Q: With all the winter weather delays that airlines have been experiencing, it seems like the airline club lounges at many airports would be the place to be if you're stuck at the airport. They've got food, drinks, comfy sofas and even showers in some locations. However, wouldn't everyone try to go this route during a major weather delay? At what point do the airlines stop selling their one-day passes to these clubs and do they limit capacity? If I had the choice of paying $50 to crash in a club room rather than at the gate, the choice is easy. Also, if my flight is delayed, say, until 3 a.m., do the club rooms stay open until the last passenger has boarded?
A: Talk about a snow job! With airports coast to coast battling some of the fiercest winter weather on record, travelers across the country are coming down with serious cases of terminalitis. But while the masses languish in their gate areas waiting for liftoff, savvy travelers are chilling out in the nearest airline club lounge, sipping on sparkling water (and, in some club lounges, free cocktails) and enjoying the free WiFi, comfortable seats, and senior airline staff who can help rebook flights without the long lines.
These days, airport lounges aren't just for premium customers — most airlines have now learned that there's money to be made by selling one-day passes to anyone who wants one. Got some time to kill? Hang out in American's Admirals Club for $50 per visit. Delta's Sky Clubs cost the same. United's Red Carpet Club? $39 if you buy online, $50 at the door. (Annual memberships can be pricey, with Delta's SkyClub, for example, costing $450 per year or 70,000 miles; other airlines are similarly expensive, although many savvy fliers sign up for the American Express Platinum Card which includes membership to Delta's, American's, US Air's and — until later this year — Continental's lounges).
Beats paying for a hotel room, right? Well, not so fast. Like everything else at the airport during an extended period of bad weather, anything can happen. Say, for instance, you're trying to buy your way in to American's Admirals Club, and so is everyone else, but it's already at capacity with members who pay the hefty annual fee. According to an American spokesperson, the club manager can suspend sales at their discretion. Ditto Delta, which says that it all varies by location.
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And while American has a policy that clubs will stay open as long as they have flights operating — for instance, if there's a three-hour delay that extends into the wee hours, the local Admirals Club will stay open until passengers make their flights — well, when that's all said and done, the club shuts down, and it's back to the cold, hard, terminal floor for anyone left inside.
Not that clubs haven't stayed open all night — when JFK went on lockdown during the infamous December blizzard, coach passengers on Virgin Atlantic found themselves wandering the halls of the airport's Terminal 4, while those holding first class tickets got to relax in the relative comfort of the airline's Clubhouse. (Then again, the airline isn't in the habit of selling one-day passes, so it's not as if anyone could have bought their way in.)
Still, planning on your day pass to guarantee you a comfortable place to nap overnight during an extended delay? Probably not the best idea. If you expect to be in the airport for the night, at least purchase a pass on the airline you're ticketed to fly. That way, if the club does stay open until your flight takes off, you're in the clear. And even if it doesn't, you've still got a friendly face (well, one hopes) at the front desk to answer your questions.
Bottom line: Airline club rooms are a pleasant oasis at any time of year, but they're an especially wonderful refuge when the weather outside is frightful.