airport lounge access

How to Get Airport Lounge Access – 8 Smart Methods

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Getting airport lounge access used to be something only business travelers and wealthy globetrotters could acquire. Nowadays, however, with more people traveling domestically and internationally than ever before, airport lounges have opened their arms for travelers of all types to come in.

With selections of complimentary food and drink, free wifi, comfortable seating, and in some cases, a range of services, from spas to beds, airport lounges are the perfect way to relax before any flight.

While access to lounges comes complimentary to business class and first-class ticket holders, nowadays, airport lounges are far from an exclusive club. If you fly economy, there are still a number of ways you can gain access to these delightful little areas that take you away from the stresses and discomforts of crowded airports.

In this guide, we’re going to take a close look at eight smart ways you can gain airport lounge access for your next flight, and beyond.

8 Smart Ways to Get Airport Lounge Access

1 – Purchase Priority Pass

If you travel frequently, and across destinations worldwide, then Priority Pass is an excellent choice for you. Priority Pass was my personal choice for airport lounge access, as for several years, I was in-between countries all over the world.

Get Priority Pass Here

Priority Pass is a third-party membership program that provides access to around 1,300 airport lounges globally. These lounges include a mixture of alliance, airline, and airport lounges. Depending on your frequency of travel, there are also tiers of membership to choose from as of January 2020, as follows:

  • Prestige – $429 annual membership offers free, unlimited access to all 1,300 airport lounges.
  • Standard Plus – $299 annual membership offers ten free visits to airport lounges, and $32 per visit after the ten visits included in the plan.
  • Standard – $99 annual membership that allows you to pay $32 for each access in the in-network airport lounge while getting a one-time per visit credit of around $30.
  • Select – a membership that comes with certain premium credit cards, often offering unlimited visits and some level of guest access

From tiny airports in Moldova to world-famous mecca-airports like Singapore Changi, I was able to get access to a range of airport lounges. If you’re wondering whether one of the 1,300 lounges at an upcoming airport you plan to travel to will be included, then you need not ponder either.

The Priority Pass app, both on iOS and Android, is a great way to check the lounges at an airport, and see if they’re included in the program. This way, you can always plan ahead and know which lounges you’ll have access to.

Most suitable for:
Frequent travelers who travel internationally across multiple countries and airports, who cannot rely on one airline or alliance.

Get Priority Pass Here

2 – Use a Credit Card with Airport Lounge Access

A common way many travelers acquire airport lounge access is through their credit card. Many credit cards in the U.S. offer airport lounge access to specific airline lounges, or via a third-party program, such as Priority Pass, at a reduced fee.

With the number of perks credit card programs offer these days, it’s worth double-checking your credit card to see if you already have some form of airport lounge access you were unaware of. A close friend of mine recently found out she had access via Priority Pass through her credit card, which was a welcome surprise.

Fear not, however, if you don’t. There is a wide range of credit cards that offer airport lounge access in various forms. Credit cards on this list include:

  • Platinum Card from American Express
  • Citi Prestige®
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Hilton Surpass
  • Citi AAdvantage Executive
  • Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Naturally, there are plenty more out there. If you have a credit card on this list, then you’re in luck. While we can’t go into the specifics of each and every credit card program, there are three, in particular, I’m keen to take a closer look at with you. In January 2020, these are:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Access and Perks:

  • Priority Pass Select membership that includes access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide (including access for up to 2 free guests in your party)
  • Priority Pass airport restaurant benefits (in certain airport restaurants you get credit towards your meal, often around $28 per person)
  • $300 annual credit for travel expenses charged to your card
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • and more

Cost:

  • Annual fee of $450

Platinum Card from American Express

Access and Perks:

  • Access to Centurion Lounges
  • Priority Pass Select Membership (including access for two guests)
  • $200 airline fee credit per calendar year with one qualifying airline
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or SA Pre✓®
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Monthly US Uber credits
  • Delta Sky Club access when flying with Delta
  • and more

Cost:

  • Annual fee of $550
  • The Priority Pass Select membership that comes with this card no longer includes airport restaurant credit

Both these cards include additional rewards and perks such as hotel status, car rental upgrade privileges, and points you can use to book travel. As with all credit cards, check the details and the fine print when signing up.

Most suitable for:
Business travelers, and travelers that use their credit card extensively for travel purposes, such as booking points with flights. Although the annual fees can be a little hefty, if you do travel frequently, the convenience of the lounge and other travel perks are worth the investment.

3 – Purchase a One-Day Lounge Pass

If you don’t want to lock yourself into a long-term commitment, but simply want to utilize an airport lounge before a long, tiring flight, a one-day pass could be a worthwhile option for you.

Depending on the airport you’re flying from, you’ll often have a choice of one to several lounges to choose from. Several airline lounges do offer one-day passes. These include Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, at around $50, and United Airlines at $59.

Research beforehand, however, is important. Look up the airport and what lounges are available to you. Often, you’ll be able to purchase your one day pass online, through their website, which is a better option than trying to do it at the desk in person.

Airport lounges will always give priority to annual and program members, so if you show up at a lounge on a particularly crowded day when the lounge is at near full capacity, the chances are you’ll be refused entry. This once happened to me at London Gatwick, and was very frustrating, so be mindful of this.

Lounge Pass

Lounge Pass is also worth looking into if you’re keen to explore the one-day option. They sell hundreds of passes to airport lounges all over the world. With a one-day pass typically costing anywhere between $35-65, if you’re very clear on what airports you’ll be stopping at with long layovers, this could be a great choice.

One final thing to note: a one-day pass doesn’t always mean 24-hour access. Airport lounges, due to volume, offer various time increments. Some can be as little as four hours, as they don’t want people hanging around all day, or overnight. Be sure to check the fine print.

Most suitable for:
Infrequent travelers facing long layovers that don’t want the long term commitment to a lounge program. The perks are nice for the once or twice they travel a year, but they don’t need it all year round.

4 – Purchase an Annual Airport Lounge Membership

If you always opt, when you can, to fly with a certain airline and don’t travel too far off the beaten track, then a lounge membership to a certain airline or alliance may be the best choice for you.

In North America, United, Delta, American, Alaska, Air Canada, and Hawaiian all have lounge programs, and have at least one lounge at every major airport in the North American region they fly to. Here are some of the memberships for airlines operating in North America:

  • Admirals Club
  • Air Canada Maple Leaf Club Membership
  • Hawaian Airlines Club Membership
  • Delta SkyMiles Membership
  • Qantas Club Membership
  • Alaska Airlines Membership

If you do plenty of international travel, a membership to an alliance, rather than a specific airline, is arguably a better bet for you. Star Alliance, Sky Team, and Oneworld are three of the biggest alliances you’ve probably heard of, and each band together a selection of airlines to help cover far more bases than one airline possibly could. Memberships to such alliances will also allow you to collate points and other perks of frequent flying with their selected airlines.

A membership to Oneworld, for example, gives you access to airline lounges such as Japan, Qantas, Qatar, and Malaysia, as well as British Airways, which was massively beneficial while I was traveling through Southeast Asia.

Cost-wise, you will be looking to pay between $300-$700 for such memberships, and an additional annual fee of up to $100 on top. You will also have to be proactive at looking into the airports you’re traveling to make sure the airline(s) you’re associated with have lounges in the airports you plan to travel to. Otherwise, you’ll be out of luck.

Most suitable for:
Business or frequent travelers that opt to fly with one airline or alliance, and largely travel to major airports, domestically and internationally.

5 – Reach Elite Status with an Airline

While we’re on the topic of airport lounge memberships, airport lounge access can also be achieved through attaining elite status with a particular airline or alliance.

Oneworld, Sky Team, and Star Alliance, as mentioned previously, all offer access to all, or a selection of, their lounges internationally if certain elite statuses are met.

Attaining elite status is no mean feat, and realistically is only a viable option if you’re a business traveler, or travel extensively, with one airline. If you do fall into this bracket, however, be sure to check your membership for how to attain elite status, and what lounge access it entitles you to.

Most suitable for:
Business or frequent travelers who fly exclusively with one airline.

6 – Pay for Public Lounge Access

Long gone are the days where airport lounges were only available to an exclusive select group of business and wealthy travelers. As we pointed out when discussing the Priority Pass, many airports now have their own lounges, not affiliated with an airline or alliance.

The Club and Airspace are two you may have noticed when traveling in North America. These public lounges are open for all travelers at the airport, rather than exclusively alliance members and third-party program holders, such as Priority Pass.

Internationally, Plaza Premium is a common lounge brand you’ll see at many major airports.

Most of the time, these lounges are on par with their exclusive counterparts. You’ll often get the same perks, such as free food, wifi, and entertainment. Prices will vary. Some will charge for day access, others by the hour.

It’s worth looking up the lounges at the airports you’re scheduled to travel to and see what’s available. In a bid to compete with airlines, more airports are designing and launching their own lounges, and this number is only set to increase globally.

Most suitable for:
Travelers that don’t want the long-term commitments to third-party programs or specific airlines and alliances.

7 – As a Guest of Someone with Lounge Access

You’ll probably have already noticed lounge access and memberships allow you to bring a number of guests in with you, free of charge. If you travel with someone with lounge access, then you are very much in luck!

I’ve read accounts online of people who gain access by waiting near lounges and asking people that go by if they can enter with their membership. Personally, I’ve never seen this happen! But if you’re the optimistic type, you never know.

Most suitable for:
People who know members of a lounge program or alliance and actively travel with them.

8 – Access through Being an Active Military Member

Many airport lounges offer free access to active military members, and some even for their families. American Express Platinum Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve disregard their annual fees for military members so that they can take advantage of the benefits of these cards, such as free access to the largest selection of lounges in the world.

Most suitable for:
Active military members and their guests and family.

How to Get Airport Lounge Access Summary

So there you have it. No longer are airport lounges only a place for the high-end and business flyers. With a little forward planning, you too can enjoy all the perks of lounges across the world.

Before we wrap up, let’s take one final look at the eight smart methods to get airport lounge access covered in this article.

1 – Purchase Priority Pass
2 – Use a Credit Card with Airport Lounge Access
3 – Purchase a One-Day Lounge Pass
4 – Purchase an Annual Airport Lounge Membership
5 – Reach Elite Status with an Airline
6 – Pay for Public Lounge Access
7 – As a Guest of Someone with Lounge Access
8 – Access through an Active Military Member

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airport lounge access
Airport Lounge Access
How to Get Airport Lounge Access

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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