In the final installment of what perks you have available to you as a military servicemember, we will talk about lounge access at airports. I mean, who wants to languish at the gate, paying for overpriced, badly tasting food, in uncomfortable seats, (most of the time) without free wifi, unable to enjoy a TV show, and generally hating life. Why not kick back, relax in a comfy chair, get free water, soda, food, (sometimes) booze, and watch some TV or play videogames while enjoying free wifi? There are free lounges in over 160 locations, mostly airports, in the US and 13 other countries, restricted to military members.
I’m talking of course about USOs. USO centers are one of the coolest perks you can have as a military member, a place to hang out and enjoy life. The good people that staff USOs (most of them 24/7) are some of most gracious, nicest people you can imagine. My home USO at PHL is ridiculously comfortable, accomodating, and fully stocked w/ premade sandwiches, hot coffee, water and soda in the fridge, a separate kids area w/ toys and books (always appreciated by my 3 year-old and my wife), and some comfy recliners for catching a wink. The front desk staff are always pushing free stuff on us, like travel amenities, toys, LOTs of food and drinks for the flight; they always make us feel more than welcome. It makes the US Airways lounge, at it’s flagship hub, look pathetic in comparison.
Of all the USOs I’ve been to, probably Guam has the coolest one – it’s located outside of the airport, in downtown Tumon, and is HUGE, with everything you could hope for, food, drinks, video games, showers, you name it. LAX also has an impressive one, also outside the security gates at the airport. There are also USOs in Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and several Middle Eastern countries.
USOs are awesome, but they don’t serve booze, which is fine for most people, and they’re not at every airport, especially internationally, whereas most airports have some sort of airline or airport associated lounge. What do you do in those situations? There are several options, including purchasing a daypass (usually around $50), getting a yearlong option such as priority pass, or flying first class on an airline (you’re usually offered lounge access when flying business or first class, depending on your carrier and airport). But what if you don’t want to pony up $50 (which is, in my humble opinion, way overpriced), only fly infrequently, and usually fly economy?
My solution that avoids any fees and can get you into a high-end lounge in most worldwide airports is to use the American Express Platinum (non-affiliate link). This of course is predicated on you having an excellent credit score, but if you do, I highly recommend getting either the personal or business version of the card. Perks of this card include complimentary access for you and two guests to American, Delta, or US Airways lounges just by showing your card and boarding pass. You also get enrolled in Priority Pass select, which gets you access to over 600 airport lounges worldwide. And you get complimentary access to the Centurion Lounge for yourself and two guests, which is Amex’s own lounge, and let me tell you, it is magnificent! They have two lounges so far, one in LAS and one in DFW, with more planned in the future. I experienced the one in DFW last week, where I received a complimentary gift bag filled with L’Occitane accessories, got a free 15 minute massage, my friend got a complimentary 15 minute facial, we drank delicious and high-end cocktails and had delicious burritos and other Southwestern food, and then lounged on ridiculously comfortable chairs until our flight time. As you can see from the pictures, I will definitely be visiting again when I get the chance!
The Amex Platinum is expensive, with an annual fee of $450, but as I’ve said before, military members get their annual fees waived.
So to wrap up, as a military servicemember you get incredible travel perks, including free checked bags, expedited security lanes and often priority lanes, and free lounge access. In fact, it leads one to wonder, is it worth it to have elite status with any particular airline? With all due respect and congratulations to COL Goddard, who is Lifetime Gold Status on United and has hit a million miles lifetime, perhaps you don’t need to be a member since 1987 or participate in mileage runs; perhaps you can create your own elite program. Especially since airline devaluations are happening frequently, perhaps it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket, but to go with whomever is offering you the best deal.
Sam Simon writes a blog called Milenomics, and a while ago he introduced the concept of BYOE, or be your own elite program. I think it is an apt and important concept, and can apply to the military frequent flyer even more so than a civilian. Sometime in the next two weeks, we’ll be cowriting an article on BYOE – military-style. Looking forward to it!