Top 10 International Airport Lounges And How To Access Them

Apr 8, 2016

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Being able to access an airport lounge while traveling means free snacks, drinks and Wi-Fi, but these over-the-top international lounges also offer guests amenities like spa treatments, wine tastings and more. Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at some of the best airport lounges around the world and how you can get in.

While many domestic US airport lounges tend to be dreary way stations, many of the lounges fielded by international airlines are a world apart. Here are 10 of the best, along with what you need to do to access them.

1. Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt (FRA)

Everyone loves the bath suites at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.
Everyone loves the bath suites at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

Lufthansa’s much-ballyhooed First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt hub is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s best airline lounges, and it also happens to be a TPG favorite. The FCT is entirely separate from the main airport terminal, so it’s mainly meant for departing flyers, though if you happen to have a layover here and are departing in first class on a Lufthansa flight, you can also get in. If you’re departing from here, you get dropped off directly, hand off your boarding pass to the front desk and go through a private security checkpoint before entering the lounge itself. The lounge has two shower suites and a bathtub suite for those looking to snag one of the famous rubber duckies. It also has a few relaxation rooms with beds. In addition to a full bar with top-shelf Champagnes like Ruinart and enough high-end whiskey for a full-fledged tasting, there’s a large buffet that changes throughout the day as well as hot items available to order à la carte in the restaurant area.

Among the other interesting features: totally private workstations, chaise lounges overlooking the tarmac and a cigar bar. When it’s time to board your flight, an attendant comes to find you, bundles you up along with your passport and boarding pass into a transfer Porsche or Mercedes, and you’re driven right up to your plane, where you take a private elevator to the door. How’s that for German efficiency?

Access: The First Class Terminal is accessible to HON Circle members and passengers flying Lufthansa first class on the same day. You can access the terminal on an arriving Lufthansa first-class ticket as long as you’re connecting to another flight operated by Lufthansa, Austrian or Swiss. You’ll go through security once you enter the terminal and immigration just before you’re driven to your departing flight.

2. Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney (SYD)

Qantas's flagship first-class lounge in Sydney was designed by Marc Newson and has a Neil Perry restaurant.
Qantas’s flagship first-class lounge in Sydney was designed by Marc Newson and has a Neil Perry restaurant. Image courtesy of Qantas.

Qantas’ flagship first-class lounge in Sydney excels on several fronts. In terms of aesthetic, the airline’s designer, Marc Newson, was the man in charge, so expect a bold red color palette, that signature fuzzy honeycomb carpet pattern, air vents reminiscent of those on the aircraft and lots of white marble — not to mention a huge “living wall” of plants extending along the entrance from the main terminal.

The lounge also has an on-site spa with complimentary 20-minute treatments using Aurora Spa products, and the menu in the full-service restaurant here is overseen by Aussie celebrity chef Neil Perry, including his signature salt-and-pepper calamari. The wine selection also tends to be amazing, with top-shelf Champagnes, but also a who’s who of Australian producers on hand. Though there are plenty of lounge-like areas — many complete with coffee tables and art books — for the ultimate amount of privacy, book one of the meeting rooms (for free) that have their own sitting areas, work desks and entertainment systems.

Access: The lounge is open to Qantas first-class flyers with an onward Qantas or Emirates-marketed flight; international first-class customers on a Oneworld flight; Qantas Platinum One and Platinum elites with an onward flight on Qantas, Emirates, Jetstar or other Oneworld flight; Emirates Platinum Skywards members with an onward flight on Qantas or Emirates; and Oneworld Emerald members flying on a Oneworld carrier.

3. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London Heathrow (LHR)

 Virgin Atlantic's LHR Clubhouse is one of the sexiest lounges out there.
Virgin Atlantic’s LHR Clubhouse is one of the sexiest lounges out there.

Another TPG favorite, Virgin Atlantic’s flagship lounge at Heathrow virtually broke the mold of airline lounges. Not only does it have an outdoor deck complete with Jacuzzi, an après-ski inspired “Lodge” drinks lounge, a cinema and gaming lounge called The Den, but there’s also a billiards room. One of the other main attractions is a Cowshed Spa with a variety of complimentary and paid treatments available using bareMinerals and Dr. Hauschka products as well as a Bumble & Bumble salon. On the food side of things, The Deli serves light dishes while The Brasserie offers an à la carte menu of hot dishes and more substantial fare. There’s also a classic cocktail bar. The Office has private workstations, while The Library is more an informal work space. If you have time to freshen up, there are also shower suites.

Access: Those flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class can get in, as can Virgin Atlantic Gold elites and Virgin Australia Gold and Platinum elites. Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge access is also available to Delta One and Diamond and Platinum Medallion members with a same-day nonstop transatlantic flight between North America and the UK that is operated by Delta or Virgin Atlantic.

4. Air France La Premiere Lounge, Paris (CDG)

Air France's La Premiere lounge has a restaurant by acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse. Photo courtesy of Air France.
Air France’s La Premiere lounge has a restaurant by acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse. Image courtesy of Air France.

Air France’s first-class product is one of the most rarefied experiences in the skies, and that extends to the airline’s flagship first-class lounge at its hub, Paris-Charles de Gaulle. What makes this lounge so special? As soon as you arrive at the airport, the airline’s staff will personally greet you at a special meeting point for La Première guests and take your baggage in hand, whisk you through priority access at the security checkpoints and then even drive you from the lounge to your aircraft in a luxury vehicle. But don’t skip the lounge part. The overall décor scheme here is white and cream with daring splashes of red thrown in (including a bar moodily lit in crimson).

In addition to your usual inclusions like TVs projecting the news, private workstations and a library stocked with the latest periodicals and a curated selection of art books (as well as loaner tablets loaded with publications), there’s a full-service restaurant serving menus created by one of France’s most famous chefs, Alain Ducasse. Not only that, but passengers are also treated to Biologique Recherche spa treatments (there’s even a signature two-hour well-being escape facial-massage combo). Incidentally, these are also the products used to stock the individual shower suites. If you still have a little more time before your flight, stretch out on one of the white-leather chaise lounges partitioned by up-lit white wooden rods. Très cool.

Access: Traditionally, the only way to get in has been to fly Air France first class, but over the summer, Air France opened up access to paid long-haul business-class passengers for a fee. You can pay 150 euros ($170 USD) or 20,000 Flying Blue miles for arrival services, and 300 euros ($340 USD) or 40,000 Flying Blue miles for departure or connecting services.

5. Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge, Doha (DOH)

Qatar's Doha lounge is enormous and can hold up to 1,000 people at a time.
Qatar’s Doha lounge is enormous and can hold up to 1,000 people at a time.

Qatar’s flagship lounge at its Doha hub has to be among the most magnificent out there, not only in terms of sheer space, but also overall design. It’s two stories and massive at more than 100,000 square feet, with the capacity to accommodate up to 1,000 guests at a time. There are various seating areas with power outlets (and personal touchscreen tablets displaying flight information) galore, as well as several small snack buffets and espresso stations.

The first floor is home to a full business center with workstations, a conference suite, printers, scanners and more. There’s a casual deli here serving sandwiches and salads, and it’s adjacent to the family and children’s area. Speaking of which, there’s even a mini-arcade with pinball machines, PlayStations and a more adult section with foosball and an F1 race car simulator. The shower suites, smoking area and prayer rooms are also on this level. Then, guests will notice an enormous reflecting pool and a grand spiral staircase that swirls around a multi-tiered chandelier and leads up to the second floor where the main dining room is. It has a larger buffet, a la carte options and a full-service bar.

Access: To get in, you need to be flying business or first class on Qatar Airways or one of its Oneworld partners. Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members are not allowed in unless flying in business or first (though they can visit other Qatar Airways lounges in the airport).

6. Etihad Premium Lounge, Abu Dhabi (AUH)

Etihad's Abu Dhabi lounges are among the best in the world, and even offer Six Senses spa treatments.
Etihad’s Abu Dhabi lounges are among the best in the world, and even offer Six Senses spa treatments.

Etihad actually has premium lounges in both Terminals 1 and 3 of its Abu Dhabi hub, but most long-haul flights depart out of Terminal 3, and that’s where you’ll find the airline’s premier lounge complex. While the first-class area is set to open in May, it’s currently just a partitioned-off area in the main lounge. However, first-class passengers as well as business-class flyers have access to the entire space. The lounge offers several large casual seating areas, a kids area and a business center. There are also two buffets and dining areas. Typically, you’ll find the current meal being served at one, and the next meal service being prepared at the other so there’s no interruption or interval between meal services.

There’s also a sizable bar serving coffee drinks, wine, beer and cocktails. The airline has partnered with hotel and spa brand Six Senses to open a spa in the lounge, where guests can schedule free 15-minute treatments including massages and facials before their flights. Gents can also get a haircut and a shave at the small salon (which is free for first-class passengers, but paid for business-class flyers). If you want to clean up on your own, there are also shower suites in black marble and granite with hammam-like tiled showers that are stocked with The White Company products.

Access: To get in, you need to be flying Etihad in first or business class; be an Etihad Guest Silver, Gold or Gold Elite; or a Virgin Australia Platinum Velocity member flying on Etihad.

7. Emirates First Class Lounge, Dubai (DXB)

Emirates' First Class Lounge in Dubai even has a wine cellar where you can arrange a tasting.
Emirates’ First Class Lounge in Dubai even has a wine cellar where you can arrange a tasting. Image courtesy of Emirates.

The Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai is basically a terminal unto itself, since it sits above the main international terminal of the airport and runs almost its entire length, including with its own set of Duty Free shops and all. In addition to the usual sitting areas, there’s a gentlemen’s club-like cigar lounge complete with leather armchairs and stained-glass partitions, a wine cellar for impromptu tastings, an enormous business center and even a fountain around which you can sit and chat. The in-lounge Timeless Spa offers flyers complimentary 15-minute treatments including facials and massages, and the private shower suites stock high-end Babor products.

Guests can also spend some time dining either at the buffet or a la carte in the enormous dining room (complete with white tablecloths) under the terminal’s soaring vaulted ceiling. If you need a nap, there are even two sleeping rooms with day beds dressed with pillows and blankets for having a quick snooze between flights. The simplest, but perhaps best, amenity? Guests in the lounge can board their aircraft directly rather than having to go back into the terminal and to their gate.

Access: To get in here, you need to be an Emirates Skywards Platinum elite, or departing in first class on an Emirates flight, though some flyers have stretched this if they’ve arrived in first class but are continuing in business class, so it never hurts to try!

8. Cathay Pacific The Wing, Hong Kong (HKG)

Cathay's Wing Lounge in Hong Kong has a noodle bar that's a favorite among frequent flyers.
The noodle bar at Cathay’s Wing Lounge in Hong Kong is a favorite among frequent flyers.

Cathay actually has a network of lounges in its Hong Kong hub, including the Cabin and the Pier, but if you’re flying back to North America, chances are you’ll be visiting the Wing since it’s nearest to the international departure gates. The first-class area is separate from the business-class lounge, though both are up a level from the main concourse. Racking up perhaps the most shower suites of any lounge on our list with 24 in total (all done up with Travertine marble and bamboo accents), the Wing is a great place to kick back for a few hours and get refreshed and cleaned up before a transpacific odyssey.

After you’ve scrubbed and dried, there are plenty of other distractions, including a noodle bar (the won tons and the spicy dan dan noodles are particular favorites), an espresso bar (the Coffee Loft) and a cocktail at the Long Bar. If you’re traveling solo or craving an intimate tête à tête, the signature circular Solus Chairs (designed by London firm Foster + Partners) are a must. For those traveling fist class, there’s a dedicated champagne bar with leather sofas and chaises, and an a la carte dining room called The Haven. Then you can freshen up in one of five new cabanas, each with its own shower, full-size tub and a daybed for napping.

Access: The business-class lounge is open to passengers flying business class on Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and other Oneworld carriers. The first-class lounge is open to passengers flying Cathay Pacific, Dragonair or Oneworld carriers in first class plus a guest. Marco Polo Gold elites can access the business-class lounge with a guest and Marco Polo Platinum elites can access the business- or first-class lounges with two guests when departing in first class on Cathay, Dragonair or Oneworld carriers. Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members plus a guest can access the business-class lounge when departing on Cathay, Dragonair or Oneworld carriers, while Emerald members (plus a guest) also have access to the first-class lounge.

9. Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge, Istanbul (IST)

Turkish's stylish Istanbul lounge has won a lot of design awards.
Turkish’s stylish Istanbul lounge has won a lot of design awards. Image courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

Over the past few years, Turkish Airlines has dramatically improved and expanded its fleet, service, route map and ground facilities, including this design-award-winning flagship lounge at the airline’s hub in Istanbul. The lounge recently added a whole second floor (on a lower level, actually) back in early 2014, nearly doubling it in size. Among the special features you can find here are a billiards room and library, a cinema (complete with popcorn machine), a children’s playroom, golf simulators, a prayer room, a small tea garden where guests can enjoy traditional Turkish tea and even a lounge area with a grand piano with live music.

Passengers can also indulge in a number of regional specialties from around the country catered by upscale firm Do & Co. For guests looking to relax and freshen up, there are also day rooms for resting that are available to flyers laying over between long-haul Turkish Airlines flights, all-marble shower suites and even attendants on hand to give brief complimentary neck-and-shoulder massages (though there are also two automatic massage beds available for use).

Access: First- and business-class passengers on all Star Alliance flights including Turkish Airlines, Star Alliance Gold and Miles & Smiles Elite and Elite Plus members (and one guest) flying a Star Alliance carrier can enjoy the lounge.

10. Thai Airways Royal Orchid First Class Lounge, Bangkok (BKK)

A visit to THAI's Royal First lounge includes a one-hour massage.
A visit to THAI’s Royal First lounge includes a one-hour massage. Image courtesy of Thai.

Thai’s flagship first-class lounge might not be large (it accommodates up to just 134 guests at a time), but it’s among the most sought-after experiences in the frequent-flyer world because when you book a first-class ticket on Thai departing Bangkok, you get a free one-hour full-body massage at the in-lounge spa included!

The lounge also has two private rooms for meetings, several cozy nooks, an a la carte dining room that serves up to 22 diners at a time, and a few napping cubicles for getting some shut-eye, not to mention shower suites (with Oriental Essence amenities) for freshening up before your onward journey. The small buffet is nothing to write home about, but after that massage, you won’t care.

Access: Those flying the airline’s Royal First Class departing on a Thai flight that same day can enter (along with a guest departing the same day on any Star Alliance-operated flight). Passengers on Star Alliance-operated flights with first-class tickets can also enter (along with a guest on a Star Alliance flight), as can Royal Orchid Plus Platinum cardholders departing same-day on a Thai-operated international flight along with one guest on a Thai-operated flight.

What’s your favorite international airline lounge?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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