NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Call this a tale of two trips.

You are on the noisy airport concourse, sipping a $5 coffee, eating a roll that cost the same and maybe paying for WiFi access. Around you is chaos -- that's the only word for it.

I am in an airline private club where my latte is free, so is the bagel with cream cheese and of course the WiFi not only is free, it almost always is high speed. Around me there is tranquility.

Admit it, you want it. There is no question about this.

Said Joe Brancatelli, who blogs about travel at JoeSentMe: "The best investment you can make in your own comfort and productivity on the road is membership in airport clubs. Why wait with the huddled masses when even the worst club will give you a clean, quiet place to work, free beverages, free WiFi, comfy chairs, etc. It is a no brainer."

Brancatelli left out a few more perks such as free newspapers - generally USA Today , sometimes the Wall Street Journal , usually a local paper -- and a range of free magazines. Many clubs also have showers available. Complimentary beer and wine is included at most clubs.

And they almost always have convenient and available plugs for recharging your electronics.

Basically, getting into an airline club involves showing a same day ticket to fly (many clubs will accept tickets on other airlines), a photo ID and something that wins you entry.

It's with the last that the real question arises: At what cost?

The reality is that there is a smart way in, and there is a stupid way and what is surprising is how dumb the obvious route in fact turns out to be.

Want into a Delta Sky Club and a one day pass costs you $50 at the door, or fly Delta a lot and the fee for an annual club membership is $450.

Join the USAirways club and the annual dues also are $450. A one day pass is $50 at the door ($29 when booked online at

Join one airline club and frequently that membership will get you admission to clubs of some other airlines. In many cases, a USAirways membership for instance wins entry to clubs of other Star Alliance members (United, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, plus others).

Sound like a winner? Not so fast.

Do the math. To make a USAirways membership work, you need to fly it, or its alliance partners, at least 15 times in the year and you need to be in airports where there are accessible clubs. The last is a rub. Many second tier airports have no clubs at all. None.

You might think therefore that buying day passes à la carte could make sense - if you can compute $50 worth of value, and that is not easy unless you plan to spend at least one hour in the club. Even discounted to $29 for online booking, that means quaffing a lot of cheap wine to hit the target value.