Everybody loves a relaxing vacation, but the chaotic nature of an airport terminal can induce anxiety in even the most zen of travelers. Loudspeaker announcements, beeping golf carts and crying children create a cacophony — wouldn’t it be nice to wait for your flight in a peaceful environment instead? Enter airport lounges.

Hanging out in an airport lounge before a trip or on a long layover can enhance your travel experience by a mile. And these havens aren’t just for those flying in fancy cabins.

What are airport lounges?

Airport lounges are quiet areas inside the terminal where passengers can relax before a flight or during a layover, eat snacks, work using the lounge’s Wi-Fi network, and sometimes even shower. Typically only paying members, passengers flying in business or first class, or cardholders of certain travel cards are allowed access. Here’s how to get in to airport lounges.

How to get in to airport lounges

There are six ways to get access to airport lounges.

1. Fly in a premium cabin

One of the most reliable ways to get airport lounge access is to fly in first or business class (typically on international routes and select transcontinental flights). This may sound like an expensive way to access a lounge, but if you purchase your flight with airline miles, your ticket still grants you entry to a lounge — either the one for your carrier or for one of its partners.

2. Reach elite status with an airline loyalty program

Frequent flyers are typically rewarded for their loyalty, and if you fly enough with one carrier or multiple carriers in the same alliance, you can enter airline lounges when flying on select routes.

For example, Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro or Platinum elite members of the American Airlines AAdvantage program can enter an Admirals Club on departure or arrival on qualifying international flights operated by American or Oneworld partners, even if they fly economy — and they can bring one guest with them.

Additionally, if you reach status with an alliance, which usually requires earning status with a specific airline, you’re able to get free airport lounge access when flying on a member airline.

3. Purchase a day pass

Another option for accessing an airport lounge is to pay for it.

United Airlines sells one-time passes that allow you to enter a United Club a single time, either before your flight or on a layover. Alaska Airlines also sells single-entry passes to passengers wishing to enter an Alaska Lounge. American Airlines sells day passes that are valid for 24 hours and allow you to enter multiple Admirals Clubs within that period.

Here’s how much airline lounge access will cost you with the following carriers:

  • American — $79 or 7,900 AAdvantage miles.

Delta Air Lines no longer sells single-visit passes to Delta Sky Clubs, and annual membership is available to Medallion members only, meaning holding certain credit cards is the only way to access Delta lounges for general SkyMiles members (more on that later).

4. Purchase an annual membership

If you’re a frequent traveler, buying an annual lounge membership instead of repeatedly buying day passes can make sense. Of course, the value will depend on how often you fly with that specific airline.

Let’s take a look at how much an annual airline lounge membership will cost for individual, non-elite status flyers.

  • American — $850 or 85,000 AAdvantage miles.

  • Delta — $695 or 69,500 SkyMiles.

  • United — $650 or 85,000 MileagePlus miles.

So, for example, if you’re going to fly round-trip with United six times in a year (12 individual flights), buying a day pass to the lounge each time would cost you $708 total ($59 x 12); an annual membership at $650 would be a better deal.

5. Present your military ID

Sometimes, being a military member can get you access to airport lounges. For example, the USO airport lounges are designed for active-duty service members and their families who are stationed around the globe.

Additionally, some airline lounges, like Admirals Clubs, offer complimentary access to U.S. military personnel in uniform traveling on American Airlines flights. United also provides complimentary access to U.S. military personnel at its United Club locations.

6. Open a credit card with airport lounge access

Many premium cards on the market offer some kind of lounge access to cardmembers. Premium co-branded airline cards typically offer access to the respective airlines’ lounges, and bank cards typically offer access to their own lounges and to lounges in the Priority Pass network.

Travel cards that give you lounge access

Let’s take a look at some of the best credit cards with lounge access.

Co-branded airline credit cards

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

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By paying the $595 annual fee for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, you get access to the Admirals Club without having to pay the annual membership (a $255 savings), plus you get all of the other cardmember perks.

Standout perks include getting the first checked bag free for up to nine passengers booked on the same reservation, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit of up to $100 every four years, a 25% savings on in-flight purchases, and the opportunity to earn AAdvantage miles on purchases made with the card.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

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The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers access to Delta Sky Clubs for primary cardmembers and holders of four annual one-time guest passes (in conjunction with a same-day Delta ticket). As of Feb. 1, 2025, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card holders will get a total of 15 Sky Club Passes per year. Terms apply.

Additionally, the card offers access to The Centurion Lounges by American Express, but access comes with restrictions. First, you must be flying that day with Delta, and second, you must have paid for the flight with an American Express card. A cardmember may bring up to two guests to The Centurion Lounges for $50 per person ($30 per child ages 2-17). Terms apply.

United Club℠ Infinite Card

The United Club℠ Infinite Card is a premium co-branded United card that comes with United Club membership for the primary cardholder and eligible guests (two adult guests, or one adult and dependent children under the age of 21).

You must be flying United or a Star Alliance partner to access United Clubs.

Chase United MileagePlus(R) Club Card Credit Card

United Club℠ Infinite Card

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General travel cards

The Platinum Card® from American Express

As a cardmember, you can access the following airport lounges:

  • Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta).

  • Lufthansa Business Lounge (regardless of ticket class when flying with Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines or Austrian Airlines).

  • Lufthansa Senator Lounge (when flying business class with Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines or Austrian Airlines).

  • Priority Pass Select (enrollment required).

As of Feb. 1, 2025, Sky Club access for The Platinum Card® from American Express members will be reduced to 10 visits per year, unless your yearly purchases on the card total $75,000 or more. And if you do spend that much on The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll receive complimentary access for up to two guests to Centurion Lounges. Otherwise, the Centurion Lounges charge a guest fee of $50 per adult and $30 per child ages 2-17. Terms apply.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

When it comes to free airport lounge access, travelers who hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card have fewer options than those who hold other cards, but there are still a couple of options. With this credit card, you can enter the following lounges at no extra cost:

  • Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club.

Although only four Chase Sapphire Airport Lounges are currently open, the network is expanding. To gain access to these lounges, you must activate your Priority Pass Select membership, which includes access to more than 1,500 airport lounges around the world. Up to two guests are allowed for free.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Priority Pass Select lounges.

Capital One Lounge locations are at just a few U.S. airports at the moment. Primary cardholders have unlimited access and can bring up to two guests. Entry for additional guests costs $45 each.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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Rates & Fees

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

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Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,125 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

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Which banks offer airport lounge access?

Several banks offer card options with airport lounge access. If you’re looking for a card that includes lounge access as one of the benefits, consider the following credit card issuers.

American Express

As mentioned, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers lots of lounge options for travelers seeking some peace and quiet. However, if you don’t want to pay a high annual fee, we recommend the American Express® Green Card. It comes with an up-to-$100 statement credit for LoungeBuddy purchases. Terms apply.

LoungeBuddy, a lounge booking platform, sells limited-time access to select lounges in airports around the world. Depending on the airport, you might be able to get a couple of one-times passes with your annual credit.

Capital One

Capital One offers lounge access with its premium Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. Cardholders receive complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, Plaza Premium Lounge access, and unlimited access to Capital One’s own Capital One Lounges.

Chase

For general travelers, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card is going to offer the most convenient lounge access with its Priority Pass Select membership and access to the Chase Sapphire Lounges.

United flyers will find what they need with co-branded United cards. As we’ve discussed, the United Club℠ Infinite Card offers unlimited United Club access to primary cardholders, but if you’re a casual traveler, the United℠ Explorer Card will do the job. It comes with two one-time United Club passes every card membership year, so you can use it twice or enter once with a guest.

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card

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Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Citibank

Though the Citi Prestige® Card is no longer open for new applications, those who currently hold it can take advantage of Priority Pass Select perks.

American Airlines flyers will enjoy unlimited Admirals Club access with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.

U.S. Bank

How to get airport lounge access recapped

Leave the crowded gates behind you and head to an airport lounge to wait out the layover. There are many ways to gain entry, even for passengers sitting in economy cabins — and you might be able to treat your travel companions to some peace and quiet as well.

Credit card memberships, elite status and lounge passes can transport you from a chaotic airport terminal to a serene lounge, making your next connection less stressful.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.
To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, see this page.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

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