Is Everything In Airline Lounges Free?

Reader Sonu asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:

I was wondering, how expensive are food on first class lounges (assuming I am a first class traveller)? And is there any lounge which offers free food?

If you’ve flown a lot of first and business class products then by all means skip this post, as I’m sure the answer is obvious to many of you. However, I also suspect there are plenty of people out there who are confused by this, so think it’s worth addressing in a post. After all, it’s not terribly obvious that everything in an airline lounge should be free.

As a general rule of thumb, most things in an airline lounge are complimentary. They should be complimentary unless otherwise stated. Obviously the exact policies vary by lounge, but in general I’d say the following:

  • At U.S. lounges most food and drinks are complimentary, with the exception of premium alcohol and the meals for purchase
  • In international business and first class class lounges, all food and drinks should be free

There are always exceptions, though I think that’s the best way I can break it down simply. The biggest exception to the above is when it comes to airlines offering add-on services in their lounges.

For example, many airlines have spas for passengers, offering treatments ranging from massages to facials to haircuts. In some cases they’re free — for example, if you’re flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, you get a free treatment in the Clubhouse. However, if you’re using the New York Clubhouse when flying Singapore Airlines Suites Class, you’ll have to pay for treatments, whether it be a massage or haircut.

Virgin-Clubhouse-JFK-28

Say you’re flying the Etihad First Class Apartment. They have a salon and also a spa. As a first class passenger you’re entitled to a treatment in one or the other, but not both (anymore). So you can get a shave or a 15 minute massage for free, but if you want both, you’ll have to pay for one of them.

Etihad-Arrivals-Lounge-Abu-Dhabi - 27

Even the world’s best first class lounge, the Air France First Class Lounge Paris, has some add on treatments. All the food and drinks are complimentary, and you can even get a free spa treatment. However, if you want one of the extended treatments, you have to pay.

Air-France-First-Class-Lounge-Paris - 76

The Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai has a cigar bar, and they even have a selection of cigars available. However, if you didn’t bring your own cigars and want to buy one, you’ll have to pay for it.

Emirates-First-Class-Lounge-Dubai-49

Bottom line

It certainly varies by lounge, though in general you should expect everything to be free, unless there’s a menu with a price. All the best first class lounges in the world offer as much food and as many premium drinks as you’d like at no cost. So you can eat and drink to your heart’s content.

Air-France-First-Class-Lounge-Paris - 59

At domestic or contract lounges, you may find that there’s a charge for premium drinks and food.

The most inconsistent area is when it comes to add on services. Some lounges offer massages, shoe shines, cigars, etc., and whether or not that’s free varies by lounge.

Comments

  1. Biggest annoyance for me with domestic US lounges is the charge for premium draft beers. I mean really? So i can get a Bud Light for free but have to pay $7 for something halfway decent? Feels so ticky tack to me.

  2. @Matt B
    Its also annoying when in one lounge a Shiner Bock is free. Then you travel 1,000 miles ask for a shiner bock and its $7. So now I am the annoying cheap guy that even when ordering a bud light i confirm its free.

  3. AmEx Centurion lounges outshine most others in this area, with free high-quality food buffets and free full-access bars, including some awesome craft cocktails that vary from city to city. So much better than the tired hummus, dried-up cut veggies and poor quality house wines & well drinks that the airline lounges offer.

  4. I was at the Virgin America Loft at LAX recently and couldn’t figure out if well drinks were free. Beer and wine were free, but they had a long menu of paid cocktails. I wasn’t sure if lower end spirits were free, but I didn’t ask. Anyone know?

  5. Better to be cheap than beg of handouts from the government. But Americans would rather live on handouts than appear cheap.

  6. Oh how I wish the Cuban cigars were free at the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai.

    /Can’t complain, really.
    //They’re a lot cheaper than what I’ve paid in Canada.

  7. Just to be clear, Etihad offers a free treatment to passengers DEPARTING in F. If you’re arriving in F but your connecting flight is in J, they’ll let you into the F lounge but make you pay for the spa. There were two of us in F on my last SYD-AUH flight who tried to get a free treatment but were refused. I was going to DOH and the other guy was connecting to CAI as I recall, both of us in J for the final leg. It’s absurd.

  8. Admirals clubs are not consistent either. They have a free premium drink bar at one of their JFK lounges, but their 2nd lounge at JFK is not free. In Paris CDG they have an awesome premium buffet with self serve premium bar. In Honolulu you get a premium self serve bar and Japanese buffet, all be it; it’s spam sushi and ramen soup. The rest of the Lounges in the USA are all the same no frills. Not consistent at all.

  9. I always ask, as i feel , that if i take the free drinks, I am in lots of ways helping my fellow travelers, by not holding up the line , using points or cash< to pay for drinks, Ha Ha. I understand a great Whisky , or Brandy, etc should be extra, but Bud, Blue moon, they are $12, for 18/24 in the supermarkets,

  10. Don’t forget the massages at Emirates First / Business Class Lounges in Dubai. It’s complimentary for First Class passengers but Business Class passengers must pay for it.

  11. Three years ago I had to pay for my food at the AA international lounge in terminal B at LAX. But I was given “vouchers” for free alcohol….

  12. I had the experience, that in the AA lounges (PHL, ORD) you get one voucher for an alcoholic drink (Beer, longdrink doesn’t matter) and only water is free. Softdrinks also had to be paid. Couldn*t really understand…

  13. Only some treatments are free in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses nowadays. This also changes. I have previously have had a safety shave (non cuthroat) for free, but nowadays you’ll pay £15 for in Heathrow or Gatwick. Probably same in the other Clubhouses…

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