Talk me into or out of an airport lounge.
November 26, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I have two passes to an American Airlines lounge that expire at the end of the year, and only one opportunity to use them between now and then. I've never been inside of an airline lounge before, so I don't really know what I'm missing, and I'm having a hard time deciding if it's worth dragging my wife to the airport an extra hour early so these don't go to waste.

This would be at O'Hare. Rationally, I know that this is just another room in the airport with warmer trays of food and domestic beer that will probably leave me LESS satisfied than just having a torta from Frontera at the gate like I usually do. But I'm both a cheapskate and a sucker for anachronistic luxurious indulgences, and so unwilling to let these go to waste (even if it just means a free bottle of water for the plane - they have that, right?). I don't fly nearly enough to acquire points that would entitle me to preferred treatment of any sort, so, sad though it is, this might be the apex of my air travel career.

So, somewhat worth making an extra effort to visit the lounge? Or not worth it at all? I'm also willing to consider alternative creative applications of these (other than just handing them to someone else in the airport). If I could turn them into some kind of charity (other than just handing them to someone at the airport, which sounds embarrassing for all concerned), I'd be interested in that as well. I think the ideal outcome would be me magnanimously giving them to the gate agent to distribute to some weary soul between now and the end of the year in a cheap, sad attempt to get my seats upgraded.
posted by ndg to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (20 answers total)
The airport lounges are really great if you're stuck between connections or if you check out of your hotel at noon and your flight it at 5.

But they're really not worth making an extra effort just to visit generally, but it sounds like you'd enjoy the go. Enjoy yourself. Get a newspaper and a drink.
posted by inturnaround at 9:27 AM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

If I could turn them into some kind of charity

Put them on eBay with the proceeds going to charity?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:28 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use airport lounges pretty often, but I don't go to the airport early to do so, and don't think I'd recommend doing that. Especially if the alternative is a torta from Frontera, which I like to partake of whenever I'm in ORD. Unless you like to cut your flights uncomfortably close, or the lounge is really far from your departure gate, you should have time to pop in there and see what it's like before your flight.
posted by primethyme at 9:29 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

An airport lounge is better than the rest of an airport, but not as good as your home. Put them on eBay.
posted by caek at 9:30 AM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

They're nice.

I flew business class a few years ago and used the lounges at both ORD and LHR. I took a shower upon my arrival at Heathrow. Then I sat and ate pastries and tea for breakfast. It was absolutely wonderful.

At O'Hare it was mostly just killing time before my flight, so it wasn't quite as exciting. I got a bottle of Perrier and I ate some trail mix while sitting in a reasonably comfortable chair and reading while surrounded by slightly less noise than I would have faced in the terminal.

For arriving flights or layovers, I think this is probably awesome. For departing flights, it's really more of a novelty. But you have the passes, so why not. :)
posted by phunniemee at 9:33 AM on November 26, 2013

Unless you really care about seeing the space, it's not worth it. They're a lovely quiet respite between flights, or if your flight is delayed, but if you just pop in 15 minutes before needing to be at your gate, you'll probably walk in and be like...meh, let's go get a torta.

If I had two passes without occasion to use them before the expiry date, I'd probably post on Facebook asking if any friends had a terrible layover between now and the end of the year, then give them the passes.
posted by barnone at 9:33 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was in one once, and all I remember about it now was that I was in one. Really wasn't that interesting or luxurious. I wouldn't recommend leaving home early just to go sit in one; if you have any friends who might appreciate them on a long layover, I'd vote for giving them to them.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with the crowd on this one. Hang onto them during your holiday travels. You never know with this weather if or where you may be delayed or stranded. THEN they'll be gold.

It is not worth it to get to the airport early to hang out in the lounge. It is not worth it to forgo a torta to see the lounge. It is not worth it to fight holiday crowds to travel 50 feet down the concourse to see the lounge.

You still have to be at the gate 30 minutes before boarding.

Hang onto them until you're assured that your return flight will be leaving on time, then use them to get that water.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:40 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I frequented the Delta clubs pretty regularly for awhile. They can be nice (Memphis as a good one converted from the NWA merger) or sort of small (Nashville). The ones in Atlanta can be crowded asses-to-elbows, so while they're a little better then the crowded gate areas, if you can't find a seat, it hardly matters. If you can snag a seat, you'll be more comfortable. During the holiday travel seasons or bad-weather layovers, they're zoos.

There are free munchies and whatnot. Some of the lounges have serve-yourself booze, though you won't be able to take anyone under 21 in. There'll be free wifi which is nice. Some have newspapers you can take.
posted by jquinby at 9:43 AM on November 26, 2013

Best answer: The Flagship Lounge (only for first class international or transcon passengers) is pretty nice and might meet your definition of luxurious, but the regular Admirals Lounge is more or less on the level of your standard hotel lobby. You can see a pretty good indication in this review. The Admiral's Lounge in question there was in Kansas City, so it is tiny, but more or less what they are like. The Flagship Lounge is the best lounge in the domestic AA system and better than the lounge you'd presumably be in and still not that awesome. The only review I could find of the ORD Admiral's Lounge was Lucky's review (you'll have to scroll down).

They are nice if you travel a lot, primarily because they are relatively quiet and clean and much calmer than the rest of the airport and if something goes wrong with your connections, the agents there are pretty much the best that the airline has and are far more friendly and helpful than the harried people in the terminal. I'd much rather eat my Frontera (which they won't let you bring in to the lounge, so if you get something there be prepared to smuggle it in).
posted by Lame_username at 10:05 AM on November 26, 2013

Airport lounges vary tremendously in terms of quality and quantity of freebies. Some have luxurious seating, free drinks, and real food. Others (I'm looking at you, DCA United lounge) are overcrowded, with substandard trail mix that you have to beg for and no free drinks. Before making a special trip, check out some reviews to see what you're really getting.
posted by googly at 10:09 AM on November 26, 2013

I've been in one once, and it was basically about as nice as the lobby of a luxury hotel, only less-busy. I was hoping for a secretive oasis of mystery, and was VERY disappointed. So, yeah: don't go out of your way to visit, but if it comes up organically, it's worth a look-see.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:13 AM on November 26, 2013

I've used that lounge frequently. It's nice, comfortable and there are showers! There's a book swap shelf if you're out of reading materials.
posted by 26.2 at 10:35 AM on November 26, 2013

If you are traveling over the holidays, I would hang on to it. It's not that unusual to get stuck at O'Hare for a couple of hours. I spent most of Sunday there :/
posted by advicepig at 10:36 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aside from the quiet and a place to sit, lounges are great if you're on a red-eye connection. They all have much nicer bathrooms than the regular airport ones and most lounges now have showers. A hot shower after an 8-hour flight (or during a long weather delay) is a huge deal for me, especially if I have a full schedule that day.
posted by bonehead at 10:42 AM on November 26, 2013

I was hoping for a secretive oasis of mystery

As Lame_username says, those are the first-class lounges, particularly the international ones. Though the oasis only has bar-booze service and slightly nicer chairs. There are private service rooms for the real vips.
posted by bonehead at 10:45 AM on November 26, 2013

You still have to be at the gate 30 minutes before boarding.

Agree with everything in this thread except this. Usually you can ask the person checking you into the lounge what time you should head out to be at the gate at the right time, and 30 minutes prior to boarding is way, way early. One of the joys of the lounge is timing it so that you're 5 minutes before your group's boarding time if you are needing overhead space, or 10 minutes before the plane is fully boarded if you only have something to put under your seat.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:18 PM on November 26, 2013

Even among Admiral's Clubs (in the same airport!) there is wide variation in quality. I say this as a former Admiral's Club member who wouldn't think of flying regularly without a club membership. Some have showers and pretty decent snacks, some have basically nothing. Some have really unique looks (the old, now destroyed by a tornado, TWA lounge in St. Louis was fantastic, as was the old lounge outside security in Miami, which really ran with the tropical feel), some of them are as bland as a doctor's waiting room in a small midwestern city.

Would I go to the airport to see one? Not really, unless it was one of the unique ones and I really needed a shower and the airport was closer than home and I could call in and set up a "meeting" to get me through security. Or if there was an actual business meeting between me and some people who are traveling through. I would be (and was) happy to arrive at the airport a bit earlier than usual to ensure I'd have time to hit the lounge, though. They're generally reasonably quiet and the extra time is itself also relaxing. If you ask when you arrive, they'll generally notify you when boarding starts for your flight, so you need not spend any time at the gate if you don't want to. The gate agents can see that you're in the club, and per policy (at least when I was flying), being in the club is as good as being at the gate, so as long as you don't dally on the way to the gate they're not going to leave you behind or anything.

As I said, they're nice, totally better than the gate experience, and the employees are typically far more helpful than the gate agents if you need something changed on your ticket, like perhaps a reassigned seat or an upgrade or something. (Gate agents are almost always harried, Admiral's Club employees are typically not)

The one day that paid for all my years of Admiral's Club membership in my mind, though, was the time I was trying to leave from La Guardia at almost precisely the same time as a snowstorm began. 6 hours later, the flight was finally canceled. The Admiral's Club was packed to the gills, but at least I had a comfy chair, a clean bathroom, some light snacks, and all the Coke I could drink (booze was/is not free in Admiral's Clubs..certain people used to get a couple of chits for free drinks on each visit, though) before I had to figure out how to get back into town with less than $15 on hand. In the days before cell phones and cabs with credit card machines.

Back when I was flying through Chicago regularly (and this will date me, it's been a loong time), the lounge in concourse G (where American Eagle flights are) was much, much, much smaller than the main lounge that you access from the crossover between H and K, but also was almost always completely empty and was a lot more likely to have a well stocked snack bar. The view from the H/K lounge is pretty neat, though. The main part of the lounge was/is actually up a floor, so you're looking out over everything instead of looking out/up at everything.
posted by wierdo at 12:27 PM on November 26, 2013

BTW, I've given strangers access to the AAdmirals Club at O'Hare. One Pre-Christmas trip when many of the flights out of O'Hare were cancelled I randomly picked an elderly couple who were trying to find cots in the terminal. I offered to sign them into the lounge. (In those days, members could have 2 guests.)

It wasn't awkward at all. I got a flight out and two strangers got a seat in the club. All good.
posted by 26.2 at 12:42 PM on November 26, 2013

If I could turn them into some kind of charity (other than just handing them to someone at the airport, which sounds embarrassing for all concerned).

As someone who travels a lot, I can assure you that someone coming up to me and offering to give me their lounge passes would not be awkward but would in fact be welcome and really a nice, random act of kindness.

I LOVE the airport lounge.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:53 PM on November 26, 2013

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