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

CREDIT CARDS - TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
Ready for better travels with airport lounge access? Find out the different ways you can access airport lounges worldwide.
Updated April 12, 2024
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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 (terms apply)
  • $189 for CLEAR Plus
  • $200 for airline fees

Other perks:

  • Up to $85 credit for TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years or up to $100 for Global Entry every four years
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold status

    (Select benefits require enrollment)

$695
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
  • $75 IHG credit (through Dec. 31, 2023) and IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status
$525
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta Sky Club
  • The Centurion Lounge
  • First checked bag free
  • Up to $85 credit for TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years or up to $100 for Global Entry every four years
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases
  • Annual companion certificate
  • Upgrade priority and access to complimentary upgrades (Select benefits require enrollment)
$650
Terms apply.
U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card 12 free months of Priority Pass Select; 8 free visits per membership year
  • Up to $325 annual credits for travel and dining purchases
  • Up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee reimbursement
$400
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:
  • $189 for CLEAR Plus
  • $200 for airline fees

Other perks:

  • 35% points back when using points for eligible flights
  • Up to $85 credit for TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years or up to $100 for Global Entry every four years
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
  • Hilton Honors Gold status

    (Select benefits require enrollment)

$695
Terms apply.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express 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 benefits available with the Amex Platinum. You get a variety of perks ranging from Uber credits (terms apply) to digital entertainment credits and more. If you can take advantage of these and other benefits, the card can pay for itself and then some. Select benefits require enrollment.

Learn more about this card in our Amex Platinum review.

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.

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, 25% back on in-flight purchases on United flights, and a 10% discount when you book United Economy Saver award flights within the continental U.S. or between the continental U.S. and Canada.

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

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

The Delta Reserve provides complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs (through 1/31/25), 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 $650 annual fee.

Cardholders also get four 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.

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. Members receive eight free lounge visits per year of membership.

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.

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

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 $189 annual CLEAR Plus credit are still here. In addition, you also get up to $400 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.

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 per year when you use it to buy lounge access through LoungeBuddy.

All information about American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by FinanceBuzz.

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?

Several credit card issuers offer options that will give you lounge access. Here are some of the best airport lounge access credit cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • United Club℠ Infinite Card
  • United℠ Explorer Card
  • U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

All information about Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by FinanceBuzz.

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 Platinum Card® from American Express 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.

Premium Travel Benefits

5.0

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Current Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

Annual Fee

$550

Rewards Rate

5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Travel℠ immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases

Benefits and Drawbacks
Card Details

Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI® Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is a Senior Credit Cards Writer at FinanceBuzz. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.

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