Airport lounges – VIP or VV-poor?

They promise an oasis of calm and a bit of luxury amid the chaos of a busy airport terminal – but all too often airport lounges offer an underwhelming experience and poor value for money.

Which? Travel reviewers inspected 20 pay-as-you-go airport lounges in the UK and found that many do not offer more than a glass of cheap wine and a sad handful of stale crisps, with the average score a just about adequate 2.4 out of five.

Southend Skylife Lounge promises to let you “live the high life” – but it had the lowest score of all twenty lounges we inspected, mustering a score of just one out of five.

It was one of only a handful of lounges where there was no hot food available, but piles of soggy pre-packed sandwiches’ instead.

This is in stark contrast to the airport itself, which passengers found was well-equipped and queue-free in Which?’s annual airport survey back in September.

Aspire runs more than a dozen UK airport lounges, but the lounges our inspectors visited gained an average score of just two out of five – and none of our inspectors believed the Aspire lounges they visited were worth the money.

Luton Airport was rated the best Aspire facility, with two and a half out of five. Inspectors described this lounge as ‘bland’ and ‘claustrophobic’ but deemed it a comfortable alternative to a busy airport that is short on seating.

At the pricier end of the scale, Heathrow’s No1 T3 lounge was the best we inspected – earning a four out of five rating.

Inspectors praised the cinema, complimentary a la carte menu and l’Occitane toiletries available in the ‘spotlessly clean’ bathrooms.

The Birmingham No1 lounge had the edge over the Birmingham Aspire but still only scored 2.5 out of five. Inspectors described the lounge as ‘bog-standard-looking’ but praised the fully tended bar and unlike its Aspire counterpart, this lounge did not impose a two drink limit or an extra charge for prosecco.

Both Edinburgh options also failed to impress. While the Aspire lounge edged ahead for its cheaper price, inspectors found the foyer ‘dingy’, food ‘bland’ and added that passengers should only visit if they had secured a very good discount.

The most highly rated airport lounge in Manchester and the second most highly rated overall was the Manchester 1903 T3. Despite this lounge being £10 more than the Escape lounge in the same terminal, reviewers felt the well kept self-service bar and freshly prepared specials were worth the extra outlay although they also said the two-hour time limit was ‘stingy’.

Stansted Escape scored three out five, despite ‘ugly plastic fittings’ and ‘lime-green branding’ inspectors found the food on offer was ‘delicious’ and judged it as good value for money, at £25 for those who pre booked.

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel said:

“A pay-as-you-go lounge to start your holiday early might seem like a great option if you are willing to fork out a bit extra. But as our research shows, in many cases you might be better off with a pie and a pint in the airport pub.”

Notes to Editors:

  • Between August and December 2017, Which? reviewed 20 lounges at eight UK airports. Each lounge was visited by a member of the Which? research team.

  • London Southend was rated the second highest in the small airport category of Which?’s annual airport survey in September 2017, details can be found here:

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