Airport lounge access: Is it worth paying to get into airline lounges?

This is the choice you could be faced with while you're waiting in an airport. Not McDonald's or Red Rooster. Not squishy seat near the gate or spacious seat in the middle of nowhere. Not wandering duty-free or messing around on your phone.

The choice could be this: Moet, or Veuve.

That's what you'll probably be faced with if you've got access to a lounge. There you'll be given the choice between two French champagnes, both of which will be sitting there on ice, free and ready for you to help yourself. You can have a celebratory drink. You can try both if you so desire.

Is this real life? It won't feel like it when you show your boarding pass and cross that threshold into the lounge. All your usual airport worries will disappear: the expense of everything, the lack of places to sit, the lack of things to do. Suddenly you'll be in the cool, quiet surrounds of a private club, where the food and the drinks are flowing and free, where there are comfortable couches to sit on, free newspapers and magazines to read, baristas making good, proper coffee, day spas to utilise, showers to enjoy, sport to watch on big-screen TVs.

And you'll be able to pretend you deserve all this, just for a few hours. You'll be able to pretend you actually know the difference between Moet and Veuve, or care one way or the other which one you're served. You'll be able to swan around with the fancy people and see how the other half lives.

This is the glory of the airline lounge. At their best these private airport spaces are amazing facilities, places that make you forget you're even in an airport at all, where the call for your flight is a disappointment, a signal to smash at least one more glass of free champagne for the road, to tuck a few snacks into your bag and then wait until the last minute to run to the gate.

I've been lucky to hang out in a few lounges in my time, some of which I've paid for, some of which I haven't. I've wangled my way into lounges in Sydney and Melbourne, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in Hong Kong and Beijing. I've been treated to the largesse of Qantas and Emirates, Cathay Pacific and LATAM, Etihad and Air New Zealand. I've seen some great lounges, and I've seen some that are not so great.

The big question about these lounges is not, of course, whether you'd use one if you were given the chance. Of course you would. Lounges are great. The question is whether you'd pay to access one. And that's where things get a little trickier.

The thing to remember here is that not all lounges are created equal. Not by a longshot. Qantas's business lounge in Sydney might have an on-site barista making delicious flat whites, but the next lounge you visit will probably just have a crappy instant coffee machine. The Cathay lounge in Hong Kong might have a noodle and dumpling bar where everything is tasty and free, but the next place you go into will just have a small selection of pretty terrible cold snacks.

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Even if you're not flying business or first class, you still have the opportunity to access lounges around the world if you so desire. You can pay for Qantas Club membership, or to become a member of other airlines' benefits clubs. You can purchase annual lounge access through Priority Pass, or one-off passes through a website such as Lounge Buddy.

But would it be worth it? My feeling is that no, it wouldn't be. Unless you're a seriously frequent flyer who's always using the same airline, the joining of a club just to get lounge access would be unnecessarily expensive. How often would you actually use it?

A Priority Pass membership, meanwhile, costs about $400 a year, and that only gets you 10 free entries into lounges, and from my experience those available lounges aren't the best facilities around. They're better than no lounge, but they're not the lap of luxury that single-airline business lounges can sometimes be.

Even one-off passes are pricey – you're looking at about $70 an entry. And again, not always to the best lounges.

Lounge access, to me, is good for a celebration, for that big flight you and your partner are taking for a honeymoon, or your first journey as a family. It's also good if you can make your company pay for it. And it's great for a long layover, when you're going to be spending more than four hours in an airport and would probably blow through $70 on airport food and drink anyway.

Even then, it won't always work out well. I've been duped into paying for access to some pretty horrendous and crowded facilities.

If it does go to plan, however, you'll find yourself somewhere spacious and calm for as long as you'd like to stay, a place where the service is friendly, the food is hot and delicious, the facilities are modern, and the most difficult choice you have to make is that classic of the fancy traveller: Moet, or Veuve?

Do you use airport lounges? Do you pay for them? Do you think they're worth it, or an unnecessary luxury? Which are the best lounges in the world?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater 

See also: Qantas fully opens revamped Melbourne domestic lounges

See also: How to get into airport lounges when you're not flying business or first

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