To AC or Not to AC...

...That is the question.

Right now I'm an AAdvantage Platinum (PLT) member. In a few weeks, I'll be EXP (Executive Platinum, the highest level in American's program).

I am not currently a member of the Admirals Club, American's lounges. But I'm thinking about it. There are two issues here. First, is membership even worth it? Second, if membership is in fact worth it, how should I acquire said membership? I'm going to deal with the first question below, and the second question in a future post.

So first question's first. Is it worth it to be an Admirals Club member?

I've always assumed that the answer is no. The reason is that I just don't see the benefit. When flying domestically (which is my usual M.O.), AC members get to sit in the "swanky" lounge, eat crappy snacks, and use the internet for free. They also get access to some above-average AA agents (the so-called "AAngels").

You're basically paying a bunch of money for the privilege of not sitting near the unwashed masses. That's all you're getting. You don't get food. (Okay, you get pretzels. But it's not like they have complimentary turkey sandwiches or eggs benedict or pea soup.) You don't get a beer. (Well, you can get a beer, but you have to pay for it, just like at the bar in the terminal.) It's not even that quiet, and you're not even guaranteed a seat. You get wireless internet, which I guess is nice, but it's probably a better deal to spend the money on a T-Mobile Hotspot membership, so you can get wireless in places other than the Admirals Club.

I've always figured that I could just as soon buy internet usage as needed, and save my money on the AC. Surely, I'm not such a snob that I need to pay extra for slightly nicer seats. And since real food costs money at the AC anyway, I might as well eat at a swanky airport restaurant (e.g. Legal C Bar at BOS) and eat better food than the AC could ever offer, at a better price, and with better selection.

Sure, the AAngels are useful during IRROPS, but that's what the EXP phone line is for, right?

Then everything changed after a recent redeye from LAX-JFK.

I bought an AC day pass, and it was totally worth it. Why? Because the JFK club -- like those in LA, Boston, DFW, and some other spots -- has showers. And they're not just showers. They're private little bathroom suites, complete with a toilet, a bench, a sink, mirrors, and plenty of room for freshening up.

For someone spending more and more time in airports, this shower suite is pretty much worth its square-footage in gold. I used to book flights that allowed me lot of extra time to get to the airport. But time is money (and time away from my wife blows... I'm a newlywed), and I'm now booking myself on more redeyes and other difficult flights. So suddenly, I'm seeing the value of a membership in an Admirals Club. If I have an afternoon appointment in NY, I don't have to blow the previous day traveling, and waste a hundred bucks of my travel budget on a hotel. I can take the redeye, sleep on the plane, spend the morning working in the AC, take a shower, shave, change into business attire, and get myself to my meeting.

Lets admit it... a private bathroom in an airport is a nice thing to have.

So after all this, I'm leaning towards an AC membership. I still think the lack of complimentary drinks and food is a ripoff, and my populist self doesn't love the idea of paying for the privilege of avoiding the proletariat. But internet plus quiet plus showers may be worth a couple hundred bucks a year.

(Stay tuned, and we'll talk about how I'm going to pay for this AC membership.)