What Is An Airport Lounge & Which Cards Get You Access?

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Update:   The Chase Ink cards no longer offer Lounge Club membership or 2 free lounge visits per year.

Million Mile Secrets reader kurt commented:

I am a very infrequent traveler.  Can someone enlighten me to what the advantages of the airport lounges are?

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

Relatively Quiet Atmosphere, Free Food, and Massages…at the Airport!

Kurt wants to know the benefits of airport lounges.  I’ll also show you which credit cards can get you inside lounges.

More Comfort With Airport Lounges aka Quiet Members-Only Spots in the Airport

When you have airport lounge access, flying can be a little more comfortable.  That’s because you’ll have a relatively quiet spot where you can:

  • Work (or play on Facebook)
  • Enjoy free drinks and snacks (in some lounges)
  • Charge your electronics

Lounge access is expensive (up to $500 a year for a membership), but you may be able to get into a lounge with your credit card. 

Some cards have an high annual fee, but get you unlimited access to lounges.  And some cards (with low or waived annual fees) give you a few lounge passes each year.

That said, I wouldn’t worry about lounge access if you travel only a few times a year, unless you can get it for free!

Credit Cards That Give You Unlimited Lounge Access

1.   American Express Platinum

Link:   American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum  

Link:   The Platinum Card from American Express (personal)

Your American Express Platinum cards (Mercedes-Benz, Platinum card (personal), and get you free lounge access to:

You can still get access to the Delta and Priority Pass lounges.  

To enter Delta lounges, you have to have a valid boarding pass for same day travel on Delta Airlines.  You also have to show your American Express Platinum card.

You get unlimited free access to Priority Pass lounges with a valid ticket for same day travel AND your Priority Pass card.  Your partner and children under the age of 21, or 2 traveling companions can be your guests in the lounge.  However, you have to request your separate free Priority Pass to enter the Priority Pass lounges.

You get free access to the American Express Centurion Lounges in Dallas and Las Vegas.  And new Centurion lounges are being built in La Guardia (New York City) and San Francisco airports.  But 3 lounges isn’t very many!

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

American Express Platinum Cardholders Have Free Access to Centurion Lounges

You can bring 2 traveling companions or your partner and children (under 18 years old) for free into the lounge.

You can’t buy a membership to the Centurion Lounge, you have to have an American Express card.  But you can buy a One-Day pass for $50.

The $450 to $475 annual fee (which is not waived) for an American Express Platinum card might be worth it if you:

  • Fly a lot on Delta
  • Fly through Dallas or Las Vegas
  • Fly internationally on cheap coach tickets that don’t give you lounge access

You also get an annual $200 airline credit and a $100 credit towards Global Entry fee with all versions of the American Express Platinum cards.

2.   Citi Executive American Airlines Card

Link:   Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard

From March 22, 2014, the Citi Executive American Airlines card will be the only credit card that gives free American Airlines lounge membership.

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

You Can Enjoy American Airlines Lounge Membership Courtesy Of Your Citi Executive Credit Card

Your annual fee of $450 gets you American Airlines lounge membership which normally costs up to $500.

You can bring 2 guests into the lounge (they don’t have to be traveling with you) for free and you don’t have to be flying on American Airlines.  But authorized users on your Citi American Airlines Executive card do NOT get lounge access by themselves.

If you’re a frequent flyer and travel through airports that have American Airlines and US Airways lounges, the Citi Executive American Airlines card might be worth the $450 annual fee (not waived).

3.   Delta Reserve

Link:   Delta Reserve (personal)

Link:   Delta Reserve (business)

You get free lounge access to Delta Sky Club lounges when flying on Delta, if you have the Delta Reserve (personal) or (business) card.  A Delta Sky Club lounge membership costs up to $695.

You can bring 2 guests or your partner and children (under 21) for free through April 30, 2014.  On May 1, 2014, only the primary cardholder will get free lounge access.  You have to pay $29 per guest (for the first 2 guests) and $50 for each additional guest.

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

Ouch! You’ll Pay For Every Guest You Bring Into a Delta Lounge

If you’re a frequent Delta flyer who rarely travels with family or other guests and needs lounges access, the $450 annual fee (not waived) for the Delta Reserve would cost you less than paying for a membership.

And you’d get 40,000 redeemable miles plus 40,000 elite qualifying miles after spending $60,000 in a calendar year.  You can also transfer up to 30,000 elite qualifying miles to anyone’s SkyMiles account. 

4.   United Club Card

Link:   United Club (personal)

Link:   United Club (business)

You get free membership to the United Club lounge with your United Club (personal) or (business) card as part of your $450 annual fee.  An annual membership can cost up to $500.

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

Enjoy Drinks With Friends (New and Old)

You can bring 2 guests or your partner and children (under 21) for free into the lounge.

The $450 annual fee (not waived) for the United Club card could be worth it, if you’re a frequent United traveler.

You also get:

  • 1st and 2nd checked bag free for 2 people (you save $120 round-trip per person)
  • 1.5 United miles per $1 spent (so use this card to earn United miles)
  • Free Hyatt Platinum status (free internet!) and Avis President’s Club status (2 class car rental upgrade)
  • Premier Access travel benefits (priority check-in, security, boarding, etc.)

And you might be able to get the 1st year annual fee waived.

5.  Citi Prestige

Link:   Citi Prestige

You get free membership in Priority Pass as a benefit of the Citi Prestige card. 

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

The Citi Prestige Gives You Free International Lounge Access

You get unlimited free lounge access for yourself, and you can bring a guest or family.  So if you travel with friends or family, the $450 annual fee (not waived) might be worth it.

Credit Cards That Give You 2 Free Lounge Visits

1.   Ink Plus and Ink Bold

Link:   Ink Plus  

Link:   Ink Bold

You get an annual membership in the Lounge Club program with the Ink Plus and the Ink Bold.  The Lounge Club is an airline lounge program with over 600 locations worldwide, mostly international.  There are only 19 US airports that have a Lounge Club.  You can use any participating lounge regardless of what airline or type of ticket you’re flying.

You also get 2 free entries per card year.  If your annual fee is due in April, you’d get 2 free entries to use within 12 months.  You have to register for your free Lounge Club card before you can use the Lounge Club lounges.

Additional Ink Plus and Ink Bold card holders get 2 free passes a year too!

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

You Get More Than Just 5X From Your Ink Plus and Ink Bold Cards – You Get a Relaxing Spot When You Fly

Unlike an airline lounge membership which gives you unlimited free access, a Lounge Club membership does not give you unlimited access.  A Lounge Club membership only gets you access to a participating Lounge Club lounge.

To use a Lounge Club lounge, you:

  • Have to pay a fee each time you use the lounge
  • Have to be flying that day (you can’t use the lounge if you’ve landed)
  • Can buy additional visits to Lounge Club locations for $27 each

Paying the $95 annual fee (waived the first year) on the Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or Ink Classic for Lounge Club membership might be worth it if you fly a lot and on different airlines.  The 2 free passes are worth $54 which is about half your annual fee ($95 annual fee – $54 cost of 2 lounge passes).  

But if you fly mostly on 1 airline, it might be worth getting a lounge membership for that airline.

2.   United Explorer Card

Link:  United Explorer 

You get 2 United lounges passes each year you have the United Explorer card.  Each pass is good for one-time use and for 1 person.  So, if you’re flying with someone, each person needs to have a lounge pass.

Credit Cards That Give You Limited Lounge Access

1.   Ink Classic

Link:   Ink Classic

If you have the Ink Classic, you get a free membership in Lounge Club for the 1st year you have the card.  You have to register for your free Lounge Club card before you can use the Lounge Club lounges.

Lounge Club is an international airline lounge program with over 600 locations worldwide.  Although, there are 19 US airports with a Lounge Club.  You don’t have to be flying in First or Business Class nor on a particular airline.  If the airport has a participating lounge you can use it.

A Lounge Club membership only gets you access to a participating Lounge Club lounge, but not free use.

To use a Lounge Club lounge, you:

  • Have to pay a fee each time you use the lounge
  • Have to be flying that day (you can’t use the lounge if you’ve landed)
  • Can buy additional visits to Lounge Club locations for $27 each

2.  American Express Hilton Surpass

Link:   American Express Hilton Surpass

You get a free membership to Priority Pass (a $99 value) with the American Express Hilton Surpass card.  A Priority Pass membership is similar to a Lounge Club membership.  You can use any Priority Pass lounge location worldwide regardless of what airline or if you’re flying on a cheap ticket.

What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

Your American Express Hilton Surpass Card Gets You Lounge Access Anytime

You pay $27 per visit per person.

The $75 annual fee (not waived) covers the $99 membership cost and could be worth it if you fly a lot on different airlines.  But you’ll pay $27 each time you use the lounge so it gets expensive.

3.   Chase Ritz-Carlton 

Link:   Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa

You get an annual membership in the Lounge Club program with the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa card.

But a Lounge Club membership only gets you access to a participating Lounge Club location.

You:

  • Have to pay $27 (per person) to use the lounge
  • Have to be on a departing flight (you can’t use the lounge if you’ve arrived)
  • Can buy additional visits to Lounge Club locations for $27 each
What Is An Airport Lounge And Which Cards Get You Access

A Chase Ritz-Carlton Card Opens More Than Just Hotel Doors

4.   Fairmont Visa Signature

Link:   Fairmont Visa Signature

You get an annual membership in the Lounge Club program and 2 free passes per card year with the Fairmont Visa Signature card.

Each lounge pass is valid for 1 person.  So if 2 people want lounge access you have to use 2 passes.

You:

  • Have to pay $27 (per person) to use the lounge
  • Have to be on a departing flight (you can’t use the lounge if you’ve arrived)
  • Can buy additional visits to Lounge Club locations for $27 each

Bottom Line

Having airport lounge access when you fly, even if you’re an infrequent flyer like Kurt, can make traveling less stressful.  If you don’t fly a lot, it might not be worth buying a lounge membership.

But many credit cards include airport lounge access or give you a few free passes to enter a lounge.

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14 responses to “What Is An Airport Lounge & Which Cards Get You Access?

  1. Daraius,

    I have two free visits from the Ink Plus card. Can I use one for me and one for the wife or are they only good for my (because my name is on the card)?

    Thanks,

    Earl

  2. It appears you may have missed one. From the Gold Delta SkyMiles card Terms and Conditions:

    Delta Sky Club® Reduced Rate benefit (currently $25 per person and $29 as of May 1, 2014) is limited to Gold and Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card Members and up to two guests and may be used only in conjunction with same-day ticketed air travel on any airline. Benefit permits access to one Club location and is not transferable to another Club. Payment must be made in person with a Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card. Card Member must be at least 21 years of age to access Clubs with a self-service bar, unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian who is also accessing the Club using the Reduced Rate benefit or as a Club member. Please drink responsibly. Partner lounges are not included. Amenities may vary among airport Club locations. Offers and rules subject to change without notice. All Delta Sky Club rules apply and additional restrictions may apply. This information is accurate as of 12/27/2013. For the most current Delta Sky Club access, pricing policy, and Club rules, please visit https://www.delta.com/skyclub.

    Additionally, I was curious if you or other commenters would have any insight regarding Lounge Club vs Priority Pass. Is one better than the other? Or perhaps I should ask: is one better in certain locations or under certain circumstances?

    Thanks! Keep up the great work.

  3. So for the Citi AA Exec card I was wondering a couple things:

    1. You mentioned that guests do not have to be flying on an AA ticket…does the same hold true for the primary cardholder (i.e. if my significant other and I are flying Delta can we still use access AA lounges that day)?

    2. Do we need to request anything in order to activate the lounge benefit or can we just show our Citi Exec card at the lounge and that guarantees us entry?

  4. Earl:

    It’s good for you and a guest, but you’ll blow your two free visits for the year.

    Consider making your wife an authorized user on the account. Once you have her card, she can get her own Lounge Club card and two free entrances.

  5. Khad Young:

    Lounge Club clubs are a subset of Priority Pass. Lounge Club is run by the same folks.

    They created Lounge Club ostensibly just to offer to credit card issuers as a perk to their account holders that was less expensive than Priority Pass.

  6. I have the AMEX Platinum Mercedes Benz card. Do I have to purchase my Delta tickets with that card to have access to the lounge? Or do I just show my priority pass card for access to the lounge?

    • @Earl Foster – What sechs said!

      @Khad Young – It depends on where you’re traveling. I’d search on their websites for the airports you’re traveling to.

      @ Charles – You have to travel on Delta (doesn’t matter which card you use to buy the ticket) and show your Platinum card at the lounge.

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  8. Hi there,
    I’d love to get your feedback. I’m confused about receiving my 2 free United club passes with the Chase explorer card. I signed up for the card last year, but never got any passes. The fine print on their website says “The primary cardmember will receive two (2) one-time use United Club passes after account opening and every 12 months thereafter.” It also says “please allow 4 weeks for delivery of your passes”. Well, it’s been 9 months since I got the card, and no passes.

    When I called to ask about it today, they told me I wouldn’t receive the passes until a few weeks before I have to renew the card and pay the annual fee. From the language on their website, that seems like the time when I should be receiving my second set of passes, not the first set.

    Does everyone have this experience, or did I miss out on my first set of free passes? Just wondering if I need to raise a stink about it, or if this is normal… and if the passes are still good even if I cancel the credit card.

    Thanks for your help!
    liz

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  11. I thought I read Diners Club had some sort of lounge club pass