We are self-proclaimed lounge hoppers, with our current record being 4 lounges before our flight to Dubrovnik in April this year. It would have been 5 had we not been coerced into having another glass of sparkling wine by a very friendly barman #FirstWorldProblems
Going to an airport lounge is nothing out of the ordinary but going to 4 in a single day sparked curiosity over on our Instagram pages. In this post, we explain how we managed to visit all these lounges without any money ever exchanging hands.
British Airways Silver Status (Oneworld Sapphire)
Airlines and hotels have loyalty programmes which are colloquially known as “status” and much like being promoted at work, the higher status you have, the better perks you typically get. We mentioned that we have Hilton Honors Gold Status in this post, which gives you upgrades, free breakfast, bonus points and other random gifts such as free chocolate, bottles of wine and drinks vouchers (hotel dependent).
British Airways Silver Status, which we have, gives you a few worthwhile perks, one of which being – Lounge Access when flying with BA or any Oneworld airline.
You might be wondering,
“What is a Oneworld airline?”
Many of the bigger airlines have teamed up into something called an “alliance”. British Airways happens to be part of the Oneworld alliance which is a group of 13 full-service airlines and many smaller low-cost airlines.
Each Oneworld airline has its own loyalty programme but each one also has a Oneworld equivalent status. This is where BA Silver status starts to become a little more appealing because Silver is equivalent to Oneworld Sapphire, which means a lot of the perks you get directly with BA, you also get amongst the other airlines in Oneworld.
This is important, because it doesn’t mean you HAVE to fly with BA to get lounge access and all the other perks. If you’re flying a Oneworld airline and they have a lounge available for Oneworld Sapphire status holders you’ll be able to use it before your flight.
For example, whenever we fly East (Asia and beyond) we always try to find a flight with Qatar Airways, not only because they’re considered one of the best airlines in the world but because we get lounge access everywhere we go.
This is particularly useful for an airline, like Qatar, where you’ll more than likely be stopping over for an hour or 6 at Doha Hamad airport. It’s great to be able to get off the plane, stretch your legs and get some food/drink without having to worry how much it’ll cost or whether you have the right currency.
Bear in mind, you will need to be flying with a Oneworld airline to get lounge access. You can’t buy a cheap Ryanair flight and rock up to the BA lounge expecting to get in. It has been the case where we’ve chosen to NOT fly with BA or a Oneworld airline because the price is not worth it for the perks and points. It’s always worth doing the figures first. There’s no point paying over the odds for a flight just to get lounge access, when you could get a cheaper flight and pay for a lounge instead.
Unless you’re flying out of Terminal 3 Heathrow, in which case, you might actually want to stump up the extra for such a memorable experience. Silver status granted us access to 4 lounges, 3 of which we managed to get to – Cathay Pacific (great cocktails and dumplings), Qantas (restaurant style dining) and British Airways (meh). You also get access to the American Airlines lounge but we were both too full, too drunk and too late!
Excessive? Yes. Fun? You betcha!
As part of our American Express Platinum Card annual fee, we each get a Priority Pass membership, which definitely helps to justify the cost if you travel regularly.
This is especially true if you travel with family or kids regularly as each card allows you to admit 1 guest for free, meaning you can get 4 people into a lounge. You can buy membership separately, directly through Priority Pass but when you work out how much it costs, you might as well get a Platinum card.
A single, unlimited Priority Pass membership (the equivalent membership you get with AMEX) is £339 which means for 4 people, you’re looking at £1356 a year.A Platinum card only costs £575 and that’s without all the other perks.
With that being said, we have mixed feelings about Priority Pass, even though it’s been pretty good for us so far. Here is a list of the lounges/restaurants we’ve used with our Priority Passes over the past 18 months or so a few of which we’ve used multiple times.
- Aspire Lounge (Manchester)
- Luxx Lounge (Frankfurt)
- Wellness Lounge (Maldives)
- Ahlan Lounge (Dubai)
- No1 Lounge (Gatwick North & South)
- No1 Lounge Terminal 3 (Heathrow)
- The Grain Store (Gatwick)
- Mach2 Restaurant (Sydney)
- Al Maha Transit Lounge (Doha)
How much is that “worth” to us?
It’s difficult to say. Most of these will run you £30-40 for access (although some don’t allow paid access at all) but the truth is, we probably wouldn’t pay that for any of them. When considering how much something is worth, you need to think about either how much you would pay or how much you would be paying to do something else. If we weren’t going to a lounge, we’d probably spend £10-£15 on food and drink each anyway so we’d probably say it’s worth around £10-15 per person.
The Priority Pass Elephant In the Room
Part of the marketing spiel for Priority Pass is that you get access to over 1200+ lounges worldwide, regardless of what airline you’re flying on.
This is great if you want lounge access but don’t want to get into the complicated world of airline loyalty. As it means you CAN book a Ryanair flight and get lounge access with Priority Pass, if there is a lounge available.
So why do we have mixed feelings?
Because lounge access isn’t guaranteed.
You’re effectively paying a yearly membership for lounge access, except you might not be allowed in when you get there.
Yep, you read that right. You’ll even notice on their website, there are some lounges which mention that access may be restricted at certain times.
This means, despite having a membership, Priority Pass has the right to turn you away.
In fairness, there have only been a handful of occasions where we’ve been denied access but if you look online, you’ll find lots of disgruntled customers. As we get our pass with the American Express Platinum card and we have so many other options, it’s rare we don’t get access to some sort of lounge but we’d be pretty pissed if we paid for an annual membership, only to not be let in.
If you travel from selected airports however, you do have a couple of other options:
Priority Pass Restaurants
Gatwick’s South Terminal has a stand-alone restaurant, Grain Store, which just so happens to be a part of Priority Pass. You get a £15 credit to spend on food and drink for each “visit” used with your Priority Pass. This makes no sense if you have the basic Priority Pass membership, as you’re effectively paying £20 for a “visit” and getting £15 credit back. However, if you have unlimited access, it’s worth using.
Whether this is a response to lounge overcrowding or just to give members more options, it’s a welcome compromise to a cramped departure lounge and a Boots meal deal. Whilst it won’t offer you unlimited alcohol and soft drinks like a lounge would, it does give you food options that are better than the snacks and nibbles you would find in lounges.
You can get the food to go too. We recently flew with British Airways to Croatia in economy class. Short-haul flights in economy class more often than not don’t get you food and drink. As our flight was over lunchtime, we grabbed a Tuna Nicoise salad each from the Grain Store to make up for the lack of food on the flight. Whilst we wouldn’t have paid the RRP (£15!), it was better than the food in the British Airways lounge and saved us having to buy lunch as soon as we landed.
Paying For Guaranteed Entry
The second option, is to pay £5 for access to No1 Lounges which can be found at Gatwick, Heathrow and Birmingham airports in the UK. Honestly, this is a bit of a cop-out but something we have done a couple of times.
It seems unfair to have to pay for lounge access when you’re already paying for membership but if you want to guarantee entry, rather than rocking up and being turned away, it might be worth it. If you do your research, you’ll see that the UK is notorious for denying lounge access to Priority Pass members, more so than anywhere else in the world it seems.
Whilst paying £5 per person is annoying, if we were to get turned away, we would end up spending that on a coffee and food anyway, so for us we feel it’s worth it.
Flying Business/First Class
This one seems kind of obvious and one most people would dismiss but it is possible to pick up cheaper fares if you know what you’re looking for. The key to flying premium cabins is to keep your options open as to where and when you fly. THe more specific you are with dates and destinations, the less likely you are to get a deal.
British Airways often have sales (called “Luxury Sales”) in Business Class to Europe where the bump from economy is small enough to justify the extra perks.
It’s not uncommon to see fares to destinations like Venice, Barcelona and Rome for under £200 per person, return, in business class. Short-haul business class with BA (or any airline for that matter) is nothing to write home about but if it’s only going to cost you an extra £40-50 compared to economy, it might be worth it for the experience.
You’ll get priority check-in, priority boarding, fast track security, lounge access, 3-course meal and alcohol onboard and a free seat next to you. Just don’t think short-haul business class is anything like long haul, it’s most definitely not!
Speaking of long haul, if you want one of the best business class experiences in the sky, Qatar Airways often have sales from various cities in Europe to Asia. You’re looking at closer to £1200 per person for the privilege, so obviously not cheap but it was voted the best Business Class in the world in 2018 with on-demand dining, an onboard bar and even doors on some routes. You’ll also be able to check out their amazing Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge in Doha, which we’d definitely class as one of the top 3 lounges we’ve ever been to. It has its own sandwich room, need we say more?
American Express Platinum Card
As well as a Priority Pass membership (which is a completely different company) flashing your American Express Platinum card also allows you to enter a select few lounges that the Priority Pass can’t get you in to.
At Heathrow, you have access to the Plaza Premium lounge in Terminal 5. You can’t get access to this via Priority Pass and the only other way is to pay a steep £40 for access. This means it’s usually much less crowded as there are more people with Priority Pass memberships than there are Platinum cards.
Honestly, it’s a nice lounge but like many others, it’s not worth paying £40 for. As we get it included anyway, it’s a nice option and we always pop in for a drink.
As well as the Plaza Premium Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5, you’ll also get access to American Express own Centurion lounges dotted around the world (we had a very brief visit to the Centurion lounge in Sydney). Unfortunately, there aren’t many in the UK, so you certainly shouldn’t base your entire decision off this alone. Although there is apparently one opening soon at Heathrow Terminal 3 and based off our very limited experience, they tend to be decent quality.
And there we have it, all the ways we get access to airport lounges around the world. If you travel frequently, it really is a nice way to travel. Picking up some coffee and eggs in the morning or prosecco and nibbles in the evening helps to offset some of the stress of going through airport security.
If you travel 5+ times a year and most of the airports you transit through have some sort of lounge, picking up a Priority Pass or even better, an American Express Platinum card, could be worth it. It certainly is to us.
For many, however, it may not be worth it. If you only travel once or twice a year, you may be better off buying individual access or paying for a nice meal in a restaurant before departure. Not all airport lounges are created equal so do your research first.
If you’re interested, our favourite paid lounge has to be No1 Clubrooms which can be found at Gatwick, Birmingham and Luton airports. Intimate lounges with table service and good food, perfect for special occasions.