The difference between killing time waiting for a flight in a public lounge versus private, top airport lounges is like the vast chasm between sleeping at a youth hostel instead of The Ritz-Carlton.
Given the way airport lounges have upped their game over the last decade or more, spending time in one of these luxe spaces can be a small slice of heaven when compared to the spare and often downright uncomfortable seats next to the boarding gate.
If you have yet to experience one of the world’s top airport lounges, there’s no time like the present, right?
The good news is that in many cases it’s no longer necessary to be in possession of a first class or business class airline ticket, or a certain elite credit card, to step foot in such lounges.
Entre has become much more democratized thanks to a variety of developments.
To begin with, there’s now disruptive travel technology like LoungeBuddy, an app that allows travelers to find, and purchase access to more than 100 airport lounges around the world for as little as $25. The purchase can be made on the day you’re traveling, giving you instant access.
Another path to the private lounge world comes via companies such as Priority Pass, which operates a paid lounge membership program that allows participants to access more than 1,000 lounges throughout 500 cities.
Yes, many of the best lounges out there still require spending thousands on a premium airline ticket to get in, but at least now that’s not the only way to gain entry.
To help identify a few of the best airport lounges out there, (regardless of access requirements), we tapped some of the key people in-the-know, beginning with LoungeBuddy CEO Tyler Dikman, who has personally visited a staggering 1,000 lounges, which is about one-third of the lounges in the world (tough job right?). We also checked in with Anthony Berklich, who runs the luxury travel site Inspired Citizen and travels more than 200,000 miles annually.
Here are some of their personal favorites, both international and domestic.
The media room. The food. The outdoor terrace with views of the Hollywood Hills. These are just a few of the amenities Dikman rattles off when gushing about the Star Alliance Business Class Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport.
Additional fun details include shower suites in case you need to freshen up pre-flight and iPads for use within the lounge. There’s also a separate space within the lounge exclusively for first-class customers that includes a la carte dining.
And this being the city of stars, there’s also VIP rooms available in case everything we’ve already mentioned isn’t special enough.
Travelers are so enamored with this lounge, they regularly take to Instagram to post photos with gushing captions – covering everything from its gourmet food presentation (think sushi rolls, Pad Kee Mao noodle dishes, sorbet medleys, freshly made tacos, sliders and more), to its uber stylish design that incorporates marble, frosted glass, and American Oak walls.
The 17,500-square-foot lounge includes restaurant dining, a barista, shower suites, and zones designed with different activities in mind such as relaxing, working, socializing or of course, dining. Another personal fave of Dikman’s, he’s not alone when describing it as one of the best lounges in North America.
“It almost feels like a super exclusive, posh private club,” says Dikman. “From the service to the swanky décor to the course-by-course sit-down dining room, and the scent that’s pumped into the place—it’s all positioned to have this aura of swankiness meets exclusivity, similar to a luxury boutique hotel.”
This oasis of a lounge includes two expansive buffets featuring many unique Turkish dishes, a Zen area where travelers are invited to read or meditate beside a lush green wall and waterfall; public internet stations and shower suites.
Travelers also regularly rave about the lounge’s attentive, kind, friendly staff, which given the many headlines lately about air travel experiences, seems downright refreshing.
Others compliment its elegant design, including leather seating, marble accents and an entire wall of glass that provides an expansive view of the tarmac.
Access the Turkish Airlines lounge via LoungeBuddy for about $45. And if you do go, be sure to try the Turkish tea and baklava.
The first lounge that comes to mind for Anthony Berklich when pondering his absolute favorites is The Loft in Brussels.
The consummate world traveler uses words like beautiful, light, and airy to describe this space.
“They know who you are when you walk in the door. They have wonderful breakfasts, snacks, and drinks and it’s really well organized. The spaces really work,” Berklich says.
There’s a buffet featuring Belgian food, a business center, meeting rooms, and an inspiration wall covered with interesting historical facts.
This lounge also has the unique distinction of offering what it calls “nap boxes,” which are spaces for weary travelers to rest. The bathrooms, meanwhile, have mood lighting that can be set to your personal preference.
Another fun fact about The Loft: upon check-in, travelers can borrow a Microsoft Surface tablet in order to access the lounge’s digital experience included the “Connected Lounge” app, which allows for booking experiences while there, including reserving a shower or those nap boxes we mentioned.
Yes, many of these lounges have outstanding food. That’s practically a given. But the food at the Korean Air First Class lounge is something Berklich can’t say enough about.
“The food is spectacular,” says Berklich. “It’s really delicious homemade Korean food, beautifully done, with high-quality ingredients. You feel like you’re getting something fabulous.”
Is your mouth watering yet?
In addition to the notable food here, there’s massage chairs, VIP suites, shower suites, and sleeping areas.
Here’s what you need to know about this lounge: it won the Global Airport Lounge of the Year Award in 2016 from Priority Pass.
The awards, given out for the past 12 years, are based on ratings from Priority Pass Members.
So what do members like so much about this lounge? To begin with, it is a more than 26,000 square foot space dominated by sleek, contemporary design. Within that massive space there are private bedrooms, opulent shower suites, a wellness spa, and food that leaves travelers raving (try the Chicken Tikka Masala, it’s a favorite among frequent flyers.) And if you need further reason to stop here, the lounge was also the global winner in the Best Quality of Refreshments category, in the Premium Pass awards.
This lounge can be accessed with Priority Pass membership.
One last honorable mention from LoungeBuddy’s Dikman, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse oozes cool from floor to ceiling.
With its billiards table, decadent décor, and stylish mood lighting, this space looks less like a lounge and more like, well, a clubhouse, making the name entirely apropos.
“It’s very W Hotel-esque throughout,” says Dikman. “You feel like a much cooler person than you might actually be. Just everything is fantastic – from the open area with the billiards table, to the signature Bumble & Bumble spa where you can have a fantastic mini-treatment or hair cut, it’s one of those lounges where, if your flight is delayed you say ‘No problem and have another glass of champagne.”
This top airport lounge cannot be accessed with LoungeBuddy, unfortunately.
Perhaps consider cozying up to Virgin’s former owner and king-of-cool Richard Branson, if buying the proper airline ticket related access is simply not within your budget.