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The airport is not necessarily a comfortable place to spend several hours, yet that’s frequently what happens when you fly within the United States or abroad. You might wind up waiting by your gate for what seems like forever, and most of us have to endure a layover from time to time. In the worst-case scenario when a flight is delayed, you can easily spend an entire day killing time at a crowded (and loud) airport gate.
But, airport lounge access can change all of that—if you are able to snag a membership. This guide explains how airport lounge access works and which credit cards offer this amazing perk for free.
How does airport lounge access work?
There are many different airport lounge membership programs, and you can pay cash to become a member of any of them. Meanwhile, some airport lounge memberships can be obtained for free if you carry the right travel credit card.
If you get lounge access with an airline credit card, you should also know that some limitations will apply. For example, co-branded airline credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card let you access Delta Sky Clubs only when you fly with Delta. Meanwhile, to enter a United Club lounge, cardholders of the United Club℠ Infinite Card must also be flying with United, a Star Alliance partner or a contracted partner-operated flight.
Priority Pass is another popular lounge membership, yet you don’t have to be flying with a specific airline to enter. This lounge membership is also considerably broader, with more than 1,300 lounge locations in airports around the world.
You should know that no matter which airport lounge membership you pursue, the quality of lounges can vary widely. Where some lounges have exceptional spreads of food and drink (including premium drinks like top-shelf liquor and champagne), others might only have coffee and snacks.
In other words, lounges can be “hit or miss” in terms of what they offer, yet each one lets you escape to a quieter, more comfortable place while you wait for your flight to depart.
Personal credit cards offering airport lounge access
Many personal credit cards offer airport lounge access of some kind, including the following:
|Card name||Lounge access details|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®||Admirals Club membership|
|Citi Prestige® Card||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card||Delta Sky Club membership|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card*||10 Priority Pass lounge visits per year|
|Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Mastercard® Black Card™||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Mastercard® Gold Card™||Priority Pass Select membership|
|Miles & More® World Elite Mastercard||Receive 2 complimentary Lufthansa Business Lounge vouchers annually
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||
The Centurion lounges, Delta Sky Club lounges, Priority Pass Select lounges, Airspace lounges, Escape lounges (The Centurion Studio partner), Plaza Premium lounges and Lufthansa lounges
|United℠ Explorer Card||Two one-time United Club passes|
|United Club℠ Infinite Card||United Club membership|
|U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Credit Card||Four free visits and four free guest visits to Priority Pass lounges|
Bankrate’s top credit cards for airport lounge access
The best credit card for airport lounge access varies from person to person. We suggest taking a closer look at Bankrate’s top picks:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for flexible rewards
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the top rewards credit cards on the market today, mostly due to the flexibility of the points you earn. With the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise, statement credits or cash back. You can also get 50 percent more value for your points when you redeem them for travel through Chase, or you can transfer them 1:1 to Chase airline and hotel partners.
A $550 annual fee applies when you sign up for this card, but you get perks like a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, a $300 travel credit good for any travel purchase, DoorDash and Peloton credits and airport lounge access. You can also earn 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening, and you’ll earn 3X points on eligible travel and restaurant purchases and 1X points on everything else. In addition, you’ll earn 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022.
Airport lounge membership details
This card includes a Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for broadest airport lounge selection
The Platinum Card from American Express also lets you rack up flexible points within the American Express Membership Rewards program. As a new cardholder, you can earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $6,000 within six months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5X points annually (up to $500,000) on directly booked airfare or flights and prepaid hotels booked through the American Express Travel portal and 1X points on all other purchases. For a limited time, cardholders can also rack up 10X points at eligible restaurants worldwide and when they Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases during their first six months of card membership.
While a recently increased $695 annual fee applies, cardholder perks comprise a long list, including $240 digital entertainment credit (up to $20 in statement credits each month at eligible providers, enrollment required), $179 Clear annual statement credit for membership, $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck credit every four years, up to $200 airline fee credit (up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for fees like baggage fees at one qualifying airline), up to $200 Uber Cash credit annually on U.S. rides and eats, up to $200 hotel credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings and much more.
Airport lounge membership details
This card is the best credit card for airport lounge access worldwide, period. You’ll get a Priority Pass Select membership for starters, but you can also enter Amex Centurion Lounges. Amex has recently expanded The Centurion Network to include more than 40 Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Additionally, this card gets you access to Delta Sky Clubs, Airspace, Plaza Premium and Lufthansa lounges. All in all, with the Amex Platinum you’ll have access to more than 1,300 airport lounges across 140 countries.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card: Best hotel card with lounge access
If you’re a hotel enthusiast and you love Hilton properties, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a solid bet. This card starts you off with 150,000 Hilton Honors points when you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening. In the meantime, you can earn 14X Hilton Honors points on eligible Hilton purchases and 7X points on flights booked with airlines or through AmexTravel.com and purchases made with U.S. restaurants. A standard rate of 3X points will apply to all other purchases you make with your credit card.
This hotel credit card does require a $450 annual fee, but the ongoing perks can more than make up for it. Not only do you get automatic Hilton Diamond status just for being a cardholder, but you can qualify for a $250 resort credit each year, $250 in airline fee credits, a free weekend night each year you have the card and more.
Airport lounge membership details
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for business travel
If you are a business owner who wants airport lounge access and flexible rewards, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express is the best business credit card option out there. This card starts you off with a welcome bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership.
As a regular rewards rate, you earn 5X points on flights and prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com, 2X points on prepaid rental cars booked through AmexTravel.com, 1.5X points on purchases of $5,000 or more and 1X points on all other purchases.
A $595 annual fee applies, but perks include a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, a $179 Clear annual statement credit for membership, up to $200 in airline fee credits (up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for fees like baggage fees at one qualifying airline), automatic Gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, up to $200 in credits for Dell and more.
Airport lounge membership details
This card also comes with complimentary access to over 1,300 airport lounges, including the Centurion lounges, Delta Sky Club, Airspace lounges and more.
How to choose the right credit card for airport lounge access
If you’re struggling to decide among credit cards with lounge access, you’ll need to compare each card option based on several different factors. These tips can help:
- Decide whether you want unlimited access. If you want a credit card with unlimited lounge access, picking an option with a Priority Pass Select membership is a smart move. But since the fees are higher for cards with unlimited plans, you can also consider cards with a set number of lounge visits per year. For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card only gives you 10 visits per year but the annual fee is just $95 ($0 introductory annual fee for the first year).
- Figure out the type of rewards you want to earn. Look at the best credit cards for lounge access in terms of the points or miles they offer. Some cards will give you flexible rewards you can spend in more than one way, while others let you rack up airline miles or hotel points instead.
- Compare other perks you receive. All credit cards with lounge access charge an annual fee, but the benefits you receive can more than make up for it. Look at the welcome bonuses and ongoing rewards each of the top cards offers, and compare other perks like travel credits or credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership.
The bottom line
The best travel credit cards for airport lounge access offer plenty of benefits in exchange for an annual fee. However, keep in mind that some airport lounge memberships offer access to more lounges than others and that some charge annual fees of $450 or more.
Also, consider the type of rewards you want to earn, as well as any welcome bonuses you might receive. At the end of the day, any of the cards for lounge access can be a good fit, but you should choose one that makes sense for your travel style and your budget.
The information about the United Club℠ Infinite Card, Citi Prestige® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, United℠ Explorer Card and United Club℠ Infinite Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.