After checking your luggage, getting through security, and finding your gate, you settle down for a few minutes of rest before your flight.
But how are you supposed to relax when it’s noisy, your seat is dirty and uncomfortable, and the airport WiFi isn’t working?
You glance across the terminal and see a group of people relaxing in a lounge, separate from the noise and chaos of the terminal. If only you could somehow join this elite group of people, all the madness of the airport would fade away.
But how do you get access to airport lounges? And are they even worth it? That’s what we’ll look at in this guide, which explores how airport lounges work, as well as the best ways for getting access to them (even if you aren’t a millionaire).
What Are Airport Lounges?
These days, “airport lounge” can mean all kinds of things. It could be as simple as a quiet room with its own WiFi and a few snacks, or as elaborate as a full-service restaurant and bar with shower rooms and luxury furnishings.
What all airport lounges have in common, however, is that they’re separate from the main concourse. This separation is ultimately what you’re paying for, as it means less noise and less activity. All of which, presumably, allows you to relax (or maybe even do some work) before your flight.
Here are some common amenities you’ll find in airport lounges:
- Free food
- Free non-alcoholic beverages
- Alcoholic beverages (sometimes free, sometimes for purchase)
- Private bathrooms
- Shower rooms (especially in busy international airports)
- Sleeping areas (in certain types of lounges)
- Free WiFi (separate from the airport network and usually more reliable)
- Business center (which often includes desktop computers and desks)
- Phone charging stations (usually less crowded than in the main concourse)
In practice, you’ll rarely find all of the above items in one airport lounge. And the quality of the items can also vary widely. The food in one lounge, for instance, might consist of a few snacks, while another might have hot food and table service.
So how do you get access to these magical airport oases? Keep reading to find out.
The Best Credit Cards for Getting Airport Lounge Access
Our preferred way to access airport lounges is with a travel rewards credit card. In addition to giving you lounge access, these cards come with other cool travel perks such as free checked bags, additional cash back on travel purchases, and reimbursement for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck application fees.
Here are our two favorite credit cards for getting into airport lounges:
Keep reading for more information about the access each card provides.
1. Chase Sapphire Reserve Lounge Access
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is our favorite general-purpose travel credit card. In addition to its high sign-up bonus and travel rewards, the card also gives you access to over 1,200 airport lounges around the world through Priority Pass Select.
Priority Pass lounges come with great benefits such as free WiFi, free food, and comfortable chairs to relax. Most Priority Pass lounges also include free alcoholic beverages, and many have shower rooms available.
Visit this page to learn how you can enjoy the lounge access and other benefits of Chase Sapphire Reserve.
2. Amex Platinum Lounge Access
The Platinum Card from American Express is an excellent travel credit card for big spenders who enjoy the finer things in life. One of the many perks this card offers is access to the Global Lounge Collection.
The Global Lounge Collection includes access to the following lounge networks:
- The Centurion Lounges
- The International American Express Lounges
- Priority Pass Lounges
- Escape Lounges
- Delta Sky Club Lounges
- Plaza Premium Lounges
- Air Space Lounges
As you can see, the lounge access that Amex Platinum offers is more extensive than Chase Sapphire Reserve. The lounges on this list also tend to be some of the most luxurious available, so consider getting the Amex Platinum if you desire the utmost in comfort while traveling.
Visit this page to learn more about how Amex Platinum gives you lounge access and a variety of other benefits.
How to Get Airport Lounge Access Without a Credit Card
Using a travel credit card is our favorite way to get access to airport lounges since you get a variety of benefits in addition to lounge access. However, what if you don’t want to apply for a credit card? Can you still get into airport lounges?
Absolutely! Here are five ways to get airport lounge access without a credit card:
1. Fly Business or First-Class
One of the easiest (but also priciest) ways to get into an airport lounge is to fly business or first-class. Most airlines include complimentary access to their lounges with all premium tickets. Delta, for instance, offers free lounge access to any passengers traveling on a same-day Delta One flight.
To see if your ticket will give you access to an airport lounge, check the details from your booking confirmation email. You can also check the airline’s website or call them if you still aren’t sure.
2. Attain Elite Status
Even if premium tickets are out of your budget, you can still get airport lounge access for taking a lot of flights.
Many airlines offer complimentary lounge access to customers who hold an “Elite” rewards status (or whatever the equivalent is for the airline). American Airlines, for example, offers Admirals Club access to AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, and Platinum customers traveling on international flights.
To get this elite status, you generally have to take a certain number of flights each calendar year (or earn a certain number of qualifying airline miles/points). Check with the specific airline for details on how to qualify.
3. Buy a Day Pass
How can you get lounge access if you don’t want to spring for business class and you don’t travel enough to get elite status? One of the easiest ways is to buy a day pass to the lounge. This is a great option if you need to get some important work done or if the airport is especially busy.
In many cases, buying a day pass to a lounge is as simple as walking up to the counter and swiping your credit card. However, you should be aware that some lounges restrict access to passengers of a certain airline or members of certain rewards programs.
American Airlines, for instance, will only let you buy a day pass if you have a boarding pass for a same-day flight on American or one of its partner airlines.
Other lounges, meanwhile, don’t offer day passes at all. Delta, for instance, discontinued Single Visit Passes in November 2018.
To see if an airport lounge offers day passes, check the airline’s website. Or, just walk up to the lounge counter and ask.
4. Buy a Lounge Pass Membership
If you want access to a variety of lounges without getting a credit card, you can buy a lounge pass.
For extensive lounge access, we recommend the Priority Pass. You don’t have to be a rewards member with a particular airline to get it, and you can use it around the world. Priority Pass currently offers three levels of membership:
- Standard — Each lounge visit is $32 for members (and $32 for guests). The Standard membership costs $99 per year.
- Standard Plus — Members get 10 free visits a year; each visit after that is $32. The Standard Plus membership costs $299 per year.
- Prestige — Members get unlimited free visits. The Prestige membership costs $429 per year.
You can learn more about Priority Pass membership here.
In addition to general lounge passes like Priority Pass, you can often buy yearly memberships to lounges for a specific airline. For instance, you can purchase an annual membership to the American Airlines Admirals Club for $650.
Generally, though, it makes more sense to get a credit card with lounge access than to pay for a lounge membership directly. This is because the annual fee for credit cards with lounge access is often less than the cost of an annual lounge membership (especially when you account for other travel perks such as free bags).
5. Be Someone’s Guest
The final way to get access to an airport lounge is to come along as the guest of a member. You’ll usually have to pay an entry fee, but it’s a way to get access to a lounge if you have no other options.
Priority Pass lounge members, for instance, can bring a guest for an additional $32. Centurion Lounge members, meanwhile, can bring up to 2 guests for free.
Of course, you’ll need to be traveling with (or make friends with) a lounge member to be their guest.
The Best Airport Lounges
To finish this guide, we want to take a look at some of our favorite airport lounge networks from around the world. For each lounge, we’ve included a description of the best features, as well as where the lounge is available and how you can get access.
1. Priority Pass Lounges
Up first, we have one of our favorite lounge networks. Priority Pass lounges are great if you want to escape the chaos of the airport, get a bite to eat, and perhaps enjoy an adult beverage. They tend to have reliable WiFi, and you can find them at a variety of airports.
Where they’re available: Over 1,200 Priority Pass lounges are available across six continents. Note that not all of them are technically “lounges.” Some are restaurants or bars that offer a food or drink credit to Priority Pass cardholders. Additionally, the availability at smaller U.S. airports is sometimes lacking.
2. Amex Centurion Lounges
If you want a luxury lounge experience, then the Centurion Lounge is where you should go. Expect spa treatments, fine wines, and food from James Beard Award-winning chefs. It’s almost like a mini-vacation.
Where they’re available: Centurion Lounges are currently available in the following airports:
- Dallas (DFW)
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- Houston (IAH)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- New York (LGA)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Miami (MIA)
- Seattle (SEA)
- San Francisco (SFO)
How to get access: Get the Amex Platinum card, or enter as the guest of someone who has it.
3. United Club Lounges
If you just want a quick drink, snack, and some high-speed internet, then one of the United Club lounges is the perfect choice. These lounges are basic, but they’re still a lot nicer than the waiting area next to your gate.
Where they’re available: United Club lounges are available at 45 airports across the U.S. Additionally, United Club members get access to a variety of Star Alliance lounges across the world. You can view a full list of locations here.
How to get access: You can get access to United Club lounges in the following ways:
- Travel in a United Premium cabin (Business or First Class)
- Get Star Alliance Gold Status
- Purchase a United Club membership
- Buy a one-time pass
- Be an active member of the U.S. military traveling on a United flight within 24 hours
- Be an Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus and Select Executive member
Learn more about United Club access policies here.
4. Delta Sky Club Lounges
If you’re traveling on a Delta flight and want to grab a drink or healthy bite to eat, then all you have to do is step inside one of the Delta Sky Club lounges. In addition to refreshments, each lounge also offers complimentary WiFi. Select lounge locations offer showers and printers.
Where they’re available: Over 50 Delta Sky Club lounges are located across the United States, and Delta also offers access to partner and third-party lounges across the world.
How to get access: You can access Delta Sky Club lounges through the following methods:
- Join Delta Sky Club
- Purchase a Delta One or SkyTeam Premium cabin ticket
- Be a SkyTeam Elite Plus member traveling on a SkyTeam international flight
- Get a credit card such as Delta Reserve for Business or Amex Platinum
Learn more about how to access Delta Sky Club lounges here.
5. American Airlines Admirals Club
If you want snacks, free drinks, and personal travel assistance, then head over to the nearest Admirals Club lounge. Many lounges also offer made-to-order food, shower suites, and business centers to keep you performing at your best.
Where they’re available: There are over 50 Admirals Clubs available worldwide. Admirals Club members also get access to 60+ partner lounges at locations in the U.S. and abroad.
How to get access: You can access the Admirals Club in a variety of ways:
- Purchase an Admirals Club membership
- Purchase a Business or First Class ticket on a qualifying international flight
- Be a member of AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum traveling on a qualifying international flight
- Purchase a one-day pass
- Get a Citi / AAdvantage Executive Card
- Be a member of the U.S. military traveling in uniform on a same-day American Airlines flight
You can learn more about how to access Admirals Club lounges here.
Wait for Your Next Flight in the Comfort of an Airport Lounge
Airport lounges can take a lot of the stress out of flying with their free food, drinks, and other amenities. We hope this guide has helped you understand how airport lounges work, as well as which lounge you should choose for your next flight.
Looking to save money on your next flight? Check out our list of the best travel credit cards.