Our Favorite Airline Lounges Throughout the World

The race to court premium passengers is on as U.S. and international airlines roll out the red carpet with their lounge spaces, offering frequent fliers a tranquil airport oasis.

A few people in the aerodynamic Qantas lounge in Sydney

The Qantas lounge in Sydney is among the showstoppers on our list.

Courtesy of Andreas Smetana/Qantas

It’s been nearly a decade since my first time in an airport lounge, but it was an experience that reshaped my predeparture routine. However, as any frequent flier knows, the quality of a lounge can vary greatly, similar to sitting in the last row of economy versus the front of first class.

As brand-new terminals rise from the ground and existing infrastructure is modernized, the gap between some lounges and the airport concourse itself is closing. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish the airport spaces that are on an entirely different level of decadence, far from the snack towers of sadness, shrink-wrapped muffins, and windowless, subterranean cells.

The best airline lounges offer luxurious amenities that wouldn’t be out of place in a five-star hotel, including perks like à la carte dining, whisper-quiet private sanctuaries, and spa treatments. To win a place on our list of the world’s best, however, airlines must offer a consistent premium experience in at least three different airports. Instead of selecting specific lounges, we’re highlighting airlines that excel in crafting an overall upscale lounge network throughout.

In other words, one amazing airline lounge isn’t enough; the entire portfolio must be generally on the higher end. Let’s take a closer look at our picks.

Contemporary design features at the Air France lounge in Terminal 2F at CDG

Not only are Air France lounges—like its newest space in Terminal 2F at CDG—sleek, but some offer complimentary spa services, too.

Courtesy of Jerome Galland/Air France

Air France

Best for: contemporary design

Travelers seeking a contemporary French aesthetic at the airport should look no further than Air France’s robust network of business-class lounges. There’s a touch of French panache everywhere one looks, from dishes like croque monsieur and boeuf bourguignon to free-flowing champagne. In New York City (JFK) and Paris (CDG), passengers can even treat themselves to complimentary preflight facials on a first-come, first-served basis.

How to access

SkyTeam elites and business-class passengers get access to Air France Lounges. Select lounges are also accessible for Priority Pass guests, including San Francisco (SFO) and Washington Dulles (IAD).

Two business travelers sitting at a semi-circular bar in Cathay Pacific's Pier Lounge in Hong Kong

The Pier Lounge, Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong outpost, is the perfect place to rest and relax preflight.

Courtesy of Carmen Chan/Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific Airways

Best for: relaxation

Hong Kong–based Cathay Pacific has swanky, living-room-like lounges not only at its home airport but also across several locations worldwide. In Hong Kong (HKG), the Pier lounge (a personal favorite) offers a cozy enclave split across first-class and business-class sections. There’s plush carpeting, midcentury-modern decor, and a serene environment to soothe guests. On the first-class side, travelers can indulge in a complimentary 15-minute foot or neck, shoulder, and scalp massage. Cathay Pacific lounge locations in London-Heathrow (LHR) and Tokyo-Haneda (HND) offer similar decor (but without the spa treatments).

How to access

Oneworld Sapphire elites and above can get into any Cathay Pacific business-class lounge while Emerald elites can access the first-class lounges in Hong Kong and London. A first- or business-class ticket can also get you in.

Empty seating in the "Coffee Grotto," with colorful topical wall art

The “Coffee Grotto” is one of several inviting sitting areas at the Delta Sky Club at LAX.

Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines

Best for: lounge memberships

Delta Sky Clubs are the best airline lounges that travelers can purchase access to via a membership program. Period. While these spaces are sometimes criticized for being overcrowded, it’s a portfolio that nevertheless offers elevated food and beverages (with premium drinks for purchase), swanky shower suites, soundproof phone booths, and often, outdoor spaces for a breath of fresh air preflight. Sky Club terrace locations include those in New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), and Salt Lake City (SLC).

How to access

To get access to Sky Clubs, travelers must have a club membership (available to Delta Medallion elite members starting at $695 per year), be flying Delta One or a premium cabin of a partner SkyTeam airline, or have a valid premium credit card and ticket.

A row of empty dining tables and chairs along a banquette at Qantas lounge in London

It’s not a restaurant, but it may as well be. The Qantas lounge in London offers sit-down meal service that pairs elevated cuisine with Australian wines.

Courtesy of Brent Winstone/Qantas

Qantas Airways

Best for: dining

While many posh airline lounges offer à la carte dining, perhaps the carrier with the most consistent experience is Sydney-based Qantas. At many of its first- and business-class lounges—with locations in Sydney (SYD), Melbourne (MEL), Hong Kong (HKG), Los Angeles (LAX), and London-Heathrow (LHR)— travelers can indulge in a full sit-down meal while sampling the finest in Australian wines. Specialties include a signature salt and pepper squid with green chili dipping sauce and gin from Australia’s Cape Byron Distillery.

How to access

Oneworld Sapphire elites and above can get into any Qantas business-class lounge while Emerald elites can access the first-class lounges located in Sydney, Melbourne, and Los Angeles. A premium-class ticket will also get you in the door.

Gleaming metallic surfaces and curving staircase in Qatar's Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha

Qatar’s Al Safwa First Lounge in Doha is like a work of art.

Photo by Shutterstock

Qatar Airways

Best for: extravagance and amenities

First, let’s start with the dizzying array of lounge amenities in Doha (DOH), the home airport of Qatar Airways. The Al Safwa First Lounge’s design is a nod to the architectural beauty of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art (seriously, the grandeur and individual pieces make it feel like an art exhibit inside) with à la carte dining, a stunning water feature, spa treatment rooms, private nap pods, a family and kids area, and much more.

Business-class lounges in Doha—including the Al Mourjan Business Lounge and the Garden Lounge—are also superior, featuring shower suites equipped with high-end Diptyque products, a sushi bar, a full fitness studio, and a manicure and pedicure station. While not quite at the level of Doha, Qatar also offers impressive Premium Lounges in London-Heathrow (LHR) and Bangkok (BKK).

How to access

Elite status alone won’t parlay access; a premium-class ticket on a oneworld Alliance airline is necessary to gain access to the lounges noted above.

A row of marble-topped tables and dining chairs with a bar in the background and amber globe lights at the United Polaris lounge in Houston

United loyalists flying business class won’t be disappointed when spending time in the airline’s Polaris lounges.

Photo by Shutterstock

United Airlines

Best for: business-class passengers

United’s network of Polaris Lounges—with locations in Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH) (pictured above), Newark (EWR), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington-Dulles (IAD)—is a cut above every other domestic carrier’s business-class lounge portfolio. In fact, with à la carte dining, marble-clad shower suites, and nap pods, it’s up there with some of the best in the world.

In early 2024, United Polaris lounges will up the wellness ante with new Reset Suites. These semi-private rooms will offer a Therabody Lounger, which combines sound and vibration therapy for full-body relaxation. Additional amenities include Theraguns, SmartGoggles (an eye mask and massager), and RecoveryAir boots to support circulation, lymphatic drainage, and muscle recovery. Talk about a preflight boost.

How to access

Travelers can’t access Polaris spaces with elite status alone; a premium-class ticket on United or another Star Alliance airline is required to access the Polaris Lounge.

Chris Dong is a freelance travel writer and editor with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud aviation geek and transit nerd).
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