How to Get Airport Lounge Access (Even If You're Flying Economy)

Ready for better travels with airport lounge access? Find out the different ways you can access airport lounges worldwide.
Last updated Jul 31, 2021 | By Ben Walker | Edited By Jess Ullrich
Woman reading in airport lounge

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Airport lounge access is often misunderstood as a perk for wealthy individuals or people who travel all the time. But it doesn’t have to be limited to these groups. In fact, most people can get access to airport lounges one way or another without necessarily breaking the bank.

This guide will show you the different ways to get airport lounge access so you could have the opportunity to upgrade your travel experiences. Here’s how to get started.

In this article

How to get airport lounge access

If you want airport lounge access, there are several ways to get it, including:

Credit cards

Credit cards are one of the most common and easiest ways to get airport lounge access. Though you might get access to different lounges with different credit cards. Here are some of the best credit cards along with the lounge and travel benefits they offer.

Card name Lounge access Additional travel benefits Annual fee
The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Centurion Lounge
  • International American Express Lounges
  • Priority Pass Select
  • Escape Lounges
  • Delta Sky Club
  • Plaza Premium
  • Air Space
Annual credits up to:
  • $200 for select hotel bookings
  • $200 for Uber
  • $179 for CLEAR
  • $200 for airline fees

Other perks:

  • $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold status

    (Select benefits require enrollment)

$695 (See rates and fees)
Terms apply.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass Select
  • Up to $300 annual travel credit
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • 50% points bonus on travel redemptions through Chase
$550
United Club Infinite Card United Club
  • First and second checked bags free
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • 25% back on in-flight purchases
  • Premier Access privileges at airport
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle status
$525
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta Sky Club
  • The Centurion Lounge
  • First checked bag free
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases
  • Annual companion certificate
  • Upgrade priority and access to complimentary upgrades (Select benefits require enrollment)
$550 (See rates and fees)
Terms apply.
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card 12 months of Priority Pass Select
  • Up to $325 annual credits for travel and dining purchases
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
  • 12 free Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes per year
$400
Hilton Honors American Express Business Card 10 visits per year to Priority Pass Select lounges (select benefits require enrollment)
  • Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Hilton Diamond status after $40,000 yearly spend
  • Free weekend night reward after $15,000 yearly spend
  • Second free weekend night reward after $60,000 yearly spend
$95 (See rates and fees)
Terms apply.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Centurion Lounge
  • International American Express Lounges
  • Priority Pass Select
  • Escape Lounges
  • Delta Sky Club
  • Plaza Premium
  • Air Space
Annual credits up to:
  • $179 for CLEAR
  • $200 for airline fees

Other perks:

  • 35% points back when using points for eligible flights
  • Up to $100 fee reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold status

    (Select benefits require enrollment)

$595 (See rates and fees)
Terms apply.

The Platinum Card from American Express

The Amex Platinum offers some of the most robust airport lounge access of any credit card, giving you access to over 1,300 lounges in the American Express Global Lounge Collection. These include The Centurion Lounge, International Amex Lounges, Priority Pass, Escape Lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, and Air Space.

Cardmembers do have a $695 annual fee, but few cards can compete with the number of annual credits available on the Amex Platinum. You get over $1,400 worth of annual credits each year, ranging from Uber credits to digital entertainment credits and more. If you can take advantage of these credits plus other benefits, the card pays for itself and some. Select benefits require enrollment.

Learn more about this card in our American Express Platinum review.

Best Luxury Travel Benefits

Intro Offer

100,000 Membership Rewards points

Annual Fee

$695

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months
  • 10X points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months)
  • 5X points on eligible flights and hotels
  • $200 hotel credit, $240 digital entertainment credit, $200 in Uber Cash, $300 Equinox credit, $200 airline fee credit
  • Access to Centurion and Priority Pass airport lounges
  • Select benefits require enrollment.
  • $695 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your first 6 months)
  • 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers loads of value for frequent travelers, but you don’t necessarily need to travel all the time to get your money’s worth from this card. To offset its $550 annual fee, take advantage of the up to $300 annual travel credit each year, as well as accessing lounges within the Priority Pass network.

Your Priority Pass Select membership provides access to more than 1,300 airport lounges. You also get access to restaurants within the network, which is a perk you won’t find with the Amex Platinum. For further value, don’t forget about the Sapphire Reserve’s 50% bonus for travel redemptions booked through the Chase travel portal.

Learn more about this card in our Chase Sapphire Reserve review.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

up to 10X points per dollar

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Excellent credit required
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else

United Club Infinite Card

The United Club Infinite provides you with a complimentary United Club membership valued at up to $650 per year. This could offset the $525 annual fee without including any other benefits. The United Club network has over 45 locations, primarily throughout the U.S., though there are a few international lounges as well.

This card also provides first and second checked bags for free and 25% back on in-flight purchases on United flights.

Learn more about this card in our United Club Infinite Card review.

A Premium Card for United Flyers

Intro Offer

75,000 bonus miles

Annual Fee

$525

Rewards Rate

Up to 4X miles

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 75,000 bonus miles
  • 4X points on United purchases and 2X points on other travel and dining
  • First and second checked bags are free (terms apply)
  • United Club membership
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck Credit

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Benefits focused on travel with United
Card Details
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 4X miles on United purchases; 2X miles on other travel and dining (including eligible delivery services), 1X miles on all other purchases

Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

The Delta Reserve provides complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs, located at over 35 U.S. airports, and The Centurion Lounge network. An individual Delta Sky Club membership typically costs $545 per year, while The Centurion Lounge network is only accessible by eligible cardholders and their guests. The value from having this access can help to offset the $550 annual fee.

Cardholders also get two one-time passes to Delta Sky Club lounges for guests, an annual companion certificate, access to complimentary upgrades and upgrade priority on flights, and first checked bags free of charge. Select benefits require enrollment.

Learn more about this card in our Delta Reserve Credit Card review.

Access to Delta Sky Club Lounges

Intro Offer

80,000 bonus miles (and 20,000 MQMs)

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

up to 3X miles

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • Generous rewards rate for Delta flyers
  • Complimentary Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • $550 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Best for frequent Delta travelers
Card Details
  • Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 3X miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta and 1X miles for all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa provides 12 months of Priority Pass membership upon approval. Since there’s an end date on your airport lounge access, you might want to consider another card that offers longer access. But if you’re planning lots of travel in the next year, this short-term access could do the trick.

The card’s other benefits aren’t bad either. You could get up to $325 in annual travel and dining credit, which can help offset the $400 annual fee. In addition, this credit card offers 12 free annual passes for Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi, which can help you stay connected while flying.

Learn more about this card in our U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card review.

Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

The Hilton Honors Amex Business has an interesting approach to airport lounge access with 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits each year. If you only travel occasionally, having a limit of 10 free visits each year could be an ideal situation.

In addition, this card also offers automatic Hilton Honors Gold status and ways to earn weekend night rewards and Hilton Honors Diamond status. Select benefits require enrollment.

Learn more about this card in our Hilton Honors American Express Business Card review.

A Slew of Valuable Business Perks

Intro Offer

Up to 180,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points

Annual Fee

$95

Rewards Rate

Up to 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
  • Plus, earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on eligible Hilton purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • Has annual fee
Card Details
  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months (plus, earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $10,000 in the first 6 months)
  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on eligible purchases made directly with Hilton, 6X on select business and travel purchases, and 3X on all other eligible purchases
  • Terms apply

The Business Platinum Card from American Express

The Amex Business Platinum shares many of the same benefits as the Amex Platinum consumer card. You get the same airport lounge access, which is extensive, but the other benefits have a few differences.

You don’t get all the same annual credits, but the up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $179 annual CLEAR credit are still here. In addition, you also get up to $200 in annual Dell credit, as well as a 35% return on your points when used for eligible flights. Select benefits require enrollment.

Learn more about this card in our American Express Business Platinum review.

Premium Business Rewards

Intro Offer

100,000 Membership Rewards points

Annual Fee

$595

Rewards Rate

up to 5X points

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X points on qualifying flight and hotel purchases
  • 1.5X points on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more
  • Up to $200 statement credit per year for airline incidental fees
  • $595 annual fee. Terms apply.

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Requires good to excellent credit
Card Details
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
  • 5X points on flights and prepaid hotels on Amextravel.com, 1.5X points on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more, and 1X points per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Terms apply

LoungeBuddy

LoungeBuddy is a website and mobile app (available for iPhone) that helps travelers find and access airport lounges worldwide. You can book airport lounge access at specific lounges directly through LoungeBuddy.

Since American Express acquired LoungeBuddy in 2019, lounge booking services through LoungeBuddy are exclusively available to American Express cardholders.

How does it work?

Search for a city or airport with LoungeBuddy, and then you’ll see a list of available lounges at that location. You’re able to filter the list by all available lounges or only lounges you’re able to book with LoungeBuddy. If you’re able to book a lounge with LoungeBuddy, it will give you pricing information, as well as important information about certain access restrictions or requirements.

Then you select a day and time for your reservation to begin and pay for your booking. It’s not uncommon for one-time lounge passes to cost $45 or more, though you might also encounter some less expensive options.

What lounges can you access?

LoungeBuddy works with airport lounges worldwide. You have a variety of lounges to choose from, including:

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • The Club
  • Plaza Premium
  • Dnata
  • Aspire
  • Miracle
  • And many more

How do you sign up?

It’s interesting how LoungeBuddy works because you don’t need a membership, and there’s no subscription cost. You simply access its website or phone app, search for lounges, and book a reservation. However, you have to pay with an American Express credit card, as no other form of payment is accepted.

After you pay for a reservation with your Amex card, you’ll receive a confirmation from LoungeBuddy. This is your ticket to airport lounge access and should be shown to the lounge’s front desk staff when you arrive.

Certain cards could also help to offset the cost of your LoungeBuddy reservations. For instance, the American Express® Green Card offers up to $100 in statement credits when you use it to buy lounge access through LoungeBuddy.

Day passes

Day passes allow access to a specific airport lounge on the day for which a pass has been issued.

How does it work?

To get an airport lounge day pass, you simply have to go to the front desk of an airport lounge and pay for access. At eligible lounges, you’ll receive a pass that’s good for the day or a specified amount of time. Day pass prices can vary, but the cost is generally around $50.

What lounges can you access?

Several airline lounges offer day passes at the front desk. This includes Alaska Lounge, United Club, and the American Airlines Admirals Club. However, other lounge networks, such as The Club and Plaza Premium, also offer paid access at the front desk. If you’re not sure if a lounge offers day passes, just ask.

How do you sign up?

There’s no real sign-up process for a lounge day pass — you simply make a one-time payment at the lounge’s front desk. However, certain credit cards, such as the Amex Delta Reserve and the United Explorer Card, offer one-time guest passes as a cardholder benefit.

Lounge memberships

A lounge membership is typically a paid membership for a specific network of lounges.

How does it work?

If you want unlimited access to a certain lounge network for a specified amount of time, typically a year, you would likely need to buy a lounge membership. These are often paid annual subscriptions that give you access to any lounge within the network. In the case of specific airline networks, a lounge membership could grant you access to its lounges without having to fly that airline.

For example, an Alaska Lounge membership gets you and up to two guests access to any Alaska Lounge when you have a valid boarding pass. However, the boarding pass doesn’t have to be with an Alaska Airlines flight.

What lounges can you access?

Many airlines and lounge networks offer lounge memberships. This includes United Club, Admirals Lounge, Delta Sky Club, Alaska Lounge, Priority Pass, and more.

Specific airline lounge memberships typically only give you access to their lounge networks, as well as partner lounges in some cases. A membership to an extensive network like Priority Pass gives you access to over 1,300 lounges worldwide.

How do you sign up?

Visit the website of the applicable lounge network to buy your lounge membership. For example, if you wanted a United Club membership, you would visit the United website and purchase the membership. Certain companies, such as United and Alaska Airlines, require you to create a free account with their loyalty program before you can buy a lounge membership.

Elite status

Many airline loyalty programs, such as Delta Medallion, American Airlines AAdvantage, and United MileagePlus, offer premium benefits for members who reach higher elite status tiers. One of the often-included benefits is airport lounge access with the airline’s lounge network.

How does it work?

You typically have to be a frequent flyer and/or spend a certain amount of money with airlines to advance through their elite status tiers. As you do, you’ll unlock more benefits.

What lounges can you access?

Often, which lounges you’re able to access depends on what kind of elite status you attain. For example, Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members have the option to choose a Delta Sky Club membership as a benefit. If they do, they gain access to Delta Sky Club lounges. In addition, these elite statuses also give them access to SkyTeam lounges since Delta is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance.

Other airlines and their elite status tiers work similarly, typically offering airport lounge access with their own network and the network of the airline alliance the carrier is part of.

How do you sign up?

It’s free to join airline loyalty programs. Simply navigate to the airline’s website and sign up for an account. Then you can start using your assigned membership number on flights to accrue points or miles to help you achieve your elite status goals.

If you want to help accelerate your progress toward earning elite status, consider using one of the best airline credit cards. Specific co-branded cards, such as the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, offer ways to earn points or miles that can help you attain elite status with the applicable loyalty program.

Fly first class

Many airlines offer complimentary airport lounge access if you have a first-class or business ticket with them. Consider it an added perk of purchasing or spending points or miles on what’s typically an expensive flight.

An example of this is United Polaris lounges. These lounges can be accessed by travelers in United Polaris business class on long-haul international flights. They can also be accessed by travelers in international, first, or business class on Star Alliance partner flights. Your business or first-class boarding pass is your ticket into the lounge.

FAQs

Which credit cards offer access to airport lounges?

How do you get free airport lounge access?

One of the best ways to get free airport lounge access is to qualify for a credit card that offers lounge access as a benefit. Some of the best travel credit cards include airport lounge access as a premium benefit.

How much does airport lounge access usually cost?

Airport lounge access typically costs around $50 for a one-time pass, though the price could be lower or higher depending on the lounge. If you want an annual membership to a lounge network, the price could be hundreds of dollars. For instance, Priority Pass members pay up to $429 a year.

If you don’t want to pay for airport lounge access, consider getting a credit card that offers lounge access as one of its benefits. The Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve are two of the most popular cards for airport lounge access and other travel benefits.

Do most airports offer lounges for travelers?

Most major airports offer lounges for travelers, though you might have different lounge options depending on where you're traveling from.

For instance, you can find Priority Pass lounges at 1,300 locations worldwide, including major hubs like Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Other networks, like The Centurion Lounge, offer fewer options. The Centurion Lounge has just 14 locations, including 13 in the U.S. and one in Hong Kong. 

Bottom line

Airport lounge access doesn’t have to be a far-flung dream. If you want to experience the joys of using an airport lounge, such as free food and a place to rest away from busy terminal gates, you have plenty of options to choose from.

The most popular and often easiest way to access airport lounges is through credit cards that offer this benefit. But it’s possible to get access in other ways, whether it’s a day pass, an annual membership, or elite status with an airline. Depending on your goals, any of these options might make sense for you.

#1 Premium Travel Credit Card

Intro Offer

60,000 points

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

up to 10X points per dollar

Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits

  • 60,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 10X points on hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards
  • $60 annual DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Priority Pass airport lounge access

Drawbacks

  • High annual fee
  • Excellent credit required
Card Details
  • Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else

Author Details

Ben Walker Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others achieve their travel goals through financially-sound decisions. For nearly a decade, he has been using credit card points and miles for the sole purpose of traveling the world. Ben has been featured in The Washington Post, MSN, Debt.com, and Finder.com.