Recently I had the opportunity to take a short trip to hang out with my family in Ontario. Up to this point, I was perfectly content to travel in economy class and hang out at the gate with everyone else.
On my way home, I had a similar flight time with my sister who happened to have a number of lounge vouchers with Priority Pass. Being the good sister that she is, she offered me a guest voucher which I more than happily accepted. I’ve heard whisperings that these lounges offer a quiet environment with plush chairs, free WiFi, open bar, and best of all, free food! Needless to say, this frugal guy was pretty excited.
Upon entering the lounge (domestic departures), I was greeted by a serene environment that ultimately exceeded my expectations. The chairs were comfortable, the WiFi was fast, the booze was plentiful, and the food was above par. To talk a little about the offerings, they had two different types of soup, two hot trays (a rice and korean beef bulgogi), cereal, cookies and muffins, fruit and veggies, crackers, coffee/tea/lattees, juice, canned pop/club soda, and an open bar.
Surprisingly, I always thought that these lounges were exclusive to business class passengers, paid memberships, or users of elite credit cards. However, in reality, anyone who is willing to pay the entry fee can join in the fun. The lounge that I was invited to charged $40+tax for 2 hrs of use, $50+tax for 3 hrs, and $70 + tax for 6 hours. Honestly though, I’m not sure how they keep track of how much time each person uses. While I was there, I didn’t notice anyone policing the elapsed time.
So seeing the entry price, it got me thinking – is $40+tax worth access to a lounge for a couple of hours?
In short, no, I wouldn’t pay that much. But how much is it worth? The value is really in the food and the beverages. So having lunch with an alcoholic beverage at the airport will probably cost you around $25. As I only occasionally have an alcoholic beverage, I would be willing to pay around $20 to enter a lounge providing that I had a long lay over.
How to Get Lounge Passes
Being the deal hunter that I am, I started looking into ways to lower the cost of lounge access while I was sitting in the cushy lounge chairs. Besides flying first class with Air Canada to access their Maple Leaf Lounges, here are some ways to get lounge passes:
For Priority Pass, frequent travelers may get value out of purchasing a membership. The membership levels are ($USD, and all levels have $27 guest visit fee):
- Standard: $99 annually + $27 per visit.
- Standard Plus: $249 annually for 10 free visits, then $27 per visit (essentially $99 membership fee plus $15 per visit for first 10 visits).
- Prestige: $399 annually for unlimited visits (need at least 16 visits to make this option worth it).
For Marriott and HHonors points collectors, you can use points towards Priority pass memberships.
- Marriott requirements: 20k for Standard, 55k for Standard Plus, and 85k for Prestige.
- HHonors requirements: 36.5k for Standard, 101.5k for Standard Plus, and 161.5k for Prestige.
If you are a frequent traveler with Air Canada and reach “Status“, they offer free access to their Maple Leaf Lounges along with a number of other perks.
There are some premium credit cards that offer Lounge access, but they often come with a hefty annual fee. Here are some examples:
- CIBC and TD Aerogold Visa Infinite (annual fee ~$120/year, TD has waived fee for first year): When claiming Aeroplan rewards, these cards offer guest passes towards Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges .
- A number of high end American Express cards (annual fees range from $300-$900): Too rich for my blood.
- BMO Air Miles Elite (annual fee $120) and World Elite MasterCards (annual fee $150): The air miles card will give you a Standard Priority Pass membership and 2 free passes annually. The World Elite card will also give you the Standard membership, but 4 free passes annually. These annual fees are waived if you have a premium bank account with BMO.
Pay Cash with a Coupon
This and the credit card option above is the most likely way that I’ll enter an airport lounge next. A quick google search came up with an easy $10 off coupon. So essentially, a $40 entry fee becomes $30. This is bordering on acceptable if I were travelling by myself, but not if I were travelling with the whole family (of four). Also, if you are a CIBC credit card holder, you just need to flash the credit card to the Lounge attendant (at Canadian airports), and you’ll get 25% off ($10 off $40).
What are your thoughts on Airport Lounges? Are they worth the cost?
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