What Are Some Low-Cost Ways to Earn Lounge Access?

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Million Mile Secrets reader ThisIsSpeedway, tweeted:

Do you have any tips for free or cheap airport lounge access?

You don’t need airline elite status, or thousands of dollars to fly Business or First Class, to enjoy airport lounges.  There are plenty of cheap ways to earn lounge access, including having certain credit cards.

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

Lounge Access Gives You a Break From the Bustle of the Airport Concourse

I’ll show you cheap ways to get into lounges, and help you decide which route is best for you!

If You Travel Frequently, Lounge Access Is a Big Deal!

Airports can be a little hectic and VERY noisy.  Airport lounges offer you a quiet, relatively secluded spot to wait for your flight.

Lounges usually have extra facilities that are free of charge.  For example, a buffet, a bar, free Wi-Fi, plenty of electronic outlets, etc.

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

The Korean Air Lounge in Seoul Has Showers. You Won’t Find THAT in the Terminal! 🙂

Depending on how much you travel, airport lounge access can be a life-saver!

Don’t Break the Bank for Lounge Access

Link:   Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Link:   Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Link:   United MileagePlus® Club Card

There are a lot of different options for getting lounge privileges, like co-branded airline credit cards that give you full access to their respective lounges.  These include the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, the AMEX Delta Reserve Card, and the United MileagePlus Club Card.

But each of these cards has a $450 annual fee!  And because lounge access is the most appealing benefit of the cards, you’re basically paying $450 for lounge access.

That sounds like a lot, but it’s still cheaper than lots of airline lounge memberships, which are usually over $500.  So it’s a good deal for folks who would otherwise pay for a lounge membership

Note:   The Citi AAdvantage Executive Card allows you to add up to 10 authorized users who will get Admirals Club access for FREE!  According to Citi, Admirals Club access differs from membership in that you will NOT have access to the London arrivals lounges, flagship lounges, and lounges shared with other airlines.

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

There Are Cheaper Ways to Gain Access to American Airlines Admirals Club Lounges Like This One in Honolulu

Here are less expensive ways to get into airport lounges.

Citi Prestige® Card

Link:   Citi Prestige® Card

The Citi Prestige is my TOP pick for cheap lounge access.

You get a free top-tier membership with Priority Pass, and you’ll also get free American Airlines Admirals Club access (until June 20, 2017) when you’re flying on American Airlines or American Eagle.

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

Priority Pass Gives You Access to Over 900 Airport Lounges, Including the Incredible Al Dhabi Lounge in Abu Dhabi

The card has a $450 annual fee.  But it also comes with a $250 airline credit each calendar year, which will automatically post when you use your card to buy airfare.  That effectively brings the annual fee down to $200 per year.

And because you’ll receive the airline credit each calendar year, you can use it once in 2016 and again in 2017, before you pay the annual fee twice!  That’s $500 worth of airfare for paying the $450 annual fee!

And if you have a Citigold checking account, Citi will deduct another $100 from the annual fee.  That means you’re paying $100 per year for unlimited access to Priority Pass, and access to Admirals Club lounges (until June 2017) when flying American Airlines and American Eagle!

But for the first year you have the card, Citi is paying YOU ($450 annual fee $250 airline credit (2016) – $250 airline credit (2017) – $100 for Citigold checking account = $150 profit)!

Note:   Citigold checking accounts have a monthly service fee of $30 if you don’t have $50,000+ in eligible linked deposit and retirement balances.

And this card can potentially save you MUCH more than the annual fee every year, even without the lounge perks.  Check out my full review of the card!

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Link:   The Platinum Card® from American Express

Your American Express Platinum card will get you free lounge access to:

Lots of folks consider Centurion Lounges to be the best in the US!

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

Access Airport Lounges Like the Centurion Lounge in Seattle With the AMEX Platinum Card

The $450 annual fee for the AMEX Platinum card might be worth it if you:

  • Fly a lot on Delta
  • Frequently find yourself at airports with Centurion Lounges
  • Fly internationally on cheap coach tickets that don’t give you lounge access

You also get an annual $200 airline credit every calendar year, which can be used for things like in-flight food and drink, checked bags, and fees for changing your itinerary.

And as with the Citi Prestige airline credit, you will receive the $200 airline credit every calendar year.  This effectively reduces the annual fee to $50 the first year ($450 annual fee – $200 airline credit (2016) $200 airline credit (2017) = $50)

The AMEX Platinum card has lots of benefits, so make sure to read my full review!


Link:   Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

You will get an annual membership in Priority Pass Select for access to airport lounges with the Chase Ritz-Carlton card.

So you can access ~900 lounges world-wide.  Keep in mind you’ll pay $27 for each additional guest.  But you will also have a $300 annual travel credit to use for qualifying airline purchases, including preferred lounge memberships or passes!

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

Lounges Usually Have Free Food and Drinks. Like This Cool Machine Inside the Alaska Airlines Board Room in Los Angeles, Which You Will Have Access to With the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card!

The Ritz-Carlton credit card has a $450 annual fee, but it can be worth it if you make the most of the $300 annual travel credit.  Or if you use the Priority Pass Select lounges a lot.

Read my full review of the card here.

What If You Don’t Travel Frequently?

If you are only an occasional traveler (or just want to try out an airport lounge), and aren’t interested in a lounge membership, there are other ways to get lounge access.

Earn Day-Passes With United Airlines Credit Cards

Link:   United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Link:   United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card

With the Chase United Explorer and Chase United Explorer Business cards, you get 2 United Airlines lounge passes each year you have the card.  Each lounge pass is valid for 1 person.  So if 2 people want lounge access, you have to use 2 passes.

The Chase United Explorer cards have a $95 annual fee. 

This is a good idea for folks who want to try a lounge and see if it’s something they’d like to pursue.

Book International Business or First Class Award Seats

Lots of folks in this hobby get Big Travel with Small Money using their miles & points for fancy awards in Business or First Class.  Because you can get seats worth THOUSANDS for nearly free!

Another perk to flying in Business or First Class internationally is that you have free access to the airline’s lounge the day of your flight.

What Are Some Low Cost Ways To Earn Lounge Access

The Business Class Experience Begins Long Before You Board the Plane!

This is one of the cheapest ways to gain access to airport lounges in terms of money.  But Business and First Class tickets cost a lot more points than coach.  You should NOT book a Business Class ticket JUST for lounge access.

Note:   You will NOT have access to airport lounges on domestic flights.  You must be travelling internationally.

Show Yourself Friendly!

Because most folks with lounge access are able to bring along a couple guests, you can always politely ask to tag along with a stranger on the way in.  I’ve heard of this working before, but I don’t think I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it myself.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of ways to get into airport lounges for cheap.

If you are a business traveler, or if you travel frequently, there are credit cards, such as the Citi Prestige, that come with a lounge membership.  These cards typically have significant annual fees.  So see if the perks you’ll use will add up to more than the cost!

You can try out a lounge for free by signing-up for the Chase United Explorer card or Chase United Explorer Business card, which comes with 2 free day-passes at a United Airlines lounge.  You will also be admitted into a lounge by booking an international Business or First Class award ticket!

Do you have any other tips for making lounge access more affordable?

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7 responses to “What Are Some Low-Cost Ways to Earn Lounge Access?

  1. Your information regarding Lounge access with the Ritz Card is now outdated. The Ritz Card now includes a Priority Pass Membership. I just got my new Priority Pass card in the mail. When using the Lounge Club Card before I never had to pay a fee for myself or my guest at multiple lounges. I hope that is the same with the Priority Pass.

  2. Can you use United 2 free pass for club access when you are flying Lufthansa at Frankfurt?

  3. Does one have access to the United Lounge when flying first class to Hawaii purchased with Kris Flyer miles? BOS-SFO-HNL
    Does Honolulu count as international?

  4. Like Scott, I have never paid for the Lounge Club access I received for the Ritz Card. Also, that access is still valid for the rest of the year, and we now have Priority Pass beginning immediately through all of 2017, as well. As I read the literature, it does not look like we will be charged a fee to use the lounges with Priority Pass, either, and there are many additional lounges with that card.

  5. Better hope you don’t do this to me because I’ll embarrass the crap out of you if at all possible.

    “Because most folks with lounge access are able to bring along a couple guests, you can always politely ask to tag along with a stranger on the way in. I’ve heard of this working before, but I don’t think I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it myself.”

  6. @Scott & Cindy – Thank you! Updated.

    @RAJESH – The 2 free passes you receive from the Chase United cards can only be used at United Club locations. Not Star Alliance-affiliated lounges or arrivals lounges. You can find the full list of qualifying lounges here:


  7. Also… I’ve been wondering if the Amex Platinum $200 credit cover fees that come along with using points to book a flight directly with (for example) Southwest or American? We never have any fees other than those when booking with points.