Airport lounge tips from CEO who turned airline clubs into a business
Premium reward cards can help you gain access to lounges; LoungeBuddy can help you compare them
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com
As a founder of three technology companies before age 30, Tyler Dikman was unaccustomed to sitting still. But when he did sit, it was often in an airport lounge en route to business meetings.
That’s where, in 2014, inspiration struck the young entrepreneur. He knew there were a lot of lounges around the world, but little information about what they offered existed. What if he built an app that provided information and reviews of airport lounges?
Today, Dikman, age 33, is CEO of LoungeBuddy, an 18-person company backed by venture capital and based in San Francisco. The company offers an app that provides a central hub of information on airport lounges and sells reservations to some of them.
Reward credit cards have helped fuel increased interest in airport lounges, as many premium cards offer lounge access as a perk. Premium airline cards, such as the Chase United MileagePlus Club card, the American Express Delta Reserve card and the Citi /AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard all have $450 annual fees and offer access to their airline’s lounges. But other premium cards are emerging, too, that can gain entry to independent lounges, including the American Express Platinum card and a host of cards that come with Priority Pass access.
Dikman shares his thoughts on the best way to use cards to unlock lounge access, as well as emerging trends he sees in airport lounges (answers have been edited for space and clarity):
On the value of premium cards with lounge access:
Oftentimes, the credit card annual fee is less expensive than the annual membership fee that you would pay to become a member of one of these lounges. You almost always come out ahead by getting the credit card versus getting a direct membership with an airport lounge provider. And in addition to that, you get a lot of other perks that come along with that card.
There are some additional things that are, I would say, more little-known benefits. For example, with the American Express Platinum card, for example, even though it doesn’t offer access to United clubs, you can still use your $200 incidental benefit you receive annually toward the purchase of one-day passes for United, for example, as long as you select United as the carrier.
That gives you flexibility. In the example of the American Express Platinum card, you can use Delta Sky Clubs. You can have access to the American Express Centurion lounges, and also get access with the Priority Pass card that comes with the credit card. Plus, you have that $200 to spend that you can use toward your preferred airline that you have to select.
On when a card with lounge access makes sense:
The big takeaway when it comes to lounge access is to look at your travels. See what airline you are flying and where you are passing through. If you think you can take advantage of a lounge seven or eight times a year – if you would otherwise spend money at the airport on food and drinks – that alone should more than offset your annual fee that you otherwise pay with those expensive cards.
As everything becomes a la carte in the air travel industry, it’s nice to be able to have a nice first-class experience on the ground, even if you’re not in a first-class seat on a plane. It’s pretty much the least expensive luxury that is available to almost anyone.
On why lounges seem to be getting nicer:
Things have changed a lot in the past couple of years. Both international competition and products like the Centurion Lounge have really shown that these lounges can’t just be glorified waiting rooms. They need to provide some differentiation. Because some airports are getting pleasant, the question becomes, “If all it is is a glorified waiting area, would I rather wait in the airport?”
On how he became interested in airport lounges:
I’ve flown about 2 million miles myself. I have experienced almost every form of travel-related issue a typical traveler could experience. I found myself spending a lot of time in airports.
I had no control over a lot of things, but I did have control over what I did with my time. I started to learn a lot about lounges. I very quickly realized that the lounge industry didn’t have a lot of technology or good data. There were lots of travelers out there who didn’t know a lot about airport lounges in general.
I set out to help innovate in an industry that targets the most valuable travelers in the world, but that didn’t have the most valuable data out there.
So we set out to become the global leader in airport lounge content. It can help you decide which lounge is right for you. For instance, if you’re deciding between two lounges, you can see this one has showers, and that one has awesome reviews.
Then we continued to innovate and create a real-time inventory management platform. That allows us to help these lounges bring in the right number of travelers at the right time. Today, millions of travelers rely on LoungeBuddy for content and bookings.
- Reward card sign-up bonuses not all created equal – Big card sign-up bonuses turn heads, but do the math first. A hotel card's 100,000 points generally are less valuable than other rewards card bonuses ...
- Do the math to compare reward points' values – When weighing reward redemption possibilities, this simple calculation will help you derive relative points values ...
- If you're new to rewards cards, start slowly – What's your goal? Weigh sign-up bonus, annual fee, rewards complexity ...