Things are shifting when it comes to air travel. It's obvious for anyone who travels frequently that airport updates, new aircraft layouts, security upgrades and many other factors are changing the travel experience as we know it. However, what happens while travelers are passing time down on the ground between flights is changing at a speed that's just as fast. This is especially true when it comes to airport lounges.

Airport lounges may be viewed as a luxury or a frivolous indulgence by infrequent travelers. However, people who fly regularly for business or pleasure know that an airport lounge is a pivotal part of the travel experience. This is why the shakeups happening with airport lounges are so interesting. There's a big shift from member-only lounges to fee-per-stay lounges taking place. Impressive lounges that offer day passes to the public are springing up at many popular airports. This might leave you wondering if it's still worth it to commit to one lounge brand. Take a look at what's on the table when it comes to paying for yearly access versus taking the pay-as-you-stay approach.

A Closer Look at Airport Lounges

There was a time when all airport lounges were branded by airlines. This meant that frequent travelers who spent big bucks annually on flights or paid membership fees were the only ones allowed inside. This shifted slightly once the big airlines all relaxed their policies regarding who could use airport lounges. Most airline-branded lounges now allow loyal members to bring guests. Of course, people who bounce from airline to airline in search of the cheapest tickets were often out of luck because they could never accrue enough points to earn entry into an airline's lounge. That has changed now that fee-per-stay lounges are starting to pop up.

The Club Lounge at Pittsburgh International Airport is one of these lounges. This shared-use lounge is open to customers of any airline for a price of $40 per day. Guests can enjoy just about every luxury that can also be enjoyed at airline-branded lounges. There's comfortable seating, charging stations, food, beverages and restrooms. What makes lounges like this attractive to travelers is that they can often get in for free as part of a credit card benefit. For instance, American Express allows cardholders of certain cards to enjoy day passes at lounges around the world for free.

How Much Are Travelers Spending on Lounge Membership?

People are paying a pretty penny for automatic access to airport lounges. Membership fees for the American Airlines Admirals Club range between $450 and $550 for individuals and $625 and $875 for households. However, lounge access is completely free for members with a Citi credit card such as the one shown below. It is also possible to pay in unused member miles. Membership at Delta Sky Club lounges is pretty similar. Executive membership costs $745 or 70,000 miles per year. This tier allows members to bring up to two guests to lounges with them during visits. Individual membership costs $495 or 47,000 miles per year.

Does Having Membership Still Pay?

All of the new non-membership lounges popping up at airports around the country may have travelers wondering if it's still advantageous to buy or earn lounge membership. The answer ultimately depends on how often you fly and who you fly with.

Lounges that offer day passes to everyone certainly have their advantages. An open lounge can serve as an oasis if you're traveling with a new carrier or visiting an airport that doesn't have a branded lounge belonging to your preferred airline.

However, public lounges may not make the cut if you're a lounge rat. People who travel consistently value consistency. The predictability and reliability offered by airline lounges is tough to beat. What's more, the people operating airline lounges aren't just viewing you as a visitor with a day pass. They are viewing you as a valuable lifetime customer.

While the lounge may be making some money off of your visit, the real value comes from your frequent flights. This means that the people working in those lounges will work very hard to get you exactly what you want and make sure that you walk away from the experience with a good overall impression of the airline you're flying with. Members who pay membership fees and fly frequently with an airline definitely enjoy more clout than an individual who purchases a day pass at a public lounge.

There is also the prestige factor. Anyone who travels with business guests will definitely benefit from having access to an elite lounge. The fact that most legacy airlines allow travelers in elite tiers to bring guests into lounges is a big plus. This perk can be a huge asset if you're hosting clients during business travel.

Cost also plays an important role in weighing public lounges against airline lounges. The math is pretty simple to do. Day passes for lounges that cost $40 per visit can quickly reach the total cost of annual lounge passes in just a few months. Even a traveler who uses a $40 lounge pass once per month can expect to pay $480 annually. That places the cost within just a few dollars of the individual membership fee for the American Airlines Admiral Club. A person who purchases day passes for public lounges twice a month will pay $960 annually. That's high above the cost of even the most elite tier offered by Delta or American Airlines.

Anyone who travels and uses lounges more than once per month will almost certainly benefit from paying for annual membership instead of relying on day passes.

The Final Word on Fee-Per-Stay Lounges

Lounges that offer day passes to the public are certainly a positive addition to the travel world. However, they aren't going to provide a benefit for every type of traveler. They can offer a fun, relaxing place for a traveler to spend time during an annual vacation if they don't mind shelling out $40. They can also save the day if someone is stuck in an airport waiting for a flight for several hours. However, serious travelers who have made second homes out of airports probably won't be satisfied by anything other than the elite and familiar settings of member-only airline lounges.

Scott Dylan is a contributing writer at and has been to (almost) every country in North, Central and South America with nothing more than a backpack, a laptop and the desire to explore. He speaks Spanish fluently and has logged enough time in planes, trains, rideshares, buses, taxis and rickshaws to know how to rack up rewards and points to get anywhere his heart desires for pennies on the dollar. Email: