Travel blogs for the savvy traveller



Airline versus Pay As You Go Lounges

Daniel Ray-Marks
23 July 2020

Airport Lounges offer an oasis of calm to travellers wanting to find somewhere comfortable to sit and catch up on some emails, do some work or just relax with some food and drink.

They can be categorised into following:

  • Airline Lounges which will be exclusively for an airline and their partner airlines (such as BA and the OneWorld alliance which includes American Airlines,  Cathay Pacific etc)
  • Pay-per-use Lounges which, in contrast to airline lounges, offer facilities to any traveller traversing the airport, regardless of class of ticket or airline, subject to payment of a fee.
  • First class lounges which are offered to international first class and top-tier passengers travelling on that airline (or a partner airline)

Let's look at the types of paid-for lounges first. We'll use the Priority Pass Lounges as an example.
There’s three tiers to this ranging from:

  1. £69 per year which provides a discounted entrance fee,
  2. A standard plus for £189 per year which provides 10 free visits then discounted access to
  3. The Prestige Access for £339 per year which provides free access.

In all cases, any guests pay a discounted entrance fee. Other lounge programmes include No 1 Lounges, Aspire & Plaza Premium.


Smaller airports (such as Jersey) which only have one lounge have started providing access to paying guests and pass holders to the BA Exec Lounge. In larger airports and hubs, the lounges will be split into the categories above.

Although most offer complimentary food and drink there are some distinct advantages to the Airline Lounges over the Pay-per-use lounges which I’ll summarise here:

  • Exclusivity
  • Refinement
  • Food & Drink Quality
  • Tranquility
  • Operational hours


Airlines open their “invite only” lounges as a competitive business advantage for customers. Customers enjoy them more when they’re empty, so airlines keep access rules tight in hopes of creating that exclusivity. Basically, they need to be there no matter what so having it full all the time isn’t necessary.

In “pay as you go” lounges, it’s the opposite. These lounges exist purely to make money. The more customers the better the business is. It’s in the lounge operators best interest to make sure it’s always rammed to the rafters and that, in my opinion, ruins the entire point of an airport lounge.

The cheaper the booze the more profit they make. The lower the cost of food, the more profit they make. There's no luxury. One could spend £20 on a great glass of champagne in the airport and still come out £20 better off versus paying to enter an airport lounge and having a third rate glass of Prosecco.

If it’s great food, one could visit somewhere like Plane Food by Gordon Ramsay and have a really solid meal for far less than the entrance fee which gets you the sausage and bean buffet in the lounge. And if it’s less crowded in the public restaurant than in the lounge then all the more reason for not going.

In short if everyone is VIP, no one is… You don’t want the lounge to be too busy. In my experience the Pay As You Go lounges are cluttered and often unkempt. The tables are rarely cleared promptly and finding an empty table or char is difficult. They’re full of screaming kids and lager louts going on holiday. The beverages are substandard and it’s poor quality food.  

Finally it’s worth mentioning that most of the Pay As You Go lounges have time limits on how long you can be in there and in some cases only allow you in after a set time before the departure of your flight. If you have a six hour layover you won’t get access until 3 hours before your next flight departs. The same is true for the actual check in.

Airline loyalty cards are much more than simply lounge access cards though. The airline loyalty programs recognise and reward loyalty. There are higher earnings of Avios when taking flights and preferential treatment when things go wrong.


There’s nothing wrong with Pay As You Go lounges but they’re not the same as Airline Lounges but for those that have never experienced the two the difference may never be known.