This year I have had a chance to travel all around the world in the name of science publishing a great deal of papers and having a chance to attend conferences of so many different fields from NLP and computational creativity to a video game conference. ☺️ As Finland is a bit remotely located, there's often only one option for an airline with the least number of layovers: Finnair and its one world partners. As a result, I ended up gaining sapphire status and an access to airport lounges. In this post, I will share some ideas of a lounge access.
How to access a lounge
This part is airline (alliance) and airport specific. First you should always make sure you know which alliance you are flying. Popular alliances are Skyteam (KLM, AirFrance, Delta), Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, SAS, TAP) and Oneworld (Finnair, Iberia, American Airlines, JAL, British Airways). Now, some airlines let you purchase a lounge access for as long as you are flying with any company that is part of the alliance and your ticket is issued by a company of the same alliance. For instance, if you have a TAP Portugal flight departing from Lisbon, you can purchase a lounge access regardless of your level in the loyalty program. The same goes with all Star Alliance flights departing from Helsinki – an access to the SAS lounge can be purchased.
Some other airlines limit their lounge access. For example, Finnair will let you buy a lounge ticket only if you are on silver level (Oneworld ruby). Some private lounges sell access to whoever regardless of the company they fly. Then again, American Airlines sells an expensive Admiral's club ticket that is valid for 48 hours. This might be a good option if you have a lot of transfers. Even some credit cards may grant you a lounge access.
And of course, if you are on a certain level on a customer loyalty program, you can access lounges when you are flying a member airline with a ticket sold by the same alliance. Lounge is usually included also in business and first class tickets.
Now the important part that I want to stress here is that lounge access by your status is usually only valid if you are fully flying the same alliance. I witnessed the other day an event where a Finnair gold customer was turned away from the lounge, even though his flight was operated by Finnair. The catch was that the ticket was sold by a collaborating airline that is not a part of Oneworld.
Should you buy a lounge access?
Yes and no… Typically a lounge access is around 20-30€ and it covers free alcoholic beverages and a buffet of food. This is a good deal given that airport prices are high anyway, and if you planned to eat at the airport and have cup of coffee, you would probably be spending around the same amount of money. This might be an even better deal if you can use miles to purchase the access… However, you should do some detective work before buying an access. 🕵️♂️
First: are you on an international or a national flight. International lounges are by far the best lounges in terms of services, food, beverages and atmosphere. Just because those passengers bring more money in. In EU, this also means that the non-Schengen lounge will be way better. Now, as for national lounges… You have to really take a close look at the services and read reviews. For instance, national S7 lounges in Russia do offer you food for free, but no alcohol. JAL sakura lounges in Japan for flights within the country only offer you soft drinks and coffee, beer and sometimes whisky… So no food whatsoever.
Now the important question: who owns the lounge? If you are accessing a lounge by one of the member airlines of your alliance, you can expect decent service. However, sometimes the lounge is operated by a private company and in that case, you will need to take a closer look online at what people say. For instance, in Milan Malpensa and Florence the private lounges have a food section that is easily beaten by an average hotel breakfast. Whereas the private lounges in Arlanda Stockholm and Pulkovo St Petersburg for Oneworld customers offer decent food, and the former even has a large selection of free alcohol beverages where as the latter has only wine and beer.
In addition to who is operating the lounge, you have to take into consideration the location of the lounge. Usually airlines put the most effort into the lounges in their home airports. JAL, for example, will have a better lounge in Narita than Nagoya and American Airlines will serve better food in Chicago O'Hare than London Heathrow. Just keep in mind that airlines may operate several lounges in different terminals – and these lounges will also vary in quality.
The last thing to take into consideration is when you are flying. You will get the least bang for your buck early in the morning as most of the lounges only serve breakfast. Also, how much time are you going to spend in the lounge can be affected by several things: for example, if you are travelling on a smaller airline like Finnair, with luggage, from anywhere else than Helsinki, their baggage drop and check-in might only open two hours before your flight. In addition to this, if you do not have a priority check-in and security and you have to pass the border control, you might be left with very little time in the lounge. Now, mostly your lounge access is limited to a maximum of 3 hours, however, in my experience, nobody is going to throw you out if you have a longer layover and want to spend the whole time in the lounge.
Lounge access is usually worth the money if you prioritize lounges run by airlines at their home airports. Just remember to take a closer look at domestic lounges and lounges run by private companies before making the purchase decision. 🤗
My favorite lounges so far must be Finnair Platinum Wing in Helsinki-Vantaa and the AirEuropa lounge for European flights in Madrid Barajas. 👍