Hotel club lounges: What you get and how to access the 'business class' of hotels

Ever wondered what goes down in a hotel's club lounge? Ever pressed that elevator button for a peek behind the closed doors?

Club lounges are one of the staples for business travellers, the "business class" of hotels", but there are some good reasons why leisure travellers might also consider ponying up for the cost of admission.

What you get

There's a fairly standard format for the perks that the hotel club lounge offers. The list includes access to the lounge from early morning to well into the night, with a buffet breakfast starting typically from 6:30 a.m., free cocktails and soft drinks, an ever-changing food buffet throughout the day, personalised check-in either in your room or in the club lounge, , business services and access to a meeting room. An upmarket hotel might offer extra frills – champagne on the drinks list, a butler or concierge service and free or discount limo service.

Entry to the club lounge also carries an intangible, the status-enhancing, morale boosting feeling that you are a member of a privileged elite, deserving of recognition and respect. For those who value status, who experience a warm glow of self-affirmation when they nonchalantly press the elevator button that says "Club Floor", that intangible is the icing on the cake.

What's the price tag?

At the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore, a two-night stay in one of the hotel's lowest-tier Deluxe Kallang rooms in mid-April booked on the hotel's website will set you back SGD874. Opt for a Club Deluxe Kallang room, the bottom rung on the hotel's rooms that come with access to the club lounge, and the price for that same two-night stay is SGD1389. For a room with the same dimensions and layout as the Deluxe Kallang room you're paying an extra SGD515 for lounge access, almost SGD129 per person per night for two sharing the room.

The perks include cocktails, wines and soft drinks, five food presentations that change throughout the club lounge's opening hours, personalised check-in, clothes pressing, business services and free limo service within the vicinity. Served from 6:30 a.m., the complimentary buffet breakfast served in the club lounge is a throttled-back version of the breakfast served in the hotel's Colony Restaurant, but that alone costs SGD$48 plus taxes and charges. Which puts a shine on that club lounge deal.

Rather than offering admission to their club lounge as an exclusive privilege for those guests booked into a club room, some hotels offer club lounge access to any guest who pays for it, just as some airline business lounges monetise access for their non-business flyers. The Langham London Club Lounge is one of the best around, pretty, poised and posh as a duke, and quite likely worth the £90 per adult per day admission fee for guests not staying in one of the Langham's rooms with automatic club access.

At Sydney's Four Seasons a Deluxe City Room for two nights in mid-April will cost $518.50 booked on the hotel's website. Add Lounge 32 access, the hotel's club lounge, and the cost for that two-night stay in that same room ramps up to $890, which puts the value of the club lounge at about $90 per person per night for two sharing the room. For that you get personalised check-in, high-speed Wi-Fi, all-day refreshments, valet pressing and a hot and cold breakfast buffet with eggs cooked to order in the open kitchen. Consider that the buffet breakfast in the hotel's lobby dining area costs $48 and you just might be persuaded, particularly if you're spending time in your hotel room rather than galloping about the town.

Apart from paying for it, the other pathway to the club lounge comes via the hotel's loyalty scheme. Demonstrate that you are a truly dedicated follower of their brand, acquire enough loyalty points and you might get all the privileges that come with lounge access regardless of which room category you book.

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Hyatt Globalist members get complimentary club lounge access, as do Diamond Hilton Honors members and Diamond members of Shangri-La hotels' Golden Circle.

The Pros

It's a club, just like the name says, and that's comforting. You can drop in for a snack and a coffee at pretty much anytime. If you're working in your hotel room it's great to have a change of scene from time to time and the club is a work-friendly environment.

Food and drinks in the club lounge are free, and by itself, the buffet breakfast alone in the hotel restaurant can cost $50 in an upmarket hotel if it isn't included in your room rate.

Club room guests will often get early check-in and late check-out privileges. For example at the PuLi in Shanghai, Club Room guests with early flight arrivals can check in as early as 9 a.m. and stay until 9 p.m. for late flights without incurring extra charges.

For women travelling solo the club lounge offers a calm and safe space where her presence won't attract a second glance. When the alternative is a room service dinner, the club lounge might be an attractive option.

The cons

As a broad generalisation, Asian countries tend to do club lounges better than those in North America. Just as with airline business lounges, the food and drinks selection is generally better at Asian hotel club lounges than in North America, they're usually more spacious, less crowded and better appointed and service levels are higher. Throughout Asia the five-star elite hotels pull out all the stops for their club room guests. The European club lounges can be very good but access charges are going to wallop your hotel bill, with VAT in many European countries adding 20 per cent.

The buffet selection at the club lounge breakfast is usually a paler version of the breakfast served in the hotel's main restaurant. The coffee might be a DIY affair from an espresso machine and it's a rare club lounge that has a live cooking station, so forget that mushroom omelette.