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10 best-value airport lounges in the world for frequent fliers and casual travellers, and the most luxurious first-class lounges

Airport lounges offering Wi-fi, drinks and food are becoming more affordable and accessible, with independent, pay-for-access lounges on the rise. We find out which ones top the list across the globe and why

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 7:02am

If you’ve ever flown business class – either intentionally or via a lucky upgrade – you’ll know how useful airport lounges can be for working, freshening up, or just escaping the crowds.

Airlines have long had their own exclusive lounges for top-tier travellers, but independent, pay-for-access lounges aimed at anyone who can pay are now on the rise – and they can even save you money.

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Just US$24 can get you free Wi-fi, inclusive drinks and premium food in the cheapest airport lounges, according to research by online travel company Netflights.com. It found the average cost of accessing an airport lounge is US$49.41 – less than the US$77.81 the average international flier spends on food, hot drinks and alcohol in the hours before boarding a flight, according to Netflights.com.

The company’s quest to identify the best-value airport lounges for under US$66 was undertaken last month and covered 149 airport lounges around the world. It found the best-value lounge to be the Al Ghazal Lounge in Abu Dhabi International Airport. “Value” was determined by factoring in facilities and extras, not just the price.

The cheapest in its top 20 was Pacific Club at Terminal 3, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, in Manila, the Philippines, which costs just US$24.79. Also in the top 20 was the BGS Premier Lounge at Terminal 2 Beijing Capital International Airport, China, which charges US$29.

So can we expect these low prices to spread? “A major trend in airport lounges has been the non-elite and non-premium passenger getting lounge access,” says David Smith of air travel tips website AirTravelGenius.com. These typically cost between US$40 and US$100, depending on the location.

He identifies three reasons for their growth: lounge access membership programmes such as China’s DragonPass (which has 12 million members) and Priority Pass (which charges an annual fee for access to 1,200 lounges worldwide); more independent lounges opening at airports that offer one-time access for a low fee; and airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Lufthansa deciding to sell lounge access to passengers as an extra revenue stream.

“We expect major Asian airlines will eventually follow suit,” says Smith, who recommends travellers shop around at the operator’s website and also check the LoungeBuddy app and website.

“Lounges are becoming more affordable and accessible to the average traveller,” says Brent Griffith at LoungeBuddy.com, who explains that the best deal on lounges will typically depend on whether someone is a frequent or a casual flier.

“If they're a frequent flier, the best deal for them might be to get a membership to an airline lounge programme, but if they are a casual traveller with a few flights per year, they are better off booking single entry passes through LoungeBuddy,” he says.

The expansion of independent operators offering one-time access lounges is not without problems, though.

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“Some pay-for-access lounges have become overcrowded, especially at terminals with no other options,” says Smith. “It is up to airports to keep pace with the increase in air travel passengers to find space and capacity for new lounges.”

Plaza Premium’s recent lounge addition at London Heathrow's Terminal 5 does not accept Priority Pass holders for entry, for example.

“Lounges that want to ensure a great experience for their guests will institute a policy on the maximum number of guests allowed in a lounge at any one time,” says Griffith. “Ultimately this may help ensure a positive experience for travellers looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal.”

However, there is still a “class” war within the airport lounge industry, with airport lounges for first class passengers higher in quality than independent airport lounges. So where are the very best lounges?

“The top-rated airport lounges tend to be the first class lounges of major airlines that still operate a first class cabin,” says Smith, who identifies Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, Air France’s La Première Lounge in Paris Charles de Gaulle, the Qantas International First Lounges at Sydney and Melbourne, Swiss First Class Lounge in Zurich, Thai Airways Royal First Lounge & Spa in Bangkok, and the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai among the world’s best.

“For business class lounges, some love the fun atmosphere of Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class lounges, and Cathay Pacific’s lounge noodle stations are well-liked by many business travellers,” says Smith, name-checking Cathay Pacific’s The Bridge Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport.

“The very best lounges will have a great ambience, high quality à la carte dining, spa facilities and treatments, and perhaps hotel-type rooms.”

Best advice to save a fortune on airfare

Airport lounges may not all be equal, but the frequent fliers and business travellers who travel economy should investigate China’s DragonPass, Priority Pass, and LoungeBuddy.com. A home away from home awaits, and often for a surprisingly low fee.

The best-value airport lounges, according to Netflights.com

1. Al Ghazal Lounge by Plaza Premium Lounge Terminal 2

Where: Abu Dhabi International Airport, UAE

Cost: US$29

2. Strata Lounge International Terminal

Where: Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Cost: US$38

3. Lounge @ BTerminal 3

Where: Dubai International Airport, UAE

Cost: US$39

4. 1903 Lounge Terminal 3

Where: Manchester Airport, UK

Cost: US$54

5. Plaza Premium Lounge (Arrivals) Terminal 2

Where: Rio de Janeiro Galeao International Airport, Brazil

Cost: US$33

6. BGS Premier Lounge Terminal 2

Where: Beijing Capital International Airport, China

Cost: US$29

7. Loyalty Lounge Terminal 2

Where: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, India

Cost: US$30

8. Plaza Premium Lounge (Lounge B) Terminal 3

Where: Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, India

Cost: US$27

9. Clubrooms North Terminal

Where: London Gatwick Airport, UK

Cost: US$67

10. SkyTeam Lounge Terminal 4

Where: London Heathrow Airport, UK

Cost: US$54