Airport lounges worth missing your flight for


(CNN) — Airline lounges are hardly created equal. Many have bare-bones amenities, limited seating and far too many people. These extremely average lounges are often just a step up from the cramped gate area.

The more premium ones, however, are fine for killing an hour or two between flights. They offer tasty, if predictable, food, reliable WiFi, and comfortable chairs and work stations as you travel.

And then there’s the other lounge, the kind that can be best described as the sublimely luxurious.

A handful of ultra-exclusive lounges, Instagram-worthy spaces with impressive settings that only a privileged few have access to, are attended by staff who act more like concierges at five-star hotels than airline employees. The food is on par with top-rated restaurants globally, and the variety of wine and spirits available is stellar.

Al Safwa Lounge at Doha is a lounge in the sublimely luxurious category. Service is akin to what you might expect at a five-star hotel.

Al Safwa Lounge at Doha is a lounge in the sublimely luxurious category. Service is akin to what you might expect at a five-star hotel.

Courtesy of Qatar AlSafwa

Many of the lounges have spas, or, at the very least, full shower facilities so you can arrive at your destination ready to hit the ground running.

“These are the lounges that flyers die to get into,” says Michael Holtz, the owner of SmartFlyer, a global travel consultancy specializing in airports and airlines. “And, if you do have entry, you want a long layover just so you can spend time in them.”

Access, Holtz explains, is usually limited to those who have the deep pockets to buy a ticket for a seat in the airline’s highest class or for fliers who log loads of miles with the carrier each year.

Here, eight of the most crème de la crème airline lounges in the world. All on this list — with the exception of United, which has several impressive lounges around the country — are the given carrier’s flagship lounge.

Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport

The 23,000 square foot Qantas First Class Lounge includes a garden containing more than eight thousand plants.

The 23,000 square foot Qantas First Class Lounge includes a garden containing more than eight thousand plants.

Courtesy of Qantas

Who gets access: Passengers in first class — a round-trip ticket between Sydney and Los Angeles can run close to $12,000.

Platinum-level frequent fliers also have lounge access and reach this status by earning 1,400 credits in a year-long period. That’s the equivalent of six business class round-trip flights between Singapore and Sydney. Each person allowed in can bring in up to two guests.

Size: Around 23,000 square feet

What makes it extravagant: Qantas’ flagship first class lounge was designed using Feng Shui principles and has no corners, except for the floor-to-ceiling windows. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a spectacular vertical garden comprised of more than 8,500 plants like ferns and moss.

Other notable design features include white Carrera marble walls and floors (the marble comes from the same quarry in Italy that Michelangelo used centuries ago for his famous sculptures) and retro-inspired aviation touches such as flight screen boards and air vents modeled on a 1950s Lockhead Constellation plane.

Fliers can opt for a spa treatment such as a massage, facial or reflexology session, all of which are a part of the lounge experience and not an additional cost.

Another inviting option is the lounge’s wood-paneled library, where a smattering of buttery-soft leather couches and a top-shelf bar with free-flowing Champagne from brands like Perrier-Jouet awaits.

There’s also the lounge’s world-class restaurant serving up dishes created by famed Australian chef Neil Perry. The breakfast menu of more than 20 items includes yogurt, apricots and toasted almonds topped with honey from Qanatas’ own beehives while the all-day menu has a lengthy list of choices such as organic beef brisket with miso in a wasabi butter sauce and salt and pepper squid with a green chili dipping sauce.

Emirates First Class Lounge in Concourse A at Dubai International Airport

The lounge's design is opulent, the calm yet rich tone set in gold and red hues. A dedicated Moet & Chandon Champagne lounge will please wine snobs.

The lounge’s design is opulent, the calm yet rich tone set in gold and red hues. A dedicated Moet & Chandon Champagne lounge will please wine snobs.

Courtesy of Emirates

Who gets access: First class fliers. Purchasing a round-trip ticket between Dubai and New York outright can be had for upwards of $23,000.

These fliers can bring in just one guest. Platinum Skywards members are also allowed lounge access by achieving status by earning 150,000 tier miles, which are calculated based on fare, route and class; these loyal members can bring in up to three guests.

Size: Almost 100,000 square feet

What makes it extravagant: With a design that includes gold and red hues, mini-fountains and cream marble, this lounge has an opulence in line with the lavishness that defines Dubai.

Amenities include a spacious quiet area with day beds, plush blankets and pillows, a cigar lounge, a children’s section with video games, a coffee bar, a wine cellar, a bar with a long list of spirits and cocktails and a dedicated Moet & Chandon Champagne lounge.

Foodies will flock to the white tablecloth restaurant offering cuisine prepared by the airline’s internationally trained culinary team. The menu changes regularly and is inspired by global flavors: An Indian dish such as paneer tikka masala may show up, for example, along with a Mediterranean-style sea bass dish.

But guests don’t have to dine at the restaurant to enjoy these creations; they can order menu items while they’re sitting anywhere in the lounge. Or, they can stretch their legs before a long flight and grab more casual fare from the several buffet stations in the space.

United Polaris Lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport

Awash in shades of grey and navy blue, United's Polaris is the only lounge from a U.S. carrier to make this upscale list's cut.

Awash in shades of grey and navy blue, United’s Polaris is the only lounge from a U.S. carrier to make this upscale list’s cut.

Courtesy of United Polaris

Who gets access: Customers flying United’s Polaris business class, available only on long-haul international routes.

United won’t comment on ticket pricing, but a quick look online reveals that fares vary depending on the route. A recent search for a business class flight between New York and Hong Kong showed tickets starting at $15,000 round-trip. Passengers on long-haul international first or business class on a Star Alliance member airline also have access.

Size: Around 27,000 square feet

What makes it extravagant: The only lounge from a U.S. airline to make our list, United’s Polaris lounge at Newark is awash in gray and navy tones and has a hip, minimalist design that includes a vibrant lighting fixture at the entryway, which mimics the constellations of the 12 zodiac signs.

Fliers can look forward to luxuries like ten private daybeds outfitted with Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, ten shower suites with rainforest showers and Soho House’s Cowshed Spa products and a valet service that helps with tasks such as sewing and steaming clothes and shoe polishing.

The food — a rarity for a U.S. airline — is impressive. There’s a bistro-like buffet that includes a do-it-yourself bagel bar along with wraps (curried salmon salad) with sandwiches.

In addition to this grab-and-go option, there’s a traditional sit-down restaurant with table service that serves refined versions of comfort foods like potato latkes, wild mushroom risotto with a balsamic reduction and, for dessert, the “Brookie,” a playful combination of a brownie and cookie served with milk. The cocktail menu is perhaps better than it needs to be and features libations with house-made items like oolong-steeped bourbon and lavender syrup.

The “Fernet About It,” a combination of the namesake Italian libation and house-made anise-infused vodka, is one of the signature drinks.

Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport

The flagship Cathay Pacific lounge is made up of 22,100 square feet; this includes eight suites complete with a daybed, mirror and heavy curtain for privacy.

The flagship Cathay Pacific lounge is made up of 22,100 square feet; this includes eight suites complete with a daybed, mirror and heavy curtain for privacy.

Courtesy Cathay

Who gets access: First class passengers (a round-trip first class ticket on Cathay between New York and Hong Kong can run more than $25,000) and Oneworld carrier first class fliers: This alliance includes around a dozen airlines including American Airlines and British Airways.

Both Cathay and Oneworld first class fliers can bring in a guest. Fliers part of Cathay’s Marco Polo Club loyalty program who are at the Diamond level (status is achieved after earning 1,200 club points) are also allowed in. Coveted points are earned from frequent flying in premium classes. Diamond level members can bring in two guests.

Size: Around 22,100 square feet

What makes it extravagant: Cathay’s Asian-inspired lounge has green onyx walls, limestone floors and walnut and bronze elements throughout. Fliers will find plenty of soft couches and chairs, a library, an area for traditional foot massages (neck and shoulder massages are available on request), a business center with six iMac computers and a stunning circular bar with top shelf wines and spirits.

There are also 14 showers and a section called the Retreat. With eight suites, each has a cozy daybed, reading light, mirror and a heavy curtain for privacy.

For more casual fare, passengers can head to the Pantry and serve themselves from a spread that includes sandwiches and salads. Those in the mood for fine dining can head to the 100-seat restaurant which offers a menu of international and Asian items such as wonton noodles, fresh fish dishes and classic hamburgers.

Lufthansa First Class Lounge at Frankfurt International Airport

The formal name for the Lufthansa Frankfurt digs is the First Class Terminal. The space is actually located in a separate building adjacent to the airport and comes with its own security detail.

The formal name for the Lufthansa Frankfurt digs is the First Class Terminal. The space is actually located in a separate building adjacent to the airport and comes with its own security detail.

Courtesy Lufthansa

Who gets access: First class fliers. Ticket fares between Frankfurt and New York City can easily top $8,000.

Hon Circle members are also allowed in and earn the status after they fly 600,000 miles on the airline within two years. Those granted entry are allowed to bring in one guest.

Size: Nearly 200,000 square feet

What makes it extravagant: Located in a building adjacent to the main airport, this lounge has its own security personnel. Its modern design blends serene and sleek: the wooden walls and stone floors are interspersed with glass surfaces and contemporary furniture that Lufthansa had custom-made for the space in Italy.

The stylish bar area boasts a top-notch list with 150 varieties of top-shelf whisky such as Suntory 17 from Japan, along with seven high-end Champagne brands including Ruinart and Bollinger. Fliers will also find a cigar lounge, four private offices and four bathrooms with rainforest showers, Etro amenities and oversized, plush towels.

The restaurant features seasonally inspired food courtesy of the prestigious catering company Do & Co. Winter staples on the menu include hearty dishes like roasted duck with a side of cranberry potato dumplings and caramelized red cabbage while lighter dishes such as grilled fish are common come summer.

Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Lounge at Doha International Airport

Technically a lounge, the Al Safwa First Lounge is part art museum. Featuring a changing rotation of Islamic art, it's a fine place to kill a few layover hours.

Technically a lounge, the Al Safwa First Lounge is part art museum. Featuring a changing rotation of Islamic art, it’s a fine place to kill a few layover hours.

Courtesy of Qatar AlSafwa

Who gets access: First class passengers. First class is only available on select flights, and fares for a round-trip ticket between Doha and London start at $9,000.

Size: Around 200 seats.

What makes it extravagant: An homage to the arts, the light-flooded Al Safwa doubles as a mini museum and features a changing rotation of installations and artifacts on loan from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art.

Passengers can spend time gazing at the grand water fountain or take advantage of indulgent amenities like the movie theater, the spa, the game room complete with a Play Station and the family section with a large play area.

If it’s downtime you’re looking for, forget standard chaise lounges and book one of the private rooms with twin beds and televisions instead.

Come time to eat, there’s a 250-seat restaurant with a menu of international and Middle Eastern dishes such as penne arrabbiata, spicy ground chicken kebabs and a potato and vegetable massaman curry. Oenophiles can pick from the long list that favors premium French wines.

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at London’s Heathrow Airport

Virgin's futuristic interior aircraft design extends to its flagship lounge in London's Heathrow. Expect plenty of entertaining options to while away the time.

Virgin’s futuristic interior aircraft design extends to its flagship lounge in London’s Heathrow. Expect plenty of entertaining options to while away the time.

Courtesy of Virgin

Who gets access: Virgin’s Upper Class, the airline’s premium cabin, passengers — round-trip fares between New York and London start at $2,730.

Flying Gold Club members are also welcome and achieve status when they earn a 1,000 tier points. What it takes to earn these points varies but could mean two round-trips and a one-way in Upper Class. Passengers with access are allowed to bring in one guest.

Size: More than 12,000 square feet

What makes it extravagant: With a futuristic design that includes sleek wood and mod furniture, this lounge has a playful feel and offers plenty of entertainment. Passengers can relax in the Den, which has a pool table, video game consoles and televisions, or head to the spa where they can book services (some have a charge) like haircuts, beard trims and facials.

There’s also an observation deck with runway views, a playroom for the little ones and an outdoor terrace.

The bar is so long that it spans the length of a wall, and the cocktails it offers are courtesy of mixologists from London’s famed Dandelyan bar. Foodwise, there’s an expansive buffet that changes throughout the day and has fare that accommodates virtually every eater, no matter the diet.

An a la carte menu offering traditional afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream, along with heartier fare like cod fillet with leeks in a sparkling wine and chive sauce, is also part of the experience.

Singapore Airlines’ The Private Room at Changi Airport Singapore

Singapore Changi Jewel

Changi Airport in Singapore boasts Singapore Airline’s The Private Room, of which no pictures are available to the public.

Jewel Changi Airport Devt.

Who gets access: First and Suite class fliers. A first class round-trip ticket between Singapore and New York starts at $13,000. And, sorry, there’s no point program that’ll help you get into this exclusive space.

Size: Not available. (A request for photo was also denied, adding to the lounge’s sense of exclusivity.)

What makes it extravagant: An inner sanctum within the carrier’s business and first class lounge complex, The Private Room is paneled in rich woods with marble accents and is decorated with lavish floral displays and original paintings and sculptures from emerging Asian artists.

Attended by a staff who take pride in pampering guests to no end, this retreat is divided into multiple, intimate seating areas and furnished with leather and fabric arm chairs and loungers. An enclosed room for families, work stations with iMacs and private showers are among the amenities, and the food is exceptional.

There’s a buffet station that changes through the day and a refined dining room with polished table service and a constantly changing menu of vegetarian, ethnic and international dishes.

At breakfast, that could mean choices like dim sum, eggs Benedict and fish congee while ramens, satays, sautéed lobster with linguini and a burger with foie gras are possible options at lunch and dinner.

Shivani Vora is a New York City-based writer who travels as often as she can, whether that means going on a walking safari in Tanzania, a mother-daughter trip with her 10-year-old in Istanbul or surfing in northern Portugal.


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