Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Forget Groucho. I've Joined the (Airport) Clubs.
June 29, 2017 -- That settles it. Starting right now I will be flying like a grown-up. After all, I just turned 60. It's time.

To upgrade the way I fly requires doing something that I have very carefully avoided for my entire life. I'm going to need to join a club.

I've never been a joiner, you see, not of any kind. The one time that I did sign on with an organized group was with the Boy Scouts when I was 12 years old. That association didn't even last long enough for my mom to launder my uniform.

But I'm ready now, I tell you. Four-plus decades of suffering with the huddled masses at crappy, overpriced airport bars and crowded, under air-conditioned boarding gates is quite enough, thank you very much.

From now on I insist on being comfortable as I make my way from one airport terminal to the next. And gaining entry not to one but to an entire network of airport club lounges is the answer.

Screw Groucho Marx. At my age, I'll be thrilled to belong to any airport club that would have me as a member. Admittedly, though, it took the prodding of a well-seasoned business traveler to bring me to my senses.

Last fall my wife and I spent a week in Rome with an old friend and his wife. On the way home, he treated us to a pre-flight stay at Fiumicino's I Mosaici club. (See photo at left.) We're talking comfortable leather chairs that you can doze in, smartly dressed servers offering beverages and food, showers and work areas should you need them and, best of all, a wonderfully civilized sense of relaxing quiet.

Yes, I said relaxing quiet. Inside the confines of an airport terminal.

This comes as no surprise to a seasoned business class traveler like you. My friendly, neighborhood business traveler friend has preached the gospel of the clubs to me for years. But neither my wife nor I had ever seen an airport lounge before, let alone been inside one. To be honest, we'd never even noticed the signs for lounges at the many airport terminals through which we've traveled over the decades.

These things just never were on our radar. We're hardheaded economy class civilians, after all, not well-heeled, road-hardened business travelers.

But a mere three hours inside the I Mosaici lounge and we were both hooked. We decided in very short order that club access will be our way of making the ever-declining quality of economy air travel just a little bit more bearable. Until we are willing or able to spring for business class travel, that is.

Thing is, we needed to find a reliable, cost-effective way to gain entry to the clubs. Up until recently we hadn't yet. In fact, in our very brief time as club hoppers we discovered that money won't always buy club happiness. Often, our money isn't any good at all.

We tried buying day passes to the Emirates lounge in Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport last month when we were flying on Emirates from New York to Milan/Malpensa. But we were turned away due to our economy ticket status. Next door was what appeared to be a swell-looking Virgin Atlantic lounge, but it wasn't selling entry to the likes of us, either. If you're flying coach, some airlines simply don't want you in their hoity-toity clubs no matter how many pieces of silver you are eager to cough up.

So last week, just days after returning from the two-week Italy trip that started clubless at JFK, I applied for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The Reserve card, which arrived via UPS in three business days, includes a membership to Priority Pass Select. That means that my wife and I now have access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. That includes, I should note, I Mosaici and two other lounges in Rome, three clubs at Malpensa--and the Wingtips Lounge in Terminal 4 at Kennedy. (Take that, Emirates!) The card's T&E earnings--three Chase Ultimate Reward points on dining and travel purchases--also trumps the two points I was getting with my Sapphire Preferred card.

At first, the Sapphire Reserve's $450 annual fee was off-putting to traveling hoi polloi like us. But its $300 annual travel credit brings the effective cost down to $150. That's only $55 more than my Sapphire Preferred card's $95 annual fee, which buys me access to not a single airport club. On top of that the Reserve card reimburses the $100 application fee I just paid Uncle Sam for Global Entry. So I'm thinking that I'm way ahead.

I mean, seriously. Since being introduced to airport lounges last fall my wife and I have already spent nearly $200 on day passes to airport clubs in three different countries. At that rate alone I figure the new credit card with the higher up-front cost is well worth it.

I'm a grown-up traveler now, remember? Best I start acting like one. So point me to the nearest lounge ...


This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.