Enjoy added privacy and replenishing spa treatments before your next flight.
Let's get this out of the way: Flying is rarely a smooth, pain-free experience. But it doesn't have to be that way. At first-class airport lounges, complimentary Champagne, Michelin-starred cuisine, a cigar lounge and chauffeured transportation to your plane are just a few bells and whistles you can expect to make your preflight experience more seamless. And these days, high-flying preflight privileges aren't restricted to frequent fliers with elite status. Airports are catering to different travelers' needs, travel patterns and price points. U.S. News caught up with seasoned air-travel experts and jet-setters to bring you the top airport lounges -- and tips for getting inside.
Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt Airport
When it comes to first-class lounge experiences, Lufthansa is unrivaled, says Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of The Points Guy. Fliers "have access to a sit-down restaurant, shower rooms with full bathtubs, a fantastic whiskey bar, loads of seating options and a car service to the plane," he adds. Other coveted perks include a cigar lounge and meals curated by Michelin-starred chefs. And in terms of service, Lufthansa's lounge offers an effortless experience, complete with a porter to check you in, take you through immigration and collect you when it's time to board, adds Gary Leff, author of frequent flier site View from the Wing.
Emirates First Class Lounge, Dubai International Airport
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Spanning the entire length of the terminal, this first-class lounge offers few crowds and superior service, Leff says. Plus, you can pick from a variety of cuisine options and duty-free shops, he adds. Other standout features include shower spa areas appointed with lavish toiletries, a vintage wine cellar, a cigar lounge and quiet areas outfitted with blankets and pillows to catch a preflight nap. And while you typically can't gain access to lounges without purchasing a premium-class ticket, "Emirates recently began offering buy-up access for its first-class lounge in Dubai," Honig adds.
Air France La Première Lounge, Charles de Gaulle Airport
In this first-class lounge, fliers can enjoy a private check-in and porter service, menu items curated by Alain Ducasse, a spa treatment center and chauffeured transportation to or from the airport. What's more, if you have time to spare, you can get pampered with a soothing facial or body treatment, browse an extensive collection of books in the library or download the latest news on your tablet (for free) with the Air France app up to 24 hours before your flight. Plus, you can enjoy priority boarding access upon arrival to Charles de Galle to get to baggage claim quickly.
The Pier, First Class, Hong Kong International Airport
Cathay Pacific's terminal in Hong Kong is sleek, with walnut wood accents that create a calming atmosphere, says Brian Sumers, an airline business reporter at Skift. "A lot of the best lounges are first-class lounges," he says. Coveted amenities include first-rate services such as massages at the on-site spa, globally inspired cuisine at the upscale dining room (or the Pantry for more casual fare on the go) and quiet areas for catching up on emails. Plus, the area boasts spacious private suites that offer a tranquil place to unwind before your flight. As a bonus, you don't have to fly with Cathay Pacific to access its lounge: When you're flying with American Airlines from Hong Kong, you can gain entry thanks to their partnership, Honig explains.
Thai Airways' Royal First Lounge, Suvarnabhumi Airport
When you fly first class on Thai Airways, you'll enjoy a relaxing, hassle-free experience from the moment you arrive, with a personal escort to accompany you within the terminal, Leff says. Aside from a smooth, stress-free check-in process, you can unwind with indulgent massages at the Royal Orchid Spa. "Nobody matches the quality of the spa that Thai Airways has at their spa in Bangkok," Leff says, adding that first-class guests can enjoy hourlong treatments. Plus, there are private rooms, shower suites, a la carte dining options and plenty of secluded areas where you can unwind before takeoff.
How to get access? Tip 1: Fly (or travel with someone) in business- or first-class.
"Passengers almost always have access to airline lounges when traveling internationally in business- or first-class," Honig says. And though amenities change depending on the lounge, typically you can expect freebies such as light snacks and beverages. "More elaborate lounges such as United's new network of Polaris lounges offer full restaurant-style dining and a well-stocked bar," he explains. But even if you haven't purchased a premium-class ticket, you're still in luck. If you're on the same plane as an elite member who is a friend or family member, you may be "guested in," Leff explains, although the rules vary by carrier and lounge, so conduct some research ahead of your flight.
How to get access? Tip 2: Carry the right card.
"Rather than purchasing an annual membership, I'd recommend going with a co-branded card option, since you'll typically pay a bit less," Honig says, emphasizing that there are no initiation fees, and you can take advantage of other benefits like free checked bags. Plus, "the AAdvantage Executive card, the Delta Reserve credit card and the United Club card all allow you to access a lounge on any itinerary -- sometimes even when you're flying another airline," he adds. Daraius Dubash, who runs the site Million Mile Secrets, recommends the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the Platinum Card from American Express (both $450 annually) for additional benefits like priority boarding access.
How to get access? Tip 3: Take advantage of alliance networks.
"Occasionally, you may come across a lounge branded with an airline alliance rather than an individual carrier," Honig says, pointing to Star Alliance Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport as an example. "These lounges offer a similar experience -- the broader branding is simply intended to communicate that access extends beyond one airline," he explains. If you have Star Alliance gold status, you can enjoy access to any of the 30 participating member airlines' lounges as long as you're traveling on an eligible itinerary (typically international business- or first-class), he explains. "So if you don't want to visit the United Club in Tokyo, you can head over to ANA Lounge instead," he explains.
How to get access? Tip 4: Invest in a day pass.
"I'd hesitate to pay $50 or more for lounge access unless you have many hours to take advantage of the services," Honig says, noting that Centurion lounges in popular cities such Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Las Vegas and Miami through the American Express network (available for $50 for AmEx cardholders) is an exception. "Platinum and Centurion cardholders get in for free," he adds. If you have a six-hour layover, the day pass is worth it, Dubash adds. Plus, a day pass can prove particularly valuable if you encounter inclement conditions, Sumers says. Thanks to shorter customer service lines inside top-tier lounges, "you may be able to get rebooked a bit faster," he explains.
Liz Weiss is the Travel editor for Consumer Advice at U.S. News, where she writes and edits consumer-focused travel content that offers trip-planning inspiration and helps consumers make smarter travel decisions. She has been covering the travel industry for nearly five years at U.S. News & World Report. She also manages the En Route blog, and has been interviewed on a variety of outlets, including MarketWatch and Fortune. Prior to joining the Consumer Advice team, Liz oversaw the development and content creation for U.S. News Travel's Best Cruises, Best Travel Rewards and Best Vacations franchises. A native of Washington, D.C., she received a bachelor's degree from George Washington University. You can follow Liz on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.