8 ways to get airport lounge access (some are cheap or even free!)

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After traveling to multiple countries with Priority Pass access, my stress levels have been dramatically reduced.

If you’ve never tried out airport lounges for yourself, there is a magical world to be discovered. Not only does a quiet lounge shield you from incessant and repetitive P.A. announcements, but you’ll have access to comfy chairs and outlets galore. And most important of all, it saves you money with amenities like:

  • Beverages, including coffee, hot chocolate, wine, and beer
  • Snacks (and sometimes full meals)
  • Showers to refresh before or after a long flight
  • Beds for napping
  • Entertainment rooms for kids

Use a Priority Pass membership

The cost of a Priority Pass membership can range from $99 to $429. So getting a free membership is a great credit card perk.

Plus, the memberships you receive from credit cards often come with some manner of guest privileges. This is something you will not get when simply purchasing a Priority Pass membership – even the highest tier money can buy will require you to pony up for each guest.

Below is a table explaining exactly what to expect from each card’s Priority Pass membership.

CardGuest privilegesAnnual feeMembership for authorized users
Chase Sapphire Reserve®– Up to two complimentary guests
– $27 for additional guests
$550Yes, $75 per authorized user
The Platinum Card® from American Express– Up to two complimentary guests
– $32 for additional guests
(Enrollment required)
$695 (see rates and fees)Yes, $175 per authorized user (see rates and fees)
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express– Up to two complimentary guests
– $32 for additional guests
(Enrollment required)
$595 ($695 if application is received on or after 01/13/2022) (see rates and fees)Yes, $175 per authorized user(see rates and fees)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card– 10 complimentary visits annually
– Each guest counts as one visit
(Enrollment required)
$95 (see rates and fees)No
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card– 10 complimentary visits annually
– Each guests counts as one visit
(Enrollment required)
$95 (see rates and fees)No
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card– Up to two complimentary guests
– $32 for additional guests
(Enrollment required)
$450 (see rates and fees)No
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card– Up to two complimentary guests
– $32 for additional guests
(Enrollment required)
$450 (see rates and fees)No
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card– First four visits complimentary, including guests
– $27 per visit for all lounge visitors beginning with your fifth visit
The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card (card no longer available for new applicants)– Unlimited free guests$450Yes, no fee
Citi Prestige® Card– Up to two guests (or immediate family, defined as spouse, domestic partner and/or children under 18)
– $27 for additional guests
$550Yes, $175 per authorized user

The information for the Citi Prestige card, U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card, and Hilton Aspire card, Hilton Surpass card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuers.

For those who fly with friends or family, The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit Card offers the best Priority Pass lounge access, because you won’t have to pay guest fees – for anyone. The card isn’t available for new applicants, but if you currently have a Chase Marriott credit card, you should be able to secure message or call Chase and ask them to upgrade your card to a Ritz-Carlton card.

Access Centurium lounges with an Amex card

Centurion Lounges are widely considered to be the best domestic airport lounges available. And they are pretty great. They’ve got hot meals, free premium alcohol with prestigious mixologists – one lounge even has wine tastings!

There are currently 14 domestic lounges to choose from, as American Express continues to expand around the U.S.:

  • Charlotte (CLT)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • London (LHR)
  • New York (JFK)
  • New York (LGA)

Centurion Lounges are more exclusive than Priority Pass. To gain entrance, you’ll need one of the following cards:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Centurion Card from American Express (and the business card variant)

There are also a couple of other Amex Platinum variants that gain access. Basically, all you need to know is that if you have an Amex Platinum card of some sort, you’re in.

You can only enter a Centurion Lounge if you’re within three hours of your scheduled departure flight. You can’t enter a Centurion Lounge after arrival – unless it’s during a connection.

Read our post on how to find Amex Platinum airport lounges, including Centurion Lounges, for step-by-step instruction.

Note: Amex Platinum cards also come with lounge access to:

  • Delta Sky Club lounges when you have a same-day Delta flight
  • The Escape lounge network
  • The Airspace lounge network

Use your elite status

Airline elite status sometimes comes with access to lounges operated by or partnered with airline alliances.

For example, Los Angeles has a Star Alliance lounge for business and first class passengers – but if you have United Gold status, you qualify for Star Alliance Gold status status, which grants you access to this lounge.

(Image courtesy of Star Alliance)

Purchase an annual lounge membership

There are several lounges other than Priority Pass which you can purchase annually – most famously are the U.S. airline lounges, such as:

You can enter these lounges either before your departure or after arrival – however, you’re required to show a same-day boarding pass to enter. You’ll have to be flying either the airline that manages the lounge you desire to enter, or one of their partner airlines. For example, you’ll have to show United a boarding pass on United Airlines or another Star Alliance airline.

It’s important to note that you can gain access to all these lounges simply by holding certain cobranded airline credit cards. While these cards do have lofty annual fees, they’re all either much lower or about the same as straight-up purchasing a membership to any of these lounges. Might as well open a card, earn a big welcome bonus, and get some top-notch benefits instead!

Here are the cards that’ll do the trick:

  • Delta Sky Club – Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card ($550 annual fee, see rates and fees)
  • United Club – United Club℠ Infinite Card ($525 annual fee)
  • American Airlines Admirals Club – Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® ($450 annual fee)

Some lounge programs also allow you to pay monthly if you don’t figure you’ll travel very often.

Buy a day pass

If you’re not quite certain you’d like to empty your wallet for an expensive membership, many lounge programs allow you to purchase a day pass. This allows you to see what it’s like inside a lounge, though day passes aren’t cheap.

Here’s what you can expect to spend with the major lounge networks for a day pass:

  • Delta Sky Club -$5
  • United Club – $59
  • AA Admirals Club – $59

Some Priority Pass offer day passes, and they can be much cheaper than the above prices.

Note: the United℠ Explorer Card comes with two day passes per year. It’s a good card to open if you’d like to give a United Club Lounge a whirl for absolutely zero dollars. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year, after all.

Use LoungeBuddy service

LoungeBuddy is a great resource for all things airport lounges – they give great reviews (along with valuable traveler comments), and they even sell day passes to many lounges. You’ll have to be an American Express cardholder to take advantage of that, though, as Amex purchased LoungeBuddy not long ago. You can buy a day in a lounge for as little as $25.

Also note that the American Express® Green Card comes with up to $100 in statement credits towards LoungeBuddy every calendar year.

The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Buy a first class ticket

If you’re flying in business or first class, you generally receive access to airport lounges on both sides of your commute. There is one massive exception, however: You’ll have to roam internationally. Domestic first and business class flights don’t get this benefit – except for transcontinental travel. For example:

  • If you’re flying nonstop between Miami and Los Angeles in AA business class, you’ll be able to access their flagship Admirals Clubs
  • If you’re flying from Indianapolis to Charlotte in AA business class, you’ll get zero lounge privileges
  • If you’re flying from New York to Paris in AA business class, you’ll get lounge access

Get free access as an active military member

You’ve probably seen a few USO lounge signs during your travels – lounges dedicated to military members. It’s great that they have their own lounges, but it’s also fantastic that they can freely enter other lounges as well, such as:

  • Delta Sky Club
  • United Club
  • American Airlines Admirals Club
  • Priority Pass Lounges
  • Centurion Lounges

If you’re a military member, be sure to read the stipulations outlined by each lounge network. Some may require in-uniform on orders, and others allow present leave orders/rest and recuperation papers. Military families are welcome to accompany the military member, as well – or in some cases, two non-family members.

Bottom line

Take your pick! There are plenty of ways to get into an airport lounge. The obvious recommendation is to open a travel credit card that comes with Priority Pass or access to Centurion Lounges (these are the best ones). 

Let us know your favorite way to gain access to fancy airport lounges! And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel tips and tricks like this to travel better.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Business Amex card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Amex Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, click here.

Do you have a favorite airport lounge that’s ideal for all types of travelers? Feel free to share in the comments.

Sarah Hostetler is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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