how to get into airport lounges

Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul is the Best Reason to Arrive at the Airport Early

By Peter Greenberg

In the world of airline consolidation, mergers, and failures, it’s easy to argue that competition has suffered, and along with it customer service. That can often be an easy argument to make in the U.S.

Then there’s Turkish Airlines in the international airline world. Turkish is truly the quiet giant. But it’s not sleeping. They’re competitive. They want to be the best. It’s not just a numbers game (for example, most of you probably don’t know that Turkish flies to more destinations in the world than any other airline). For Turkish, it’s still a customer service game. Nowhere is that more evident than in the massive business class airport lounge in Istanbul. This two-story lounge easily qualifies as not only the biggest, but the best airline lounge I’ve ever seen.

how to get into airport loungesThere are dozens of different food stations, from pizza to ice cream to baklava, bread and rice pudding and strudel. Want a traditional Turkish sesame bagel? They bake them right in the lounge. There’s an entire table devoted just to olives and pasta. Then there are the Turkish dumplings. Want a steak or fresh fish? Just ask. I found some delicious vegetarian garlic noodles—I had seconds.

There are no small bags of peanuts in this lounge. There’s a whole station dedicated to nuts. Bars are everywhere, serving top shelf premium brands. Don’t want alcohol? Specialty teas and coffees are right there. Every conceivable soft drink brand and apricot, peach, apple, and other fruit juices are available. There’s not just one TV, but multiple screens showing nine programs simultaneously in numerous locations. Wireless is free—and fast.

Want to watch a movie? They have a theater, complete with a popcorn machine. Want to play pool? No problem. Practice your golf swing? Easy. Race small electric cars? You can. There are dozens of large screen Apple monitors and computers to use. Two player pianos offer classical tunes. Turkish Airlines boasts that this multi-level lounge is actually bigger than some airport terminals—and they are right.

Did I mention it’s an airline lounge? Now you actually have a compelling reason to get to the airport early!

Secret Airport Lounge Access

There’s a reason frequent flyers love airport lounges…decent seats, Wi-Fi, and snacks make all the difference on a long layover. But you don’t need a first class ticket for airport lounge access.

Your credit card can get you past some exclusive velvet ropes. For example, Citibank’s Citi Executive AAdvantage card is the ONLY card that will get you— and two guests—into how to get into airport loungesthe American Airlines and US Airways lounges.

Here’s a little-known promotion: If you present a credit card that USED to get you access to the American lounge, they’ll also let you in.

I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Xanax.

Airlines also have member programs, so do the math: A year membership at the United Club is about $500 a year. A day pass is $50. So, you have to fly five round-trip flights in a year to break even.

Some airports have cheaper pay-in lounges, like the Airspace Lounge, which is open in JFK, Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, and Cleveland. Here’s a tip: those with lounge access can usually bring a guest. So, if you happen to make a friend outside of the lounge, it could be your lucky day.

Accessing Airline Lounges Without a First Class Ticket

Even if you’re not holding a first or business-class ticket that gets you into an airport lounge for free, there are still ways to get inside the place.

At least half a dozen U.S. airlines will let you buy an annual or day pass to their lounge. The price ranges from $250 to $400 for annual passes, and $25 to $50 for day passes.

how to get into airport loungesYou can also buy lounge access from a third-party company called Priority Pass, which gives you access to more than 500 lounges in 270 cities worldwide.

Even your credit card may get you access. Certain American Express and Citibank cards entitle you to use some airlines’ lounges.

But you have to read the fine print—lounge access doesn’t mean freebies.

You still may have to pay for food, drinks and in many cases, wireless Internet.

Furthermore, Delta, United and US Air have all closed a number of their lounges in the past six months to cut costs. Which means that even if you get access, the door might be closed.

Getting Into Airport Lounges

Airlines are flying almost full—and so are airport VIP lounges.

Not long ago, airport lounges were very desirable places to be. They were quiet, luxe areas with snacks. Lounges offered a place to relax, work, and entertain friends or business associates between or before flights. Passengers could either pay a few hundred dollars a year for their memberships, or they could gain entrance through a combination of elite status or carrying particular credit cards.

But now those alternate pathways to lounge entrance are being cut. Even a day pass at many airline lounges will run you $50. However, there are still some ways to get into airport lounges.

Make friends. Remember: membership at an airline lounge allows you to bring in at least one guest.

United Airlines Mileage Plus Explorer Card gets you into its lounge. The American Express Platinum card gets you into more than 600 lounges worldwide.

Yes, there’s even an app. It’s called Lounge Buddy and it locates lounges and lets you know which card in your wallet will open that door.

CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg is an Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter, New York Times best selling author and producer.