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No one really wants to spend a lot of time at the airport. There are long lines at check-in and security, crowds in the terminal, slow Wi-Fi and chain restaurants selling overpriced food and drinks. Luckily, several travel rewards credit cards make the airport experience much more pleasant by giving cardholders access to airport lounges.
Airport lounges usually provide access to friendly agents who can offer you help with your travel plans, free internet, plugs for recharging your devices and snacks—or even full meal service in some cases. If you are a frequent traveler, having lounge access can make all the difference between a productive travel day and one spent wandering in search of a space to sit.
While membership to airport lounges can cost hundreds of dollars per year, many travel rewards credit cards offer lounge access among their perks. These cards do tend to charge high annual fees, so before you apply for one, make sure you will get enough value from its other benefits to make paying for it worthwhile.
Many airport lounges are currently closed due to COVID-19, but most should reopen as travel resumes. In the meantime, here are the best travel credit cards that get you into airport lounges and how to find the right one for you.
Types of Airport Lounges
Some airport lounges are run directly by airlines for their own passengers and those of their partners, while other airport lounges are independently owned and operated.
- Airline lounges: Airline-specific lounges include Alaska Airlines Lounges, American Airlines Admirals Clubs, Delta Sky Clubs and United Clubs among the U.S. airlines. Many international carriers field their own lounges both in the U.S. and abroad. Some airlines also operate even more specialized lounges for their most premium fliers, where access can depend on the type of ticket you purchase, the cabin you'll be traveling in, whether you have elite status and other factors. If you hope to gain access to a specific airline's lounges using a credit card, it's important to know which lounges your card will actually get you into and any other conditions that apply to your entrance privileges.
- Other lounges: Many airport lounges are not operated by specific airlines, but are owned by other companies that might or might not participate in an association that partners with travel rewards credit cards. For example, American Express operates its own branded Centurion Lounges that are accessible to some American Express cardholders in several major U.S. airports. And Priority Pass is a lounge access program with over 1,300 member locations around the world, including at major international airports.
- Crossover lounges: Making things slightly confusing, some airline lounges are also members of other lounge associations, like Priority Pass. This crossover might seem complicated, but in reality it just means that folks who have Priority Pass tend to have a lot more options of which lounges to spend time in.
Best Travel Credit Cards With Airport Lounge Access
With these things in mind (and more to consider below), here are some of the best travel credit cards with a lounge access benefit that are currently available. Which one is right for your needs will depend on how often you travel and which airlines you fly. You can also find current offers and personalized options as well as more information on travel credit cards through Experian CreditMatchTM.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Lounge benefit: American Express' ultra-premium card is probably the most generous in terms of getting cardmembers into airport lounges around the world. In most cases, you will need your credit card, an ID and a same-day boarding pass for travel to enter any of these. Cardholders can bring up to two companions into Amex's Centurion Lounges when traveling. Depending on capacity, you may also be able to enter a handful of Airspace Lounges and Escape Lounges. After enrolling in Priority Pass, cardholders can bring up to two guests into participating Priority Pass Select lounges by presenting their Priority Pass Select card and airline boarding pass. Those flying Delta can present their card and boarding pass to enter Delta Sky Clubs (guests cost extra). Terms apply; read card details to learn more.
Annual fee: $550
Lounge benefit: Carrying this card allows you to activate Priority Pass Select membership and access the network's 1,300-plus airport lounges, restaurants, cafes and markets around the world. Primary cardmembers and authorized users are granted complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges and are allowed a maximum of two accompanying guests each (additional guests cost $27 each per visit). To access a lounge, you must present your Priority Pass Select membership card and a same-day boarding pass.
Annual fee: $550
Lounge benefit: Eligible primary and authorized users are granted complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges along with a maximum of up to two guests, or their immediate family members. Additional guests cost $27 each per visit.
Annual fee: $495
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
Lounge benefit: This card's standout perk is the fact that it gets you American Airlines Admirals Club membership, which can otherwise cost $500 to $650 per year depending on your elite status and whether you are joining or renewing. Members can access nearly 50 American Airlines Admirals Club locations and over 60 partner locations (those run by other airlines) worldwide along with immediate family or up to two other guests traveling with them.
Annual fee: $450
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
Lounge benefit: Unfortunately, this card's lounge perk is not as wide-ranging as some of the others on this list, but is still worth considering if you're a frequent Delta flier. Cardholders with a same-day boarding pass for travel on a Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight can access the airline's Sky Clubs for free and bring up to two guests or immediate family for $39 per person, per location. When flying on a Delta partner airline flight that is not marketed or operated by Delta, cardholders can access Sky Clubs by paying $39 per person, per location. Delta's airline partners include Air France-KLM, Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic, among others. Cardholders can also receive complimentary access to Amex's Centurion Lounges in the U.S. or Hong Kong when flying on a same-day Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight that they booked using a U.S.-issued American Express charge or credit card. They may bring in up to two guests (also traveling on a same-day Delta-marketed or operated flight) at a rate of $50 per person, per location. Terms apply; read card details to learn more.
Annual fee: $550
United ClubSM Infinite Card
Lounge benefit: United Club membership costs up to $650 per year, so carrying this card means enjoying access and privileges at a discount. Cardholders can take advantage of over 45 United Club locations (but not the airline's swanky Polaris Clubs) and bring two adult guests or another adult and up to two children 21 years of age or younger when traveling. Everyone must have a same-day boarding pass for travel on United or one of its Star Alliance airline partners, such as Air Canada or Lufthansa. United Club membership also gets you into many Star Alliance business-class lounges and certain contracted partner lounges.
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee, then $525.
Points, Miles, Annual Fees and Other Things to Consider
Before you can settle on a travel credit card with a lounge access benefit, it pays to think about which facilities you will actually use while traveling and what other benefits a specific card offers that you will be able to maximize.
- Lounge locations: If you usually fly just one or two airlines, it's probably a good idea to get a credit card that will get you into at least one of their lounges when you are traveling. Look at your typical travel habits, find the lounges that are in the airports and even specific terminals you tend to fly through, review their entrance policies, and then pick a travel credit card that can help you get in.
- Points or miles: As with any travel rewards credit card, you'll want one that will earn you points or miles you can use for travel and other rewards. Some folks might get more use out of a credit card that earns miles with a particular airline, like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® from our partner. However, if you prefer to keep your options open and earn points you can transfer to a number of different airlines, you might be better off with a card that earns transferable points like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
- Other perks: Lounge access is just one benefit many of these cards offer. Before applying for a travel rewards credit card, make sure you will use its other perks as well. For example, with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, cardholders are eligible to receive a statement credit of $100 for a Global Entry application fee paid with the card once in a four-year period, or $85 for a TSA Precheck application fee paid with the card once in a 4.5-year period. Each year upon renewal, cardholders also receive a companion certificate good for a round-trip domestic itinerary on Delta in first class, Delta Comfort+ or Main Cabin. Terms apply; read card details to learn more. Keep in mind, however, if you do not actually intend to use the card for any of these perks, you might not get enough value from it to make it worthwhile.
- Annual fees: Many travel rewards cards that offer a lounge access benefit are considered premium products, and charge high annual fees as a result. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card costs $550 per year to carry, while the relatively new United ClubSM Infinite Card has a $0 introductory annual fee for eligible cardholders that shoots up to $525 after the first year. Before jumping in, make sure you can pay for a card's annual fee and that you will receive benefits that outweigh the cost of doing so.
- Your credit: Because these credit cards are among the most premium available, many require applicants to have excellent credit. If you are thinking of applying for one, double-check your score (which you can do for free through Experian), and make sure it is within the average range for the specific card you are interested in.
As you can see, there is much to consider when choosing a travel credit card—even if what you really want is simply more comfort as you travel through airports. Researching all your options and narrowing your list of important features will help you make the right choice for you.
All information about the Citi Prestige®, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, and United ClubSM Infinite Card has been collected independently by Experian and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card.