What Does Complimentary Mean? The Lure Of Lounge Access


There are a lot of credit cards out there that are offering up “Complimentary Lounge Access” as a perk.  In general, this offer means on of two things.  If the credit card is one affiliated with a specific airline, like the Delta Reserve Card or the Continental Airlines Presidential Plus card, and they are promising access to a specific club, then the deal is strait forward.  Another legitimate deal is the American Express Platinum card, which offers free access to a variety of different airline’s lounges.

Other Cards Offering “Complimentary Access”

You and I might see the word “complimentary” and come to the conclusion that what they are offering is free. If so, you and I would not be thinking like a credit card marketing person. Take for example Chase Ink Plus card.  It advertises “Complimentary Airport Lounge Access*”.  If you are wondering what the asterisk denotes, don’t bother scrolling to the bottom of the page, because there is no explanation.  If you look hard enough, you will find another page where the complimentary access is described as membership in the Priority Pass program which allows you to merely gain discounted access to various clubs for $27.  Note that anyone has access to any club, so long as they pay the daily rate, which is typically $35-50.   So complimentary here really means a discounted rate.  In their defense, they do offer the first two visits for free.  Still, they couldn’t just say “two free visits,” they have to imply that access is complimentary.

What’s Lounge Access Worth?

While you can lounge access for $35-50, and you can an annual pass for $300-400, I have never done either.  First, I live in Denver, a fairly large airline hub.  Therefore, I almost never have to change planes in order to travel domestically.  When I do, I am able to time my connections such that I am only on the ground for about 1-2 hours.  That just isn’t enough time to seek out a lounge, spend some time there, and then get to my gate 30 minutes ahead of time.   What more, I don’t really find the lounges to be all that great.  Most provide very little in terms of free food and drink, and they can be quite crowded.   A free newspaper isn’t so bad, but it really isn’t worth the daily or annual rate.  In fact, I have gotten quite lucky at spending my time at an unoccupied gate reading a book or working on my computer.

International connections are a whole other story.   When I get off an overnight flight, I am desperately seeking a shower.  Lately, I have been using all my tips and tricks for accumulating miles to ensure that I end up in business class for my annual international excursions.  In that case, I do get access to the business lounge and their precious showers.

What Would Compel Me To Pay For Lounge Access?

If I lived in a non-hub city that required me to regularly make connections to complete my trip.  Those people will often find themselves hanging out at the airline hubs, waiting out weather or mechanical delays.  Some might seek out their favorite restaurant, while others will simply need a decent lounge.  Another huge plus is that the lounges are staffed with ticketing agents who tend to be a cut above the rest in terms of training and willingness to assist.   You would also avoid some of these mile long lines that pop up  around the regular customer service counters at major airports whenever there is a major weather delay.

For many people, lounge access can be a major perk when forced to take connecting flights.  Just make sure the “complimentary access” you are promised is more than just a few bucks off of the standard admission fees.

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