Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to do a tour of the Plaza Premium lounges at Toronto’s Pearson International airport. The Plaza Premium Lounge network offers “pay-in lounges”, which means that for a small fee those of us who fly with cheap tickets can have access to first class service, comfortable seating, buffet styles meals and unlimited self service drinks (including alcohol). After my tour, I was in the terminal for over 3 hours before boarding my plane to Venice, so I compared life in the lounge to life in the terminal.
Lounge: Food was served buffet style, so guests could help themselves to delicious food — all included in the rate. Added bonus, no line-ups! When I was there, the lounge’s dinner menu was:
– main course: Chicken with Cream of Mushroom Sauce and the Fusilli with Garlic “Power” or Powder, which is what I assume the sign meant to say. 🙂
– soups: Chicken Noodle and Mushroom
– sandwiches, bagels, salads, toast
– snacks: fruit, cookies, pretzels, peanuts
Public Area: There were several dining options in the terminal. The prices I saw included:
– Ham & Cheese Sandwich – $7.49
– Turkey Panini – $ 7.99
– Hamburger – $ 4.99
– Salad – $8.99
– Fruit Cup – $ 4.89
– Cupcake – $ 2.29
Lounge: The bar was self service and unlimited, so it felt like home being able to get up and grab a drink to quench the thirst without grabbing my wallet first. Guests can help themselves to:
– Fresh Ground Coffee – forget the line-ups at Starbucks and Tim Hortons, you can enjoy fresh ground coffee (Cappuccino, Caffe Latte, Americano, Espresso) made with a state of the art coffee machine.
– Water, Juices, Soft Drinks
– Alcohol – This is where they must lose money on some visitors. I noticed one couple who helped themselves to 3 glasses of wine each in a short period. I was surprised they were able to stand up and walk to their gates afterwards. Other than wine there is Rum, Whiskey, Vodka, and a few different brands of Beer.
Public Area: The price of water started at a shocking $3/500 ml. Coffees were $3.49. There was a bar near my gate, but I didn’t get a price list. Based on a starting price of $3 for water, let’s assume alcoholic beverages will be 2-3 times that amount.
Lounge: When I arrived at the Domestic Terminal lounge at Terminal 3, I was provided an access code to use the wifi on my laptop and I connected easily. If I didn’t have my laptop I could have used one of the computer workstations in the lounge.
Public Area: There is no free wifi in the Toronto Pearson airport. The Boingo Network offers a connection, for US$ 9.95 per month. They have some As-You-Go plans as well.
Lounge: The staff greet you with a smile and come around to your seat to take away your plates and empty glasses. There was cushioned seating in the main lounge area and tables with padded benches in the dining area. There was a separate TV Lounge. It was quiet, although I could see how it might get noisier if it was completely full. While the lounges don’t have the annoying noises that are found in the public area, you’ll likely hear things such as the coffee machine grinding away occasionally or a traveller with a loud voice off in the distance. The Plaza Premium lounges in the Toronto airport have showers, which is a great bonus if you have just come in after a long flight or if you slept out in the terminal (pre-security) the night before and want to clean up before your flight.
Public Area: After a few hours of quiet and solitude, I emerged from my cocoon in the lounge to explore the public area of the terminal. Within minutes, I regretted leaving and I wanted to return. Clearly I had been spoiled in the lounge as some things I hadn’t noticed or been bothered by before suddenly annoyed me. Carts whizzed past on uneven surfaces, a recorded voice repeated that the walkway was about to end, flight announcements blared, the security area beeped constantly, kids screamed, the cleaners loudly replaced garbage bags, and there must have been a cold going around judging by the number of people sneezing and coughing. When I reached my gate, the seats were all taken, so I had to “inconvenience” some idiot who thought his carry-on bag deserved a seat. Sorry buddy, but you need to move it to the floor!
As a single traveller, one of the annoying realities of life in the airport is having to pick up all of your belongings and cart everything around with you whenever you need to visit the bathroom or go to get food/drinks. This is not a problem in the lounge. If you have a carry-on, you can leave it with the lounge’s left luggage. Any personal belongings you keep with you can be left on your seat. You may want to take your wallet and passport and hide your laptop if you plan to be away for a while, but it is safe to leave any bags/personal items at your seat. You certainly won’t have security and a sniffer dog going through your stuff when you return from the bathroom. You also don’t risk losing your comfortable seat to the airport vulture who moves and takes over the minute you leave. This makes airport lounges a great option for single travellers.
So, is paying for a lounge really worth it?
The fee to use the Plaza Premium lounges in Toronto is CA$ 30 (before 11am) / CA$ 35 (after 11am) for a 3 hour visit. In the two hours I was there, I used the wifi, had a large nutritious meal, gourmet coffee, an iced tea, snacks, glass of wine and a comfortable quiet seat. I definitely ate and drank more than I would in the public area. I estimate this would have cost at least CA$ 38 outside of the lounge.
Granted I could have “gotten by” with a small greasy burger or a pricey sandwich out in the terminal. And I certainly wouldn’t order myself a glass of wine in the terminal if I had to actually pay for it. Instead of wifi, I could have read a book or magazine, but I’d have to buy these too and the book would probably cost more than the internet connection. I’d also never finish the book – ever! – so what’s the point? And one magazine is not likely to entertain me for 3 hours straight. Overall, my time in the lounge was an enjoyable, comfortable and stress free way to start my trip before squeezing into the sardine can that would be my airplane for 8 hours.
In the end, I boarded the plane well rested, happy (if I forget the hour of noise I spent in the crowded public area), entertained and well fed. With airlines cheaping out on in-flight food service, I didn’t have to worry about starving or having indigestion from greasy terminal food.
I think these pay-in lounges offer great value to passengers who want more than just lie around at the gates waiting for their flights. Whether you have a long transit, you are delayed or you want to clean up after a night of sleeping out in the terminal, check out the Plaza Premium Lounges and other pay-in lounges! I have recently created an airport lounge section, so I will be adding more pay-in lounge info in the coming months! Check it out the next time you fly!
For those of you who have used pay-in-lounges in the past, which ones have you visited and do you think you received good value?