Enhance your travel experience with airport lounge access!

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After traveling to multiple countries in 2019 and having Priority Pass access for the first time, my stress levels have been dramatically reduced. 

If you’ve never tried out airport lounges for yourself, there is a magical world to be discovered. Not only does a quiet lounge shield you from incessant and repetitive P.A. announcements, but you’ll have access to comfy chairs and outlets galore. And most important of all, it saves you money.

Airport lounges are a game-changer. I’ll explain how to get airport lounge access — even for those who travel two or three times each year — and how you can easily get a free membership with the right lounge access credit card.

My husband and I enjoyed a drink at the Johannesburg airport, thanks to my complimentary Priority Pass membership with my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.  (Photo by Sarah Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets)

What is airport lounge access?

Airport lounge access comes in a few different forms:

  • Membership to specific airline lounges (for example, American Airlines Admirals Club)
  • Membership to independent lounge brands (like Priority Pass)
  • Day passes to just about any lounge (usually very pricey)

Airport lounges have free Wi-Fi, snacks, less crowded restrooms, entertainment for kids, and comfortable seats. 

You typically need elite status with an airline or a business class or first class ticket to access a lounge. Some lounges give you access if you purchase a day pass. But it’s possible to gain entry just by having a particular travel rewards credit card.

It’s actually possible to get all these types of lounge access with the right credit cards. But I’ll explain more about that later.

Most airport lounges offer amenities targeted toward frequent flyers. But many of the perks are great for everyone, like:

  • Beverages, like coffee, hot chocolate, wine, and beer
  • Snacks (and sometimes full meals)
  • Showers to refresh before or after a long flight
  • Magazines
  • Sometimes beds for napping
  • Entertainment rooms for kids

The usefulness of lounges goes beyond just convenience and comfort. The amenities can save you some food money on your trip. If you and your travel buddy hit the bar between connections, lounge access could save you $40 on drinks alone (no, most lounges won’t offer Long Islands, but oftentimes they’ve got quality stuff). In certain lounges, you’ll get buffet meals, as well.

Are airport lounges open during the COVID pandemic?

It’s complicated. The coronavirus has upended airport lounges, and travel in general, for that matter. And many remain closed in an effort to curtail the pandemic.

There are a few open — notably flagship airline lounges at major hub airports. However, even airports that are reopening offer a practically unrecognizable experience, especially as the food and beverage offerings are more limited.

But don’t worry, the lounges, along with the whole travel industry, are all slowly recovering. When travel ramps back up again in the near future, lounges will likely be back to their usual wow-factor standards.

How to get access to airport lounges

Even casual travelers might consider a travel rewards credit card to get complimentary lounge access. My husband and I enjoy access to Priority Pass lounges. This is an independent lounge network with over 1,300 locations around the world.

Priority Pass has only a sparse presence in the U.S. You will benefit most from the membership if you live near a hub airport (see our post on the five best U.S. cities for Priority Pass lounge access). So you’ll want to check if there’s a lounge at your home airport, and if it’s located close to the airline you usually fly (or at least in a nearby terminal).

The benefit of Priority Pass lounges is that you can fly on any airline and access them on the day you fly. But not all Priority Pass memberships are the same. Each one has slightly different rules. Here are popular travel credit cards that come with a Priority Pass membership:

CardGuest privilegesAnnual feeMembership for authorized users
Chase Sapphire Reserve®- Up to two complimentary guests
- $27 for additional guests
$550Yes, $75 per authorized user
The Platinum Card® from American Express- Up to two complimentary guests
- $32 for additional guests
$550 (see rates and fees)Yes, $175 per authorized user (see rates and fees)
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express- Up to two complimentary guests
- $32 for additional guests
$595 (see rates and fees)Yes, $175 per authorized user(see rates and fees)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card- 10 complimentary visits annually
- Each guests counts as one visit
$95 (see rates and fees)No
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card- 10 complimentary visits annually
- Each guests counts as one visit
$95 (see rates and fees)No
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express- Up to two complimentary guests
- $32 for additional guests
$450 (see rates and fees)No
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card- Up to two complimentary guests
- $32 for additional guests
$450 (see rates and fees)No
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card- First four visits complimentary, including guests
- $27 per visit for all lounge visitors beginning with your fifth visit
The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card (card no longer available for new applicants)- Unlimited free guests$450Yes, no fee
Citi Prestige® Card- Up to two guests (or immediate family, defined as spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18)
- $27 for additional guests
$550Yes, $175 per authorized user

The information for the Citi Prestige card and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The most intriguing of the above cards is The Platinum Card® from American Express. The card has by far the most comprehensive coverage of any travel credit card. For example:

  • You can enter Delta lounges when you have a same-day Delta flight
  • You can enter Amex Centurion lounges (the best domestic lounges available – some of them even have wine tastings)
  • You can enter the Escape lounge network
  • You can enter the Airspace lounge network
  • And more!

Read our post on how to find Amex Platinum lounges for everything you need to know.

It’s a good idea to organize your Priority Pass cards if you have multiple memberships. You don’t want to accidentally use the wrong card and end up having to pay for bringing guests!

For those who fly with friends or family, The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card offers the best Priority Pass lounge access, because you won’t have to pay guest fees. The card isn’t available for new applicants, but if you currently have a Chase Marriott credit card, you should be able to secure message or call Chase and ask them to upgrade your card to a Ritz-Carlton card.

The cost of a Priority Pass membership can range from $99 to $429. So getting a free membership is a great credit card perk.

Bottom line

Airport lounge access is an excellent perk. You can relax in a quiet environment away from the hectic departure gate, and you’ll enjoy amenities like snacks, drinks, and Wi-Fi. Some lounges even have dedicated areas for kids.

I’ve currently got Priority Pass membership thanks to my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. There are more than 1,300 lounges that are part of the Priority Pass network. Just be sure to check the guest policy for lounge access with your credit card. Some cards allow guests to join you for free!

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Business Amex card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card, click here.

Do you have a favorite airport lounge that’s ideal for all types of travelers? Feel free to share in the comments.

Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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