Airlines are spending millions of dollars on airport lounges in order to pamper their fliers. Today, they are modern-day oases of tranquillity and exclusivity, featuring gourmet meals, rooms, showers and even spas. But what if you are an infrequent flier, flying on a low-cost carrier, or not a passenger with elite- or premium-class air miles? Well, you, too, can access lounges to get away from the din of the airport. Here’s how:
CREDIT CARD ACCESS PROGRAMMES
Globally, credit card providers offer their premium customers access to lounges. Both MasterCard (for its World, Platinum and World Elite cardholders) and Visa (for its Signature and Infinite cardholders) provide lounge-access programmes at major airports in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata. But depending on the provider and the bank issuing the card, the number of visits may vary. For example, Visa limits free lounge access to two visits per quarter, while MasterCard (depending on the type of card) offers unlimited access. Check out premium cards from Axis Bank, Citibank, HDFC, HSBC, ICICI, IndusInd, Kotak Mahindra, SBI and Standard Chartered, which all give desirable privileges. Unlike most others, Citibank’s PremierMiles World MasterCard allows ‘add-on cardholders’ complimentary lounge access. American Express operates its own branded lounges at Mumbai (Domestic, T1C) and New Delhi (Domestic, T3) airports, and gives free access to Platinum cardholders.
These are independently run lounges that a traveller can access for a fee.
With more than 600 airport lounges in 100 cities, including London, Paris, Jeddah, Phuket and Goa, Priority Pass is one of the world’s largest pay-in lounge operators. To take advantage of it, you have to be a member. Standard Membership costs US$99 (Rs6,100) per year and comes with an additional per-visit fee of US$27 (Rs1,660), which can be redeemed against unlimited food and beverages as well as use of the wi-fi, conference rooms and, at some airports, showers. Priority Pass also has Standard Plus Membership for US$249 (Rs15,300) per year, which grants 10 complimentary visits, after which, he or she pays US$27 (Rs1,660) per visit. If you would rather make a one-time annual payment, opt for its Prestige Membership at US$399 (Rs22,500). Many credit cards (such as ICICI, HSBC and HDFC) offer free Standard Membership to Priority Pass on their premium-category cards. (www.prioritypass.com)
Plaza Premium Lounge
Plaza has one of the largest pay-in lounge networks in Asia, with a strong presence in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong), Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman). It’s ideal for infrequent travellers, as it does not require an annual membership; however, you will be charged per visit. Two hours in its New Delhi lounge in Terminal 1D costs Rs1,000-Rs1,500, while the Hong Kong lounge offers two-hour packages for HK$400 (Rs3,170). You gain access to food, drinks and showers. The Plaza network also offers VIP Meet and Greet services, as well as transit beds, concierge, baggage handling and delivery and limousine services. (www.plaza-network.com)
If you’re spending a lot of time flying within or through America, consider buying an annual membership to a specific airline’s lounge. Or, if you’re using different airlines, opt for day passes. The Alaska Airlines Board Room, American Airlines’ Admirals Club, United’s Red Carpet Club, Delta’s Sky Club and the US Airways Club can be accessed with a day pass, (US$45-US$55 or Rs2,800-Rs3,400) per day, or about US$500 (Rs31,530) annually. Save money by buying a day pass in advance: US Airways almost halves its fee if you buy one along with your ticket. Remember that most of these airlines’ passes are limited to their US domestic lounges.