Forget Everything You’ve Read: These Are the 10 Best Airport Lounges in the World

DesignAir’s Top 10 Airport Lounges, released yesterday, is getting quite a bit of pick up. So let’s settle things quite simply with this ranking. It is downright silly.

  • Any list of world’s 10 best lounges that does not include any of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Air France La Premiere lounge in Paris, Emirates A380 first class Pier in Dubai, or Thai Airways First Class Lounge and Spa in Bangkok lacks credibility.
  • The British Airways Concorde Room at Heathrow is not one of the world’s 10 best lounges. Neither is the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow, though it’s one of the world’s better business class lounges (along with, for instance, the Turkish Airlines CIP lounge in Istanbul). The Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney is excellent, but it is not the world’s best.

So what’s the real list?

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.

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, and a rather bizarre food room where items not on the small menu can be pointed to and then cooked-to-order.

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.

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.

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 lounge at each gate, as well as dedicated services like a restaurant, spa, and duty free. There’s little question that this represents the largest first class lounge in the world. Boarding is directly from the private first class area of each gate.

The 7th and 8th Best Lounges

Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge, 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).

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.

Rounding Out the Top 10

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.

Etihad First Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi

This is an attractive lounge with a spa. The highlight is the cooked-to-order menu, which you can take either in the restaurant or wherever else in the lounge you prefer.

Notice that this list does not include the British Airways Concorde Room where 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 Qatar’s premium terminal, or the JetQuay lounge in Singapore. I’ll be visiting the new JAL first class lounge at Haneda in the near future and have heard good things.

I’ve been fortunate to sample some amazing lounges. I’ll return to two of these over the next month, and have a booking for shortly thereafter that will bring me to another lounge listed here.

For the most part they’re 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 Thai Airways First Class 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. What we can be sure of is that a list that calls the new Qantas lounge in Hong Kong the second best in the world just isn’t paying attention.

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, 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. @ Gary — I have never understood all of the excitement over the TG F lounge at BKK (or really anything about that airport). The airport has way to much exposed concrete and cheap floor tile, and the air conditioning never seems to be sufficient, even during the “winter”. I really do TRY to like BKK, but I just can’t ever seem to find a reason, and I’ve been through BKK many, many times.

  2. Gary, I’d like to thank you for blogging repeatedly about the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Because of your glowing reports I made the extra effort, including over an hour at the LH ticket counter*, to redeem UA miles for a very memorable trip. I beat the big UA devaluation by less than a year. It won’t happen again, but once is enough.

    Your blog was also what persuaded me to ignore the First Class lounge in Frankfurt and make the hike outside to the rarely used pedestrian entrance to the FCT. Having now experienced both the FC lounge and the FCT, there is no comparison.

    Incidentally, if you have a family member traveling with you in coach (e.g. due to the limited number of award seats in F), that family member is allowed to accompany you into the FCT.

    *The lady at the LH ticket counter worked harder and smarter on my award trip than I have ever seen an airline employee do before or since. It was an impressive display of skill and persistence. She got the most enthusiastic commendation letter I have ever written.

  3. Isn’t the list you linked to ranking based on architectural and design merits? The blog appears to be about that, with sections on branding, livery, and interiors. It’s not about F&B and massages.

  4. @CW No, “TheDesignAir once again, with strategic print partner Airways magazine bring you the very best Top 10 Airport Lounges in the world 2015. … As always, we look at the entire package when judging each product..” aesthetic and design merely get a ‘heavier weight’ in the rankings.

  5. This story is for the “one-percenters.” For most of your readers, myself included, this is a parallel universe, reeking of privilege and its attendant attitudes. Me, I’m only a poor lifetime member of the Admiral’s Club and the United Club….

  6. Gary: What is the DesignAir site about? Design.

    They may have mistitled the article, but they were obviously talking about the 10 best designed lounges globally.

    Yes, BA Concorde sucks across the experience levels, but it works from design.

    Sure, LH FCT might be on a whole other level compared to QF F, but the LCT looks stunningly boring, sedate, and dark. What it lacks in design it makes up for in services.

    There’s always going to be one of these lists floating around, and there’s always going to be someone who gets their panties in a bunch. Your approach just seemed petty and a waste of column inches.

  7. I’ve found the cook to order food in the First Class Qantas Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne the best food of any lounge (and I’ve flown on 112 different carriers).

  8. I also have to thank Gary for writing about the LH FCT.
    The first time I had to drag a petulant husband who wanted to stop at the ‘inside’ lounges rather than trek to the FCT. We will be visiting for the 4th Ducky in September, and he requested a 5 hour layover!

  9. Finally, some truth. The last cabana I had in the Concorde Room had a completely broken leg on the day bed and beat up furniture. The whole lounge was also just not clean and service was average or less. Far different than five to ten years ago.

  10. I realize these are first class, but even the business class lounges abroad blow the socks off our domestic clubs. Why aren’t there more Centurion Lounge-style experiences stateside?

  11. Re: JL showers

    Foremost in design. Dark wood and stone with really stylish lighting. The CX cabanas are nice but they just feel a bit cheaper and brighter which doesn’t feel as relaxing. Also the amenities in the JL showers are nicer and the actual shower space and rain shower felt a lot more modern and unique than CX’s offering (which I will still gladly take any day).

    I guess it’s just quintessentially Tokyo to CX’s HK aesthetic, if that makes sense.

  12. Put me down as another grateful reader who, having seen the blog on the FCT, had to try it and was blown away. I did schedule an 8 hour layover, so tried both the FC lounge in the terminal and then schlepped around to the LCT.

    And @NSK- no, once is not enough- I squeezed in a second trip through the following year, right before the United devaluation! At 70K United miles one way from Southeast Asia to USA, it was a great redemption value.

    @Stannis & Baron- not sure if the US lounges are better or worse. On the same trip and ticket, I get access to the Singapore First Class lounge, and escorted through security, access to the FCT and a Porsche to the plane, and denied access to the US Airways lounge in Denver (domestic leg). I could only dream of being a member of the United Club, LOL…

  13. Funnily enough your comments about the Concorde Room, namely “where food and service are poor, cleanliness isn’t the greatest, and internet connectivity can be spotty” can also apply to the Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge in Bangkok. We still think it is a great lounge, but we’ve had difficulties with the service then when it comes to ordering food and beverages, and the internet certainly had room for improvement last time we were there.

  14. Was just in Haneda and was impressed with this lounge. Probably not up to others in your top 10 but very nice. Champagne room, massage, chef cooking limited items. Not very extensive bar but ok. The best electric massage chairs I’ve ever used. I felt sorry for what looked like the full-time shoe shine person. No one was using his services. I wanted to but had running shoes on. Vastly different from the JAL lounge at SFO.

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