6 Ways to Get Airport Lounge Access

By Julianne Ross
Man on people mover at airport

In my days as a young, broke backpacker, I never dreamed of shelling out for airport lounge access. But as airports have gotten more crowded, delays more frequent, and my neck more prone to seizing up whenever I try to rest by the boarding gate, it’s gotten hard to fly without lounge access.

Airport lounges provide quiet spots to work, grab a bite, or relax before a flight. They have faster Wi-Fi than the rest of the airport and much comfier seating. Many offer free snacks and booze, and the fanciest lounges even provide showers and nap pods.

In short, lounge access makes air travel much more enjoyable. And these days, you don’t have to be flying first class to get in.

Below, we’ve broken down the best ways to get airport lounge access. Just be warned: once you experience travel with lounge access, you’ll never go back.

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The Best Backpack for Air Travel

Lounge access won’t mean much if you’re stuck in a check-in line for hours. Breeze through the airport by traveling carry-on-only with Tortuga’s Outbreaker Backpack, which opens like a suitcase but carries like a hiking pack. The Outbreaker fits perfectly in the overhead bin, meaning you can skip the bag check and be kicking back with a free glass of champagne in no time.

How to Get Airport Lounge Access

There are six main ways to get airport lounge access, listed here in order of value and convenience:

  1. Get free access through a premium rewards credit card.
  2. Get free access through an airline’s co-branded credit card.
  3. Buy a day pass.
  4. Buy a third-party lounge membership (such as Priority Pass).
  5. Buy an airline-specific lounge membership.
  6. Earn airline loyalty status.

The Best Rewards Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

The best way to get lounge access is through a credit card. Top-tier rewards cards like the Platinum Card from American Express offer unlimited access to thousands of lounges around the world. Massive sign-up bonuses and yearly travel credits help offset these cards’ hefty annual fees, making your first year of lounge access free.

Your best choice here, apart from the Amex Platinum Card, is the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Capital One Venture X. Each offers Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you and two guests into more than 1,000 lounges across the globe. In terminals without lounges, Priority Pass often partners with restaurants to offer you and your guests $28 to $30 off your meal as an alternative.

Here’s how else these cards compare:

The Platinum Card from American Express

In addition to Priority Pass Select membership, the American Express Platinum Card (annual fee: $695) opens the door to more than 40 Centurion Lounges—often considered the best, and most exclusive, lounges in the world. Add Delta Sky Club access and a $200 annual airline fee credit, and this is one of the best credit cards for frequent travelers who like to fly in style. 

  • Centurion Lounge access
  • Priority Pass Select membership (includes free access for two guests and any authorized users)
  • Delta Sky Club access when flying Delta (each guest costs $39)
  • 5X points on flights and hotels
  • 1X points on other purchases
  • $200 annual airline fee credit
  • $200 annual hotel credit
  • $175 for up to three authorized users

The one caveat: Amex cardholders unfortunately can no longer take advantage of Priority Pass restaurant discounts.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve (annual fee: $550) is another excellent card for lounge access. Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the most valuable credit card points around, and they’ll add up fast when booking travel directly through Chase.

  • Priority Pass Select membership (includes free access for two guests and any authorized users)
  • 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and cars booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal
  • 3X points on other dining and travel purchases
  • 1X points on all other purchases
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • $75 per authorized user

Capital One Venture X

Thanks to Capital One’s flexible point redemption options, the Venture X card (annual fee: $395) is great for travelers who like to keep things simple. The Venture X also allows access to over 100 Plaza Premium Lounges, which are particularly popular throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and doesn’t charge for your first four authorized users. 

  • Priority Pass Select membership (includes free access for two guests and any authorized users)
  • Plaza Premium Lounge access (includes free access for two guests)
  • Capital One Lounge access (includes free access for two guests; note that Capital One’s lounge network is very new and thus still limited)
  • 5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
  • 2X points on all other purchases
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 10,000 point anniversary bonus
  • Up to four authorized users for free

Capital One currently has a one signature lounge, located in the Dallas-Forth Worth airport. Additional lounges in Denver and Washington, DC are scheduled to open later in 2022.

The Best Airline Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

While a bit less versatile than the three cards listed above, co-branded cards are solid investments for airline loyalists—especially if you frequently fly through an airline’s hub city (for example, Atlanta for Delta). 

They also come with perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and an accelerated path to elite status. Plus, you’ll get access to most, if not all, of an airline’s partner lounges. For example, United Club membership also gets you into Star Alliance lounges.

Delta SkyMiles Reserve Credit Card from American Express

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve Credit Card from American Express has an annual fee of $550.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

The Citi Aadvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard has an annual fee of $450.

  • Admirals Club access for you and two guests when flying American or a partner airline (including Alaska and oneworld carriers)
  • Free Admirals Club access for up to 10 authorized users (note that this isn’t full membership, so authorized users can’t get into partner lounges)

United Club Infinite Card

The United Club Infinite Card has an annual fee of $450.

Woman using computer in airport lounge

Buy an Airport Lounge Day Pass

The simplest way to get lounge access without a credit card is to buy a day pass to the lounge of whichever airline you’re flying. Passes typically range from $45 to $75.

This cost might be well worth it on busy travel days or when dealing with long layovers or delays. In these instances, calculate how much you value a little solitude, fast Wi-Fi, and free snacks.

Here are some of the major airlines whose lounges are available for day pass purchase:

Delta Sky club discontinued single visit passes in 2018.

Walk up and buy a pass on the spot or order one in advance using the LoungeBuddy app. Admittance is always subject to capacity, and you’ll need a boarding pass showing same-day travel with the airline or one of its partners. 

Buy a Priority Pass Membership

Independent lounge networks work well for those who aren’t loyal to a specific airline and often travel both domestically and internationally. 

Priority Pass is the world’s largest independent airport lounge network, with more than 1,300 lounges worldwide. Priority Pass has a tiered level of pricing for individual memberships:

  • Standard: $99 annually; $32 per lounge visit if available
  • Standard Plus: $299 annually; 10 free visits then $32 per visit
  • Prestige: $429 annually; unlimited free access
  • At all levels, guests pay $32 per visit

The “Select” tier isn’t included above because it’s only available through premium credit cards.

Buy an Airline Lounge Membership

Some airlines—including Delta, United, and American—don’t accept Priority Pass members because they run their own lounge networks. You’ll get more bang for your buck with a co-branded credit card, but buying an airline-specific membership can pay off if you live near an airline’s home base.

Airline club memberships might also give you access to alliance or partner clubs, such as oneworld or Star Alliance, which will come in handy when traveling internationally.

Here’s how some of the top networks compare:

Delta Sky Club

  • The Delta Sky Club is good for those who often fly through Atlanta
  • Offers two membership tiers:
    • Individual membership costs $545 per year; guest passes are $39 per visit
    • Executive membership is $845 per year but includes access for two guests per visit

United Club

  • The United Club is good for those who often fly through Chicago
  • Membership starts at $650

Admirals Club

  • The Admirals Club is good for those who often fly through Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Memberships range from $550 to $650 for individuals, depending on your AAdvantage status level

Alaska Lounge

  • The Alaska Lounge is good for those who often fly through Seattle
  • Two membership tiers:
    • Alaska Lounge membership costs $450 and includes up to two guests
    • Alaska Lounge+ costs $600 and also includes access to more than 90 partner lounges
Airplane flying with an apartment building in the foreground

Earn Elite Status on an Airline

If you tend to travel on the same airline a lot, sign up for their loyalty program and start earning points every time you fly. 

The number of loyalty points required for lounge access is steep. You’ll need 75,000 points to earn American Airlines Platinum status, which will get you into the Admirals Club.

Still, it’s free to join and even the lowest tiers come with perks. Delta Silver Medallion members, for example, get priority check-in. Earn loyalty points faster by signing up for an airline’s co-branded credit card and using their online shopping portals.

Conclusion

Airport lounges are no longer reserved for first-class travelers. If you know how to work the system and are willing to shell out a few bucks, lounges are accessible to everyone. 

You’ll get the most value with a rewards credit card that comes with lounge perks, but that’s far from your only option. Use an app like LoungeBuddy to see which lounges are available in the airports you typically fly through. Consider buying a single-use pass on particularly stressful travel days, look into independent lounge memberships, and sign up for airline loyalty programs.

Most importantly, always travel with a carry on so you can get through the airport and into that relaxing lounge fast.

Bring everything you need without checking a bag.

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