The 10 Best Airport Lounges in the World

I’m not going to make claims about the rank order of 1, 2, 3, etc. We can have great discussions about what makes for the ‘best’ lounge — whether it is spaciousness, personal attention, food, a spa or a car service from lounge to plane.

Instead I will offer four ‘groupings’ that total 10 lounges. I’m not making a rank-order claim within each grouping.

Top Group: What I Believe Are the Three Best Lounges

Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt

The First Class Terminal is one of the most refined airport experiences you can imagine. They’ll return your rental car for you. Security is individualized and polite.

The design of the lounge is gorgeous. There’s a cigar lounge, a bar, and more types of water to choose from than you’ve ever seen anywhere.

You’ll get service in the restaurant or at your seat. And you can have a shower, or a nap. If you wish, when taking a shower (or bath) you can ask for a rubber ducky which makes for a great souvenir.

Since you’re in a separate terminal from all of the business class riff raff, the challenge is: how do you get to the plane? You’ll be collected when it’s time to depart — usually by the same person who initially greeted you — and taken down the elevator to a private passport control, and then turned over to your driver who will take you across the tarmac in either a Porsche or Mercedes to the plane.

Air France La Premier Lounge, Paris Charles de Gaulle

I haven’t been through here. I’ve read about the lounge, seen pictures, and it’s hard to imagine doing better than they appear to do here.

The lounge features a car service, as Lufthansa provides. Dining is by Alain Ducasse. And the design looks more attractive than most other world’s top lounges.

It’s exceptionally exclusive because presently first class awards are limited to Air France’s own elite members and even then only spending rulebuster-style points. That means most of us won’t see the inside of the lounge, at least under current restrictions.

Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge & Spa, Bangkok

They’ll escort you from check-in, through immigration, to a waiting golf cart to take you to the first class lounge. Or they’ll meet you on the jetway of your connecting flight that arrives in Bangkok. And since they escort you from lounge to your onward flight, they provide a seamless experience.

The lounge has semi-private living rooms.

The lounge itself is only fine. The true highlight is the spa, with hour-long treatments for first class passengers (and 30 minutes for Thai’s business passengers, as available). These are the best treatments you’ll get at any lounge in the world, bar none.

Second Group: The Next Best Lounges in the World

Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney

The lounge is sprawling and attractive.

The salt and pepper squid is one of the best dishes I’ve ever tried in a lounge, the green chili dipping sauce complemented it perfectly.

The spa treatments are out of this world good.

Service in the lounge could be better, for instance drink service at your seat and being checked on frequently. While they’ll come let you know when it’s time to go to your gate, there’s no checkin-to-lounge or lounge-to-gate escort. And while the spa is very good is isn’t as good as what Thai offers their own first class passengers in Bangkok.

Lufthansa First Class lounges, Frankfurt and Munich

The first class lounges are very similar in design to the first class terminal. You don’t get a car transfer for all flights, though. The lounge in Munich, and some of the lounges in Frankfurt, will provide a car when you’re departing from a non-gate position… so you can avoid the dreaded buses.

But the food and drink and showers? The same.

Emirates A380 First Class Pier, Dubai

Emirates devotes an entire level of their A380 concourse to their first class lounge. There is a separate buffet at each group of gates, as well as dedicated services like a restaurant, spa, and duty free. Boarding is directly from the private first class area of each gate.

There’s an endless sea of empty chairs, and far more staff than passengers. Yet it’s not an especially personalized experience. The place feels rather sterile — it is the regular open terminal after all, just only for first class passengers. Yet with all that space somehow they don’t offer private nap rooms — there’s a communal one instead.

Qatar al Safwa Lounge, Doha

Architecturally it’s stunning. It’s gigantic, with tall ceilings, modern and minimalist. It remains me of a new build Park Hyatt. I thought the food was good, though some have complained it was overcooked. It’s very Middle Eastern in that staff can be somewhat confused. Spa treatments aren’t free. But it no doubt makes the list for sheer scale.

The 8th – 10th Best Lounges

Cathay Pacific The Wing and The Pier First Class Lounges, Hong Kong

The first class side of the Wing has had a nice renovation. The restaurant is better and more appealing, and the refresh of the Cabanas is outstanding – these are the best shower rooms at any airport.

Service is ok, and the lounge is often crowded (it’s open to all top tier oneworld members).

The Pier has been renovated as well and looks nicer now than The Wing. But I’d still choose my lounge based on proximity to my departing flight, since they’re about 60 gates away from each other.

Qantas First Class Lounge, Melbourne

The first class lounge in Melbourne is similar in many respects to the Sydney lounge. It has similar design and furnishings, though not as grand, and also has a spa. Think of it as “Sydney-lite.” When they redesigned it, it was such a step up from the previous offering.

Singapore Airlines The Private Room

The Private Room is certainly exclusive, open to Singapore’s own first class passengers only and not partner first or elites.

The room itself has ample seating, although it’s not the most comfortable or the most suited for productivity. Service in the lounge is good, and food is cooked-to-order although not nearly as good as what you’d find in hawker stalls outside the airport.

They also don’t offer check-in to lounge or lounge-to-gate assistance as normal course.

Notice that this list does not include the British Airways Concorde Room

Food and service are poor, cleanliness isn’t the greatest, and internet connectivity can be spotty.

The only thing it has going for it in my view are the cabanas, which can be tough to reserve and are somewhat threadbare in any case.

There will be partisans for Etihad’s new first class lounge.. when it finally open. Some really enjoy the JetQuay lounge in Singapore — it’s efficient but I find it more or less a nice waiting room. Others will make the case for the JAL first class lounge at Haneda.

For the most part airport lounges are comfortable places to wait before a flight, to relax and make travel a bit less stressful. The very best make travel truly effortless by escorting you from the moment you enter the airport until the moment you leave. When you never even know what gate you’re leaving from — as with the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and Air France La Premiere lounge — that’s truly the top level of ground service. It’s someone else’s job to worry about that for you.

We can debate about the relative importance of the rest of the service — how much the ‘best’ food, showers, nap rooms, etc. matter in the relative weighting. But any best list that doesn’t include these — or includes lounges like the Turkish CIP lounge in Istanbul, anything in the U.S., South America, or Africa, or any British Airways lounge among the top 10 is clearly missing the boat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Nice post!

    Just having been to the Pier, I was doing ting it would be worth the distance to my gate, but it absolutely was.

    If you have a long layover, it’s great to get in the 15-20 minute brisk walk. If you don’t have that much time, use the golf cart airport service for $7 head. I had leftover HK dollars, better than buying junk food with them (although not as noble as donations it to UNICEF).

  2. Not being parochial, but many Australians would rate the Melbourne Qantas First Lounge over the Sydney counterpart on service levels alone. Product is basically the same and Sydney has more interesting architecture.

    As you mention, service in Sydney can be indifferent.

    Also Sydney is often bursting at the seams.

    The far more attentive and proactive service that patrons generally get in Melboune makes a huge difference over Sydney.

  3. Yet ANOTHER exaggeration of the BKK Thai F lounge. Take out the massage, and then lounge is sub-par in my opinion. After all, this is where they request that you place your used toilet paper in a trash can….

    In fact, the entire airport is overrated. The temperature is NEVER comfortable there, the entire inside looks like a nuclear bunker, and the what-could-be beautiful exterior is filthy.

  4. What criteria do you use to evaluate a lounge?

    Mine is (in a slight order of importance) Slightly based on what it may cost the carrier to provide.
    – food. Do they have a restaurant that serves food better then what can be found at say a Denny’s?
    – showers. Does the shower work, and is the shower room clean and in good repair. Are they available for you?
    – WiFi – can I connect to the internet for free to check email?
    – drinks. Tasty beverage to enjoy that is complimentary
    – power Can I recharge my devices before my next flight?
    – view – being an aviation enthusiast, can the airport
    – seats – are they clean and comfortable. Is there space for me to leave my luggage?

  5. Hey Gary wouldn’t you agree that you should decrease the ranks of “oneworld emerald lounges” since they tend to get extremely overcrowded during peak hours.
    Although Lounges like the newly opened The Pier @HKG has got gorgeous facilities and superb catering it tends to get extremely overcrowded during peak hours(midnight) thus losing the exclusivity and the privacy one expects from a true First Class lounge. Just image how the FCT would rank itself if over a sudden all *G member could access it…

  6. @Gene the whole point as i say in the post – the reason the thai lounge is there – is because of the spa. without that i would say the service is still quite good, and i happen to much like the food even if it isn’t as flashy or gourmet as some, but it’s all about the lounge and the ground service to the lounge and to the plane.

  7. @Zippy Pam – a good list, and would certainly include Virgin clubhouse at Heathrow, Turkish CIP lounge, Qatar in Doha, perhaps the Wing/Pier in Hong Kong…

  8. Agree on the Turkish lounge. Our criteria may be different, but, I’ve been to the Cathay Lounges & Thai on this list. I’ve also been at Asiana in ICN, ANA, JAL @ NRT & still say the lounge in Istanbul is the bomb!

  9. @Gary, In your reply to @Zippy Pam, were you referring to the business class (not the first class) portion of the Pier/Wing as being on the list of top 10 business class lounges? The Pier business class lounge is currently closed for renovation.

    How would you rate the Bridge/Cabin CX lounges at HKG? I think the Bridge’s design is nearly as stunning as the Pier first class lounge. I would definitely include the Bridge on the list of the top 10 business class lounges. The Bridge clearly has the most impressive entrance of any of the lounges at HKG. It could pass for a first class lounge at many airports.

    Another interesting list would be the 10 worst first class lounges. Do you have any nominations for that list? I’d certainly include the BA first class lounge at JFK terminal 7. The adjacent BA business class lounge surpasses it, and the business class side is pretty average. The Flagship lounges would be on the list. The AA Admirals club at NRT is nicer than any domestic Flagship lounge.

  10. @john i haven’t used the bridge/cabin. 10 worst first class lounges? hahahaha. we’d have to set some ground rules, do lounges called “First and Business Class Lounge” count? Do first class roped off sections of lounges, or first class sections of contract lounges count? 🙂 What about BA First lounges, which first class passengers don’t have to use [eg London/New York where they have Concorde Rooms]?

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