Emirates airport lounge
Courtesy of Emirates

Airports can be loud, crowded and uncomfortable, which sometimes makes them a less than pleasant place to count the minutes (or hours) waiting for a flight. Anyone who spends a lot of time in airports also knows that food options are often overpriced — and sometimes underwhelming.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggests getting to the airport two hours before your flight, which means there’s usually time to wait. Then there are those nagging layovers that can last for hours. Like it or not, we’re often stuck in airports when we travel by air.

Now for some good news: You can escape the airport terminal and retreat into an airport lounge — even if you don’t consider yourself a VIP. The best credit cards for airport lounge access can help you find your air travel oasis.

How does airport lounge access work?

There are many types of airport lounges, but most provide entry to consumers who pay for membership or get free access with a credit card. Also note that some airline-owed airport lounges (like American Airlines Admirals Clubs, for example) allow entry for customers on certain expensive fares (think: international business class).

When you have a membership with an airport lounge, or a collection or airport lounges, getting access is easy. If you have Priority Pass lounge access, which is the most popular airport lounge membership, you simply bring your membership card along with your boarding pass or let the lounge verify your membership with the Priority Pass mobile app. And voila — you’re in the door and away from the crowds at your gate.

But what will you find when you get there? It really depends.

While some airport lounges offer little more than peace and quiet and Wi-Fi, most offer a basic selection of snacks and drinks, including alcohol. Some airport lounges even offer enough food to make a nice meal, along with premium drinks like top-shelf liquor and champagne.

Best of all, once you have secured airport lounge access, most drinks, food and internet are free.

The best credit cards for airport lounge access

You can buy your way into an airport lounge by purchasing a day pass (when available, usually for around $50) or paying for a membership. For example, the top-level Prestige membership with Priority Pass that lets you access over 1,200 lounges worldwide will set you back $429 per year. On the other hand, an executive-level membership with Delta Sky Club that lets you enter with two guests costs $845 for the year.

Fortunately, you can get access to different airport lounge networks with a handful of travel credit cards that offer this perk. With the right credit card, you can earn points and miles and have a better experience each time you fly.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Annual fee: $450

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a Priority Pass Select membership as a cardholder perk, meaning you get free access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the globe. This membership also lets you bring in two visitors with each visit as a general rule, although some specific lounges limit guests or don’t let them in at all.

Other benefits

In addition to airport lounge access, the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives cardholders an annual $300 travel credit that’s good for any travel purchase, a $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit and 50% more value when you use points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.

The information about the Chase Sapphire Reserve has been collected independently by Bankrate.com and has not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Annual fee: $550

The Platinum Card® from American Express offers one of the most robust airport lounge offerings available from any credit card. Not only do you get a Priority Pass Select membership, but you get access to American Express Centurion Lounges in cities like Dallas, Philadelphia, Miami and Seattle. While Priority Pass lounges are hit-or-miss in terms of their amenities, Centurion Lounges offer buffets, plenty of room to relax and an upscale atmosphere.

Once you have the Platinum Card® from American Express, you can also access Delta SkyClubs but only when you fly Delta.

Other benefits

Earn 5x Membership Rewards points on airfare booked direct or through AmexTravel.com, an airline fee credit of up to $200 each year, Hilton Honors Gold status and up to $200 in Uber credits per year.

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

Annual fee: $450 ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020)

The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express gives you complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs around the globe, although you don’t get access for guests with this general membership. You can pay $29 per person to bring up to two guests in the club.

Other benefits

In addition to Delta Sky Club access, this card gives you 15,000 MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles) and 15,000 bonus miles after you spend $30,000 on your card within a calendar year and another 15,000 MQMs and additional 15,000 bonus miles when you spend $60,000. You get a free checked bag on Delta flights, priority boarding and a 20% discount on in-flight purchases as well.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Annual fee: $450

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is another card to consider if you fly with the airline often and want to escape the busy terminal. This card gives you access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs, and you can even bring in immediate family members or up to two guests.

Other benefits

In addition to Admirals Club access, this card gives you 10,000 EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) when you spend $40,000 on your card within a calendar year. You also get a Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit, a free checked bag on domestic flights for you and up to eight people on your itinerary, priority check-in and boarding and a 25% discount on in-flight purchases.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Annual fee: $450

An unlikely candidate among the best credit cards for airport lounge access is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, yet we still believe it belongs on the list. When you sign up for this hotel credit card, you’ll get a Priority Pass Select membership that grants you access to any of their airport lounges in their portfolio.

Other benefits

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card gives you a $250 annual Hilton resort credit, a $250 annual airline credit, complimentary Hilton Diamond status and a free weekend night every year you have the card. You also get 14x points on eligible Hilton purchases, 7x points on flights and car rentals booked direct or through AmexTravel.com and 3x points on all other purchases.

The information for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.


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