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Free Club Lounge Access: A Blessing or a Curse?

Free Club Lounge Access: A Blessing or a Curse?
Ariana Arghandewal

Most travel hackers I know won’t even think of staying at a non-chain hotel, let alone one where they don’t have access to elite benefits like free club lounge access. It’s understandable because lounge access can certainly be useful.

Getting upwards of three meals a day in the lounge saves money and is super convenient. I used to think it was essential to at least have breakfast covered at the club lounge or elsewhere. But is free lounge access really a blessing, or a curse?

 

Food

The main advantage of having club lounge access is to get convenient access to food. While it’s certainly a shame to visit a new destination and spend the entire time gorging on generic lounge food, club lounge access does have several benefits. For starters, it saves you money. It’s also a convenient way to grab a snack or coffee when you’re jet lagged and waking up when most local eateries are closed.

The caveat? The food is usually pretty generic, which is a real shame if you’re traveling to a new city and missing out on local fare. Food is a huge part of experiencing a culture and by holing up in a club lounge eating frozen meatballs and chicken wings, you could be missing out on incredible culinary experiences. That goes for all three meals – even breakfast can be something extraordinary if you visit the right restaurant. Having free club lounge access makes it way too tempting to stay at the hotel and miss out on delicious food, not to mention the sights and sounds of the city. Which brings me to my next point….

 

(Not) Sightseeing

Another major negative to having lounge access is that too many people spend a huge chunk of time hanging out there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a lounge and returned several hours later, only to find the same person sitting in the same seat, presumably never having left the lounge. If it’s stopping you from exploring a new city or doing anything other than sitting around drinking free lattes, maybe free club lounge access isn’t so great after all.

 

Limited Hotel Options

Have you ever made a hotel booking decision based on hotel status? You’re not alone. Everyone I know (myself included) books hotels based on elite status benefits. Why stay at a hotel that doesn’t offer free breakfast, lounge access and bonus points? While you’ll get a lot of value out of these benefits, you may be missing out on some incredible hotels as a result.

Free club lounge access can absolutely be a blessing, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. But if it keeps you from experiencing the best of what a city has to offer (in terms of food, sights and experiences), then it can actually be a curse. I’ve absolutely been guilty of only staying at chain hotels where I have status and sometimes spending a little too much sipping lattes at the lounge. Being aware of our behaviors leads to growth, right? I aim to be a more enlightened and enriched traveler and as such, I intend to make future booking decisions independent of my status with a hotel chain.

 

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think free club lounge access is a blessing or a curse?

 

[Image: Ritz Carlton]

View Comments (10)

10 Comments

  1. sdsearch

    November 17, 2018 at 11:39 am

    You write: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a lounge and returned several hours later, only to find the same person sitting in the same seat, presumably never having left the lounge. If it’s stopping you from exploring a new city or doing anything other than sitting around drinking free lattes, maybe free club lounge access isn’t so great after all.”

    But how do you know they’d be exploring the city if there was no free club lounge? Maybe they’d be sitting their room instead, or in the downstairs lobby! After all, you had free lounge access and yet you left to explore the city, so how do you know that anyone who’s not exploring the city is doing it BECAUSE OF the free lounge???

  2. jaimemayo

    November 17, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    I certainly would not call it a curse. It has been a real lifesaver for me sometimes when my flight is delayed and no one is sure when the new departure time will be. It’s nice to have a place to sit, snack on something and listen for the new departure time. I agree with you about the food. SkyClubs have certainly upped their game with food offerings. But I have heard so much about “One Flew South” in ATL; I have never tried it because I have access to free food and drink in the SkyClub Lounge. This article convinced me to try One Flew South the next time I have a 3.5 hour layover in ATL.

  3. jmj9905

    November 17, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    I don’t agree. As an example we were just in Bangkok at the Mandarin Oriental. Our rate include a free breakfast. We sat on their patio on the river every morning with spectacular views of the river. As for taking away from local food and people, if you don’t do that why travel.

  4. jon503

    November 17, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    I don’t even really participate in the loyalty game for hotels for precisely the above reasons. You are fairly limited in airline choices as its such an expensive and difficult industry to enter. There are only so many players and some clearly do a better job than others. It therefore makes sense to have loyalty in order to make everything about the experience much better.

    Hotels are a totally different story to me. If I’m travelling somewhere on business, then the chain hotels with lounge access absolutely make sense. This is where I collect some points with whatever chain happens to be closest to where I want to go. For leisure travel, however, I would much rather find a local boutique hotel with a more unique style and head out into the city for meals (often saving a lot of money in the process). Running a boutique hotel is not that hard and there are so many options – why limit yourself to the chains just in the name of generic comfort?

  5. flying_geek

    November 18, 2018 at 2:52 am

    With my employer being my own business – it sort of always is my money, but in particular when travelling with family, club lounge (or free breakfast due to status) can be quite a relevant saving. I guess a very extreme example would be something like a Westin in Tokyo where you can get a decent room for $300 a night and the full breakfast experience is like $90 or so a person – bring two kids to breakfast and you get the room essentially for free – and it’s far from “generic food”. OK – that’s an elite benefit and not specifically a lounge now. But there are some excellent lounges out there like the one in the Grand Sheraton Salzburg where one could literally go for any meal one would want to. Even just heading there for snacks with kids can be a huge time and money saver.

  6. Irpworks

    November 18, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    I gave these club floors a try and found most to be a bore and often without the food worth consuming at the times I want it. I work/sleep about 3.5 hours out of phase with the regular business crowd.

  7. HoustonConsultant

    November 19, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Your arguments above make perfect sense, but there are many, many (many, many, many) times I’m pressed for time (and sleep), and running out for an interesting local breakfast requires cutting into some amount of sleep or work time. With no lounge, I can promise you I’m still not getting up an hour early to go find a fun breakfast.

    The arguments above make more sense for me with leisure travel. However, my leisure travel includes a spouse and three kids, so free breakfast and snacks are a big cost (and time) savings.

  8. htb

    November 21, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    I will spend the entire day in the lounge today. When you come back I will still be sitting there.
    I’m here to work (until I’m called to the customer site). And in the lounge at least they still have a standard desk and chair. Marriott, anyone?

  9. pointchaser

    November 24, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    @sdsearch that would be sad, if true. But I doubt most people would want to spend the entire trip in a cramped hotel room – the lounge, on the other hand, is much more conducive to, well, lounging.

    @jaimemayo I was referring more so to hotel club lounges. I personally find airport lounges to be a life saver.

    @jmj9905 same thing I wonder when I see people traveling abroad and spending all their time in the hotel. That breakfast spot sounds amazing btw!

    @HoustonConsultant I hear you – makes total sense.

    @htb you must be there for work. I’m referring to leisure travelers.

  10. Occupationalhazard

    November 27, 2018 at 2:21 am

    So what if you are in a city with bad winter weather. It’s a city you’ve been to many times already because you’re a road warrior and you just want a little something to tide you over.

    I assume that other grownups can make grown-up decisions for themselves and think, “hey, maybe I should go out an ck out local hangouts?” A lounge is just an option, nothing more. Some places have great lounges, others don’t. Choose what works for you.

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