Airport lounge is your ticket to some relaxation before a flight

An airport lounge offers facilities that make travel easier.

Airport lounges have always been fascinating. The range is overwhelming—from bare basic restaurants in the corner of an airport to mini luxury hotels, equipped with restaurants, spa and more. But why do business travellers even need access to a lounge when airports across the world have become fancier with multiple facilities?

Those who do the Mumbai and Bengaluru circuit regularly, like I do, will tell you they prefer to leave for the airport early and wait there instead of missing the flight due to unpredictable traffic. And while waiting, getting a meal in peace before the flight and some reliable internet is the undertone for most business travellers. If you have access to an airport lounge, reading material, food and soft drinks come as a part of the package, and it makes the wait so much more comfortable than wandering around looking for a quiet spot.

While in the US and Australia, lounge access is largely sold by airlines as annual subscriptions; in India, fortunately, most travellers, even those without airline elite status, can still get lounge access for free at airports if they have the right credit cards.

Full-service airlines offer lounge access to their business class passengers on domestic flights. Air India offers access comparable to business class to Star Alliance Gold-tier members. For Vistara, the lounge experience has been key to its guest-centric efforts, so it operates its own lounge at its hub in Delhi. It offers this to its elite frequent flyers and those of Singapore Airlines, apart from business class customers. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the American Express Lounge at Delhi airport’s Terminal 3 Domestic, for the array of fresh made-to-order food it offers, along with a view of the tarmac. There is some good news for those who hold an American Express Platinum Card or Centurion Card. American Express will open the doors to its lounge at Mumbai airport’s Terminal 2 Domestic this week, and will offer a buffet as well as à la carte dining.

A lot of other credit-card issuers also provide complimentary third-party lounge access to their customers as a perk with their high-end debit and credit cards. But these are limited by the number of visits you can make and the number of cities where they have lounge partners. It is best to check your bank’s literature or website to find out about your lounge access privileges.

When travelling abroad, however, your lounge access options may be more limited if you are not travelling business or first class. Airlines such as Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Emirates have impressive lounges in their home airports, which are exclusive to these passengers. These lounges have gourmet food, showers, play rooms for children, rest zones for sleep, and in some cases even cigar bars, all of which come as a part of your access deal without extra cost.

Apart from premium cabins, airlines also offer lounge access perks to elite members of their own airline’s frequent flyer programmes and alliance members. The best bet is oneworld, an airlines alliance, where Emerald tier members can take one member along with them to First Class lounge even when travelling economy class. If you would like to be treated royally during your transit, you could also consider buying access to the lounges of airlines such as Qatar Airways and Emirates,which start at $50 per visit. It may make more sense than sitting at a coffee shop waiting for your next flight four hours later, given you will end up spending the same kind of money yet jostle for private space.

Some banks have stepped in here to make life easy as well. Enter Priority Pass, a global network of 1,200-plus lounges which are accessible for those who hold a Priority Pass membership. Priority Pass offers three variants, with the lowest one charging you for every lounge visit, and the highest variant providing unlimited complimentary visits. While you can buy a Priority Pass membership too, most high-end cards provide it as a perk.

Citibank issues up to five of the top-tier Priority Passes for a Citi Prestige cardmember (primary member and up to four family members), while American Express Platinum Charge Card and HDFC Bank Infinia issue two of these per card account (primary member and one add-on). HDFC Bank also works with Diners Club to offer HDFC Bank Diners Club Black cardholders unlimited lounge access. HDFC Bank’s Regalia card, which is a very popular card among Indians, also offers six complimentary international lounge trips a year. My advice is, call your bank and ask what airport-related perks your credit or debit card allows before you travel next time.