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How to Get Free Airport Lounge Access with a Credit Card

Many travel credit cards offer perks like free airport lounge access. Learn how the right card can greatly improve the quality and comfort of your next trip.

By Samuel Greengard | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

5 Min Read | October 1, 2021 in Cards

 

At-A-Glance

For avid travelers, the best travel cards may open the door to airport lounges all over the world.

Not all cards and lounges are equal. For example, some cards offer complimentary access, while others offer discounted guest access. Some might have age restrictions, while others may not.

Understanding how and where you travel can help you determine which card will get you free airport lounge access.

Frequent travelers appreciate the value of airport lounges. They serve as quiet sanctuaries during long trips, such as international flights with layovers. Lounges provide comfortable seating, food, drinks, Wi-Fi, and sometimes even a spa or place to shower. For business travelers, they also provide places to work and recharge.


Although you can sometimes pay for lounge access on a per-visit basis or purchase an annual membership, getting free airport lounge access is easier than you might think – with the right travel credit card. Depending on the card and the lounge, you can usually save anywhere from about $25 to $50 per person per visit. And once inside, you also save on food, drinks, and other amenities.1

 
Yet navigating airport lounges – and the credit cards that include free or discounted access – isn’t always straightforward. For one, not all credit cards or airport lounge providers operate within the same networks of lounges. What’s more, credit cards that include lounge access vary in terms of annual fees and benefits. Some might offer unlimited free access for cardholders and their travel companions, while others provide discounts or additional complimentary benefits.

 

Credit Cards Offer Varying Levels of Lounge Access at Different Costs

An airport lounge access credit card can swing open the doors to a more comfortable world of travel. I typically take major international trips a few times a year, and lounges make all the difference in the world. I’m able to escape crowded seating areas, loud conversations, and the endless stream of announcements. This helps me unwind and start the next leg of my journey in a better state of mind and body.


Typically, you can get free airport lounge access if you show your same-day first-class or business-class ticket at the entry with your ID to match. But airport lounge access isn’t reserved to higher class ticket holders – credit cards with airport lounge perks can help card members avoid entrance fees altogether or, at the very least, enter at a discount. Of course, travel cards with this perk typically charge an annual fee ranging from about $95 to nearly $700, and they may have varying levels of lounge access. But the cards can pay for themselves if you use a lounge a few times per year, as well as other common features like complimentary checked bags (depending on the card’s offerings).


It’s also important to note that the method to get free airport lounge access may vary by credit card. For example, some cards might offer statement credits of up to $100 or provide vouchers for a set number of visits to lounges each year. Others may offer a 50% discount on a daily pass to a lounge as long as you fly the airline and use its co-branded card.

 
Generally, those who frequently travel with company may find that the best credit cards for airport lounge access include complimentary access for family members or a travel companion. The American Express Platinum Card®, for example, gives Card Members unlimited complimentary access to The Global Lounge Collection®.2 In most cases, Card Members can bring up to two companions into the club as complimentary guests per visit. To get complimentary access, Card Members must present their Platinum Card, their same-day airline ticket, and a government-issued ID.

 

Finding the Best Credit Cards for Free Airport Lounge Access 

To find a credit card that will get free airport lounge access, it’s vital to understand how you travel. For example, if you’re loyal to a particular airline, a co-branded airline credit card may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you find yourself flying on several airlines and passing through different airports, you may want to consider a travel card that offers access to an independently run network of lounges – or a combination of airline-operated and independent lounges. This increases the odds that an eligible lounge will be located near your departure gate at large airports.

 
But before settling on a card, it’s also wise to consider whether you’d benefit from other potential perks offered by airline travel cards, such as the ability to earn miles and travel points, avoid luggage charges, receive companion certificates, and obtain complimentary cabin upgrades. Also note that not all airport lounges offer the same amenities – and some have age and other restrictions. It’s important to investigate the airport lounge network before you apply for a card.


There are five key factors to consider when sorting through credit cards with lounge access:

  • Where do you generally travel? It’s sensible to select a card that offers lounges in locations you are likely to use. These may include airline-branded lounges or a network of lounges operated by an independent provider. 
  • What does the lounge network offer? For most travelers, it makes sense to select a credit card that offers access to a larger network of lounges. Depending on the card, you may have access to three or four lounges at some airports. Understand what amenities lounge providers offer and what hours they operate. This includes food, beverages, work areas, showers, and other services.
  • What level of lounge access does the card offer? Select a credit card that unlocks the level of lounge access you need. If you’re a frequent traveler, you may want to fork out an annual fee of $450 or more in exchange for unlimited access to lounges. If you fly lots of airlines but are loyal to a particular hospitality chain, don’t overlook hotel cards that offer lounge access, too.
  • Who can you bring into the lounge? Some cards allow family and/or a travel companion to accompany you into the lounge. Age restrictions frequently apply. For example, many lounges require minors to be accompanied by an adult who is at least age 21.
  • What other perks and benefits are available? Travel cards provide many other perks, including points or miles for purchases, companion certificates, complimentary access to travel consultants, free cabin or room upgrades, ride-share credits, and more. Keep an eye on the big picture because airport lounge access is merely one piece of the travel credit card puzzle.

 

The Takeaway

Airport lounges can transform a journey and provide you with the comfort you need as you jet across the country or around the world. Though lounge visits can get pricey, the good news is that you can get free airport lounge access with the right travel credit card. Because not all cards – or lounges – are created equal, taking time to understand the right free airport lounge access credit card for your travel needs can help you save money and arrive at your destination more rested and in better spirits.

ARTICLE SOURCES

1Are Independent Airport Lounges Worth the Price?,” Smarter Travel

 

2 For more on Offer Terms & Benefits for The Platinum Card, click here.

Samuel Greengard

Samuel Greengard has traveled to 63 countries and all 50 U.S. states while writing about business, technology and finance for numerous magazines and websites. He is the author of The Internet of Things (MIT Press, August 2021).

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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