The latest in our series of “list” posts has to do with airports. And more specifically, airport lounges, which provide a calm oasis away from the chaos of the airport.
It’s been said that once you go airport lounge, you never go back…if you’ve ever been in one, you know why.
Okay, maybe they’re just semi-private rooms with free booze and Wi-Fi, so they’re not quite life changing, but they can make traveling just that little bit easier, and save you money on overpriced airport food and drink.
Granted going gaga over finger sandwiches and a free beer or glass of wine might seem a little silly.
The good news is many premium credit cards offer free airport lounge access to their cardholders in exchange for a typically pricey annual fee. Whether that’s really “free” is a question for another day. But if they waive the annual fee the first year, then yes, it’s free…at least for 365 days.
Let’s take a look at the credit cards that afford free airport lounge access.
For the record, even if you don’t get lounge access via your credit card, you can often get it if/when flying in business class or better on most airlines in their affiliated lounges for free. Be sure to check individual carrier rules so you know where you stand prior to your trip.
Get Free Airport Lounge Access with These Credit Cards (or Discounted Fees)
|Card Issuer||Card Name||Lounge Program||Annual Fee|
|Delta Sky Club
Intl Amex lounges
Priority Pass Select
|$450 ($475 for the Mercedes version)|
|Amex||Centurion (Black)||Same as above||$2,500|
|Amex||Delta Reserve||Delta Sky Club||$450|
|Amex||Platinum Delta||*Reduced Delta Sky Club||$195|
|Amex||Gold Delta||*Reduced Delta Sky Club||$95|
|Amex||HHonors Surpass||*Priority Pass Select – visits cost $27||$75|
|Barclaycard||Gold Card||Priority Pass Select||$995|
|Barclaycard||Black Card||Priority Pass Select||$495|
|Chase||Sapphire Reserve||Priority Pass Select||$450|
|Chase||Ritz Carlton||Priority Pass Select||$450|
|Chase||United Club||United Club lounges and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges||$450|
|Chase||United MileagePlus||*2 United Club passes annually||$95|
|Citi||AA Executive||Admirals Club access||$450|
|Citi||Prestige||Priority Pass Select||$450|
|City National||Crystal Infinite||Priority Pass Select||$400|
|Diners Club||Premier||Diners Club Lounges||$95|
|Diners Club||Elite||Diners Club Lounges||$300|
|Merrill Lynch||Accolades Amex||Lounge Club||$295|
|Merrill Lynch||Plus Visa Signature||*Delta Sky Club||$0|
|PenFed||Premium Travel Rewards Amex||*Lounge Club – first two visits free||$0|
|U.S. Bank||Executive Platinum||$1200 toward travel annually including airport lounges||?|
Perhaps the leader in the airport lounge space, American Express offers its members access to a variety of airport lounges for free. With their Platinum Card (several varieties such as Ameriprise, Mercedes, Schwab, etc.), you get access to their own Centurion lounge network and their International American Express lounges. You simply need to present your Platinum Card and a same-day boarding pass to enter.
Additionally, you can access Delta Sky Club if/when flying Delta the same day, or an Airspace Lounge even if you’re not flying (but booze ain’t free). For Priority Pass Select, you have to enroll first and present your Priority Pass Select Card and same-day boarding pass to enter a lounge in their network.
If you have the Delta Reserve card from American Express you get complimentary Delta Sky Club access. If you have the Platinum or Gold Delta you receive discounted Sky Club access ($29 per person), which can be used for same-day ticketed air travel on any airline. Just note that payment must be made with a Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card in person. It’s normally $59 per visit.
There’s also the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from Amex, which provides free Priority Pass Select Membership (normally $99 per year), but still charges $27 per visit. So free membership, but not free visits. It’s better than nothing, right?
It may also be possible to buy day passes (à la carte access) to certain airport lounges with the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card and get reimbursed via the annual $100 airline fee credit.
You can get free airport lounge access via the metal cards from Barclaycard, but the annual fees are kind of outrageous. Starting at $495 and lacking the other perks you’d normally want at that price point.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers complimentary airport lounge access via Priority Pass Select, and like Amex, you have to sign up for it after you receive your credit card.
They won’t tell you to do it, you’ve got to be proactive and sign up. And then you need to present the PP card upon entering one of their 900 airport lounges. The Priority Pass network of lounges is pretty vast and the lounges are generally good quality.
You can also snag free lounge access via the Ritz-Carlton card, though the $300 annual travel credit on CSR makes it the more attractive choice.
You can also get the United Club card from Chase to access United Club lounges and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges. It’s pretty pricey though at $450 and often doesn’t have a very good sign-up bonus.
The Citi Prestige card also comes with Priority Pass Select membership, and up until June 20th, 2017, it has access to the American Airlines Admirals Club if you’re flying American or US Airways. Decent card with a decent sign-up bonus.
If you do want Admirals Club access for free, you can go with the Citi AA Executive World Elite MasterCard. It has a nice little 50k sign-up bonus to sweeten the deal.
The two Diners Club consumer credit cards provide free lounge access to over 700 airport lounges worldwide in the Diners Club Lounges network. Many tend to overlap those found in the Priority Pass network.
The Merrill + Visa Signature card has a weird perk in that you can gain a complimentary one-year Delta Sky Club Executive Membership if you spend $50,000 or more per year with the card. The alternative is a $200 travel credit if you spend that much, your choice.
A more straightforward airport lounge benefit comes via the Merrill Accolades card, which offers complimentary Lounge Club membership. Well, kind of, your first 10 visits per year are free…
There’s a lesser known credit card out there – the U.S. Bank Executive Platinum Card, which has a strange travel-related benefit. It offers a $1,200 annual credit for travel costs, such as baggage fees, in-flight internet, airline lounge access, etc. We just don’t know the annual fee on this sucker. It’s also only apparently available to senior corporate executives…
Know of another credit card that offers complimentary airport lounge access? Let us know by leaving a comment below.