Wouldn’t it be nice if you could arrive at the airport just as your plane starts boarding? Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to flying than showing up and finding your seat. You have to get through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening for starters, and you’ll often have to wait in line for your turn. Even if you have TSA Precheck to speed up the process, most airlines advise travelers to be at the airport two hours before your flight, and potentially even earlier for international travel.
Now for some good news: While you can’t necessarily change how much time you have to spend at the airport, you can change how you spend it. With the right credit card, you don’t have to loiter at the noisy, crowded gate or sit down for a disappointing, overpriced meal. Airport lounge access means you can escape the busy terminal and retreat into an airport lounge until you’re ready to board.
How does airport lounge access work?
There are many types of airport lounge memberships, but most airport lounges provide entry to consumers who pay for a membership directly or get free access through a credit card.
However, airline credit cards that offer lounge access only work for individuals who fly with a single airline or airline alliance often. For example, a handful of co-branded airline credit cards let you access airline-specific lounges when you fly with that specific airline — for example, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card lets you access Delta Sky Clubs when you fly with Delta. This is one reason airline cards are so popular with business travelers. Most travel-savvy consumers seek out cards with airport lounge access for a wide range of lounges, regardless of which airline you fly.
Priority Pass is the largest airport lounge network available, currently with more than 1,300 lounges throughout airports around the globe. Fortunately, this lounge network is also one of the easiest to get access to with a credit card.
If you have priority Pass lounge access, 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, 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.
If your goal is having a quiet place to relax when you arrive at the airport or have time to kill between flights, picking up a credit card that includes lounge access is a smart move. Here are all the top cards to consider:
Best for personal use
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you want to rack up flexible travel rewards points and access airport lounges with a single credit card, The Platinum Card® from American Express may be up your alley. This card lets you earn valuable Membership Rewards points, which can be used for gift cards, merchandise, travel through the AmexTravel.com portal or transfers to popular airline and hotel partners, like Delta SkyMiles and Hilton Honors.
Once you sign up, you’ll earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 on your card within six months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines, as well as flights and hotels booked through AmexTravel.com, plus 1x points on all other purchases. Cardholder benefits include up to $200 in Uber credits per year, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership, automatic Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status and more. A $550 annual fee applies.
Airport lounge membership details: This card offers the broadest airport lounge membership of any travel credit card. You’ll get a Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide, but you’ll also get to access American Express Centurion lounges in cities like Las Vegas, Dallas and Hong Kong. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to use Delta Sky Clubs any time you’re flying Delta Air Lines.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is another premier travel credit card that offers lucrative rewards with tons of flexibility. Once you rack up points in this program, you can use them for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel through the Chase portal or 1:1 transfers to partners like Southwest Airlines, Emirates, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt.
This card lets you earn 3x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases, and that’s on top of the 50,000 points you earn when you sign up and spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening. As of January 2020, you’ll also earn 10x points when you use your card for rides with Lyft through March 2022. As well as airport lounge access, cardholder benefits include a $300 travel credit each year, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, up to $120 in credits for DoorDash in 2020 and 2021. A $550 annual fee applies.
Airport lounge membership details: This card includes a Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
If you want to earn points good for hotel stays and you’re a fan of the Hilton Honors program, 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, but you’ll also earn 14x points on Hilton purchases and 7x points on flights booked with airlines or through AmexTravel.com, select rental car purchases and U.S. restaurants. A standard rate of 3x points will apply to all other regular purchases.
While a $450 annual fee applies, this card gives you a free weekend night each year, automatic Hilton Diamond status, a $250 resort credit each year, a $250 airline fee credit and airport lounge access, among other perks.
Airport lounge membership details: This card also comes with Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide.
The information about the Hilton Honor American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
Best for business
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express lets business travelers earn the same valuable rewards points as the personal version of this card. Currently, you can start off by earning 75,000 Membership Rewards points — 50,000 when you spend $10,000 on your card within three months and another 25,000 when you spend an additional $10,000 on your card within the same three month timeline. You’ll also earn 5x points on flights booked directly or through AmexTravel.com, 1x points on all other purchases, and 1.5x points on purchases of $5,000 or more.
A $595 annual fee applies, but you’ll receive a $200 airline fee credit each year, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, a $200 Dell statement credit and automatic Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy status. You’ll also get 35 percent of your points back when you redeem them for flights through AmexTravel.com.
Airport lounge membership details: This card comes with the same broad access as the personal version, including Priority Pass Select membership, access to Centurion lounges and access to Delta Sky Clubs when you fly Delta.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card is ideal for consumers who fly Delta often and want to be able to access Delta Sky Clubs no matter where they are. This card starts you off with 45,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 3x miles on purchases made directly with Delta, as well as 1x miles on everything else you buy. After you spend $150,000 on your card in a calendar year, you start earning 1.5x miles per dollar (that’s an extra half mile per dollar) on eligible purchases the rest of the year.
Cardholder perks include Delta Sky Club membership and Centurion lounge access when you fly Delta, an annual companion certificate and 20 percent off in-flight purchases made with your credit card. A $550 annual fee applies, but Delta Sky Club membership is worth at least $545 if you pay for it separately.
Airport lounge membership details: This card lets you enter Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion lounges around the world, but note that you can only use this membership when you’re flying with Delta or its partner airlines.
How to choose the best credit card for airport lounge access
If you can’t decide which credit card is best for airport lounge access, it’s smart to think through all the other card benefits you’ll receive. Here are some factors to consider as decide which travel credit card to apply for:
- Focus on cards with unlimited access. A handful of cards, including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, offer a version of Priority Pass membership that only gives you 10 visits per year. If you want to be able to enter lounges whenever you want, you should read the fine print and make sure your membership includes unlimited
- Figure out the type of rewards you want to earn. Also, make sure to consider the type of rewards you’ll earn with your new card and whether your points are flexible or belong to an airport or hotel loyalty program. Any points can be valuable, but it’s important to earn rewards you can actually use.
- Make sure you can use other cardholder benefits. Since credit cards with airport lounge access tend to have high annual fees, you should make sure you can use other cardholder benefits, like airline fee credits and Global Entry or TSA Precheck membership. Ideally, you’ll end up with a rewards credit card that offers airport lounge access and other perks you can take advantage of each year.