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When An Airport Layover Becomes Party Time

Two travelers are stuck because of flight delays. One traveler sits by the gate. Meanwhile, the other traveler relaxes in a comfy chair and sips free champagne. Which traveler do you want to be?

International air travel provides road warriors and frequent fliers the opportunity to go clubbing at major airports. If you find yourself in a place like Heathrow, it’s a great reason to get to the airport three or more hours in advance.

The Basics

Here’s how it works. If you are a frequent flier, you have status with your airline. As you move up the status hierarchy, you earn a colored symbol on your membership card and a notation on your boarding pass. Travelers in higher tiers get access to their airline’s lounge or shared lounge. 

Let’s use American Airlines as an example. Flying 25,000 miles a year and spending $3,000 doing it earns you Gold status. Your card will have a Ruby symbol. Flying 50,000 miles annually and spending $6,000 on airfare gets you Sapphire status. Fly 100,000 miles with an airfare spend of $12,000 and you reach Executive Platinum, with its Emerald status. If you fly for business, the fastest way to move up the ladder is to consolidate your flying with one airline. Here’s the bad news: Ruby doesn’t get you into the club. Sapphire and Emerald do.

Your carrier is probably affiliated with one of three alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance or Sky Team. The colored symbol on your card gets you access to lounges operated by other airlines within your alliance. At major international airports, airlines operate separate lounges for business and first class passengers. The business class lounge is typically the entry level lounge, the one your airline club membership gets you into back home.

The objective is to either gain access to the lounge without an airline club membership or get into to a better lounge. For frequent fliers, your colored symbol determines which higher lounge level you might be able to access.

How Time Between Flights Becomes A Holiday

Let’s assume you practically live on an airplane, traveling for business constantly. You have achieved Executive Platinum status with American. Now you find yourself at Heathrow Airport in London. You have a long layover. You’ve cleared security with your carry-on luggage. It’s time to go clubbing!

First stop: The American Airlines Admiral’s Club. Your Emerald status gets you into the Flagship Lounge, the higher of the two clubs. The waiter comes to your table and presents a menu. You opt for the Moet & Chandon champagne while making your decision. The food and drinks are free.

Second stop: Fun’s fun, but it’s time to move on. A short walk brings you to the British Airways lounges. Your Emerald status gets you waved into the first class lounge. Although the food is good, you choose to focus on the dedicated champagne bar. Henriot 2012 is available in abundance. A stroll into an adjacent room reveals a self-service bar. You notice a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label and pour one for yourself.

Third stop: Some Chinese food will hit the spot. A short walk down the corridor brings you to the Cathay Pacific Lounge. The sit-down dining room features Asian favorites such as dim sum along with traditional British dishes. More Moet champagne is consumed.

Fourth stop: There’s time for one more visit. It’s a short walk to the Qantas Lounge, where they are pouring Perrier Jouet champagne. You check out their menu and order the calamari.

Back To Reality

But there’s a problem. You haven’t earned that coveted status. You don’t find yourself at Heathrow Airport, or anywhere outside the U.S. that often. But you can still go clubbing.

The American Express Platinum Card comes with many benefits. For the past couple of years, AmEx has been opening Centurion Lounges at major airports around the country. They’ve opened eight so far with more to come. Platinum and Centurion cardholders are allowed two guests. If you have a club membership with your favorite airlines, now you have two clubbing locations.

AmEx offers Platinum members another perk: Priority Pass membership. It’s a program providing access to more than 600 lounges in about 100 countries. Some are operated by other airlines; others are lounges without an affiliation, yet offer free food and drinks to members and others who buy day passes. Now, you might be adding a third clubbing stop.

The AmEx Platinum Card also offers access to Delta Sky Club lounges, but you must be flying on Delta or an affiliate booked through Delta in order to use the lounges.

Any Other Ways I Can Go Clubbing?

Frequent fliers often buy an annual membership to their airline’s club. This gets you access at their domestic and international locations. You might be drinking the house wine and the well scotch, but at least it’s free. Premium brands of alcohol are also available.

If you are traveling internationally on a business or first-class ticket, the clubs in your airline’s alliance usually offer reciprocity. You might not have Sapphire status to get you into that airline’s business class lounge, but your business class ticket on an affiliated airline will do just fine.

Finally, many airlines offer day passes to their lounges. If you aren’t a frequent flier, it can make sense to buy a day pass to your airline’s lounge network. A day means a day. A flier leaving Philadelphia for Los Angeles with a stopover in Dallas can visit the Philadelphia club before departure and the Dallas-Fort Worth club during their layover. It’s a great place to get Wi-Fi, do some work and make calls.

Frequent fliers and business travelers have a little-known perk: The opportunity to use airport lounges run by affiliated airlines when they are traveling. You don’t need a ticket on their airline, you just need a higher tier frequent flier status. In addition to plenty of space and a helpful staff, there’s abundant free food and a large selection of free wine and liquor. Did someone say champagne?

is president of Perceptive Business Solutions in New Hope, PA. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" is available on He can be reached at [email protected].

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