Get Free Airport Lounge Access from a Credit Card (2021)
Airport lounge access is usually reserved for elite-level frequent flyers, business or first-class passengers, and people who've bought expensive lounge memberships. However, you can also get free airport lounge access just by having a premium credit card.
Most people are going to want at least one high-end credit card that includes free airport lounge access, along with other benefits. While the annual fees for these cards may seem high, each card provides travel credits that offset part of the fees, making your out-of-pocket cost significantly lower.
With free lounge access, you can spend your time waiting for your flight in comfortable chairs—enjoying free food and drinks, high-speed Wi-Fi, and abundant power outlets. With the lounge access that comes with some credit cards, you’ll also get access to free meals at a number of airport restaurants.
However, airport lounge access, particularly access to the lounges that you can access by having the right credit card, is going down in value. Lounges are getting more crowded and chaotic (partly because of the rise in credit cards that provide lounge access), while the airports themselves are upgrading their normal seating, power outlets, and Wi-Fi options.
For most people, signing up for credit cards, just to receive travel benefits, good reward earning rates, or lucrative signup bonuses, isn't an irresponsible thing to do. It won't kill your credit rating—it just might improve it. But, if you have a problem with credit, or you aren't organized enough to avoid unwanted credit card fees, you'll need to stick to our other strategies for discounted travel. For more information, see our Credit Cards 101 guide.
- 1 Priority Pass Select: The major airport lounge program
- 2 Credit card that include a Priority Pass membership
- 3 The Amex Platinum card provides access to additional lounges
- 4 Two mobile apps that can help you access lounges on your trips
- 5 Lounge access with authorized user cards
- 6 Lounge access with high-end airline cards
- 7 Additional credit cards with some type of lounge access
Priority Pass Select: The major airport lounge program
Most premium travel credit cards provide free access to airport lounges through a program called “Priority Pass Select”. Once you enroll in the program, you’ll receive a membership card, which you can use for free access at over 1,000 airport lounges around the world.
- You have access to the participating lounges regardless of which airline or ticket class you are flying. Unlike the lounge access granted to elite level frequent flyers and premium ticket holders, your lounge access isn’t tied to the airline you are flying. Whenever you are at the airport, you can visit any of the lounges that participate in the program. The downside is the lounge might not be located close by your departure gate.
- The membership you get from your credit card doesn’t just work for you—it entitles you to bring in some number of travel companions at no extra charge. However, the guest policy is different for the memberships which come with different cards (as detailed below).
- In general, you’ll find great availability at international airports and a bit less availability in the United States. The lounges that belong to the Priority Pass Select program usually aren’t as nice as many of the ritzier business and first-class lounges that you can find in international airports, but most are in the same class as most of the regular domestic airport lounges run by American, Delta, and United. View all the Priority Pass lounges.
- The program is most valuable if your home airport has one or more participating lounges, as you will have an opportunity to use a lounge every time you leave town. If your home airport doesn’t have a lounge, you’ll get less value from the pass, as you'll typically only be able to use it at your destination and/or connecting airport. A few larger US airports don’t have participating Priority Pass lounges, including LaGuardia, Ft. Lauderdale, Salt Lake City, and San Diego.
- Priority Pass has started adding airport restaurants to the program. At a few dozen airports, you can visit a participating restaurant and receive a $28 credit per person (usually) to spend on food and drink. You'll generally eat and drink better at one of these restaurants than you would at an airport lounge. At most restaurants, you’ll need to get table service, but at some restaurants you can take food to go. Not every participating restaurant has great food, but some do.
- The Priority Pass memberships that come with Amex cards don't work at Priority Pass restaurants. You can only use these memberships at traditional lounges and "select sleeper suites".
- You can often visit a lounge after you arrive (not just before you depart). Sometimes it’s nice to pick up a quick drink or snack after you land. However, particularly when you need to go through immigration, it is not always possible to physically get to the lounge area at the arrival airport. And some lounges or restaurants limit visits to those with "departing" tickets.
If an airport has multiple participating restaurants, you can even eat at multiple locations during the same visit. And some restaurants will give you credits from multiple Priority Pass cards as part of the same meal.
Credit card that include a Priority Pass membership
If you follow our recommended strategy of collecting credit card signup bonuses, you'll eventually wind up getting most of the cards that come with Priority Pass priveleges, as they all have very lucrative signup offers. As a side benefit, during the year you need to hold onto the card, you can take advantage of its airport lounge benefits. It isn't hard to maintain continuous lounge access simply by spreading out your applications for each of the different premium credit cards over many years.
If you aren't interested in collecting signup bonuses or are no longer doing so, there is a good chance that you will choose to hold onto at least one of these cards to earn rewards on your travel and/or restaurant spending. Unless you are very comfortable using your points for frequent flyer tickets, we usually recommend the Sapphire Reserve card. Get a Great General Purpose Reward Card and Use It for All of Your Spending. Best Credit Cards for Travel Spending.
Unless mentioned below, any authorized cardholders get their own account and guest privileges. This is convenient if they are travelling without the primary cardholder or if you need the capacity to bring along extra guests. But unfortunately, most of these cards charge an extra fee for authorized cardholders.
Provides unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges AND restaurants. With the changes that have taken place to the premium card landscape, the Sapphire Reserve is the only mainstream option. The Ritz Carlton Card can be a good option for people who are interested in making a Marriott card part of their core credit card collection, are willing to deal with the Ritz Carlton's inconvenient airline incidental credit, and can wait a year to upgrade the regular Marriott Card.
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||2 guests. Authorized cardholders cost $75 per person per year.|
|Emirates Gold||Unlimited guests. Authorized cardholders are free.|
|UBS Infinite||Unlimited guests. Authorized users are free. Unfortunately, this card is hard to get without a private banking arrangement with UBS.|
|Ritz Carlton||Unlimited guests. Authorized cardholders are free. This card is no longer available for new signups. However, you may be able to “upgrade” to it from a Chase Marriott Bonvoy card. To see if Chase will let you upgrade, you’ll need to call the number on the back of your Bonvoy card after you’ve had it for at least a year.|
|CNB Crystal Infinite||Cardmember only. Authorized cardholders cost $75 per year. This card is hard to get unless you live near a branch.|
* The no-longer-available-for-new-signups Citi Prestige Card provides access for 2 guest or a family. Authorized cardholders cost $75 per year.
Provides access to Priority Pass lounges plus a substantial number of additional lounges (listed below) but does NOT provide access to Priority Pass restaurants.
|Amex Platinum Card||2 guests. Different versions of the Platinum card have different fees for adding authorized cardholders. With the “regular” version, up to 3 authorized cardholders cost $175 per year.|
Provides unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges but does NOT provide access to Priority Pass restaurants or the extra Amex Platinum lounges. Both cards also take up one of your four Amex credit card slots and slow down your ability to collect Amex signup bonuses.
|Hilton Aspire||2 guests. Authorized cardholders don’t get a Priority Pass membership.|
|Marriott Brilliant||2 guests. Authorized cardholders don’t get a Priority Pass membership.|
Provides only limited access to Priority Pass lounges:
|US Bank Altitude Reserve||Limited to only 4 visits per year. Each visit can include 1 guest.|
|Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business||Limited to a total of 10 passes per year. Can be convenient for bringing in the occasional extra guests if you have one of the other cards.|
If you wind up with multiple Priority Pass memberships, it is helpful to write the name of the corresponding credit card on each membership card, or keep a list of account numbers, so that you know which membership you'll need to stop using when you cancel a credit card.
The Amex Platinum card provides access to additional lounges
Like most other premium credit cards, the Amex Platinum (personal and business) comes with a Priority Pass membership. But it also provides access to a substantial number of additional lounges.
- Centurion lounges. American Express has been building out their own set of “Centurion Lounges” at major airports. These lounges have nicer décor and better food than most of the domestic lounges that participate in the Priority Pass program. However, they are only located in a single terminal in a handful of airports: Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, JFK, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Le Guardia, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Hong Kong. Additional lounges are planned for Atlanta, National (D.C.), and Heathrow. The Platinum card’s expanded lounge access (versus just a Priority Pass membership) is most interesting for people who live in those cities. Centurion Lounges.
- Delta Sky Clubs. Cardholders get access to any Delta lounge. That sounds like a fantastic benefit, but there are some important restrictions. Unlike the other lounges, you only have access if you have a same-day boarding pass for a Delta flight. In addition, unlike the other lounges, you don’t get your normal guest privileges. Only cardholders get free access; you can bring up to 2 guests for a $39 per person fee.
- Plaza Premium lounges. Cardholders get access to Plaza Premium Lounges at over 50 locations, with up to a single companion. Many of these lounges used to belong to the Priority Pass program. They no longer do, but you can still access them with your Platinum Card. Plaza Premium Lounges.
- American Express International lounges. American Express also runs a network of branded lounges outside of the United States. There are 10 lounges, mostly in Mexico. These generally aren’t as high-end as the domestic Centurion lounges, and guest privileges vary by lounge.
- Airspace lounges. Cardholders get access to any Airspace lounge, for themselves and their family or up to two companions. As of now, the only airspace lounge is in San Diego. Airspace Lounges.
- Escape lounges in the US Cardholders get access to any US-based Escape lounges, for themselves and up to two companions. As of now, there US based locations are at Bradley (Connecticut), Cincinnati, Greenville (South Carolina), Minneapolis, Oakland, Ontario (California), Phoenix, Providence, Reno and Sacramento. They also have a bunch of locations in the UK. Escape Lounges.
- Lufthansa lounges in Munich and Frankfurt. Finally, cardholders get access to Lufthansa lounges in Frankfurt and Munich, but only when travelling on Lufthansa, Swiss, or Austrian airlines. As with Delta lounges, there is no guest privilege. Economy-class passengers get access to the "Business" lounge, and premium-class passengers get access to the "Senator" lounge.
Centurion Lounge access is only available while waiting for a connecting flight or within 3 hours of your original departure time of your initial flight. For now, cardholders can bring in up to 2 guests or immediate family. Starting in Feb. 2023, only cardholders will get free access and guests will cost $50 each ($30 for guest under 18).
Two mobile apps that can help you access lounges on your trips
Two mobile apps make it easier to find available lounges at any airport.
The LoungeBuddy App
If you have an iPhone, the LoungeBuddy app is the best way to check out the lounge options at any airport. Apple App Store
It lets you quickly view all the lounges at every airport. It provides ratings (Basic, Solid, Fresh or Luxe), short descriptions, photos, and user reviews, so that it is easy to choose from any available options. And its detailed access information makes it easy to find your way to the lounge once you get to the airport.
Once you let LoungeBuddy know you have a Priority Pass membership, it will automatically filter the list to make it easy to find the lounges and restaurants you have access to (although you can always look at the complete list). If you have access to additional lounges through an Amex Platinum card, elite frequent flyer status, or some other method, it can include those in the results as well.
The Priority Pass App
Priority Pass has its own app, which can also be useful. It quickly shows all the lounges and restaurants where you can use your Priority Pass membership and works on Android as well as iPhone. But the information it provides about each lounge isn't as helpful as Lounge Buddy's, and isn't extensible to include lounges that aren't part of the Priority Pass program. Apple App Store Google Play
At many locations, you can use the membership information in the Priority Pass app to check in to the lounge, without needing your normal membership card.
Lounge access with authorized user cards
Authorized card holders usually get their own lounge access benefits. There are two reasons why this advantageous. It provides access to the authorized cardholder, even when they are travelling without the primary cardholder. And. it increases the number of guests that can be brought into the lounge.
There are a few cases where it is particularly beneficial to be able to bring in additional guests. With the Amex Platinum card, only cardholders can freely access Delta lounges (with Delta flights), so adding someone as an authorized cardholder gets you both in for free. At other lounges, the Amex card only allows a total of two guests, so adding an authorized cardholder is useful for families with more than one child.
But, adding authorized cardholders (on the premium cards which offer lounge access) usually costs $50-75 per year. The Amex Platinum card has a $175 fee but covers up to three additional cardholders.
There are exceptions, where you can add an authorized cardholder for free. The Morgan Stanley version of the Platinum card lets you add your first authorized cardholder at no additional charge. The Ritz Carlton card lets you add unlimited numbers of authorized cardholders at no charge, but is no longer available for new signups.
Note that Amex Platinum authorized card holders also get Hilton and Marriott Gold status and the global entry free reimbursement, in addition to lounge access.
Lounge access with high-end airline cards
Each of the US legacy airlines offers a premium credit card that provides lounge access to their own network of lounges. These cards primarily make sense for mid-level frequent flyers. If you don’t fly the airline very often, it is hard to justify the high annual fees. Unlike the premium bank-branded cards discussed above, the premium airline-branded cards don’t come with valuable annual credits that help offset their cost. On the other hand, if you fly frequently enough to earn the airline’s highest status levels, you usually get a big discount on the airline club’s membership fees.
The Admiral Executive card comes with an Admiral’s club membership for each authorized user, with two guests per cardholder. t works at Admiral Club lounges, as well as Qantas lounges when you fly Qantas. You also get free checked bags and other benefits, including the ability to earn up to 10,000 elite qualifying miles per year. The annual fee is $450/year, and there is no cost to add authorized cardholders.
The Delta Reserve card comes with Delta Sky Club, Amex Centurion, and Escape Lounge access, but only when you are flying Delta. You can’t bring any guests into Delta Lounges for free, but you can pay a discounted rate of $39. You’ll also get free checked bags and other benefits, including the ability to earn up to 60,000 MQMs per year. The annual fee is $550.
The United Club card comes with a United Club membership, which includes access to United Clubs and some Star Alliance lounges, for you and your family, or up to two other travelling companions. You’ll also get free checked bags, and other benefits. The annual fee is $525.
Additional credit cards with some type of lounge access
Several other credit cards provide some level of lounge access. None of these benefits are as valuable as a normal Priority Pass Select membership. However, they might be a good option for anyone who doesn't have lounge access with another card.
All the Diners Club credit card cards provide access to a network of over 700 airport lounges. Diners Club lounges.
Diners Club cards are now part of the Mastercard network, and can be used at any Mastercard merchant. The least expensive card has an $95 annual fee, and charges $35 for additional card holders. Diners club points can be transferred to airline programs. and the card offers primary rental car coverage. All-in-all this makes a compelling combination. However, Diners Club haven’t accepted new applications since the end of 2014.
The HSBC Premier Elite Card provides unlimited lounge access, including one guest. But it uses a program called LoungeKey rather than PriorityPass. Getting this card requires Premier status with HSBC, which typically requires $75,000 in assets (to avoid ongoing fees), but can sometimes be obtained in the short term using a bank account bonus. $395.
The Green Card provides a $100 credit for LoungeBuddy passes every calendar year. LoungeBuddy isn’t just an app that provides information about each airport’s lounges, it is also a service that sells one-time passes to a network of participating lounges. In most cases, these lounges already belong to the Priority Pass program. But even if you already have a Priority Pass membership, you may still find some rare opportunities to take advantage of the LoungeBuddy credits—there are few lounges that are available via LoungeBuddy but aren't available through Priority Pass; you may want to buy a LoungeBuddy pass for an extra guest at one of the lounges that participates in both programs; and a lounge may be temporarily blocking access for Priority Pass members, but still allow a LoungeBuddy pass to be purchased.
If you spend $50,000 in a year with the UBS Infinite or CNB Crystal Infinite Card, they will give you up to a $550 credit towards the purchase of an airport lounge membership or passes(on top of your Priority Pass membership). If you were planning to buy a pass anyway, this is equivalent to giving you an extra point per dollar on $50,000 worth of purchases.
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