Here are a few tips to gain access to lounges:
1. Attain elite status.
Loyalty does have its privileges. Most airlines offer lounge perks for customers who make elite status, with benefits that extend throughout the network.
Best for: Frequent travelers who fly exclusively on one airline.
2. Use your credit card.
Getting a credit card that offers airport lounge privileges is perhaps one of the easiest ways to ensure that you'll never be stuck on the concourse again, although some of these cards carry hefty annual fees. Airline credit cards can come with lounge perks too. The United MileagePlus Explorer card gives you two one-time-use passes to United Clubs, along with other travel extras, for $95. The American Express Delta Gold card gives you access to Delta lounges for a $29 fee.
Best for: Big spenders who don't mind paying annual fees for perks, as well as occasional fliers willing to pay a smaller annual fee for a limited number of day passes.
3. Use public lounges in some airports.
In some airports, public lounges -- where you pay a fee for comfortable chairs, snacks, Wi-Fi access, small meals and non-alcoholic beverages -- are giving the legacy lounges a run for their money.
At Baltimore/Washington International Airport, for example, you can enter the Airspace Lounge (see AirspaceLounge.com) after security in Concourse D and pay from $20 per day. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, you can buy a 24-hour day pass to The Club (TheClubAirportLounges.com). There are shower facilities, free Wi-Fi and more. Best of all for those who have favorite vendors at the airport, you can bring in food purchased outside the lounge. One drawback: It closes at 7:30 p.m.
International travelers may want to check out Plaza Premium (Plaza-Network.com), which offers buffet meals, drinks and -- crucial for those making long-haul flights -- showers. Some even have massage and spa services for an extra fee. Current locations include Vancouver, Toronto, Hong Kong and Singapore. Rates vary by location, but in Toronto, it costs $35 CAD for two hours, $45 CAD for three and $65 for six hours.
Best for: Travelers who want more flexibility than airline lounges provide.