airport lounge access without Elite status

This posting is about getting lounge access if you’re flying economy, without Elite status.  This post has a focus on Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges (MLL) and Canadian options.  It also looks at paid options for other lounges.

An airport lounge can be useful if you have a while to wait: it’s a bit quieter, you get a bit of food, and if you’re traveling alone with carry-ons, you can go to the washroom while more-or-less-safely leaving your bags behind.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges happen to have particularly complicated access options. I have tried to decode them as best I can.

Note that the price for adding a guest, the price to add lounge access to a ticket, and the number of Aeroplan miles needed to get membership/passes continues to increase almost yearly.

UPDATE 2013-02-10: Also note, MLL access requires a confirmed same-day ticket on Air Canada or a Star Alliance partner; you can’t use the Maple Leaf Lounge if you’re flying on a non-partner airline.  This isn’t reciprocal: MLL access usually doesn’t mean you can use a Star Alliance lounge; you have to be flying with that specific Star Alliance airline.  ENDUPDATE

UPDATE 2013-11-04: CIBC will no longer be offering Club Privileges Travel after 2013.  All cards will expire Dec 31, 2013 at the latest.  ENDUPDATE

Air Canada: Canada, Paris, London, Los Angeles…

There aren’t many Maple Leaf Lounges. They’re across Canada, but internationally there are only lounges in Paris, London (both departure & arrival lounges), Frankfurt, Los Angeles and New York, LaGuardia airport (LGA).

You can see the list of lounges at http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/airport/maplelounges/locations.html

Air Canada’s Frankfurt lounge is in Terminal 1, Concourse/Departures B (Level 3) as of 2013.

The basic level of MLL access only gives you access to those lounges. So it’s really only useful if you’re traveling within Canada or to one or more of those five international destinations.  Also note, if you’re departing for the US, there is no MLL lounge access in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa and Winnipeg as the US preclearance takes you to a separate departures area.

You can sort of get the lounge access story at http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/airport/maplelounges/access.html

The basic options are:

  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club – Canada*
  • buy (with Aeroplan miles) Maple Leaf Lounge passes**
  • CIBC Club Privileges Travel / Club Travel Privileges
  • American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum
  • lounge access added when you purchase Air Canada ticket (from AirCanada.com)

* Canadian lounges ONLY
** North American lounges ONLY

access price limitations add guest? extras
Air Canada Maple Leaf Club – Canada $375/year or 48,500 Aeromiles/year Canadian lounges ONLY yes***
Maple Leaf Lounge Pass 7000 Aeromiles North American lounges ONLY. One pass per person per lounge. no
CIBC Club Privileges Travel $189/year but you must already have a CIBC Aerogold Visa card ($120/year) yes***
American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum $499/year yes*** Priority Pass Standard membership ($100 value)****
lounge access purchased with ticket $25-$50 per direction, see price table below no

*** $15 per additional person per lounge (before 11am) / $25 per guest per lounge (after 11am)
**** for Priority Pass standard you still have to pay $27 per person (including the member) per lounge

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access can be purchased for the following fares (rates listed are per one-way trip).  Lounge access can be added online up to 24 hours before the flight.

  • Latitude fares: $25 CAD/USD
  • Flex fares: $50 CAD/USD

I don’t think it’s worth it using Aeromiles for club membership or particularly for a pass, you’re paying 48,500 miles for $375 worth of service or 7000 miles for about $50 of service.

As far as I know, you can’t buy a MLL day pass or pay to enter the lounge at the front desk.  Unlike most of the US airlines (which let you buy day passes online or at front desk), unless you’ve added MLL access to your ticket 24 hours in advance or have access due to one of the options listed above, you won’t be able to get into the lounge.

UPDATE 2014-01-23: Although TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite is advertising “Access to the Maple Leaf™ Lounge” this is extremely misleading.  It’s not a general MLL access card.  They’re actually offering only one single Guest Pass (one use of one lounge by one person), valid only if you’re travelling on an Aeroplan rewards ticket (not a regular ticket), with an expiry date (after one year), valid for all MLL except Heathrow arrivals.  It’s so restrictive as to be essentially worthless.  ENDUPDATE

UPDATE 2014-02-23: If you have a business-class ticket you get lounge access automatically. For Air Canada Altitude Elite 50k and above, you get lounge access automatically.  For Air Canada Elite 35k you have to choose “Complimentary access to International Maple Leaf Lounges and Star Alliance Business Lounges” as a Select Privilege.  ENDUPDATE

UPDATE 2014-03-02:  Air Canada Altitude Elite have “additional privilege of access to the domestic Maple Leaf Lounge upon arriving at airports in Canada”.  ENDUPDATE

AmEx AeroplanPlus Platinum is NOT a Platinum Card

In general despite the name, the AmEx AeroplanPlus “Platinum” card does NOT have the same lounge access rights as a regular AmEx Platinum card. The primary focus of the AmEx AeroplanPlus Platinum is Maple Leaf Lounge access.

You do not get AmEx Platinum Concierge services.  You do not get free AmEx Platinum lounge access.  This means:

  • VIP lounge in Quebec City – no free access.  Instead you either pay $35 or if you prefer to use the Priority Pass membership card you pay the US$27 Priority Pass lounge fee.
  • Plaza Premium lounges – no free access (have to pay for access)
  • Servisair Executive lounges – no free access (have to pay for access)
  • AmEx Centurion Lounges – access with any AmEx card but not free, need to pay for $50 one-day pass.  Purchase pass at lounge only.  (Paid access not verified but consistent with their Platinum card policy.)

See AMEX Aeroplan Platinum No More Plaza Premium/Servisair Access in FlyerTalk.

To get free access to the set of Platinum card lounges you need to get the regular AmEx Platinum card (which is $699/year).  This regular AmEx Platinum card does not give you Maple Leaf Lounge access.  Instead it gives you free access to American Airlines, Delta, US Airways, and Centurion lounges.  (Check the Airport Club Access Page for details; the participating lounges may change.)  Although the regular AmEx Platinum earns “points”, you can convert those points 1-for-1 to Aeroplan miles.

You can see how Canadian AmEx Platinum (left), AmEx AeroplanPlus Platinum (centre), and AmEx AeroplanPlus Gold (right) compare in the table below:

AmEx-card-compare

For Toronto Pearson specifically, AmEx has info about what access you get with the AmEx Aeroplan Platinum and the AmEx regular Platinum cards at http://www.amexcloud10.ca/

CIBC Club Privileges Travel

The CIBC Club Privileges Travel card no longer exists.

IF you already have a CIBC Aerogold card the Club Privileges Travel add-on is not bad if you will be flying more than a few times in locations where there are lounges. You can currently ONLY buy it over the phone 1-888-737-2665 (select the “all other services” option). There’s supposed to be a website www.aerogoldtravelclub.com but it has been down for months. You can view the old (may no longer be valid) pages in the Wayback Machine: CIBC Club Privileges Travel (February 2, 2011); Participating Airports (more or less same as the lounge list from Air Canada above).

TD AerOPLAN VISA INFINITE PRIVILEGE

Given that the condition to get the card is “Minimum of $200,000 annual gross household income”, this is an option that applies to almost no one.  The card itself is $400 per year.  It has 4 MLL guest passes a year, but like the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite pass, these are only if you’re travelling on an Aeroplan rewards flight, and as always, it’s one pass per person per lounge.  (So basically useless.)  In addition, it has complimentary membership to Airport Angel lounge service, and six complimentary visits.  This is worth maybe $150 a year.  It’s not clear if this is a yearly free membership, with six visits a year, or one-time.  It’s also not clear if it’s a member and guest membership, or member only.  Airport Angel lounges include some MLL lounges.  There is more information about Airport Angel at https://www.airportangel.co.uk/ and pricing at http://www.cppdirect.co.uk/airport-angel/ as well as a section on the service along with other paid lounge options towards the bottom of this post.

OTHER vERY-HIGH-END CARDS

There are other very-high-end cards in Canada that include lounge access.  Be aware that some US VIP card branding and features are different from Canada.  In general if you have enough money to be eligible for these very-high-end cards you should have enough money not to have to worry about lounge options.

Selecting an option

For just the Air Canada Maple Leaf Club specifically, there are two higher levels of membership: North America for $495/year and Worldwide for $665/year. You can see the available lounges (many more than just Air Canada lounges) for those levels of membership at http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/airport/maplelounges/pop_mlclounges.html

You can see it’s fairly easy to figure out the best option as long as you know where and how much you will be traveling.  If you’re flying a lot, eventually the AmEx card will be cheaper than buying lounge access each time.  Given the high cost of just getting the Maple Leaf Club card, it appears to make more sense to get the AmEx card in most cases.
For one person if you have e.g. two trips to London it’s cheaper to add on CIBC Club Privileges Travel ($189) assuming you have an Aerogold card, than it would be to purchase the lounge with your ticket (it’s per-direction, so it would be 4x $55 = $220).

UPDATE 2013-02-10: The higher levels of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Club get you access to more non-Maple Leaf lounges.  But that’s only if you have that specific Club membership (yes, I know it’s confusing).  This access is specific to the Air Canada membership card; you don’t get the same levels of other lounge access with the CIBC and AmEx cards.  ENDUPDATE

Pay Lounge Options

In general European airlines don’t have an option to pay for access to their lounges.
However, there are various paid lounge options for international travel. There are both lounge subscription services, where you pay a yearly fee, and one-time lounge access (day pass) options.  The higher levels of Air Canada Maple Leaf Club as a subscription lounge access service.

Typical one-time prices are US$50 for a day pass, or 30 Euros/C$37 (sometimes for a day, but be careful, sometimes it’s only for 3 hours).

Note that you should check which terminal a lounge is in, and whether it’s for domestic or international departures. Buying lounge access is no use if you have to clear security into the international departures area and the lounge is in the domestic terminal.

United, American, and Delta lounges

UPDATE 2014-02-23: United Club, American Airlines Admirals Club, Delta Sky Club and US Airways Club all let you purchase a pass for access to their lounges for US$50 (per person).  You do not have to be flying with that airline, but you will need a ticket with some airline for that day.

You can buy the pass at the lounge front desk, or for all except US Airways you can buy passes for the lounges online (for United only with the app, not website).

Passes purchased online can be used once (on one travel day), any time within a year of purchase.  (Not sure if passes purchased at the door are also valid for use anytime within a year, if you don’t use them immediately.)

The American Airlines One Day Pass and the Delta Sky Club One-Day Pass  is valid at any lounge during your travel day (i.e. lounges in multiple airports if you have multiple stops).  For United One-time pass it’s only valid at one lounge.  (American Airlines terms are much clearer than Delta’s.  US Airways not clear.)

You can buy United one-time passes in the United app for U$50.  You enter your credit card information for purchase in-app.

The American Airlines app also has in-app purchasing of a day pass for U$50. ENDUPDATE

These airlines have many lounges around the world.

The American Airlines Paris lounge is between Terminal 2A & 2C (connector building) as of 2013.

GoSimply lounge service

GoSimply provides access to a range of for-pay day pass lounges, including in Canada: http://www.gosimply.com/airport-lounges/

It’s not a standalone lounge brand, it’s a way to get access to other brands of lounge. GoSimply has no eligible lounges in Helsinki or Frankfurt.  It has lounges in France including Paris Orly and Nice, but not Paris CDG.

Servisair lounges

Servisair operates lounges in airports around the world, including Canada. You can pay for (3 hours of) lounge access, e.g. Helsinki is 35 euros (about C$43).

Servisair has no lounge in Frankfurt and no lounges in France.

Plaza Premium Lounge

Plaza Premium Lounge operates lounges mainly in Malaysia, China and Saudi Arabia.  It does however have three lounges in Canada (Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver) and one at London Heathrow.  It is expensive.  In Toronto 2 hours is US$33 and 6 hours is US$62.  The AmEx regular Platinum card provides Plaza access, the AmEx Aeroplan Platinum card does not.  The Priority Pass (described below) also provides paid access to some Plaza Premium lounges.

Priority Pass

Priority Pass has many many lounges worldwide, including Canada. It is a yearly subscription service.  At the Standard level you pay $100/year and then $27 per person per lounge.  Priority Pass members can add accompanying guests for the same $27 per person per lounge.  The Standard level $100 membership is included with the AmEx AeroplanPlus Platinum card.

It’s not a standalone lounge brand, it’s a way to get access to other brands of lounge.  There are Priority Pass eligible lounges in Helsinki, Frankfurt, Paris and Nice.  In Paris CDG the Terminal 2 lounge is the Maple Leaf Lounge.

Airport Angel

Airport Angel has lounges worldwide, including Canada.  It is a yearly subscription service.  At the Standard level you pay £60 per year (approx C$110 per year) and get two included visits.  Additional visits are £15 per person per visit (about C$27 per person).  Some level of membership is included with the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege card.

It’s not a standalone lounge brand, it’s a way to get access to other brands of lounge.  There are Airport Angel eligible lounges in Helsinki and Frankfurt.  In Frankfurt the two lounges are the Air Canada MLL Terminal 1B lounge and the Sky Lounge in Terminal 2.

List of Paid Access Lounges

RewardsDB has a great Paid Lounge Access by Country & City list covering Priority Pass and day pass options, however note it is sometimes out of date.

Airport-specific Paid Lounges

Individual airports may have lounges where you can pay on-site.
For example Frankfurt lists: LuxxLounge Terminal 1 at 30 Euros/day and Sky Lounge Terminal 2 at 30 Euros per every 3 hours (e.g. 60 Euros for 6 hours).

Booking Business Class

Booking Business class just to get lounge access doesn’t make any sense. But there might be other reasons you book a Business class flight.

If you buy on the Air Canada site, you can split the class of travel per direction. For example, you can book your outgoing flight Business class (to get a bed for overnight flight to Europe) but your return flight Economy (since you will be awake during the day flight anyway).  This includes splitting class of travel using Aeroplan miles (there used to be a penalty for this but now each direction requires 50% of round-trip miles as you would expect – you may need to book two one-way flights to do this with Aeroplan miles).

Business class roundtrip to Europe using Aeroplan miles is a good deal. It costs 90,000 miles to Europe with about $1000 in fees. You can also change your booking for about $100. The booking window is very tight though. The moving Aeroplan window is a year minus 10 days (e.g. on July 19, 2012 you can book flights up to July 9, 2013). At least for high season to Europe, you have at most a couple weeks to book before all the Aeroplan business class flights at 90k are gone. Basically you need to book about a year in advance of your flight dates.

Upgrades

Typically if you have an economy ticket that you have upgraded to Business class, you DO NOT get lounge access (they base the access on the original class of the ticket, not the upgrade).