Free or cheap airport lounges

Free or cheap airport lounge access

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

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.

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  1. 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.

    Airport lounge
  2. 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

    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 Ex-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.

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

    luxury airline lounges

    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. It doesn't list them all but it's the most thorough we've come across.

  3. Check out what you can expect in our video

    Ex-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 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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  4. Free airport lounge passes with Amex Gold

    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 card changes from time-to-time, so go to our full rewards credit card guide and read an overview of the Amex Gold and other cards.

  5. 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 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.

    Typical prices of airport lounge passes

    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.

    • 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.

      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. £26 per adult, £18.49 child 2+ Prosecco and champagne
      Gatwick North My Lounge PlayStations and iMacs, football table, magazines and newspapers, hot and cold food, drinks including wine and beer, Wi-Fi and charging points. £32 per adult, £18 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. £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. £27 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 £40 per adult, £28 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. £42 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 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 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?

      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 £49 at current rates) in the US, for instance.

  6. Frequent airport lounge user? Consider annual membership

    Unlimited membership to airport lounges (so not the posher airline ones) costs about £260-£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 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 £377/yr via our link (£419usually) £24
    Dragon Pass 1,000+ worldwide £268/yr £20
    Executive Lounges by Swissport (Temporarily not accepting new annual memberships) 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.

    (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. 

  7. 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 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.

    Packaged bank accounts with airport lounge access

    • The Barclays Travel Plus Pack costs £18 a month and gives you six free lounge visits a year from a choice of 1,000 lounges, but you'll need to register to get lounge access. 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 lounges. 

      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 perks which come with the account include worldwide family travel insurance, mobile insurance, UK and European breakdown cover and a concierge service.
  8. Get discounts via frequent flyer schemes (which are free to join)

    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 £42 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 get 200-400 miles per booking.

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  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/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.

  10. 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.

    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. 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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