your feedback.

    Airport lounge memberships

    Priority Pass* 1,500+ worldwide £377/year via our link (£419/year usually) £24
    Dragon Pass 1,300+ worldwide £379/year £24
    Executive Lounges by Swissport (Temporarily not accepting new annual memberships) 45+ mainly across the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Dubai and Jamaica £260/year for Aspire and Swissport lounges, £400/year for AspirePlus, Aspire and Swissport One guest included, others charged at standard rate

    (1) Individual lounges usually have their own policies regarding children – some allow children under a certain age to enter for free, some charge for children at the same rate as adult guests, and some don't permit children – so check before booking. 

  4. Airport lounge access is included with Barclays and NatWest premium bank accounts

    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 bank accounts throw in other benefits such as access to airport lounges 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 airport lounge passes are a good extra perk.

    Packaged bank accounts with airport lounge access

    • The Barclays Travel Plus Pack costs £18 a month (rising to £22.50 a month from 1 Feb 2024) and gives you six free airport lounge passes a year from a choice of 1,000 lounges, but you'll need to register to get them. You can do this via phone or online banking. You also get family travel insurance, and UK and European breakdown cover.

    • The NatWest Reward Black account costs a hefty £31 a month, and to be eligible you need an income of at least £100,000, £100,000 in NatWest savings or investments, or a £500,000+ NatWest mortgage. Dragon Pass airport lounge membership is included with this account, giving you access to over 1,000 airport lounges across the world.

      There's no limit on the number of times you can use the lounges in a year, but you'll need your membership card on you. Other benefits of this account include worldwide family travel insurance, mobile insurance, UK and European breakdown cover, and a concierge service.
  5. Access airport lounge discounts via free frequent flyer schemes

    air miles

    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:

    • My Lounge – £22.50
    • No1 Lounges – £27.50
    • Clubrooms – £35

    This can offer a decent saving. For example, when we looked, the No1 Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 was £38 booked direct and £27.50 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'll also get 200 to 400 miles per booking.

  6. Elite frequent flyer status can get you free airport lounge access

    Whenever you book flights, make sure you include your frequent flyer number, if you have one. This will help you get closer to 'elite flyer status' (and the perks that come with it).

    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 free access to airport lounges.

    Elite flyer status isn't easy to get, but some do manage it. To qualify, you have to take a significant number of flights each year – sometimes as many as 50. This means it's usually only frequent business travellers who earn elite status. If that's you, make sure the person responsible for booking your travel has your frequent flyer details.

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

  7. O2 customers with delayed flights can get free airport lounge access

    O2 Priority offers its members something called SmartDelay. If your flight is delayed by an hour or more, you can claim free access to one of 1,200 airport lounges in 500+ airports. You can bring along up to three friends who are flying with you. You've got up until the time of your flight's actual departure to register your details, and, if it's delayed, O2 Priority will email you your airport lounge access vouchers.

  8. On the Beach offers free airport lounge access with certain bookings

    Online travel agent On the Beach offers free airport lounge access when you book a package holiday that includes flights and any 4* or 5* accommodation. The holiday must begin between 1 May and 31 October 2024 and must be a minimum of seven nights. A few airports' lounges are excluded: Bournemouth, Cardiff, London City, Newquay and Glasgow Prestwick.

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

    VIP lounge

    Anyone familiar with knows we love a good haggle, whether it's on the high street or with your broadband 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 an airline lounge this way, so let us know in the MSE Forum.

Check out what you can expect from an airport lounge...

Ex-MSE Anthony S visited the No1 Lounge at Gatwick Airport 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 of the lounge on his phone to give you an idea what it's like – see the short video below.

What to expect in an airport lounge
Embedded YouTube Video

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