Airline lounges are hardly created equal. Many have bare-bones amenities, limited seating and far too many people. These extremely average lounges are often just a step up from the cramped gate area.
The more premium ones, however, are fine for killing an hour or two between flights. They offer tasty, if predictable, food, reliable WiFi, and comfortable chairs and work stations as you travel.
And then there’s the other lounge, the kind that can be best described as the sublimely luxurious.
A handful of ultra-exclusive lounges, Instagram-worthy spaces with impressive settings that only a privileged few have access to, are attended by staff who act more like concierges at five-star hotels than airline employees. The food is on par with top-rated restaurants globally, and the variety of wine and spirits available is stellar.
Many of the lounges have spas, or, at the very least, full shower facilities so you can arrive at your destination ready to hit the ground running.
“These are the lounges that flyers die to get into,” says Michael Holtz, the owner of SmartFlyer, a global travel consultancy specializing in airports and airlines. “And, if you do have entry, you want a long layover just so you can spend time in them.”
Access, Holtz explains, is usually limited to those who have the deep pockets to buy a ticket for a seat in the airline’s highest class or for fliers who log loads of miles with the carrier each year.
Here, eight of the most crème de la crème airline lounges in the world. All on this list — with the exception of United, which has several impressive lounges around the country — are the given carrier’s flagship lounge.
Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport
Who gets access: Passengers in first class — a round-trip ticket between Sydney and Los Angeles can run close to $12,000.
Platinum-level frequent fliers also have lounge access and reach this status by earning 1,400 credits in a year-long period. That’s the equivalent of six business class round-trip flights between Singapore and Sydney. Each person allowed in can bring in up to two guests.
Size: Around 23,000 square feet
What makes it extravagant: Qantas’ flagship first class lounge was designed using Feng Shui principles and has no corners, except for the floor-to-ceiling windows. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a spectacular vertical garden comprised of more than 8,500 plants like ferns and moss.
Other notable design features include white Carrera marble walls and floors (the marble comes from the same quarry in Italy that Michelangelo used centuries ago for his famous sculptures) and retro-inspired aviation touches such as flight screen boards and air vents modeled on a 1950s Lockhead Constellation plane.
Fliers can opt for a spa treatment such as a massage, facial or reflexology session, all of which are a part of the lounge experience and not an additional cost.
Another inviting option is the lounge’s wood-paneled library, where a smattering of buttery-soft leather couches and a top-shelf bar with free-flowing Champagne from brands like Perrier-Jouet awaits.
There’s also the lounge’s world-class restaurant serving up dishes created by famed Australian chef Neil Perry. The breakfast menu of more than 20 items includes yogurt, apricots and toasted almonds topped with honey from Qanatas’ own beehives while the all-day menu has a lengthy list of choices such as organic beef brisket with miso in a wasabi butter sauce and salt and pepper squid with a green chili dipping sauce.
Emirates First Class Lounge in Concourse A at Dubai International Airport
Who gets access: First class fliers. Purchasing a round-trip ticket between Dubai and New York outright can be had for upwards of $23,000.
These fliers can bring in just one guest. Platinum Skywards members are also allowed lounge access by achieving status by earning 150,000 tier miles, which are calculated based on fare, route and class; these loyal members can bring in up to three guests.
Size: Almost 100,000 square feet
What makes it extravagant: With a design that includes gold and red hues, mini-fountains and cream marble, this lounge has an opulence in line with the lavishness that defines Dubai.
Amenities include a spacious quiet area with day beds, plush blankets and pillows, a cigar lounge, a children’s section with video games, a coffee bar, a wine cellar, a bar with a long list of spirits and cocktails and a dedicated Moet & Chandon Champagne lounge.