The Best Strategy for Folks Who Want to Inexpensively Try Out Airport Lounges

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I used to be like you.  Standing in the busy terminal with my face pressed up against the glass airport lounge doors, wondering whose palm I have to grease to get inside.

Airport lounge access actually isn’t just for the rich and famous.  It’s for the rich, the famous, and Million Mile Secrets readers with the right credit card.

Credit cards that come with an airport lounge membership usually have a hefty annual fee ($450 and above!).  Most come with other super valuable perks, too.  But the fact is, that’s a daunting price tag for lots of folks.  Fortunately, there are cards you can open with WAY cheaper annual fees that also give you the chance to test-drive airport lounges, such as:

My #1 pick for folks who want to test-drive airport lounge access before opening a card with a proper airport lounge membership is the AMEX Hilton Ascend.

I’ve Had Airport Lounge Access for Years, and I’m Addicted to It.  One of My Favorite Parts Is the Surprisingly Top Shelf Alcohol Lying Around on Tables to Self-Serve.  Like the Bidvest Premier Lounge in Johannesburg, One of My FAVORITE Lounges

How to Try Out Airport Lounges Before Making a Commitment

First let me get this out of the way.

If you want the CHEAPEST entry into an airport lounge, you should open the United Explorer Card.  This card gives you 2 one-time United Airlines lounge visits each year.  And because the card’s annual fee is waived the first year, you’re essentially getting 2 entries into a lounge for absolutely free.

The second cheapest option would be to BUY a day pass from a lounge (they generally vary between $20 and $60 each).  But this option is rarely available, and you still might need a specific credit card just to have the ability to pay for entry.

But the best option is to open the the AMEX Hilton Ascend.  There are 2 reasons for this:

1.    It Gives You the Best Value

The AMEX Hilton Ascend comes with a $95 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).  But you’ll receive 10 free airport lounge visits each year.  Casting aside all the other great benefits of the card, that breaks down to $9.50 per visit.

Airport lounge quality varies drastically.  Some have showers, hot food, and even private rooms with beds.  Others have a few chairs and a table with chips and salsa.  10 visits should be more than enough to get a good feel for what to expect during your travels.

2.   It Grants You Access to Priority Pass Lounges

Priority Pass is a collection of 1,200+ airport lounges all over the world.  If a credit card comes with airport lounge access, it usually comes with a Priority Pass membership (the exceptions are airline credit cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card, which come with access to their respective airline lounges).

The AMEX Hilton Ascend comes with access to Priority Pass lounges.  So you’ll have ample time to try out the experience and see if it’s a membership you’d be interested in by opening a card with a higher annual fee.

The AMEX Hilton Ascend is the cheapest way to actually sample the lounge access that most cards offer.

I can’t recommend airport lounge access enough.  Sometimes they leave much to be desired, but often it’s an amazing place to relax, not to mention save money on food and drink.  Team member Jesse lives in Portland, and loves using his Priority Pass at Capers Market in the Portland airport for $28 of free food per person for him and his wife.

Let me know if you’re thinking of trying out airport lounge access!

For rates and fees of the AMEX Hilton Ascend, please click here

Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals.

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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Vince
1 year ago

I am giving serious consideration to upgrading to a premium card which comes with lounge access. My primary airline is American, and I frequently fly from California to Charlotte, NC. I go back and forth considering the Chase Reserve card vs. the American Executive card. Considering future international travel, I’m not sure which will work best for me. Now this AMEX card you wrote about provides a “trial” situation for consideration also. I’m interested in any thoughts you might share. Thanks.

Mike Z.
1 year ago

The Alaska Airlines Lounges that do accept the Priority Pass are only available to Pass members about half the time – seems like most of the time Alaska personnel claim the lounges are too full when in fact the lounges are less than half full. My opinion is that Alaska does not like the Priority Pass program.

R Rebello
1 year ago

Be careful about recommending Priority Pass. I have one complimentary from AmEx. Used the one in Aruba. Had to pay $25 for my wife 2 liquor bottles both empty. No food. Agent said that’s all. This year checked first same situation. Called Priority Pass was told all lounges independent they do not control them. No minimal standards.