Lounge Hopping vs. Terrific Terminals

I’ll admit it, I’m a huge diva for airline products and lounges. I’ll go out of my way to try the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or the Thai First Class Lounge and Spa or cappuccinos on Austrian or EVA (flying them in 8 hours!), but when does it get in the way of enjoying your trip?

Lounge hopping is “fear of missing out” (FOMO) at its finest

Why did I leave for the airport three hours early to enjoy the ambiance of a crowded room and pre-packaged sandwiches?

Why did I leave for the airport three hours early to enjoy the ambiance of a crowded room and pre-packaged sandwiches?

Whenever I’m in an airport, I’m tempted to lounge hop. Check out all the cool rooms with little packaged snacks that make me feel special and important. But I’m probably wasting hours that could be better spent being productive or with friends, or exploring the city I’m in. Once in a while, a SNAFU happens and I don’t have my status card or invitation from the check in desk. Expectations dashed. Now I’m pissed sitting in a priority pass lounge eating my bag of chips and horrible wine.

Changi Terminal trumps The Private Room

While not the Singapore Airlines - Private Room, the Malaysian Airlines First Class Lounge has Sleeperette Rooms where you can crash in between flights. SQ, take note!

While not Singapore Airlines’ The Private Room, the Malaysian Airlines First Class Lounge has Sleeperette Rooms where you can crash in between flights. SQ, take note!

I had an interesting experience last year in the Singapore First Class Lounge at Changi, where I had an overnight 8 hour layover on the way to Sri Lanka. After an excellent dinner, a few drinks, I asked about a nap room or place to get some shut eye for a few hours. No dice. No place to sleep in one of the nicest lounges in the world!

The solution? Sleep in the terminal. Changi Airport is so well-apportioned, that there are nap zones with chaise lounges and couches all throughout the terminals. You have a better chance of shuteye there than in any lounge.

Lufthansa has several gates in Frankfurt Airport with free coffee/cappuccino machines, reading material and bistro style seating, obviating the need to buy a €4 coffee or time your departure from the lounge to the gate perfectly.

Bangkok Airways offers a lounge to all passengers, even in coach. Free popcorn, pandan cake, coffee and juice await you as you sit near the gate.

Seoul, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have free movie theaters, Copenhagen and Stockholm have airports straight out of Mad Men. If we’re used to paying $7-15 for a typical meal in our everyday lives, why do we go crazy over the exclusivity of lounge access?

Taking time to smell the roses and huddle with the “unwashed masses” :)

This is not a terrible place to spend a layover, even if you don't have lounge access.

This is not a terrible place to spend a layover, even if you don’t have lounge access.

Maybe Bangkok Airways, Changi Airport and parts of the Frankfurt Airport have it right. Make the experience not suck, have some free coffee and snacks - a cafe bistro environment for everyone and move on to more important things like being on time. Try to reduce the FOMO, reset outrageous expectations and make the travel experience enjoyable. Have a few nicer lounge-style restaurants and plenty of departure monitors and everyone is happy.

Here are a few takeaways that may change your departure behavior:

1. Do Your Research - Understand If a Lounge is Worth Going To

Typically if a lounge is a third party contracted affair (dnata, Servisair, Menzies), I probably won’t bother. Nothing will be of the quality of even a budget restaurant and you’re just as likely to have bugs come out of that wine bottle as “functional” alcohol. Ooh look more packaged sandwiches! There are a few exceptions, notably at BCN and SIN and the AMEX Centurion Lounges in the US, but a vast majority are not worth the detour of traipsing halfway across the airport and almost missing your flight.

I also don’t understand why many lounge boast aging computer terminals in their business center, yet many can’t get Wi-Fi right. Is anyone walking in without a laptop these days? Am I going to trust a public computer with confidential competitive intel?

Check out LoungeBuddy to get the lowdown from other passengers on the worthiness of the lounge. Flyertalk typically has long threads that debate lounge amenities ad naseum for nearly every airport.

2. Make Sure It’s Open

Those in the US may be used to the United Clubs which are generally open from 5am to 11pm, but for many carriers, it only makes financial sense to operate the lounge in the 3 or so hours before the departure of their only flight. Before you start to trek across the airport, double check that the lounge is actually open.

3. Hub lounges ARE usually worth going to

First Class Lounges (Or the lounges of “premium” business class only airlines - e.g. Virgin Atlantic, Turkish, EVA) generally are worth arriving early for

Generally, the experience at an airline’s hub will be vastly superior to its outstations, because the airline’s executives can and do walk through. If given the choice, go to the hub airline’s lounge even if you’re flying a partner (assuming you have access - this is one of the only times alliance status matters over just flying in premium cabins).

Look at what services are available and whether they matter to you. Some offer complimentary spa treatments (TG, QF, VS), dining that is restaurant quality (TK, LH, SQ, EY, QF) or perks like cigar lounges, arcades or tarmac transfers. Those can make travel really fun and memorable. But you may have just stuffed yourself at a huge hotel buffet, so that extra foie gras burger is probably not going to make for a comfortable flight. You also have a 7 course meal coming onboard.

For me, these airlines haven’t/aren’t going to disappoint with their first class lounges unless you’re really picky - Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Cathay, ANA, JAL, Asiana, Singapore, Thai, Malaysian, Qantas, Lufthansa, Swiss, Air France

Turkish and Virgin Atlantic also get props for amazing business class lounges (maybe BR too if you like Star Trek and milk tea?). I generally find QF, LH, SK, AF, BA, SQ, IB (at MAD) and CX to consistently offer decent lounge experiences, all else being equal. This isn’t always the case, but generally the wine and food isn’t horrible. Delta and AA are catching up and are fine for domestic travel, but I still won’t bother internationally unless there are no other options. Hope the Centurion lounges will spark some upward movement as well.

4. Third Party and Priority Pass Lounges are held to a lower standard

If you do embark for a Priority Pass / Contract or 3rd party Lounge, set your expectations a little lower. These lounges don’t have high revenue first class passengers to offset their expenses, nor will an airline executive pass through any time soon, so the quality of the food, drinks and furniture isn’t going to be as high as a mainline carrier. That $27 only goes so far.

5. Most Lounges Share the Same Catering Supplier

You just spent 15 minutes digging for your star gold card, pulling up the rules on the Star Alliance website and insisting they use your Lounge Club and NOT Priority Pass membership to guest your friends in, only to find that it has the exact same catering as every other lounge in the airport.

Airlines at many outstations only have limited options for suppliers, sometimes only one. Don’t beat yourself trying to collect lounge access like pokemon. If you’re at an airport with no hub carrier, the offerings are likely going to be ridiculously similar.

6. The Lounge experience will vary based on time of day

If you look at reviews on Flyertalk, one of the biggest factors tends to be whether the lounge is crowded or not. Remember that hub airports tend to operate on the “pulse” strategy, so there will be parts of the day where the terminal and lounge will be simply packed and other parts where they seem like ghost towns. Most lounges are built though with capacity less than peak in mind and can be pleasant outside of a pulse and impossible to sit during one. Often going to a partner lounge in the same alliance or a Priority Pass Lounge can solve these problems.

7. Bring a Friend

You may have been to every lounge from here to Timbuktu, but chances are you have friends or relatives that haven’t. You should consider making their day by guesting them (or a stranger) in. Those crackers and cheap wine might not impress you, but why not give someone a random act of kindness.

8. The Terminal Matters When Connecting Or Starting a Journey

I will gladly choose to connect in an airy, architecturally beautiful, international terminal with tons of amenities like Seoul, Singapore or Dubai over infinite walking or rats nests like Heathrow or Newark. I know Indian and Sri Lankan airports will have 11 security checks and arrive much earlier than I usually would.

Particularly for overnight connections, some airports shutdown and are really uncomfortable places to sleep. Others offer nap rooms, showers and quiet areas for all passengers, even in coach. If you’re flying in economy, these things will matter more, and can make an overnight or odd hour connection far more bearable.

Airlines Are, At Their Core, Airlines.

They typically fall flat on their face when they try to be a 5 star restaurant, hotel or even a better-than-average wine bar.

Maybe it’s worth having a good dinner in town with a friend than getting to the airport 3 hours early to wallow in our own crapulence in the lounge. No?

How do you decide whether to get to the airport early or when it makes sense to lounge hop?

3 Responses to “Lounge Hopping vs. Terrific Terminals”

  1. At least you own it that you’re a lounge diva! 😉 In the USA, I rarely ever go to the lounges here. However, when I’m travelling abroad, I’d go to the airport an hour or two earlier just in case there are any long queues — but also to check out the lounge!

  2. Yeah whenever I’m in a new airport I try all the lounges! That way I’ll know where to go the next time I’m there. did this at IAH recently, a few good foreign carrier options!

  3. If it’s not too early in the day and it means I’ll be even less stressed checking in, might as well for a nice lounge. Qantas Sydney lounge? Yes please.

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