From slot cars to saunas, the best airport lounges in the world make flying fun

Air travel continues to grow, with more and more of us flying every year. Despite the popularity, it can be expensive, especially with the nickel-and-diming airlines now do, from checking your luggage to picking choice seats. But one amenity that’s worth splurging for is access to airport lounges. Think about it: Major airports are increasingly becoming crowded, making it hard to find a place to sit, let alone a power outlet. Food options are also scarce and subpar. And unforeseen disruptions can cause longer-than-expected wait times. Suddenly, that $50 entry fee for a quieter space sounds like a great investment. Forget about the elitism that some have of lounges – no, you’re not better than the hoi polloi – but see them as a space to work, grab a meal, or have some fun for a few hours before a flight or during transit.

“Airport lounges have this stigma, for the select few elite,” says Tyler Dikman, CEO of LoungeBuddy, which makes an app to help you find lounges and gain access. “In reality, it’s one of the least expensive luxuries.

“In the U.S., the top three reasons [why people like lounges] is privacy to get work done, having access to good Wi-Fi, and feeling like you’re not at an airport,” Dikman adds.

But not all lounges – whether it’s owned by the airline or independently operated – are created equal. Some are chockfull of amenities like showers, Wi-Fi, work areas, and complimentary food and beverage, while others have the bare essentials. However, with their lucrative potential, many of these lounges are upping their game by improving the experience.

To find out which lounges are getting it right, and which still need improvements, we worked with LoungeBuddy to find out what are some of the world’s best lounges worth paying the entry fee. We also looked at which lounge has the best tech amenities, and asked LoungeBuddy about the current state of the industry.

Having only launched a little more than a year ago in 2013, LoungeBuddy has already covered more than 600 airports and 2,000 lounges, and is looking to add new features and services to its app soon. “We are getting pretty close to covering pretty much every airport,” Dikman says. Between the quarter-million LoungeBuddy app users and the insane amount of travel Dikman does, that shouldn’t be long.

In your view, what are the big improvements in lounges?

Modern lounges have all the amenities to help business travelers remain productive while also catering to the needs of premium leisure travelers. Many lounges now offer secluded areas for work, with plenty of power outlets and computers for guest use. Relaxation zones give those in transit the opportunity to grab a power nap in comfortable lounge chairs, and improved dining options can include hot entrees and even full bars. In addition, the recent trend of increased accessibility has allowed passengers in any cabin of service to access many of these spaces for the purchase of a day pass.

What are some things that still need improvements?

Despite being one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to improve the travel experience, the general public still has a surprisingly limited amount of knowledge about lounges and their benefits. Airlines and operators can better promote the amenities offered inside lounges to help passengers escape the crowded terminals. Lounges can also introduce more personalized service by incorporating new technology that can track and remember guest preferences. Finally, lounge quality across brands can be further standardized to better meet guest expectations.

Which lounge provider(s) best caters to tech-savvy travelers? What are the best “connected” lounges?

Which domestic and international lounges are at the top of the game right now?

U.S. domestic lounges at the top of their game include American Express Centurion Lounges, the LAX Star Alliance Lounge, and the LAX Oneworld Lounge.

International lounges include Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul, Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney, Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, Finnair Lounge at Helsinki, Cathay Pacific’s brand new lounges in Hong Kong, and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in London Heathrow. [These, as well as Qatar Airways’ Al Mourjan Lounge in Doha, represent some of the best exclusive lounges in the world, which means they are open to elite fliers.]

Which are the best lounges open to all passengers?

  • The Club, SJC
    Spacious, bright, and modern; fast Wi-Fi; plentiful outlets; and showers.
  • Delta Sky Club, JFK
    Rooftop seating at the Sky Deck, perfect for plane watching and fresh air.
  • Plaza Premium Lounge, LHR
    Beautiful decor with trademark chandeliers; delicious hot foods, including trademark Hong Kong-style fish ball noodle soup.

If food and drinks are a must, what lounges should people look for?

If traveling with kids, what are the best lounges?

  • Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge
    Large game room with pinball machines, game consoles; family areas with TVs and sofas; diaper changing rooms for infants.
  • Lufthansa First Class Terminal
    Private children’s playroom, rubber duckies in the private baths, child’s car seat for the private car to the aircraft.

Which lounges offer out-of-the-box amenities aside from the typical offerings?

Getting in

Select lounges – like British Airways’ Concorde Room or Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal – are reserved for the airlines’ elite fliers, and aren’t open to all – even if you’re willing to pay for it. American Express Centurion Lounges are available only to card members. Others, like the United Club, Delta Sky Club, and Airspace, offer one-time entry fees. If you are a frequent traveler, you can sign up for club memberships with an individual lounge, or sign up for Priority Pass and Lounge Club, which offer access to hundreds of lounges around the world. Certain travel-based credit cards also grant access.

The best way to find out about lounges is with the free LoungeBuddy app, which we have used since its inception and found it to be a great resource. You can enter your itinerary and the app will list available lounges during your trip, or you can search by airport. Our favorite feature: You can enter information such as your frequent flier status, credit cards, etc., and LoungeBuddy lets  you which lounges are free to use, or how much it’d cost to get in.

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