by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, April 26, 2017
A new report has heaped criticism on Britain’s pay-as-you-go airport lounges for their “low-rent” decor and bad food.
Those flying from UK airports can now pay as little as £18 for entry to one of dozens of airport lounges - with the promise of peaceful surroundings, fast Wi-Fi, and all-you-can-eat food and drink convincing many to cough up the extra cash and ditch the crowded main terminal.
But a Which? study, which saw it inspect 17 lounges at seven airports, highlighted a distinct lack of value for money and basic facilities.
None of the lounges it visited was awarded more than 3.5 stars out of five, while the worst of all, Gatwick My Lounge North, which charges £24 for entry on the door, was criticised for its “grubby” floors, “unappetising” food, and lack of power sockets for laptops.
The most expensive options, Heathrow Skyteam T4 and Heathrow Aspire T5, both of which charge £40 for entry on the door, were awarded just two stars. Gatwick No1 North and Manchester Aspire T1 earned just 2.5.
“You would need to eat and drink an awful lot to get your money’s worth,” said Which?
“When we sent our reviewers to 17 pay-as-you-go airport lounges, they weren’t very impressed – the average score they awarded was just 2.6 out of 5,” said the report. “The decor was often low-rent rather than ritzy, and the buffets were basic. And, having paid an average of £25 to enter, the consensus was that you would need to eat and drink an awful lot to get your money’s worth.”
The best lounge, according to Which?, was Gatwick No1 South, which was praised for its runway views and “slightly more exclusive environment”, but reviewers were still unimpressed with the “uninspiring” food on offer. “Worth paying the little extra for, if only to avoid the North Terminal’s My Lounge,” it added.
Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel's Consumer Editor, said: “I'm not surprised by the findings - I've never found pay-as-you-go lounges to be of the same standard as those operated by top international airlines. They may suit some travellers who know they will have a long wait, or whose flight gets badly delayed, but you might also do better to spend the money in a meal in one of the departure lounge restaurants.”
“We are of course disappointed by the review for My Lounge,” said a spokesperson for No.1 Lounges. “Cleanliness and hygiene are of the utmost importance to us and we’re sorry that on this occasion we fell below the standards we, and our guests, expect. We have addressed the issue and have also put a focus on creating a more comprehensive food offering.”
Which? highlighted 10 more airport rip-offs, many of which will be all too familiar to Telegraph Travel readers .
1. Airport parking
“Turn up at Birmingham airport and you may pay a staggering £235 to park your car for a week,” says Which? “At London Heathrow T5, the drive-up price for seven days’ parking could be as high as £417.”
2. Rail fares
Getting to the airport by public transport can cost as much as the flight itself. Which? says: “The cost of a cheap break departing from one of London’s airports can soon soar when you add on public transport fares. A 15-minute single journey on the Heathrow Express will set you back £25, while turning up at Victoria station and boarding the Gatwick Express costs £19.90 one way.”
3. Drop-off fees
“Dropping off a loved one? While some airports don’t charge, 10 minutes at Stansted costs £3.50. Stay longer and you’ll face a £50 fine. Pick-ups can be equally pricey: you’ll pay £3.90 for 15 minutes at Edinburgh and £2 for 10 minutes at Glasgow, where the same fee will soon apply for drop-off.”
4. Trolley charges
“While some airports charge a refundable £1 or €1 to use a trolley, at both Bristol and Luton airports, where they charge £2 or €2, you won’t see your coin again. Beware of using a credit or debit card at the trolley vending points at Birmingham airport – there’s a 40p charge for using a card.”
5. The £1 plastic bag
Supermarkets want 5p for a plastic bag - but some airports charge far more. Which? says: “Transparent plastic bags, required for carrying liquids in hand luggage, are not always free. Forget a bag at Luton airport, for example, and you’ll pay £1 for two. At Newcastle, a quid gets you only one bag.”
6. Overpriced water
The liquids rule also means passengers must purchase water and other drinks after they've passed through security (very few airports have installed drinking fountains, despite calls from MPs, and in those that have they are very hard to find). Which? says: “No liquids over 100ml are allowed through security, but a 75cl bottle of Evian can cost £2.09 airside, double what you would pay in a supermarket.”
7. Mini toiletries, maximum mark-up
Yet another way that retailers have cashed in on heightened airport security post 9/11. Those tiny toiletries might beat the 100ml liquids rule, but they cost a small fortune. “Travelling hand luggage only? Don’t wait until you get airside to buy toiletries,” says Which? “At WHSmith after security, a 50ml travel-sized bottle of Original Source shower gel typically costs £2.49, whereas the same size is less than half this price in high street supermarkets.”
8. Sky-high Wi-Fi
In 2014, Skyscanner revealed how Britain's airports are lagging behind their European counterparts when it comes to offering free Wi-Fi . None of the UK’s six busiest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Edinburgh and Luton – were found to offer unlimited free internet access. By contrast, almost half (24) of Europe’s 50 busiest airports – including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Munich, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Prague and Rome – were. The situation has improved slightly since then: Heathrow began offering unlimited free access last year. But at Edinburgh you only get two hours before charges apply, at Gatwick it's 90 minutes, at Stansted and Manchester it's an hour, and at Luton it's just 30 minutes. “While Birmingham and Heathrow offer unlimited free internet access, at Bristol and Glasgow, anyone still logged on after an hour will have to pay £5 for an additional two hours,” said Which?
Research by the Post Office in 2014 found that 1.6m Britons still persist in buying their holiday money at the airport each year, despite the notoriously bad exchange rates on offer. Which? adds: “Yes, it’s convenient to exchange currency at the airport, but you’ll pay top dollar for the privilege. Hand over £500 to ICE at Edinburgh airport, and you’ll receive just $529. Exchange to euros at Moneycorp at Stansted airport and you’ll fork out £511 for €500.”
10. Airport shopping
“There are savings to be made at airport shops – we found the iPad mini 2 and Fitbit Flex 2 both £10 cheaper at Dixons Travel at Glasgow International airport than online at John Lewis,” says Which? “However, we were stunned to see memory cards for cameras almost 200% more expensive than online at Currys.”