In a Nutshell: LoungeBuddy is an app-based booking service that lets travelers find and book an airport lounge visit for a small fee. The company was formed in 2013 and acquired by American Express in April 2019. The booking service is now exclusively available to Amex card members, but anyone can use the LoungeBuddy app to see which lounges are available at an airport they’re traveling through, and determine whether they may already be entitled to access through their credit card or airline miles programs. The average fee for a three-hour pass at an available lounge is around $50, and can be booked and paid for with the member’s Amex card. LoungeBuddy provides access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world, including those located at 31 airports in the U.S.
Airport lounges have been the exclusive purview of well-heeled executives and the globe-trotting elite for years — but one company set out to change all that. LoungeBuddy is an on-demand service that charges a small fee to let all travelers book access to premium lounges at airports around the world via its mobile app.
Founded in 2013 in the San Francisco Bay area, LoungeBuddy was acquired by American Express in 2019, and is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the credit card giant. American Express has long offered superior travel services and benefits to its members, and the acquisition of LoungeBuddy continues this commitment.
With air travel growing ever more stressful, airport lounges offer Amex cardholders a brief respite from long ticketing lines, intrusive security checks, and the general chaos of most airport terminals. They can relax in comfort with refreshments while waiting for their connecting flight or can make the most of their layover time in the lounge business center.
Brent Griffith is one of the three founders of LoungeBuddy and now serves as the Director of Business Development for the airport lounge booking service. He had this to say about the company’s acquisition by American Express:
“LoungeBuddy first partnered with American Express in 2017 to provide information in the American Express mobile app,” Griffith told us. “Through this partnership, it became clear that American Express shared our commitment and passion for providing customers with an elevated travel experience through a highly premium lounge experience and innovative digital capabilities.”
How LoungeBuddy Works
Airport lounges, for all their luxurious amenities and posh décor, seldom operate at full capacity. With this understanding, lounge operators would be missing out on potential income without access to a new customer stream.
That’s where partnering with LoungeBuddy works to their benefit, allowing operators to sell their excess capacity to infrequent travelers looking for a premium travel experience.
LoungeBuddy works using an iPhone app or the website to identify and book access to available airport lounges. Travelers can buy a three- to eight-hour pass, depending on availability and the expected duration of the layover. The cost of a pass and the amenities available also vary, based on whether the lounge is privately operated, managed by the airport, or a membership-only space.
“We partner with a wide range of lounges, so prices will vary based on the lounge, amenities offered, and the package purchased,” said Griffith. “A common range is between $25 and $50 per pass.”
Not all airport lounges are part of the LoungeBuddy partnership, however. For example, of the 33 lounges at JFK International, only two are available to book on LoungeBuddy, and none are currently available at Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Tokyo International.
Also notable is the fact that, although LoungeBuddy is an American Express subsidiary, access to the company’s luxurious Centurion Lounges is not available to book through the app. Only American Express Platinum and Centurion Card Members have access to these premium-tier lounges. But any Amex Card Member can take advantage of the app to locate and book a visit to the lounges available in-program with some pretty good benefits.
“Over the last year, we’ve introduced exclusive benefits for American Express® Corporate Gold Card Members and the American Express® Green Card Members, which gives them access to up to $100 in statement credits per year when they use their card to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy,” Griffith said.
Non-Amex Card Members can also use the LoungeBuddy app; they’re just not able to book a visit. Instead, they can see which lounges are available at the airport they’re traveling through and can use the app to see what access they may already be entitled to through their credit card or airline miles programs.
Why Visit an Airport Lounge?
For someone who has never visited an airport lounge — which is likely to be a majority of the traveling public — it’s fair to ask what the big deal is. Let’s see if we can set the tone with a few examples of airport lounges around the world.
In London’s Heathrow Airport, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse has a spa where you can get a free facial or shave, along with a complimentary glass of Champagne or another cocktail of your choice.
At Dubai International Airport, you can visit a cigar bar, tour a wine cellar, or enjoy a buffet with dozens of hot or cold dishes to choose from.
Sydney Airport’s Qantas International First Lounge offers fine dining, along with a coffee bar and trained baristas. Being stuck in an airport doesn’t get much better than this.
“Our app allows any traveler to see the lounges available at an airport, view a list of amenities, review directions for how to access the lounge, browse member-submitted photos of the facilities, and read ratings and reviews from travelers who have experienced the lounge previously,” Griffith explained.
If taking a break from the chaos and confusion of the airport isn’t enough incentive for you, consider this: Paying the average $50 or so for three hours in an airport lounge before a long business flight can mean an opportunity to polish that proposal or make a few unhurried and uninterrupted phone calls before you take off. Or simply relax and rejuvenate in this airport oasis and ponder how you managed to survive layovers before now.
LoungeBuddy: A Mission to Make Air Travel Memorable
When the founders of LoungeBuddy set out to build this service in 2013, it was to address the pain and frustration of multihour layovers at airports, with few options and little recourse. They believed the comfort and serenity of an airport lounge shouldn’t be an exclusive benefit for those privileged few in the front seats of the plane and sought to provide a resource where people could upgrade their experience if they chose to.
“At LoungeBuddy, our mission is to elevate your airport experience by making it a memorable chapter of the journey,” Griffith said. “Our goal is to take care of you in the airport, removing the stress and uncertainty of this environment, and to be there for you when you need us.”
Of course, the stress and uncertainty of air travel have seldom been as pronounced or prolonged as they are during this global pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically slowed travel for all but the most critical reasons. Brent Griffith and the rest of the team at LoungeBuddy are acutely aware of the impact.
“While we know travel is currently on pause for many people due to the impacts of COVID-19, we know consumers will resume traveling again someday, and we’re excited about the many opportunities ahead for us to continue our mission to enhance this experience.”