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Until recently, I had a complimentary Priority Pass card. Although the Priority Pass lounges aren't generally great, they are better than nothing when travelling on an airline where you don't have frequent flyer status.

Priority Pass is extremely expensive, however, and to me at least isn't worth paying for.

What other free or cheap ways are there of getting access to a lounge apart from Priority Pass and having frequent flyer status? I live in the UK, if it's relevant.

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Actually these Lounges were made for people who like to pay, people who like free stuff (like you and me) are meant to sit in the metal chairs in the airport lobby. –  MeNoTalk Jun 15 '12 at 16:48
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4 Answers

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Well, if you are traveling for business or in some other arrangement where someone else is paying for airfare, achieving elite frequent flyer status in a program is quite cheap. Being the travel companion of someone who has access is another route.

Somewhat more seriously, flying intercontinentally in a premium cabin (or in a few selected services, such as United p.s.) will also generally get you a same-day lounge invitation. Of course, it's only a bargain if you're on a frequent flyer award ticket or upgrade and comparing it to the full price of the ticket. Also, you may have to live with a lesser lounge if you are on an award as opposed to a revenue fare on some airlines; I want to say Singapore Airlines is one of the persnickety ones.

Some credit cards come with lounge access. The American Express Centurion card gets you into most airline lounges; holding an AmEx Platinum card gives you Priority Pass Select access. Chase has a card that will give you United Club access. That said, the annual fees on these cards is quite substantial, comparable to the cost of purchasing a separate lounge membership. They are a value only if you already have a card, if you are switching from a comparable card that lacks lounge access, or if someone else is paying the annual fee (e.g. your company for a business card).

Depending on your travel patterns, it may be worthwhile to get membership in a frequent flyer program with more liberal rules about status. For example, Star Alliance Gold generally gets you access to any Star Alliance business class lounge when traveling on any Star Alliance flight.* On United Airlines it takes 50,000 elite qualifying miles in a calendar year to achieve Premier Gold, which is their lowest Star Alliance Gold level. On the other hand, to achieve Gold status on Aegean Airlines (also Star Alliance Gold level), you need only 20,000 EQMs. Overall, if you mostly fly United, accruing to the Aegean program is a bad deal, as you will not be able to take advantage of United promotions or United program benefits like Economy Plus access or upgrades. But if lounge access is the main thing you care about, and you book fares that accrue at least 40% EQMs for flight mileage, this is a faster way to get it.

* Note that Star Alliance Gold lounge access is restricted if your status is in a US-based programs, i.e. United (and formerly Continental) and US Airways. You cannot use a United Club as a United Gold Premier unless you are traveling on a same-day international itinerary. US Airways is even more restrictive, as they disallow lounge access to Gold Preferred members for most Caribbean and Central American flights as well. Similar restrictions apply for American and Delta, in the other two major alliances.

Another option that may work is to purchase one-time airline lounge passes— from someplace other than the airline. United charges $50 for a one-time entry into a United Club, which pretty much anyone who has been in almost any United Club will tell you is a colossal waste of money. However, sometimes people get passes as gifts or other compensation who don't want or need them, and they may give them away or try to sell them. Depending on the type of pass and the airline in question, the pass may not be transferable, but for the ones that are, you'll be able to shave a few dollars off entry by getting one from Craigslist or eBay.

Yet another area to investigate are low-cost lounge offerings. I haven't flown them in years, but Bangkok Airways allowed anyone holding a ticket access to their lounge. Of course, the price of that was built into the ticket, and you expected to pay a little more than say AirAsia. Some airports offer non-affiliated lounges, such as the Airspace Lounge at BWI which starts at $17.50.

None of the above options is particularly cheap, but if everyone off the street could get into the lounge cheap and easy, there would cease to be any point going there— it would be as noisy and crowded as the terminal.

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Great answer. One minor correction: Singapore Airlines is indeed persnickety about letting Star Alliance Gold members into its premium Silver Kris lounges (although there is a lesser lounge for them), but if you have a ticket to fly in SQ Business or First, you're welcome to use them, award or not. –  jpatokal Jun 17 '12 at 12:31
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Depending on the airline, quite often members of Priority Clubs can invite a guest into the lounge with them. So if you're brazen enough, you could consider asking individuals going in if they'd mind if you joined them.

Of course, this can go badly sometimes ;)

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Most (but not all) Priority Club members have to pay extra to bring a guest - up to US$27 per guest. However most airline-specific clubs and frequent flyer programs that include lounge access allow at least 1 free guest, although they will often need to be flying on that airline and/or the same airline alliance. –  Doc Jun 15 '12 at 20:56
    
So then you just need to check the conditions of the lounge of the airline you're flying with, and then target passengers headed to that lounge if the conditions are suitable :) –  Mark Mayo Jun 15 '12 at 21:00
    
Or arrange in advance with someone to guest you in, via a frequent flyer forum or similar! –  Gagravarr Jun 19 '12 at 4:50
    
404 on URL. Correct URL is hackthesystem.com/blog/… –  Michael Smith Feb 27 at 12:21
    
@MichaelSmith thanks, updated. You can also propose edits to answers in the future. Cheers for finding that! –  Mark Mayo Feb 27 at 12:38
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Before we discuss ways to get in, you first need to remember that lounges aren't free. Someone somewhere needs to be paying for it! Depending on the facilities and location of the lounge, it can vary quite a bit. Discussions on FlyerTalk seem to indicate that the wholesale cost per visit is measured in tens of dollars. Mark that up for consumer sale, and you get to the typical prices that get charged for lounge access (for those lounges who offer paid-for access).

For cheap access, one answer is to find a cheap lounge! A lounge which doesn't offer very much (eg no alcohol, no food) has a much lower cost base than one which offers hot food and nice drinks, so these lounges which are cheaper to operate are cheaper to get access to. In some airports, there are multiple lounges to which access can be purchased, if you go for the ones which offer less then costs are generally lower. If all you're after is somewhere quiet, maybe with wifi, then this style of lounge might work. However, you may be better off just finding a less busy bit of the airport, and spending the money on refreshments yourself.

Otherwise, you need to find a way for someone else to be paying for your lounge access. If you have a suitable frequent traveller status (probably with a non-US carrier), or you're travelling in a premium cabin, then that's largely rolled into your ticket cost(s) and you get it that way. For the frequent traveller status angle, it's worth noting that the cost isn't evenly spread across all tickets. You can get status fairly cheaply if you're cunning, just google things like "status run", "tier points run" or "elite qualifying miles run" for details (the exact phrase depends on what your FF program calls things). If you happen to be most of the way towards hitting status in a suitable airline alliance, then a tier points run can make quite a bit of sense, and work out as a fairly cheap way to get lounge access when averaged across the visits in the next year.

Next up, look out for credit cards aimed at frequent travellers. This might not work out for budget travellers, as they often have annual fees, and normally strict earning requirements / credit scores, but if you can get one these can offer cheap lounge access, especially if you value the other benefits they offer. For example, you might decide that the annual fee of a card that gives a priority pass membership, less what you'd have to pay on the open market for travel insurance that the card gives, divided by your number of lounge trips per year, could work out as quite a cheap per-visit cost. All depends on how much you value the total card package, and how many lounge visits you'll use.

Finally, you can always try to get someone who has guest lounge access to let you in. This works best if it's someone you know, so for example pick a flight at about the same time as one of your friends, so they can guest you in! Most paid for lounge programs (eg most Priority Pass memberships) don't offer free guest access, so that's unlikely to work out well. However, most FF programs which offer lounge access include a guest, so that's a better bet. If you don't know anyone travelling that day, then you might be able to find someone on a suitable FF forum who could guest you in. This will work best if you're a regular on a forum - most people are happy to guest in those who contribute to the forum and help out others with answers, while a first timer asking for lounge access may not have nearly so much luck... Finally, you can try to find someone at the lounge to let you in. Asking within earshot of the lounge staff isn't recommended, and be prepared to be disappointed, but you could get lucky especially if you're well dressed and polite. (Unwashed backpackers are often out of luck, but you never know what a friendly chat with someone on the bus to the terminal may offer, especially if you've something in common)

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If you have a Barclays Premier current account, you can pay £11.50 per month for travel insurance and airport lounge access. It's not exactly cheap though - the bank account costs £10 per month already and you need to meet certain criteria.

Barclays used to have a current account called Premier Life which cost £25 per month, but it came with a whole lot more including breakdown cover, phone and gadget insurance, extended white-goods warranty, a concierge service, good travel insurance, airport access, increased banking limits, priority in-branch service and more. This bank account was discontinued when the new Premier account was introduced.

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Thanks - do you have a link? The only reference I can find is Barclays Premier Life, but that no longer seems to be offered: barclays.co.uk/PremierBanking/SummaryofPremierLifeBenefits/… –  Andrew Ferrier Jun 19 '12 at 12:50
    
Here's the link for the Barclays Premier Current Account (the 'Premier Travel Plus Pack' is listed under the 'Features Store' tab: barclays.co.uk/PremierBanking/PremierCurrentAccount/… –  Simon Bartlett Jun 19 '12 at 21:45
    
Thanks very much for the link. –  Andrew Ferrier Jun 24 '12 at 19:46
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protected by Mark Mayo Jan 14 at 13:40

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