“We’ll put out bacon and eggs at 7. There’s coffee, cereal and bagels on the counter and a full bar in the back,” the chipper hostess offered as she scanned our boarding passes. “Drinks are complimentary. Welcome to The Club at LAS. I’ll show you around.”
It’s 6:58 a.m. on a Sunday in Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport. My wife and I have already been awake almost 5 hours – our 6-year-old daughter, Vivian, about 4 hours. I expected to spend the next three hours eating McDonald’s off my lap and trying to tune out whatever TV news station was sure to be droning even above the pings and payouts of the cluster of slot machines in the center of the terminal gates.
Instead, I’m being led to a magical land of free bacon, free coffee, free drinks, a muted TV (still showing the news, of course), comfortable chairs, tables, and really good jazz playing softly in the background.
What voodoo is this?
“We put out bacon at 7; there’s free drinks in the back.”
The rewards of rewards travel
My family was heading to a repeat of last year’s mini-retirement celebration cruise, a Carnival jaunt out of Long Beach to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. (Yes, we flew Southwest with the Companion Pass and booked the two paid flights with points – total cost: $36.)
Access to The Club at LAS is normally $40 per person. Which, quite honestly, is reasonable if you were going to be holed up in Vegas for several hours and would be inclined to buy some food and a couple of adult beverages anyway.
But we got in free. One of the many value-adds for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is a Priority Pass Select membership, which allows you and two guests gratis entry to over 1,200 lounges worldwide.
The Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but $300 comes back to you in travel credits, you get 1.5x redemption on Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase booking platform, and there are a whole bunch of other hidden gems that people often forget about. This is one of them.
The Priority Pass Select membership is listed in Chase’s member materials as a $399 value.
Most lounges are in the international terminal of the airport, from what I can tell, so you may have to traipse across half the building or more to get there. For us, it was a long walk to a shuttle that took us to the right spot, but we had time to kill.
What is the airport lounge experience?
This was the first time I’ve been to an airport lounge, so don’t take this as indicative of all lounges. It just happens to be my experience at this particular lounge.
Once we were given the quick tour — restrooms (showers if you need them!), comfy seating, tables, food, sodas/juices, etc. — we settled in. The place was dead on Sunday morning.
The buffet was as good as any modest hotel breakfast bar, with breads and pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, a fancy coffee machine, bacon, three kinds of cereal, Coke products, half a dozen juices, bacon, oatmeal, yogurt, mini crepes, and bacon.
Was it Michelin-worthy? No. Was it as good or better than anything else I would be paying for out in the terminal with the common folk? Yep. Was it free? Well technically no, but it was pre-paid via the Chase annual fee, so … kinda? In any event, it’s scientific fact that so-so food tastes better when it’s free than when you put up cash for it. You can’t argue with science.
The lounge was really clean, and workers kept coming by and tidying up every few minutes. It was bright and airy. I recognized tunes by Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Gato Barbieri come over the subtle sound system. The seats were comfortable. There were power outlets everywhere.
There was even a departures monitor available to check your flight status.
After polishing off breakfast and coffee, I knew I couldn’t let down you — my trusty readers — I had to investigate this “free alcohol” rumor. Turns out, it’s no joke. There was a well-appointed bar, including several options of wine and craft beer, in addition to the usual domestics.
The spicy bloody mary was really good, and with that I went from traveling to vacation to being on vacation.
A nice vacation bookend
Since we had such a good experience the first time around, we knew we were going to go back to The Club at LAS during our return layover on Thursday evening.
Wouldn’t you know it, but Thursday evening is waaaaaay busier than Sunday morning in Las Vegas. Almost every chair, couch and table was already accounted for, but we managed to get a four-top table as some other travelers were making their way to their gate.
Dinner consisted of several kinds of sandwiches, a small salad bar, a pasta salad, a quinoa salad, soups, bread, cookies, and some other odds and ends. Again, there was a fridge full of sodas and juices, and the free drinks in the back were still there.
Even though the lounge was full, I wouldn’t say it was overly loud or crowded feeling. The staff were trying hard to keep up with clearing the higher volume of plates and trash, but the bartenders were right on top of things. There was no big line for anything. Everyone was super friendly.
While we were waiting, I checked the departures screen. Our flight had a 20-minute delay.
In the Lost Wages airport, there are literally dozens of slot machines smack in the middle of the gate seating area. They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. They’re also nowhere to be found in the lounge, thankfully, because if I had to sit around those blasted things for a couple hours already and then have a flight delay I might have lost it.
Instead, I settled in to finish my drink and grabbed a new can of Diet Coke. No sense in waiting thirsty!
Going to this lounge was an afterthought. We landed in Las Vegas and needed food and a place to hunker down for a couple hours. My wife remembered to check the Priority Pass app while we were walking around the airport.
That won’t happen again.
Now, I’ll be looking even before I book a flight to see whether two options that are more or less equal are separated by a lounge access option. If you’re going to have a layover, it might as well be as enjoyable as possible.
If you have a favorite travel lounge or know of some good ones, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. (Please don’t spam me with links to your travel sites, though. Legit commenters only.)