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"Airport refuges offer enticing alternatives to unfriendly skies"
Tuesday, February 20, 2001
Stressed-out travelers enjoy clubs by the day
Airport refuges offer enticing alternatives to unfriendly skies
By Jayne Clark
What harried air traveler hasn't gazed with envy at airline club lounges,
whose hallowed interiors promise creature comforts unknown to the teeming
masses straining at the departure gates?
Red Carpet Club, Crown Room, Presidents Club. The very names evoke a
VIP-ness not to be found among the throngs killing time in the food court
over their Personal Pan Pizzas. And with record airline delays reported last
year (one in four flights were delayed or canceled) and more of the same
likely in the near future, hapless passengers have greater reason than ever
to seek refuge during unexpectedly lengthy airport layovers.
Airline clubs may be just the ticket, offering a haven in which to relax,
catch up on paperwork, watch television and, in some cases, take a shower.
But for casual travelers or frequent fliers who use multiple airlines, it
may not be worth paying up to $450 for an annual club membership. That
doesn't mean you're locked out, however. The major U.S. carriers don't
widely advertise the fact, but they all sell day passes on a space-available
basis for fees ranging from $25 to $50. Whether it's worth the price depends
on circumstances, of course. But as Tim Winship, editor of
frequentflier.com, notes, ''If I know there's going to be a delay of several
hours or more and there's pressure to make productive use of time, then
that's not a bad deal.''
Increasingly, however, these once-rarified clubs are becoming like freeways
at rush hour. They're so busy during peak morning and early evening travel
times that they can be more crowded than the terminal, notes Randy Petersen,
editor of InsideFlyer.
''They were more exclusive in the past,'' he says. ''Now they're more like
7-11. You can check your e-mail, ship a FedEx, get drunk and meet people.''
Exacerbating the potential for overcrowding is the growing number of
airlines that have reciprocal agreements allowing members of one airline
club to use another carrier's facilities. These partnerships can be
confusing to track, but they can work to your advantage, Petersen notes. For
example, annual membership in TWA's Ambassadors Club is $250, but members
also have access to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges, where standard
new memberships cost $450. Moreover, he adds, achieving elite status in some
frequent-flier programs may allow travelers access to other airlines' clubs
with which the member's preferred airline has reciprocal agreements.
Petersen figures it probably isn't worth paying for an annual club
membership if you fly less than 25 times a year. But if you have
frequent-flier miles to burn, some airlines now accept them in trade for
Another tip: If you've been bumped off a flight or have experienced a
lengthy delay, it doesn't hurt to ask for a complimentary club pass.
Barring that, there is an animal lurking in airport corridors known in
frequent-flier circles as a ''lounge lizard.'' Its tactics are unscrupulous
(and we're not condoning them), but he or she simply follows a club member
inside the lounge, giving the employee an ''I'm with him'' nod as the member
flashes his card.
Here, a look at more legitimate options for entree to the clubs:
* Credit card affiliations. Diners Club cardholders ($85 annual membership
fee) have free access to 80 airport lounges in 27 countries. The only U.S.
clubs are in the Miami and Newark airports. Guests accompanied by the
cardholder pay $15; no charge for children under 12. Holders of the American
Express Platinum card ($300 annual membership fee) get admission to clubs
operated by Northwest Airlines, Continental and TWA when holding a
* Priority Pass. Membership ($99 a year plus $24 per airport lounge visit;
or $295 annually with no per-visit fee) allows access to more than 320
lounges with various airline affiliations, including 105 in U.S. airports.
Guests accompanying members pay $24 per visit, which is billed directly to
the member's credit card. (800-352-2834; www.prioritypass.com).
* Independent clubs in foreign airports. Lounges operated by foreign
carriers usually are reserved for first- and business-class passengers and
elite-level frequent fliers. For back-of-the-plane passengers, a number of
non-airline-affiliated lounges exist in busy hub airports that attract a lot
of long-haul and in-transit passengers. They are open on a fee basis. The
newest: The Island in London Heathrow's Terminal 3 (www.baa.com). About $37
(a two-for-one admission is good through March) gives groggy arriving
passengers access to showers, snacks and drinks, a valet to press their
clothes and private workstations. Hours are 5 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In the Frankfurt Airport, the Europe City Club Lounge
(www.frankfurt-airport.de) offers club and business-center access for about
$14. At Hong Kong International Airport, $32 buys access to the Plaza
Premium Lounge (www.pbc-asia.com) on Departures Level 6, with showers,
refreshments and business facilities from 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
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