With three hours to kill at Sacramento International Airport last fall, I searched online for one of those cushy lounges offering free food and drinks.
Most lounges limit access to big-spending frequent flyers, premium credit-card holders and those who buy pricey memberships or top dollar international tickets.
But some sell day passes, giving even the basic economy crowd entry to the havens of travel happiness.
I couldn’t believe what popped up: a Groupon for $25 admission to The Escape Lounge, a small chain offering day passes at select airports. The walk-up admission price in Sacramento and most other cities: $45 per person.
You can’t walk out of most decent airport restaurants with a bill under $25 for dinner and a drink, and the lounge included unlimited food and drink, albeit appetizer-sized servings. I clicked buy.
Want to treat yourself to an airport lounge on your next trip? Here’s a roundup of clubs offering day passes, plus some tips.
The infrequent flyers’ guide to airport lounge day passes
Escape Lounges: You can book day passes for lounges in the U.S. and United Kingdom in advance on the chain’s website for $40 with at least 24 hours notice or pay $45 at the door. But the best deals, when available, are on deals site Groupon, best known for its discounts on massages, manicures and things to do. In early February, Groupon deals included $33 for the lounge at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport or Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada and $25 for the lounge at T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, and the new one at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. There’s an additional discount if you buy admission for two. Just search Groupon and Escape Lounge and your airport for current offers.
Note that travelers with American Express’ pricey Platinum Card (annual fee $550) receive complimentary admission and can bring up to two guests.
Priority Pass: Priority Pass is a collection of 1,300 airport lounges under a variety of names around the world, giving it much more coverage than Escape Lounges, but it’s also pricier for the infrequent flyer. Travelers purchase annual memberships starting at $99, but that level still requires a $32 entrance fee. The $299 standard plus membership includes 10 free visits, and the $429 prestige plus membership allows unlimited free visits. Groupon can save you money here, too. Recent deals include $76 toward the standard plus membership for $7. That reduces the price of the membership to $230 or the cost per lounge visit to $23. Priority Pass and other deals sites also feature discounts, so shop around.
Travelers with select premium credit cards receive free Priority Pass membership.
LoungeBuddy: LoungeBuddy offers lounge booking and reviews of lounges around the world with this major new caveat: You have to be an American Express cardmember to book lounges through the LoungeBuddy website or mobile app as American Express acquired the company last year. It doesn’t have to be a premium American Express card, though. Travelers holding its entry-level green card (annual fee $150) receive $100 LoungeBuddy credit per year.
American Airlines’ Admirals Club: The airline has about 50 Admirals Club lounges, with multiple outlets at big hubs, including Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. One-day passes are available for $59 with this major caveat: You must be traveling on American or a partner airline.
One plus to note: The day pass includes free admission for up to three children under 18.
United Airlines’ United Club: United has 48 United Club lounges around the world. There are five at its Houston hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport and four at its hub at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The airline sells one-day passes for $59, but they come with the same caveat as American’s: You have to be flying United or a partner airline that day.
Travelers purchasing a one-day pass may bring in children younger than 2 for free.
Delta Air Lines’ Sky Club: The airline, which has 50 Sky Club lounges, stopped selling day passes in late 2018. Until this year, Delta offered $29 day passes to holders of lower tier Delta Sky Miles American Express cards but removed that benefit in January as part of broader changes to its card benefits.
Before you buy: Shopping tips for airport lounge day passes
Do the math: Day pass costs can add up quickly, especially for a family, so make sure you’ll get your money’s worth compared with eating at an airport restaurant or bar or – gasp – buying food and drinks on the plane.
Check the hours: This is especially important before you purchase lounge access via Groupon. The Escape Lounge I visited in Sacramento was open until 8 p.m. the night of my flight, but employees effectively started cleaning up an hour earlier and closed the bar at 7:30 p.m. If you have an early morning vacation flight you want to toast with a bloody mary or mimosa, check when the lounge starts serving alcohol as that varies by airport and lounge.
Be prepared to be wedged in or even turned away during peak times: Airport lounges have been battling overcrowding, and some are limiting the length of stays, closing access at the busiest times and instituting other restrictions. So don’t get everyone in your traveling party excited about the VIP treatment until you know you can get in.
Don’t expect top-shelf liquor and wine for free: Most airport lounges charge extra for premium brands.
Phoenix bound?Check out the airport’s new lounges