More than ever, I’ve been skipping the airport lounge and heading straight to the gate.
With throngs of travelers taking to the skies, many lounges are once again suffering from overcrowding, leading to standby waitlists for entry, dirty tables inside and understocked buffets.
If I arrive at the airport early, I’ll usually pop by the lounge to see how crowded it is. If it’s not too busy and I can find a quiet seat, I’ll enter. If not, I’ll just find a quiet space to sit and catch up on work in the terminal itself.
In many cases, I won’t even plan to arrive at the airport early. Instead, I’ll just budget enough time to clear security and arrive at my gate just as boarding begins.
However, there are some lounges that are always worth visiting, regardless of the crowding situation. In fact, assuming that I have access, I’ll even get to the airport early to enjoy one of these seven lounges.
Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter
Delta Sky Club — LAX
Delta Air Lines unveiled its brand-new Sky Way terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) earlier this year. While every Delta flyer will now use the upgraded departures and arrivals hall, those with access to the Sky Club are in for a real treat.
That’s because the new terminal is home to a stunning 30,000-square-foot Sky Club, which features some of the snazziest amenities you can find in an airport lounge.
My personal favorite is the massive year-round open-air Sky Deck that features a retractable roof, edge-to-edge bar and endless views of the apron, runways and Hollywood hills in the distance.
In fact, this Sky Deck has become one of the best places to spot planes in all of LAX.
Inside, the lounge features two massive buffets, a stylish coffee grotto lined in Italian mosaic tiles, plenty of private phone booths, spacious shower suites and much more.
American and British Airways Chelsea Lounge — JFK
British Airways just moved into Terminal 8 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). As part of the colocation with American Airlines, the two carriers unveiled three new lounges (two brand-new spaces and one rebranded, expanded one.)
While I’ve only visited the lounge during a media tour, I left very impressed — so much so that I’d go out of my way to use it before my next eligible flight.
The Champagne bar is especially striking, and the food and drinks on offer are poised to be some of the best that the two carriers serve on the ground.
The menu is curated by chef Ayesha Nurdjaja of New York City’s Shuka and Shukette fame.
United Polaris Lounge — IAD
United’s Polaris Lounges are dedicated to those flying in premium cabins on long-haul routes (with even stricter access rules than the Flagship Lounge).
They feature sit-down bistro restaurants, upgraded seating areas, stylish bars and more.
The newest Polaris Lounge just recently opened late last year in the Washington, D.C. area at United’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) hub, and it builds on a strong foundation set by the carrier’s existing six Polaris Lounges.
Thanks to its luxurious design, locally inspired artwork and eye-catching bar, the Dulles location is my personal favorite in the entire network.
Qantas First Lounge — LAX
Some savvy travelers believe that the Qantas First Lounge at LAX is the best in the U.S.
While I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, it does offer spectacular food and beverage options in a spacious dining room. There’s also a long bar stocked with top-shelf liquors.
The downside to this lounge is that the seating and relaxation areas can often get quite crowded. Plus, the interior terminal views don’t offer any natural light (or plane-spotting opportunities).
Top-tier Oneworld Emerald elites can use this lounge, subject to some notable exceptions for American Airlines travelers.
American Express Centurion Lounge — JFK
American Express has built a network of lounges that cardmembers want to visit. This often leads to overcrowding, which can be especially frustrating when you need to grab a bite to eat or refresh during a connection.
While the issuer’s 15 outposts are a cut above the airline membership lounges in the same airport, there’s one in particular that I always try to visit.
That’s the location in JFK. Split across two levels, the JFK Centurion Lounge is my favorite. With lots of seating, fantastic views of the jets in Terminal 4, six private phone booths and an Equinox Body Lab, you’re bound to enjoy your time in this space.
Be sure to visit the hidden speakeasy at the lower level for a drink in one of the trendiest bars in all of Queens.
Capital One Lounge — DFW
For years, American Express was the sole credit card issuer with airport lounges. But that changed last year when Capital One unveiled its first club in American’s Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) mega-hub.
While Capital One currently has just one outpost in its network, the lounge itself is one of the nicest in the country.
It has the basics covered, and it incorporates some standout features including a fridge stocked with takeaway food and beverage options, a Peloton cycling and yoga studio, two private relaxation rooms and a shower suite.
These days, when I pass through DFW, this is the only lounge that’s worth taking the Skylink train for.
The good news is that Capital One is growing its lounge network, with outposts opening at IAD and Denver International Airport (DEN) next year.
Bonus: Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge — Moynihan Train Hall
Though this technically isn’t an airport lounge, Amtrak’s new Metropolitan Lounge in New York’s Moynihan Station deserves special mention.
In fact, when compiling this guide, this was the first lounge I identified as one worth arriving early for.
The club’s locally inspired design beats most domestic airport lounges, and the food and beverage offerings are actually quite impressive for Amtrak.
There’s even an open-air deck that overlooks the train station, along with a wide range of seating areas inside.
It’s just too bad United axed its partnership with Amtrak — part of which included reciprocal lounge access. Otherwise, this could indeed be loosely considered an airline lounge.
These days, most airport lounges aren’t necessarily worth visiting due to overcrowding. With demand for travel at record levels, there are many more eligible travelers than there are seats in lounges on the busiest travel days.
In many cases, I don’t think it’s worth spending extra time in the airport just to visit a lounge. However, there are seven exceptions within the U.S.
Whether it’s the unique amenities or above-average culinary offerings, I find myself adding time to the travel journey to make a stop in one of the seven lounges listed above.
If there are any domestic lounges that I missed, be sure to let me know!